Planning the Library of the Future

The Municipality of Lund plans to establish a new residential area with ‘city atmosphere’ in the Northeast of the city, in the vicinity of Lund’s high tech heart. These plans went hand in hand with a directive in Lund’s library plan and gave the public libraries in Lund a chance to manage the planning process in a new way. We asked young people what they’d like to see in a new library. We have a working group with external partners and we have many ideas from outside sources. All this will result in a visionary proposal for the new Brunnshög Library. And that’s when the real work starts.

Several years ago the Library’s then management group decided that competitive awareness skills needed a better structure. An informal working group – a little think tank – followed trends in a systematic manner, covered demographic changes, information patterns, knowledge environments, etc., and discussed the consequences of these trends in relation to the mission of public libraries.

Around the same time, the Municipality started planning for a completely new residential area in the part of town known as Brunnshög – an area where we’d never managed to establish a library, there being neither a natural centre nor a conveniently located school. Brunnshög is projected to have around 3,000 residents and the idea is to create ‘a city atmosphere’, i.e. buildings established in city-like blocks. A centre with shops, schools and other services is planned. The difference between Brunnshög and other areas in Lund is the neighbours – Ericsson’s huge facilities are next door, and down the road a bit is the Ideon Science Park where the Max-lab IV (laboratory for synchrotron radiation research) is to be established. If ESS Scandinavia (a next generation neutron source facility) is established in Lund then it will also be located in the same area. This means that in the future there will be around 20,000 people in Brunnshög’s immediate vicinity during the day.

The Brunnshög Group:1

The special demographic structure – a daytime population several times larger than the resident population – and the high tech companies in the near vicinity – these factors suggested that the local library should be different – future- oriented and technology-intensive. The library’s management group invited representatives from Lund University Libraries, the City Planning Office and two library suppliers located in Lund – Axiell and BTJ – and formed the Brunnshög group. The Municipality’s plans had, at this point, progressed to the stage where there was a general strategic programme for the area. Construction was planned to start 2008/ 2009 and be completed in 15 to 20 years. According to the city planners our early interest in the planning process was unusual. But they were interested in our proposals and encouraged us to see that they were officially sanctioned.

The Library Plan

In 2006 Inger Eide Jensen was engaged as a consult to assist in the creation of a library plan for the Municipality of Lund. The plan was approved by the Municipal Council in February 2008 and it encompassed the idea of a future-oriented library in Brunnshög. Local politicians were now formally included in the project process.

The Brunnshög Group:2

With an approved library plan and the appointment of a new Library Director the Brunnshög group resumed work. New to the group was the Culture and Leisure Department’s (to which the library belongs) Strategic Development Officer, who had a good working relationship with the municipal planning section. The library plan’s directive to the group is: “investigate the possibility of developing a ‘library of the future’ which can fully utilize the opportunities allowed by modern technology. This should be done in association with companies that have a proven record of working with new technologies”.

In Lund there are public libraries, academic libraries, institutional libraries, college libraries, school libraries, hospital libraries and corporation libraries. Many library patrons use these different types of libraries without bothering too much about who the responsible authority is. It is therefore quite natural that one of the keynote motifs in the library plan should focus on investigating new opportunities for coordination and cooperation.

We started by formulating a number of questions:

The big questions, that no one can answer, are: How will libraries be used in the future? Will there be something else that replaces the library? In a world of increasing virtual choices – do we really need physical locations? Will the proposed library in Brunnshög be able to offer service to residents of Lund as well as corporations in the near vicinity? Is cooperation with Lund University Libraries possible – in order to serve the different user groups? Is it possible to share personnel, holdings, IKT-resources, etc? Other possible partners? Would it be possible for the Brunnshög Library to have a popular science profile – with the help of Lund University and the Lund University Libraries where an interested public and local college libraries would be the main target groups? Other possible partners? Would it be possible to generate interest by corporations in the public library sector with Ericsson and other Ideon-companies developing products for libraries using the Brunnshög Library as a testing ground?

How we proceeded

We announced a competition called ‘The Library of the Future’. In the competition rules we described the proposed development of Brunnshög: “In one of the houses, on the square, there will be a special location for information, communication, media and interaction with other people.We don’t know what’s going to happen there.We do know that this location will replace libraries of today and that it will be something very special – for those who live in the area and even for other Lund residents, students, school pupils. Got any ideas? Tell us!!”

We received 23 entries and a couple of them were really exciting.

An improvised questionnaire was circulated at a local youth fair, asking participants for their idea of an exciting library.We received quite a few answers but none that were really original.When young people are engaged in this sort of exercise one should perhaps look more closely at what they do (google, chat, message download) and how they do it rather than at what they say.

The next phase in the planning process will be a brainstorming workshop.We have invited politicians and non-library people who we hope will have plenty of wild ideas. A couple of prize winners, a few young people, an architect, IKT people from Ideon, information experts, etc. Hopefully their discussions, visions and unconventional ideas will put us on the right track

After that?

There are a few other paths which should be investigated. It is important that the physical and the digital library are planned together; the IKT platform will be a common resource.We need to consider how this can best be accomplished. We must get together with Lund University Libraries and look into the possibility of some form of shared operation. There are today – mainly in the new university college areas – public and academic libraries that cooperate in different ways. In the traditional university towns the libraries have been established for hundreds of years and even though relations are good, direct collaboration rarely occurs.

Using existing ideas

The Brunnshög Library can surely find inspiration in the many exciting library projects that already exist in different parts of the world.We believe there is a future in the development of library services using mobile phones. Ericsson is a neighbour – perhaps we could induce them to collaborate? Danish experiments (e.g. Gjern) with unman-ned libraries might also be something worth looking at.

And then?

The Municipality’s plans for Brunnshög are progressing, detail plans are being developed and approved.Work with a plan for sustainable development in the area is already under way. The results of the Brunnshög group will be published in a visionary proposal in the spring of 2009.

Ingrid André,
Stadsbiblioteket, Lund

e-mail: ingrid.andre AT lund.se

Translated by Greg Church

Stadsbiblioteket, Lund