Over the last few days I have discussed the role of public libraries in society with a handful of ‘library workers’ from all over the world. Many agree that their library needs to provide new services in order to attract new visitors. But, some consider turning the library into a ‘digital hub’ that collects and stores electronic information through advanced technology, whilst others consider turning the library into a community meeting place. They are at different stages of the journey.
Today, I visited Entresse library which is the second largest library in Espoo, on the outskirts of Helsinki. Entresse library contains many of the same activities and settings as Sello library which I visited yesterday. As Eva Wilenius, who showed me around the library today, noted ‘we think children, and families, and immigrants are really important here so we dedicate over half the library space to them’. But, providing so much space for children and families in one library, on a single floorplate, generates a lot of noise for others.
Most users with whom I spoke, who use the library to study, said that they do not mind the noise. So, why is Eva concerned? She believes that the library should be an inclusive space in which everybody can find refuge. But, in providing a sanctuary for everybody, librarians spread themselves (and their resources) too thinly. If only a handful of individuals study at Entresse library, at certain times of the year, librarians should not commit to providing a quiet space for all of them. In Finland, everybody has access to university libraries, which provide quiet spaces. Individuals wishing to study can use these libraries when they choose to. What would university libraries need to do to accommodate the overflow from public libraries? They would need to provide spaces – such as family areas - so that adults and elderly visitors can use the study rooms.
What learning for UK libraries? Rather than attempting to satisfy every need within a single space, it is more useful to consider the library as part of a network of spaces, each satisfying a few requirements.