In 2012, a grand new public library was opened in Molde, Norway. The building houses not only the library, but also a theatre, a jazz festival, a literature festival and an exhibition of visual arts. The library is the entry point to the entire building, a house of culture in the broad sense.
The building is located at a vantage spot in the town centre, and has been named The Square. The name has historical roots, but such a name also signals that the library is a central spot – “the square” in the definite form singular. To be a centre both physically and intellectually is fundamental to the idea of a library, be it a municipal public library or a research library in an educational institution.
In Norway, the role of the public libraries as meeting places for dialogue and events is underscored in the preamble to the proposal for a new Library Act, whichhas recently been submitted. In manyresearch and educational institutions, thelibrary has developed into a key venue forresearch and learning in the broad sense, and the new Science Library at the University of Oslo provides a prime example of a multidisciplinary meeting place.
A meeting place
While many are asking why they should go to the library when so much information and knowledge is available online, a growing number of large library buildings are being erected. The library space as a physical building has reinforced its relevance, while this space is being expanded through provision of library services in cyberspace as well.
These things are interconnected. On the one hand, guidance is needed to stay oriented in the digital space, in the same way as when knowledge is carried by other vehicles. On the other hand, it is clear that the more we can solve in solitude on the web, the greater is our need to meet with other people. In the physical library space, these two needs can be combined.
“With support from the library space, the library vision will be made more accessible” has been the statement of Stockholm City Library for the renovation they have initiated in many of their numerous physical premises.
Diversity, flexibility and interactivity are recurrent keywords, including for planning of services and buildings for libraries that will serve research institutions. How should we plan for an unknown future? Kaisa Sinikara asks in her article on Helsinki University Library, where she is concerned with interactivity also in planning – between architects, users and library staff.
The architects’ awareness of the human need for places to meet also contributes to new and intriguing solutions for library buildings as part of the development of urban spaces and premises in educational and research institutions.
These libraries will be built not only for interactivity, but also for activity, such as the new Science Library in Oslo, where both users and staff refer to it as “the library of our dreams”. I believe that the realization of such dreams can come from many of the buildings that currently are under construction in Scandinavia.