Today, I visited a library in Sello in Espoo, which is on the outskirts of Helsinki.
It faces a shopping centre which means that it benefits from passing foot traffic. Many visitors with whom I spoke had dropped by because ‘they were in the area’.
The library is organized around an atrium which is the entrance to the library. Its two floors are visible to the visitor as they enter. Oli Sivula, Director of the libraries in Espoo, explained that she worried about the space being too noisy. But, the visitors whom I spoke to did not appear at all concerned, and said that they enjoyed reading and studying in a lively place.
However, they wanted more privacy, a ‘space within a space’ that enabled them to tuck themselves into a corner of the library. They liked being in a sociable environment, but they also sought seclusion. Similarly, the school children I spoke to liked to study in corners. They liked sitting being in the midst of the activity, but they did not necessarily like being in the middle of the action. They wanted the option to duck out of view.
What learning for UK libraries? It is important to design spaces that are active – or ‘buzzing’ – and spaces that enable people to retreat. This means providing visitors with pockets of seclusion.