The Science Library at the University of Oslo is primarily a research library that serves the academic staff at the Faculty of Sciences. It is the daily working and learning environment for numerous students. To gain a foothold and attract attention to our existence and our services, we make use of all parts of the library premises in combination with other devices that best suit the purpose.
The library is a cooperation partner for the university and faculty managements for attaining shared goals in terms of academic performance and social wellbeing. And it is a multidisciplinary meeting place and an arena for knowledge dissemination and public debate.
The premises are not perfect, but they have qualities that, along with a skilled, engaged, diverse and at times even playful staff, make them usable and provide sufficient room for creative activities.
The Science Library in Vilhelm Bjerknes’ House was opened in March 2012. People were invited to lectures by celebrities, music by baroque ensembles and chemistry with a bang. The sex life of copepods could be studied under a magnifying glass, while dinosaurs and wolves guarded the bookshelves. Cream cake, canapés, buns and soda were served, and school classes searched for DNA behind the counter.
Beer was served and people danced, while a science-fiction collection was accumulated and Donald Duck was promoted. Jespersen the Skeleton recommended seasonally relevant literature to our social media followers. But what is the Science Library, and how do we want to use it?
In 2007, the University Board decided to co-locate the various science libraries in a central spot on campus – in Vilhelm Bjerknes’ House. A generous donation from the Fritt Ord Foundation and an intensified focus on the learning environment and on a campaign to promote science studies drove the project forward.
In June 2010 we could celebrate the completion of the funding process and work could commence. Students, staff and other stakeholders became involved in various ways.
A thorough tour of the libraries at BI Norwegian Business School, Glasgow Caledonian University Library and Drammen and Kongsberg Public Libraries was a particular success, since users, architects, project directors and library staff here had the opportunity to visit pioneering libraries and then discuss and include into the project various elements they had seen and experienced directly.
Such a tour and extent of involvement were obviously rather resource-intensive, but they produced an unusual degree of convergence of expectations and wishes for the project process, and a strong involvement by the participants.
Light and furniture
The structure of the building could not be altered to any great extent; the Directorate of Cultural Heritage was involved in the process and the project faced certain restrictions. However, demolishing some internal walls and flooding the old brick-and-concrete building with natural as well as artificial light, was to prove a highly effective measure.
Furniture and interior design were planned with a view to flexible multipurpose use. The flexible workspaces for groups located in the middle of the library premises are invariably the first to be filled. Iconic lamps and leather benches function exquisitely after the renovation.
The furniture from the university boardroom of the sixties, with ashtrays and voting buttons, copper lamps and calfskin chairs never fail to attract attention.
A survey undertaken ten months after the library was opened shows that the students perceive the library as versatile, functional, flexible and accessible – in terms of its design, opening hours and services.
An arena and meeting place
The role of libraries as a social, multidisciplinary meeting place and as an arena for dissemination of knowledge and public debate is a key area for library development. Universities are required to open up to the outside world and demonstrate their activities and research to society in a visible and intellectually accessible manner.
In its strategy, the University of Oslo says: “The university community should make use of interactive arenas for communication of research results and dialogue with a broad audience on the Internet as well as through key events that should pursue educational goals as well as help recruitment.”
The Science Library has established a stage in the foyer where it operates a separate programme called Science Debate in cooperation with prominent communicators from the institutes at the Faculty of Sciences and the Fritt Ord Foundation. The goal is to encourage debate and exchange of views on the sciences, their role in public life and their impact on social development.
The library stage is also used by Norwegian broadcasting for weekly popularscience radio shows, by students for film screenings and student debates, as well as for a variety of other lectures and events. The library staff members act as professional suppliers of content, producers and hosts.
We now have the library of our dreams, in very many ways. The students, the academic committee, the information services for science students and the student organizations are our co-habitants, and provide us with feedback and specific advice about the road ahead. So what are the key points on which we should focus our attention?
The library cooperates with the group for interactive design at the Department of Informatics. Current work involves various applications for mobile units. Could indoor tracking and the Rfid tags be a possible topic for next semester’s student assignments?
And can we become an attractive partner in a more permanent Library Living Lab, where the development of as-yet nonexistent services in the library space to serve the university community can take place within such methodological frameworks?
Hosting our guests
Lately, the need to engage in outreach activities, bringing the library and its services out of its traditional premises and engaging actively with the public in new settings, has manifested itself.
Recently, the library has been represented at the University’s stand at The Gathering, Norway’s largest computer party, as well as Norway’s first innovation festival, Mini-Maker Fair, and we will also be present at the annual National Science Week.
For such events we wish to develop a science pop-up or a festival library that can easily be scaled up or down and filled with a varying content. This kind of library requires a super-simple loans system. In their idle hours, our ICT staff is playing with a solution.
As managers, we are concerned that all staff members should behave and feel like hosts for the entire Science Library and for all activities and services that take place on the library’s premises or in the library’s name.
The discussion as to whether the visitors to the library should be referred to as customers or users can thereby be concluded. They are our guests! So if you are in these parts, feel free to drop in.