Nässjö Library: Decades of indecision

Nässjö – why should a small industrial town in the Province of Småland with below average income and educational levels invest in culture? Nässjö is a small industrial town in the Province of Småland with below average income and educational levels that must invest in culture!

These two points of view illustrate how the decision to build a new library has been the subject of a debate that’s lasted for several decades – in actual fact since the end of the eighties. The present library, situated in the old community centre also known as ‘The Pigalle House’, was built in 1963. After all these years and many different activities the need for more space was acute.

An architectural competition was announced in 1989 and planning was well advanced when the economic depression in the early nineties struck. The project was shelved but has been revived from time to time, for instance, in the beginning of the current decade. The project was then shelved once again, this time due to disagreements between local non-profit associations and the municipality over the plans. At the same time there were heated discussions regarding activities in the cultural centre. The controversial suggestion, still current, is that the present cultural centre should be located in the Pigalle House.What might be selfevident in other places was the subject of a debate in Nässjö where it was feared that designating the house as an art gallery might exclude the general public in favour of a small group of cultural personalities. An additional problem was the inability to agree on the maintenance of the old cultural centre.

The proposed library

The Pigalle House is owned by a municipal company and is located close to the city centre beside a lake in the city park. Throughout the years there have been many different activities in the house and today the library shares space with a café, conference facilities, a dancehall, a theatre, local trades union offices and a youth café. The latest plans for the house were designed by the architect Thomas Spjut who lives in Nässjö. The new library will be part of the existing house, but situated in a new annex on the rear side of the house facing the lake. Activities carried out in the cultural centre today will be relocated next to the library. In the existing house the old library premises in the cellar will still be used and the floor above will be occupied by the youth centre and the municipal music and arts school. Previous activities in the house will, in all probability, continue

The library in the meantime …

Since January this year, the library has been without a director which has been a complicating factor and has underlined the importance of all personnel being familiar with the process and of the project manager, the interior designer and all personnel working closely together. This collaboration has been made easier by the fact that the interior designer Mats Eriksson lives in Bodafors, just outside of Nässjö. Library personnel have, together with Mats Eriksson, been on study visits which have enriched the process and resulted in several new ideas, one being the use of focus groups. Library personnel were divided into groups with each group having a special area of responsibility including everything from storage areas and office space to the library’s holdings and the mobile library. Depending on their workload each employee has participated in several groups. In this way everyone has become a specialist in the area or areas they’ve had responsibility for and everyone has felt completely involved in the process.

As project manager I have participated in all of the groups and also convened meetings where the groups can report on progress. Besides the interior refurbishment and the actual construction, investment funds have been made available for RFID and a special focus group is working with this. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a technique where libraries use chips instead of barcodes to read and store information. RFID is an external investment and has been given precedence by municipality management. This means that an RFID system will be installed regardless of what happens with the library project. After one particular study visit we realized just how much time and effort installing RFID would entail.We arranged for three leading Swedish suppliers to visit us and explain the technology and help us to arrive at a realistic estimate of the costs involved.

Citizens in focus

Because plans for a new library have been shelved time and time again during the past years library personnel have thought it important to keep the issue alive. We have made an effort to see that the municipality’s citizens are fully cognizant of what is happening with the project.We have, among other things, organized a questionnaire where library visitors have been able to register what they think should be part of the new library’s services. During the past summer we have had an exhibition in the library showing the current architectural plans for the new library. The library’s Internet site has a presentation of the new library as well as the questionnaire mentioned above. We have a blog where comments can be read and published. The library is even represented on MySpace and Facebook where we have groups and forums allowing members to comment on the project. Library patrons with functional disabilities have expressed the desire to participate in the project and this has led to a series of meetings with local disability associations, library patrons, library personnel and architects.

During the autumn break all intermediate level primary school pupils will have the opportunity to be library builders for a day. That event will take place in a part of the existing building that is destined to be rebuilt as a storytelling room.

Information and marketing activities to visitors are an important part of the process and can help to create a positive discussion and atmosphere around a building that we library personnel contemplate with excitement, confidence and, to a certain degree, skepticism. At the moment of writing a decision to build has not yet been taken, but postponed till the end of October. According to the schedule, construction should have started at the beginning of October, so once again the project is, for the moment, inactive.

Whether or not there will be a new library remains to be seen, but I am convinced that a small municipality like Nässjö needs a large cultural centre where everyone is welcome to participate in a variety of free activities. It is important that the new house doesn’t become an exclusive cultural centre for a small group of people, but rather a warm, welcoming house open to all and at the same time, a modern building that citizens can be proud of and that will endure for many years to come. It is also of paramount importance that the house has a local character and can demonstrate that a home-grown solution doesn’t have to be boring or rigid.

We at the Nässjö Library will wait with bated breath till November. The process has been long and we still can’t see the end of it, but we do hope that invitations to the inauguration of Nässjö’s impressive new library will be able to be sent out in the not too distant future.

More information about the Nässjö Library can be found at www.nassjo.se/bibliotek

Jens Thorhauge
Director General
Danish Agency for Libraries and Media

jth AT bs.dk

Project manager and librarian, Nässjö Library.