Use what you have

Kim Granberg leads the work at the main library in Huddinge. Every Friday visitors can listen to vintage radio thratre transmissions. Photo Annika HjerpeWhat can you do with a dismally plain, large, open-stack basement book storage facility? In Huddinge, a suburb just outside of Stockholm, the librarians came up with a creative idea of how to promote older, and sometimes forgotten, books, an idea that rides on the prevailing vintage trend. They turned the storage into a retro library.

“We have been visited by many librarians from across the country and we have only heard positive comments. Many people think this is a good idea and luckily, it is not costly,” says Kim Granberg, librarian and head of the main library in Huddinge.

The basement open stacks in Huddinge are rather expansive, holding some 27,000 books. The whole library holds approximately 106,000 books and the library’s entire media collection with music CD’s, DVD’s, magazines, audio books, and so on, amounts to some 126,000 items. This library, together with five subsidiary libraries, serves a municipality of about 100,000 inhabitants.

Organized in decades 

The main library in Huddinge has never really needed to weed the books due to a lack of space. The basement facility has been open for the library visitors since 1995, but before it merely functioned as extra shelving storage, with the books lined up on shelves in alphabetical order.

To give the old books a renaissance, and to make them more visible to the library visitors, the librarians came up with the idea of a retro library. They organized the books after decades, instead of the alphabet, and dedicated a couple of shelves to each decade. They identified a number of decades they found interesting and decided on the 1940’s, 50’s 60’s and 70’s.

“We went through the books we had and determined which ones we found most characteristic of each respective period,” says Kim Granberg.

For every time period, there is a shelf of selected fiction, children’s literature and non-literary prose. There is also recently published literature about each respective decade. To add to the retro-feeling, the talents of stage designer Lars Erik Hedendahl were called upon.

“We felt that a stage designer would be well-equipped to help create a certain magic, given the parameters, better than an interior designer might.”

More decades planned 

The library staff has helped out with details, scouring second-hand shops and flea markets for suitable props.

“Last summer, some of the staff kept this in mind as they visited a flea market or an auction during their vacation,” Kim Granberg says.

The plan is to add on to the retro library this summer and arrange two shelving segments with combined decades, one for the 1920-30’s, and one for the 1900-10’s.

This is a one way to make use of what you have, at a low cost; all you need is the space, the working hours of the staff and possibly inspirational help from someone like a stage designer.

“I had to go to a hardware store to buy rebar and I had no idea what it was for,” Kim Granberg says, and points to the bars above the book shelves. Rebar has been fixed to the ceiling and is used to display items chosen to represent different decades, a simple and inexpensive way to create atmosphere.

Increased interest 

Special activities are arranged in the retro library, to create further interest for the books it holds. Every Friday, library visitors can listen to vintage radio theatre transmissions found on the Swedish Radio’s webpage. Authors and experts on writers of the era are invited to give talks.

There are lectures on historically typical topics and visitors can book the large meeting table in the middle of the retro library, if they for example wish to, have a book club meeting there… that is, if they don’t mind attracting the interest of passerby visitors in the retro library at that time.

The retro library opened on October 23, 2012. After only eight months, it is still unclear how the new way of displaying the older books affects lending stats over the long-term, but preliminary figures show an increase in lending by almost 50 percent. (November 1st 2011 to February 28th 2012, lending from the storage amounted to 1,030 books; for the same period in 2012-2013, lending amounted to about 1,500.)

Although the lending from the basement open stacks is a small part of the library’s lending altogether (which amounted to about 70,000 media items both years for the corresponding periods) the retro library has seemed to have created a renewed interest in the library’s collection of older books.

Editor-in-chief National Library of Sweden