Hoeb4U – the Leisure Library for Young People
Youngsters are considered a very difficult target group on the library landscape. That applies to Hamburg too. While 5 to 13-year-olds make up 34 percent of all Hamburg public libraries users, young people aged between 14 and 24 account for just 14 percent. But thanks to the Hoeb4U, Hamburg is well on the way to turning the tide.
PlayStation instead of reading chairThe Hoeb4U is located in Hamburg Altona on the grounds of a former factory. The red-brick halls where ship propellers used to be manufactured are today home to cinema and cafés, and since December 2005 a youth library as well. This library for young people, which has a surface area of 220 square meters, consciously tries to stand out from other libraries – to be cooler – with metal shelves, bar stools in front of the computer stations and a curvy, shiny counter.
Its stock is also very different to what’s on offer at the Hamburg city libraries. Half of the 14,000 titles are audiovisual media: audio books, CD’s, DVD’s as well as games for all conceivable systems (PC, Xbox360, PS2, PSP, Nintendo DS, Wii). There are board games, comics, newspapers and, of course, books – fantasy and mystery, love and sex, celebrity biographies and non-fiction books on hip hop, graffiti, the problems of puberty, sport and much more.
Leisure instead of schoolThe idea for this unusual library came from the working group on youth libraries – and was almost the logical continuation of the Hamburg city libraries’ youth library concept. In 2004 they set up the first self-contained youth media editing department in German libraries.
Editor Janette Achberger and her colleagues developed a completely new concept. “Our goal was to attract young people who hadn’t been to a library before, or who hadn’t been in a long time, so that they could discover libraries as a place to be – as a place to have fun”, the 40-year-old librarian explains. That’s why they designed the Hoeb4U as a leisure library only. “School is deliberately not part of the concept. School books, learning aids and similar items have no place at our library.”
Generation instead of generation gapIt’s not just the unusual content and the deliberate focus on leisure which makes the Hoeb4U so special. The library is run like a junior company with the apprentices running the day-to-day operations.
All the apprentices in the same year of training in the city libraries as media and information services specialists spend twelve months in the Hoeb4U. At first they are trained by the three permanent members of staff there. But after just a short time the four to six trainees are running the day-to-day operations of the Hoeb4U on their own. They do the loans, take care of the office tasks, the customer desk and the administration, they order the media and log them onto the system.
“That has many advantages”, the Director of the Hoeb4U explains. “It’s a completely different way for the trainees to learn; they don’t just watch from the sidelines, they do everything themselves. Furthermore, they are in the same age group as our customers.” Thus, young people are serving behind the counter too. “They relate to our customers in a completely different way and have a much better idea what the young people want. Without the specialist knowledge that the trainees automatically bring with them – just because of their age – the concept wouldn’t work so well.”
Word of mouth publicity instead of advertisingUser figures are a good indication of just how well Ms Achberger and her colleagues are doing. The youth library has been enjoying more and more loans every month since it opened. 170,000 have already been borrowed in the first nine months of 2008.
What’s more, the success is by no means based on expensive advertising. “The youngsters themselves are the best form of advertising. We deliberately don’t advertise in schools because we don’t want to be associated with school. Our advertising is limited to approaching young people who are already members of the city libraries. The rest just comes from word of mouth advertising”, the Library Director explains.
“I am particularly proud of the fact that the Hoeb4U is pulling in many youngsters who couldn’t be bothered with libraries at all before”, Ms Achberger continues. They had maybe visited a library once before at the age of 6 or 7 with the school but that was it. Now these young people are coming to us and saying‚ wow, I need a map.”
As such the Hoeb4U team has long since achieved its ambitious goal. So what do they hope for the future? “I hope that the library continues to go down so well and that other libraries will adopt similar approaches – because at the moment we are still more or less the only ones offering a leisure library for young people.”
works as a freelance publicist in Bonn.
Translation: Marsalie Turner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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