Made By Users For Users
Libraries of course are all about books and other media. There is, however, more to them than that. In some European countries the focus is more on the user and his interests and needs.
“Children don’t really like going to the library,” says a girl who is about 11 years of age, “Because it is boring to look at all those boring books.” She went on to say that children need space to move around more. She did in fact have quite a lot to say about what a library should look like. At a workshop organised by the library in the Danish town of Arhus children were allowed to use their imagination and give free rein to their ideas. Some of these can be seen in the video on the library’s website: bookshelves that can be climbed up, a bouncy castle, a ball pool, animals in a garden and fruit trees with swings on them.
The Danes are involved in the decision-makingThe town of Arhus has been planning its new library for the last 15 years and has invited the people of Arhus to share their experiences and expectations with the planners and architects. The library’s partners, i.e. educational institutions, clubs and organisations which use the library, were also able to input their wishes and ideas. “They are all contributing skills that we don’t have in the library,” says Knud Schulz, the manager of the library in Arhus.The ideas that came about in the various workshops with children were not, however, integrated in the design as they stood. “That was not the plan in the first place anyway,” says Schulz. “They were meant to be food for thought for the architects – to help them empathise with the world of children.” One thing, however, became quite clear – a library should be more than just a series of bookshelves. Schulz is of this opinion, too. “The libraries of the future will be about more than just media, but also about people,” he explains. The media are just one of the many options available for users to satisfy their needs.
Everybody’s opinion is importantIn Arhus the people’s ideas were gathered above all from discussion groups and workshops. One of the issues, for example, was the actual library building: How can people get to it? Where can they park their bicycles? How can they get from the underground station to the building? All age and interest groups were invited to take part. Special attention was paid to the needs of disabled people. “At meetings with them the question of how blind people, people in wheelchairs or people who are afraid of being in big rooms can be helped and motivated to come to the library,” explains Schulz. At the moment the interior design is being discussed. It is above all the library’s partner institutions that are involved in this process. What do they think the conference room should look like? What objects or equipment would have to be in the room? Monitors? Water dispensers? A coffee machine? Schulz reports on a lot of different groups that have been dealing with different areas of the design.
Still quite rare in GermanyAccording to Konrad Umlauf, Professor at the Institute for Library and Information Science at the Humboldt-University in Berlin, this kind of user participation in public libraries does not exist in Germany. There is, however, a long tradition of people getting involved on a voluntary basis. “User surveys are also often conducted,” he says, “whose aim is to evaluate what is currently available. Surveys or questionnaires to generate new products or services are in fact rare.” He thinks, however, that this information in particular would be of great use.
The construction of the new Central and Regional Library in Berlin might well be the first German library to incorporate users’ ideas in the planning. It is, however, still not quite sure whether the library will actually be built. Nevertheless the various concepts for getting users involved are being dealt with. “At the moment we are working on the development of user formats for individual topics,” says press officer, Anna Jacobi. The “Construction Blog” represents the first example of these user formats. This is where innovative concepts to be found in other libraries are presented, which then prompt the users to get involved in the discussion. The plan is that later they, too, will then write and post articles themselves.