In 2014, amendments to the Public Libraries Act of Norway came into force. The revision included an enhanced role for public libraries:
…to promote the spread of information, education and other cultural activities through active dissemination and by making books and other media available for the free use of all the inhabitants of Norway. Public libraries are to be an independent meeting place and arena for public discussions and debates.
Of particular significance is the emphasis on the “active” role of public libraries and the use of the public library as a “meeting place”. What does the new approach mean for libraries? How should public libraries respond to new directions? How are any changes planned and implemented? What consequences are there for the design of “library rooms”? How is the rethinking of the design of physical library space undertaken? This blog posting outlines two projects in Troms in Norway, which have proactively changed the role of the library, the first through examining use of library space and the second through presenting libraries as houses of literature.
Environment, Sustainability and Libraries (ENSULIB) is a special interest group under IFLA. With generous sponsorship from De Gruyter Publishing (Boston/Berlin), the group circulated a Call for Submissions for the IFLA Green Library Award for the second year in a row. To ENSULIB’s great delight, 35 submissions were received from around the world, including India, Ukraine, Serbia, China, USA, Columbia, Italy, Portugal, Kenya, Nigeria, and Iran.
After much deliberation, the winner was selected: the public library Stadtbibliothek Bad Oldesloe, Germany. Their project, “Ernte deine Stadt – Harvest Your City: Three Years of Green and Sustainable Library Commitment in the Stadtbibliothek Bad Oldesloe” combines urban gardening with maker-spaces and community building efforts, demonstrating that libraries are more than just book-lending-stations. Another byproduct has been the launching of the region’s first Community Supported Agriculture. The Bad Oldesloe project fulfills the goals of the Green Library award, which include, communicating the library’s commitment to environmental sustainability and creating awareness of libraries’ social responsibility and leadership in environmental education. More generally, the Award aims to support and promote the worldwide Green Library movement and encourage Green Libraries to present their activities to an international audience. Following the IFLA Statement on Libraries and Sustainable Development, the award advances the profession through illuminating the role of libraries and librarians in the advancement of sustainability standards and the promotion of specialized knowledge within professional practice.
The five runners up for the award came from Kenya, Serbia, Ukraine, China and Hong Kong. The various polarities of the submissions created a mighty challenge for the reviewers. For instance, cool weather countries grapple with how to warm a building, while those in hot climates aim to cool their buildings. Three of the submissions (from Kenya, Serbia and Ukraine) focused on children, with libraries promoting literacy and environmental awareness to the next generation. These three projects are very low-cost, illuminating how a library can successfully create environmental awareness in children without big money. The Chinese submission focused on green library building which offers a haven in the bustling, polluted city of Guangzhou, however with governmental support. The Hong Kong submission hinged on the fact that Hong Kong is not yet committed to environmental issues and sustainability, as seen in the lack of green values in its business center. In this case, a university library takes a leading role by creating a clear environmental policy and strategy which manifest in everyday routines.
The renowned Staats- und Stadtbibliothek Augsburg (State and City Library of Augsburg) is housed in a veritable nineteenth-century Palace of Books created in 1892– 1893 by the architects Fritz Steinhäußer and Martin Dülfer. Like many nineteenth century libraries, its viability in the twenty-first century was in doubt as costs of maintenance and renewal escalated and the role of the library was questioned. Successful initiatives have ensured improved prospects and a worthwhile future. Planning is underway for the renovation and extension of the building to ensure the preservation and appropriate presentation of Augsburg’s valuable collections and cultural heritage, and quality service delivery for an important region of Germany.
James Campbell and Will Pryce in their world history of libraries comment that it is hard to reconcile talk of a crisis in library design due to spending cuts and the decline in importance of printed material with “the continued explosion in library construction in the first decade of this century and the large number of library buildings currently being built. For a construction sector in crisis it seems to be a remarkably healthy one”. The Designing Libraries website records over 60 UK library projects completed in the five years from 2011 – 2015, the majority of which are refurbishments or extensions. Some were very significant enhancements of older buildings including historic buildings of major architectural importance. Trends include an increasing focus on user requirements, community awareness, energy efficiency and sustainability. While it became more difficult to secure funding for library buildings, librarians who were fleet of foot, had adjusted to meet new demands and remained at the heart of their respective communities, were able to make the case to funding authorities to provide attractive, well-designed physical spaces to deliver increasingly varied and electronic services. It is not possible in a blog to do justice to the various developments and more detail can be obtained from a chapter in British Librarianship and Information Work 2011-2015 on which this blog is based.