Next Library conference is being held in Aarhus Urban Mediaspace this year. Delegates were given the opportunity to visit branch libraries in neighbouring districts. Taking the bus out of town, we visited Aaby, a branch library for an area with a population of around 25,000 people.
The library caters for patrons with diverse economic and social need for which the library must cater. ‘Branch libraries need to adapt to the local environment’, explained our guide. In designing the library, staff ‘aspire to turn the library into a community centre’. They tried to make it open to everyone, turn it into a place where people can meet as a community, and accommodate multiple needs in the same place.
Instead of a ‘traditional counter desk’, one member of staff walks the floor to provide visitors with assistance. The ‘floor walkers’ create a link between library staff and visitors.
As well as ‘floor walkers’, library staff provide visitors with a ‘citizens’ service’. Library staff offer advice on how to renew a passport, how to apply for a driver’s licence, and how to move to another doctor. They are an essential point of contact for a diverse range of people with a spectrum of needs - which transforms the library from a place for reading books into a place where visitors can meet, receive support, and learn new skills.
This branch library is a civic centre. It is an example of a space where many services are provided in a single place. What learning for the UK? Where there is a shortage of funding for libraries as places for reading books, there remains a need for shared community spaces, where visitors can receive advice relating to various aspects of daily life.