Aarhus Urban Mediaspace is the first of many buildings that will be constructed at the waterfront. It was designed as an entrance point to the city to get the ‘people to move around it in a new way’.
As Stephen Willacy, Aarhus City Architect, explained, ‘how we live in and use the city is very important’. The library brings a flow of people to the waterfront so that the people reclaim the waterfront and the waterfront reclaims the people. 'It was built as a hinge between the old city and harbour’, explained schmidt hammer lassen architects, who designed the new library.
There are train tracks leading up to the front door of Aarhus Urban Mediaspace that will be part of a light rail transit system. There is also automatic parking for 1000 vehicles under DOKK1. These car-parking spaces are for library patrons – as well as anyone else who wants to use them. The library will become a transport hub for anyone wishing to shop, eat, and explore the area.
What learning for UK libraries? Libraries can provide visitors with access to other services. They can become a gateway to other spaces.
I attended Next Library conference opening event this evening which was held at Aarhus Urban Mediaspace this year. It was an opportunity to meet delegates from all over the world who were collectively considering the role of libraries in society today. I met with individuals from Singapore, Brazil, Australia (to name but a few).
The opening event was an opportunity for them to mingle together to share their ideas, for example, on how to deal with a lack of funding, how to encourage individuals to remain interested in books, and how to encourage teenagers to use libraries.
Since I am interested in how we design libraries, I was particularly concerned by how the library as a ‘day time’ space became transformed into a ‘night time’ space.
As I anticipated, the first floor of the library became an events space for the delegates, who helped themselves to the buffet on the long tables in the café and ate their food on the chairs and sofas in the adjacent reading room. The delegates, some 200, spilled into the reception area towards the entrance. The auditorium in the centre of the library, a link between the first floor and second floor, became a formal seating area where delegates attended the presentations. And later, when the softs seats in the auditorium were removed, leaving only the concrete steps, it became a venue for the resident DJ.
Whilst chatting to delegates, I fluidly moved from the first floor to the second floor, from buffet area to presentation area, from reception, eating, to entertainment. The library has been designed as a multi-functional space for both day-time and night-time which required an adaptable layout and flexible furniture (and mobile guests).
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.