Time for change:

Library development 2016

Over the last 100 years, the local libraries have changed from books behind a counter to open shelves and self-service. Modern ideas about libraries in 2016 indicate that they should be ‘a third place’, a meeting place which is neither a home nor a workplace. Increasingly the users themselves are not only active participants, but also those who generate content.

The People’s Workshop, a makerspace for music and 3D design. Photo: Tom Atle BordevikOne hundred years after the establishment of Drammen Library and ten years after its opening in a new part of the city, at Papirbredden, we are again engaging in innovation in Drammen. To me, library development means being at the cutting edge and daring to challenge ourselves. How can we be attractive to our existing and future users? Everything we do should aim to benefit the users.

This is an ongoing process requiring that we raise our sights and pay attention to what goes on around us. I would assert that working in a library means being part of a continuous process of change. This has become our mode of work, not merely something to be engaged in occasionally as the need arises in the form of a reply to a project application. It involves finding out what is required, and if radical change is called for, we need to have the courage to go through with it.

Expectations from the local people

In 2013, Drammen City Council decided that Drammen Library should serve as a regional house of literature, an arena for debate and learning and a place for people to meet.

In 2014, a population survey was undertaken, showing that the people of Drammen are interested in the library as a meeting place, they would like to have a café there, and they expect accessibility to improve.

In 2015, the City Council adopted a plan for development and renewal of the library services, in pace with social development in general. To increase accessibility it was decided to introduce ‘extra-open’ library services in parts of the premises, i.e. unstaffed opening hours beyond the normal, staffed hours.

From books to meeting place

After ten years of intensive use, the library premises were suffering from major wear and tear, and the technical equipment was on the verge of collapsing. We also experienced how the current furnishing, with tall, fixed shelving, was unsuitable for development and served as a barrier to a broader range of activities.

On a daily basis we had users complaining about each other. The library was not designed for competing activities; it was primarily designed for books, and only secondarily as a meeting place.

Radical change

In response to the changes in user expectations and the challenges in the physical library premises, we made some radical changes:

We established The People’s Workshop, a makerspace for music and 3D design, in an area that was filled with shelves but was little used. We transformed it into a space for people and activities, where the books and media could come better into their own when combined with relevant activities. There were fewer books, but those that were kept became more accessible.

We found out that the development of the library and the ‘extra-open’ services had to start on the ground floor, and since the ground floor currently housed the children’s section, we quickly saw that the content of that floor had to change.

Having extra-open access only to the children’s section was not the same as rendering the entire library more accessible to all users. We concluded that the best solution would be to relocate the entire children’s section from the ground to the second floor. This was a difficult decision, but it was important and proved to be the right one.

The library – ‘the third place’

A ‘third place’ is defined as a place where you feel at home, but which is not your place of work/study or your own home. The library should be this kind of place: a safe place to meet and hang out. To accommodate this function, the library needs to change its use of space, routines and ways in which people are received.

The physical changes to the library are important, but changes to the ways in which the library operates may be even more so. A large part of staffing resources remains tied up in manual routines associated with physical media and the reception desk. Modern library operations entail acknowledging active dissemination and work with events as important and necessary tasks.

The number of manual routines needs to be reduced, and the users must be able to use self-service functions to the greatest extent possible. Placing physical and digital services on an equal footing is also essential. In the same way that we renovate the library premises, we also need to renovate the digital services.

When Drammen Library reopens its ground floor, the users will encounter a library that has been furnished to accommodate a variety of meetings. They will find themselves inspired, enlightened and challenged. Literature will be presented in new ways, and the users can choose books to take with them to the café where they can enjoy the quiet atmosphere and perhaps a literary event or a lecture on a relevant topic. The Topic of the Day will also be visible in exhibitions digitally and physically.

The ground floor will serve as a fully functional library at the times when it is unstaffed, and inspire and invite visitors to the other premises during the staffed hours.

Active dissemination

We are exploring ways to identify the most relevant parts of the collection to disseminate and make them available to the users in new and more varied ways. We then need to shed the traditional librarian’s approach that requires all books to be presented systematically and as a whole.

What happens if we pick fiction published during the last two years and combine it with relevant non-fiction to produce new and surprising perspectives? Non-fiction should be disseminated just as actively as fiction, since the communication of literature transcends genres and formats.

New modes of work

To arrive at a new mode of operating the library, we subject everything we do to a close inspection. Is there anything that we should stop doing? If we should continue to do it, how can we make this service as amenable to self-service as possible?

Those who wish for and need help will of course be provided with it, but we will make it clearer at what times during the staffed hours they can receive help, and we will spend less time ‘sitting around and waiting for users who happen to drop by.

In practice, this means that the level of staffing will vary through the day in accordance with the level of activity, rather than having all staff present throughout the opening hours.

The users’ library

This project is ambitious, because it aims to chart a direction to better enable us to meet future needs for library services. The users should want to spend much time in the library on social activities, finding answers to their questions, learning and satisfying their curiosity, and being inspired and challenged.

The development work continues after the ground floor reopens, because we cannot see whether we have made the right choices before the users are readmitted. Perhaps people will use it in ways that we have not foreseen, but this will not be the end of the world, since we will then have the organization needed to continue the ongoing process of change.

Chief Librarian Drammen Library