The people’s library has sparked off new ideas

When you come to think of it – what precisely is a public library? What should it be capable of right now and also in the future? Who are the users, and how do they use and perceiv the library and its services? And what about the so-called nonusers – what are their thoughts on the public library? These are some of the questions that The people’s library has been trying to find the answers to.

This Danish project has entailed a completely new way of dealing with library development, which has given us new insights and learning. The method used was to obtain a design-anthropological view of the library as a space as well as a place, and of the meetings and relations that occur between the library, the users, non-users and employees.

The project is a joint project between the Danish Agency of Culture, Danish School of Media and Journalism and the Think Tank Libraries of the Future.

The project manager was an anthropologist and one more anthropologist and a designer joined the team.

Many wanted to participate

All Danish public libraries were given the opportunity to apply for participation. Half of the libraries wanted to do so and eight of them were selected.

In collaboration with the eight participating libraries and through constantly involving users, non-users and library staff, the project team has examined the libraries and developed and tested ideas for meeting some of the challenges facing the libraries today.

Insights and learning

The anthropologists made the following observations:

  • That both users and non-users have a rather limited knowledge of all the library’s services and possibilities
  • That the library is not particularly visible outside its own four walls and is still mostly associated with “a place to borrow books”
  • That the library staff think the young are hard to understand and somehow a bit ‘tricky’
  • That the employees may find it difficult to have a dialogue with the users
  • That the library is a cornerstone in many people’s lives
  • That the library is perceived as the final public bastion to meet you with a trusting attitude.

The project has questioned the way the Danish library sector in various target group analyses has been operating with a sharp distinction between users and nonusers. There are for example users, who in some areas are non-users, but are potential users of some of the library’s services.

Idea generation

Based on the findings of the project and the challenges that have been singled out, the participants from the libraries and students from the Danish School of Media and Journalism have been working on the development of new ideas for new library services to the public and for the development of the staff.

The result was 11 new ideas, four of which were chosen for development and tests at the participating libraries in collaboration with the staff.

Project results and tools for the methods of the project are available to other libraries at the Danish Agency of Culture’s homepage: The material is only available in Danish.

Chief Consultant Danish Agency for Culture, libraries
These projects were tested and developed by users and members of staff at the participating libraries in 2014:
  • Vi kan godt selv (We can manage by ourselves) – an influential and active corps with and for young people
  • Bladet, som ikke skulle afleveres tilbage (The magazine not to be returned) – The library’s answer to Ud & Se (free magazine on trains in Denmark)
  • Om lidt ringer bibliotekaren på (Soon the librarian will ring the doorbell) – Borrow a librarian or an arrangement
  • Det ved jeg ikke, men ska’ vi ikke tjekke det på Idéteket? (I don’t know, but why don’t we check it at the Idéteket?) – an easy and active portal to internal knowledge sharing.