Indigenous Libraries Bridging the Design Gap

By Edgardo Civallero

Libraries in Latin America

Libraries in general terms are alien to Latin America and its native cultures and have traditionally adopted a Western-based design in the entire continent, even when serving communities which did not share Western values. On the other hand, traditional aboriginal spaces devoted to cultural expression and knowledge storage and transmission have been, until recently, unfamiliar and unknown to many within Latin American nations.

Centro Rural de Lectura en el asentamiento humano La Victoria, barrio Santo Domingo, Huarmey, Ancash, Perú.

The increased visibility gained by indigenous topics and issues during the last twenty years, and the subsequent transformation of Latin American societies into more inclusive structures, has meant that libraries were transformed as well. As slow as this transformation process might have been, several advances have been made in terms of library design and service provision.

Libraries in AbyaYala

Libraries in AbyaYala  are increasingly aware that they work in a land with diverse and ancient traditions. They understand that besides assessing the incorporation of latest developments, they must include in their collections and services the continent’s popular knowledge, cultural diversity, traditional formats used to transmit information, and the unique Latin American intangible heritage. They understand that “library” is a concept that cannot remain anchored in the past; that it must be deconstructed, decolonized and fertilized with new ideas and approaches, so that it can evolve. Libraries accept that to be truly communal spaces, they need to consider many different perspectives, as well as the identities, languages ​​and ideas that still exist in the continent.

Developing these library-related ideas and values in an ethnic, cultural, political, social and economic space as thorny and complex as Latin America is far from being an easy job. But despite the many setbacks, some libraries developing activities in AbyaYala’s indigenous regions have achieved visibility and relevance. They gained attention after they managed to combine traditional building and space design with needed library services, all in an elegant, beautiful way.

The PAVA Project

A case study which exemplifies the new approach to indigenous libraries in Latin America relates to one of the comunitecas in the municipality of Tecpán (Department of Chimaltenango) in the highlands of southern Guatemala. The comunitecas are part of the PAVA project (Programa de Apoyo a los Vecinos del Altiplano/Support Program for the Highland Neighbours) (PAVA n.d.). There are three small libraries located in areas where most of the population belongs to the Kaqchikel people, a Maya-speaking society. The libraries in addition to maintaining their respective collections offer meeting places in which communities can conduct cultural and educational activities. They also support continuing education, working closely with rural teachers.

Comuniteca de Paxixil, Tecpán, Chimaltenango, Guatemala.

Innovative Space Design

The activities held today in the comunitecas were previously implemented in small spaces provided by other institutions, usually schools. In 2013, the Guatemalan architect Axel Paredes donated to PAVA the drawings to build a library in the community of Paxixil. Although the construction is small, the structure is very ingenious, and its appearance is certainly attractive. The structure is enclosed by mobile panels made of thick bamboos, each painted in bright colours to imitate the traditional patterns of indigenous textiles. The library provides access to 3000 books and a series of training programs for some 200 people.

In the last few years, the comuniteca at Paxixilhas become very famous. It has been mentioned in specialized architecture magazines, such as Domus (Paredes 2013), and was the winner of the Architecture Biennial of Guatemala in 2016.

Paxixil’s Library has not been the only rural library to win an Architecture Biennial. The public library “La Casa del Pueblo” (The People’s House), located in the village of Guanacasin the municipality of Inzá, department of Cauca, Colombia, obtained a similar recognition for its country in 2004. Designed by two architecture students at the request of Inzá officials, the library was built by the neighbours themselves over the course of a year. It has grounds and walls of stone and concrete, a complex internal structure made of thick bamboo, and a thatched roof made of straw. Although it does not precisely reflect the traditional architecture of the area, the design takes very good advantage of the available spaces and materials. “La Casa del Pueblo” provides many traditional library services to the communities settled in the area, some of whom belong to the Paez indigenous people. But its activities are often eclipsed by the history of its construction and, above all, by its evocative appearance.

Bibliotecapública “La Casa del Pueblo” de Guanacas, Inzá, Cauca, Colombia.


The examples described demonstrate that the initial steps regarding library services to indigenous peoples in Latin America are being taken in the right direction. There is still the problem of stereotypes.  An important issue is the development of regional and national policies regarding library services for indigenous peoples. Other issues concern lack of action in ensuring editorial production of content in indigenous languages, sustainable intercultural education and a long and complex “etcetera”.

The existence of libraries like those in Paxixil and Guanacas is good news and hopefully provide exemplars to be emulated in many other places in AbyaYala and elsewhere. Step by step, libraries, especially those working in indigenous areas, must become spaces where cultures and visions combine to make places of knowledge welcoming for everyone.


Civallero, Edgardo (2007) Bibliotecas en comunidades indígenas: Guía de acción y eflexión. Córdoba, Argentina: Wayrachaki Editora. Published online June 2015.

Accessed 24 July 2018

Civallero, Edgardo (2008) Bibliotecas indígenas en América Latina: Revisión bibliográfica y estado actual de la cuestión. Córdoba (Argentina): Wayrachaki Editora. Published online 2015.

Accessed 26 July 2018

Miño Rueda, Luis Alberto2004. La biblioteca que soñó Guanacas. El Tiempo, August 15th. [Online].

Accessed 24 July 2018

Paredes, Axel and Alemán de Paredes, Ana (2013). “La transformación de lo local: biblioteca rural de Paxixil”. Domus, 8, agosto-septiembre, pp. 80-85.

Accessed 26 July 2018

PAVAn. (n.d.) “¿Qué son las comunitecas?” Programa de Apoyo a los Vecinos del Altiplano. [Online].

Accessed 24 July 2018

Author Details

Edgardo Civallero is an Argentinean/Spanish librarian, currently working as the director of the Charles Darwin Foundation’s Library at Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. He is also the director of the digital humanities project “Observatory of Libraries and Indigenous Peoples in Latin America”. He is a member of IFLA’s Indigenous Matters Section and has worked for the last fifteen years with library services for indigenous peoples, oral traditions and endangered sounds in languages and music, and knowledge management.



Active Sitting at the Library

by Louise Dahlberg


At Umeå University Library located in northern Sweden, a team working in library facilities has conducted several User Experience[1] (UX) studies to understand user behaviour and needs. The findings provided useful data and showed that many students use the spaces for lengthy time periods and that the furniture provided did not meet their needs. The results demonstrated that rethinking space planning at the Library was required. The solution was perceived to be the provision of ergonomic work stations which would improve the work environment and function as a relaxing setting for the user to unwind. The desired goal was furniture to be used for studying that would not impact negatively on the body. The end result would be workspaces that were creative, fun, useful, comfortable and productive and part of general health awareness thinking in relation to ergonomics.

Learning from User Behaviour: Guerrilla Research

Feedback from users on flip boards placed in the Library. Photo: Louise Dahlberg

The team at Umeå University Library made observations and undertook guerrilla interviews which are easy and efficient. Guerrilla interviewing[2] involves asking interviewees on the spot if they might be able to respond to a few questions. It is an inexpensive way of gaining reliable insights into user behaviour.  Impromptu but rigorously planned questions seek immediate feedback into use of a specific library area or service. Best of all, it does not require extensive work in market segmentation or sampling because people are chosen randomly on the spot. Graffiti walls were also used to record the feedback from users. It is a simple and  low-cost method consuming minimal resources.  A query can be placed on a big flip board located in the targeted library space on which feedback is sought.  Users can answer highlighted questions.

Think Like a Patron

Another way of noting users’ actions and engagement with services and the library environment is to observe people and surroundings from a patron perspective, that is, think or act like a patron. Questions on areas to be observed are developed. The observer blends in with the environment, absorbs the setting and discovers the library’s strengths and flaws. At Umeå University Library, observers sat in quiet areas at the library for about twenty minutes at a time and wrote down their observations. Some of the questions considered were:

Is there an electricity outlet nearby? Everyone knows that this is the most important part of choosing a study space, right?

Is the room actually quiet?

Does the lighting work for me?

Can I easily find the bathroom or see other signs where I am sitting?

How effective is the ventilation?

Does the space feel safe?

Are there any staff about?

There are many interesting questions that could be asked, and it is important to focus on the outcomes from the beginning so that the resulting data can be easily handled.  Is the ambience the major area of investigation? Or wayfinding and signage?

What do Library Users Really Do?

Evidence-based practice has become very important in libraries and monitoring user behaviour through qualitative and quantitative research is vital to developing ideas for service improvement. The Track the Traffic (TTT) method[3] where traffic in the library is monitored and activity measured is an extremely useful approach.  Questions are devised:

Where are users sitting?

How do users move and interact with spaces and library staff?

How often do users seek assistance and which library services are they using?

Using the TTT method, it was observed that many students regularly visit the silent reading rooms during the day but seemed to abandon them at night, moving closer to the main information desk which is located near the entrance and staffed during all opening hours. This was an interesting observation to consider when thinking about the environment. Such observations must be followed up with interviews or other survey methods to help determine the reasons for users’ choices and to investigate why users were moving closer to the circulation desk during the evenings. The TTT method was a great way to start gathering information. It is easy to think one knows how library users behave but watching what they do often provides surprisingly new and unexpected insights.

During another session watching what students were doing, a student placed a chair on a desk and then his laptop on the chair. Placing one piece of furniture on another was an interesting and puzzling choice.  When questioned about his behaviour, the student explained that he was seeking to produce a situation where he could stand and work with his laptop as no adjustable desks were provided. The observation was a revelation to library staff and led to the realization that many students today think more about how they work in regard to their health. They do not wish to sit and work all day in the same position but want to adopt varied stances while working, standing or sitting, throughout the day.  The Library realized that additional ergonomic work stations for users must be incorporated into the space.

Active Sitting in the Library

Exercise balls, office bike and adjustable desks at Umeå University Library. Photo: Louise Dahlberg

Careful examination of the data from the various studies of user experiences revealed that many students were sitting in the Library for more than eight hours a day and some for over ten hours. It is important to have appropriate furniture and settings for extended hours of work. More and more students wrote comments on the graffiti walls and mentioned in the guerrilla interviews that they would like adjustable desks in the library where they could modify desks for standing up to work, and then lowering them when they felt like sitting for a while.

Understanding these needs led to moving beyond adjustable desks to the concept of active sitting and ergonomic thinking. New purchases were made including adjustable desks; ergonomic standing plates; exercise balls; balance plates; office bikes; and new lounge chairs and plants to provide an inviting relaxing space.

Much has changed in thinking about standing versus sitting for long hours of the day and new approaches must be applied to students’ work and wellbeing. Students often have hectic schedules with intense, focused work in particular time periods.  It is important to encourage everyone to be flexible in the positions they choose for studying and working and to help people choose active and fun ways of sitting and/or standing.


After the ergonomic work stations were introduced, a small evaluation was undertaken to gain feedback from users. Flip boards were placed next to the ergonomic bikes and exercise balls.  Very positive responses were recorded. Some comments were that the users wanted more and differently-sized ergonomic devices.  Users applauded the changes in the study environment. Some comments indicated that while students did not use the ergonomic plates, desks or bikes themselves, they were glad that others could use them. Some users also took the liberty to point out that they wanted longer opening hours and that the library needed a better ventilation system.

By using varied methods to observe user experiences, the Library secured the feedback needed to appreciate the library space’s imperfections and to obtain the basis for focusing on creative and inspiring improvements.

Exercise balls, office bike and adjustable desks at Umeå University Library. Photo: Stefan Fleig

Author details

Louise Dahlberg is a librarian at Umeå University Library and works in the department of Customer Services. Louise is currently a member of the Standing Committee of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section. She has also been a Board member of the Västerbotten province regional section of the Swedish Library Association.



[1]Priestner, Andy. User experience (UX) 2017. Accessed 10 June 2018

[2] Rezende, Maria (2017) Guerilla research: quick, not dirty Accessed 3 July 2018

[3] Høivik, Tord. “Tracking the traffic in modern libraries”. Journal of Library Administration, 54:6, 529-541, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2014.953396

Innovative Partnerships: a Strategic Imperative: a report

by David Potts

ifla heading

The IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Midyear Seminar, Innovative Partnerships: a Strategic Imperative was kindly hosted by the Library of Birmingham on 23 February 2018. David Potts, Director, Library Resources at the Library of Birmingham describes the event.

Challenges Everywhere are the Same

The IFLA Buildings & Equipment Section seminar at the Library of Birmingham ( was a fantastic opportunity to learn about library design developments from all over the world. The range of libraries covered included public libraries, academic libraries, and even joint public/academic libraries. There were delegates and contributors from places such as the USA, Canada, Australia as well as the UK. It was interesting to me to hear however great the geographical distance, the challenge of meeting the requirements and aspirations of users with innovative but practical design is a constant.

Naming Libraries

Another interesting trend appears to be how libraries are being named. We had presentations from libraries called The Eye, The Hive, The Word, The Diamond, The Link and The Storyhouse. Nomenclature in all its manifestations is something with which I have long been fascinated. Are there any conclusions to be drawn from the ‘L’ word being so often omitted? I’m not sure, but it is becoming increasingly more common.

The Library of Birmingham

Delegates were invited to tour the Library of Birmingham and it was my great honour to give a short introductory presentation. Visitors are always interested in the architecture which is great, but it was also a brief opportunity for me to talk about the services we provide and the unique collections we hold, including Shakespeare treasures.


Meeting Colleagues

As ever with events like this, it was lovely to meet colleagues with whom I have worked over the years from all over the UK and beyond. It was really fascinating to hear the varied work they continue to do in relation to library design. We were delighted to host this IFLA event and hope everyone enjoyed their experience in the Library of Birmingham. We hope to see everyone again very soon!

Further reading

BBC News. ”Birmingham library: ‘No sour grapes’ at Stirling Prize” 17 October 2014.  Viewed 3 July 2018

Amy Frearson “Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo”  29 August 2013 De Zeen.  Viewed 3 July 2018

Author details

David Potts is Head of Library Resources at the Library of Birmingham. He was appointed in 2013 and his portfolio includes responsibility for information and communications technology, archives, venue hire and building operations. Before taking up his current post, David was responsible for leading ICT and Transformation at Birmingham with previous positions in libraries in London and Walsall.







The Hive at Five: From Design to Delivery

by Laura Worsfold and Sarah Pittaway

ifla heading

The IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Midyear Seminar, Innovative Partnerships: a Strategic Imperative was kindly hosted by the Library of Birmingham on 23 February 2018. A paper on the ground-breaking Hive Library in Worcester was presented at the seminar.

hivelaura                         librarydesignawardlaura

The Hive at Five: From Design to Delivery[1]


In the last six years, we have had the great privilege of opening, delivering and leading The Hive ( in Worcester; home to Europe’s first integrated public and university library, Worcestershire’s Archives & Archaeology Service and Worcestershire County Council’s Customer Service Hub. Over the past five years, the award-winning[2] building has had many prestigious visitors, including Her Majesty the Queen, who officially opened the building in 2012. Having celebrated our fifth birthday in July 2017, and after a recent visit earlier this month by John Glen, then Minister for Libraries, it seemed an opportune moment to reflect on the original vision and how the innovative model has helped transform both university and county library services in Worcester.

hive6 hive7

Design and Vision

The project was ten years in the making and came about as a result of the University of Worcester needing a new library and Worcestershire County Council’s need to move out of an old Victorian building. A site, formerly the council’s waste collection site, was identified and talks began. The partnership between the university and the county is unique and due to the huge commitment on both sides, The Hive came into being. The site was of great archaeological significance and there was a lengthy consultation period covering everyone from board members and governors down to key target groups; students, children and families, schools, disabled communities and businesses, to name but a few. The consultation included staff who were fully involved at all stages of the process.

The Hive is a £60million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and the client was involved in every stage of the design and construction which is extremely unusual in the PFI sector. The team consisted of representatives on both sides.

A design statement was developed:

A destination in itself. The building should inspire, excite and welcome, but not intimidate through a sense of grandeur or self-importance.

The vision of a truly integrated building and service remains true and although challenging at times, the partnership still adheres to its original vision, values and principles.

Service Delivery and Impact

Since opening in 2012, The Hive has gone from strength to strength, with:

  • 4 million visits
  • 62,780 new members, 40,800 children or young people
  • Over 4 million issues
  • Over 10,000 school children
  • Student satisfaction risen 13% in the National Student Survey (NSS)
  • University staff satisfaction with library services 98%
  • 8,690 logged enquiries (2015-16), 51% by university members

Alongside these facts and figures, there is great qualitative feedback from users and visitors, some of which has been tracked through the National Student Survey (NSS) conducted by the Higher Education Founding Council of England:

       The library was a big ‘selling point’ of the course for me.  NSS response, 2016

 I would like to highlight the fact that we have a wonderful library in Worcester. Great    workspace, friendly staff and tons of resources. NSS response, 2016

At the wonderful Hive, Worcester, I found myself hoping that like them, other universities could combine with local libraries…” Michael Rosen, English novelist, at The Hive’s fifth anniversary

Wonderful staff make all this happen. Simply put, they are the best asset we have. There are around 200 staff in The Hive who undertake a tremendous amount of work.  A member of the front-of-house team might be running Bounce and Rhyme in the morning, supporting a first-time computer user at lunchtime, and helping students discover reading list materials for assignments in the afternoon. Staff work with each customer in the same positive and friendly way and engender great feedback from our users.

The nature of the building means that there are many opportunities for people to get involved, students and public. Alongside paid staff, there are 110 volunteers performing fifteen different roles, contributing 20,000 hours this year alone. Volunteers sign up as digital champions or meet and greeters; work with events, code club, work club or children’s activities; and contribute in multiple ways.

There is a vibrant cultural, educational and participatory programme designed to bring our communities together, with all activities open to all users. We are truly an example of cohesion, joined-up thinking and commitment to lifelong learning across all ages. We aim high; our programme is carefully considered; and we offer something new and modern in a predominately historic city.

What’s Next?

A new five-year strategic plan for The Hive is in production and one of the many lessons learned has been that we must remain flexible and adapt to changing circumstances and customer needs. The new plan prioritises and builds on our many achievements, but also identifies where we want to grow our audience and improve our facility. There are plans to develop the exterior site to assist the regeneration of this area of Worcester and to work more closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Economic Development on measuring impact on the city. We are also looking at evaluating The Hive’s influence and impact on education providers, literacy and visitors. We aim to continue to be a frontrunner in terms of design, building functionality, services provided and continuous improvement, ensuring fitness for purpose for those who use the facilities both now and in the future.

There are many wonderful spaces to discover at The Hive but we all have our own special places. Some of Sarah’s favourites are on level 1:

Just walking up to our beautiful building each morning brings a smile to my face, but I particularly love the spaces that visitors always comment on, like the comfy ‘cheesewall’ in the children’s library or the oral history sound-showers on level 2.

Laura’s special place is on Level 4:

Our only silent study area where I can sit and look out across the gold-cladded roof to the Malvern Hills beyond or up on the roof itself, such an amazing feat of engineering and genuinely feeling like I am in the pyramids of Egypt!   The Hive is so much more than        just a library.

Author details

Laura Worsfold has held the position of Business Development Manager at The Hive, Worcester since 2012, where her responsibilities include running the building and managing the PFI contract; developing a full events programme and exploring partnership opportunities for delivering high quality activity.  Laura has over twenty years’ experience in project management, cultural development, market research and operations management in the public sector and creative industries including Cultural Development Manager for the Oxford City Council.

Sarah Pittaway is a Team Leader in Academic Services in Library Services at The Hive, University of Worcester, Birmingham. Since 2013, she has been responsible for managing academic library engagement, including academic liaison, research support and student engagement; e-resources; and reading resources, including reading lists, digitisation, alternative formats and interlibrary requests. Sarah formerly worked in e-resources and as a subject advisor at the University of Birmingham. For six years, she was a member of the Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME) Collaboration group. She has a Ph.D. in medieval studies and can be followed @dr_sarah_p. .


[1] This blog was adapted from: Pittaway, Sarah and Worsfold, Laura (2017) “The Hive at Five: From Design to Delivery”. ALISS Quarterly, 13 (1). pp. 8-10, available at Viewed 3 July 2018

[2] Awards include Civic Building of the Year from the SCALA (Society for Construction & Architecture in Local Authorities) in 2013, best new-build project of the year in the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) Building Performance Awards 2013, and the ‘Contribution to the local community’ Guardian University Award. It has won awards for Design and Innovation and Community Benefit from the RICS Awards West Midlands and a Sustainability Award from the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Awards West Midlands in 2013. The Hive recently triumphed in the SCONUL (Society of College, National and University Libraries) Library Design Awards 2016, winning the Development over 2,000 sqm category.