Reshape 2017 library conference looked bravely into the future

The international library conference, 21–22 September, focused on people and spaces. What kinds of library spaces are ideal now, when the relationship between people and the library is transforming?

Library professionals from, for example, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Latvia, France, Belgium, Norway, Russia, Estonia and Iceland attended the Reshape conference to tell the stories of their new libraries. Naturally, representatives of Oodi, currently under construction, were also among the participants.

The guiding idea behind the conference was compassion and the library’s role as a provider and generator of compassion. The speech by Professor Anne Birgitta Pessi focused on compassion in a public space. It is important how people behave in a space they share with others; what their active role in relation to others is.

An atmosphere of trust and positivity encourages innovations, wellbeing, joy, creativity and development of cognitive skills – everything that the library wants to promote. Pessi reminds people that compassion is infectious!

Anne Birgitta Pessi believes that the skill of compassion shapes public spaces

Anne Birgitta Pessi believes that the skill of compassion shapes public spaces

Shared soundscape

Citizens will make libraries into their own spaces. As a public space, the library is an institute that best promotes a sense of togetherness – all visitors own it, together. The sense of togetherness is created easily also between different libraries, regardless of country or nationality.

Both joys and problems are universal. For example, the conference brought up the challenging soundscape of reforming libraries, the adaptability of library premises, robotics, new staff arrangements, multiculturalism and virtual technology.

Many of the speakers touched upon the soundscapes of flexible spaces. Meri Kytö from the University of Tampere played examples of library sounds from a tape and talked about customer expectations. What should a library sound like? Everything we do makes a noise. Sound is a communication tool, and many sounds have a certain function.

Before, libraries were monumental institutions where the most popular word was ‘shhhh’. Now, they are changing into urban café milieus, even though many still long for silent spaces. The staff should listen to the sounds of their library and the feedback from the customers and carry out concrete, often quite small measures to achieve a more pleasant soundscape.

Technology as a helping hand

The end of the 2010s is a time of rapid development. During the conference days, the visitors had the opportunity to visit Oodi, in an experience provided by virtual glasses. Sakari Salli spoke about how virtual modelling can be used as a part of the design process. VR-Oodi also offers a look at the outdoor areas, presenting the future of Töölönlahti.

Sakari Salli presents how virtual technology enables showing how sunlight would look, shining through the library windows.

Sakari Salli presents how virtual technology enables showing how sunlight would look, shining through the library windows.

Cristina Andersson’s fascinating speech concerning robotics opened up new perspectives. Due to their expensiveness, robots have become a part of the service structure at a slower pace than expected. However, Andersson says that technology will arrive faster than we realise.

People are worried about whether robots will take our jobs. According to Andersson, the teachable robots will work alongside humans, learning from us. People will always find work. The duty of robots is to be efficient: they can process massive amounts of data, do not have vacations, are able to cope without coffee, always stay healthy and do not complain behind others’ backs.

Cristina Andersson presented the robot experiments around the world. Robot technology will be introduced also in Finnish libraries in the near future.

Cristina Andersson presented the robot experiments around the world. Robot technology will be introduced also in Finnish libraries in the near future.

Sara Jorgensen from Herning library in Denmark presented a new digital library model, in which the website has its own library host or hostess and where the books are presented like in a Netflix selection, available for browsing and loaning.

Peer encouragement

The highlights of the conference were the speeches by library representatives from different countries. It is useful to compare the development of our Oodi to that of other new libraries.

The speech by Sanne Caft from the Copenhagen main library was thought-provoking. ‘The Copenhagen model’ is strict and based on heavy-handed trimming. The staff simplifies and redesigns everything, learns to say no to unnecessary assignments, adapts new roles at a quick pace and reduces face-to-face service. They must be flexible in everything.

In many libraries, such as Dokk-1 in Aarhus, Denmark, people have noticed that both partners and visitors challenge the library all the time. Masses of people and the adaptability of the building are not easy to control. Krist Biebauw from Ghent library in Belgium mentioned a fact brought up by many others: the customers’ paths inside the buildings have surprised the designers. They are often contrary to expectations.

In the end, even in all the new libraries, it is all about a group of stories. Nizar Keblawi from Malmö spoke about story workshops with immigrant children and Marian Morgan-Bindon, our farthest guest from Gold Coast in Australia, about the sense of community in their large country.

Stories will remain a part of libraries because we create new ones ourselves. Chief Librarian Hólmkell Hreinsson from Akureyri in Iceland summarised the entire conference with one sentence: “Libraries change, but the human heart stays the same.” We want to be together, as a part of the story.

See all the conference addresses:

Text: Siru Valleala
Main picture of Meri Kytö: Sampo Matikainen/Hanna Hopea

Conference: RESHAPE – Designing the future of the library

Are You interested in new library service design, library spaces and accessibility?

Welcome to Helsinki, Finland on September 26-27, 2016, to get the latest information and learned lessons about some of the newly build and renovated quality libraries from different cities around the world!

New libraries are currently being planned or have recently been completed in many cities around the world. New technologies and changes in individual behavior alter the way in which we approach service design in an evolving environment. It requires that we rethink and redesign the whole view of libraries.

The City of Helsinki is currently building a new central library scheduled to open in December 2018. Because of this, the Helsinki City Library will organize a conference to share experiences, best ideas – and “lessons learned”.

Conference program

Professor of Design business management, Ms. Anne Stenros from Aalto University in Finland, will start the conference with her keynote address. We shall have a rare opportunity to hear Mr. Tom Loosemore, UK, who tells about Gov.Uk and user centered design.

We shall also take a look at newly build libraries, such as library manager Mr. Knud Schulz’s presentation of DOKK1 library in Denmark as well as hear the latest experiences from Belgium, where the City of Ghent is currently building a new library. In addition, we shall hear about the Canadian Galgary library from Mr. Paul McIntyre Royston.

Join us in Helsinki, Finland for two days September 26-27, 2016. We’ll explore the new service design, new ideas for library spaces and innovations that will help today’s library serve its patrons long into the future.

Here is the preliminary program.

Conference inrofmation and registration

RESHAPE – Designing the future of the library, September 26-27, 2016, Helsinki Finland. Address: Helsinki Congress Paasitorni, Paasivuorenkatu 5 A, 00530 Helsinki, Finland.

The registration fee is €100, which includes coffee and lunch on both days.

Registration to the conference is online now, please register here !

Accommodation can be booked straight from the hotel Scandic Paasi (reservation code BHEL250916) or other hotels. Please note, that the conference fee does not include the accommondation.

For more information, please contact the Helsinki City Library International Unit

  • Project manager Ms. Kristina Virtanen: kristina.virtanen(a), Tel. +358 40 187 2616
  • Communications Specialist Ms. Maisa Hopeakunnas: maisa.hopeakunnas(a), Tel. +358 40 153 82 88
  • Library Assistant Ms. Noora Suviranta: noora.suviranta(a), Tel. +358 40 658 9592
  • Helsinki City Library’s international operations

Library conference an invitation to a time machine

When books are assembled into a collection, they form a library. When people assemble, they likewise form a rich, diverse compilation. In late March, such a multi-voiced community convened in Helsinki at an international library conference called Designing Today, Destination Tomorrow: Libraries Equipped to Serve and Innovate.

As in other countries, the library industry in Finland is undergoing a great transition, and the creation of the Helsinki Central Library is in the process of introducing a new library complex. In addition to representatives from Finland, the conference in Helsinki attracted visitors from Canada, Sweden, Denmark, the Baltic countries and Estonia. Most of the attendees were library employees and architects.

Even though the themes of the conference focused on future challenges that may be difficult, the atmosphere was relaxed, thereby inspiring discussion.

Anne Stenros, Design Director at Kone Oy, addressed the topic of peopleoriented cities.

Anne Stenros, Design Director at Kone Oy, addressed the topic of peopleoriented cities.

A glimpse outside the industry

Anne Stenros, Design Director at KONE, presented thoughtprovoking ideas and figures. Future libraries involve many variables – including changes in human behaviour. Ms Stenros addressed the upheaval of lifestyles and of public facilities which are in the turmoil of change even as we speak. Urbanisation and demographic growth are not about to subside, but instead gaining dimensions which will have consequences that are difficult to predict. By 2050, 72% of the Earth’s population will live in cities. This will affect purchase power and education requirements, among other things.

Stenros anticipates that future generations will value work, education and tackling poverty above family and home. The number of single people is increasing and freelance work is becoming more and more common. How can public facilities best serve young people to whom “bleasure” (”business + pleasure”) is an everyday affair at the “coffice” (“office + coffee house”)?

According to Stenros, people are already increasingly interested in neutral ground – “third facilities” – where new ideas are generated in cooperation with others. Facilities where a peer is comfortable and finds an atmosphere that generates pleasure.


Conference hostess Meiju Niskala with Knud Schulz, the Manager of the Aarhus Main Library

A review of the new library designs

In addition to an introduction of the Helsinki Central Library, the twoday seminar programme included presentations by Knud Schulz and Britta Bitsch from the Main Library in Aarhus in Denmark, Reinert Mithassel from Oslo, Kirsi Lukkanen from the University of Helsinki Main Library in Kaisa House, Åsa Kachan and George Cotaras from Halifax in Canada, Simona Ziliene from Vilnius and Anne-Marie Evers from Stockholm.

Halifax is a historic city. The key characteristic of the Halifax Central Library, opened in December 2014, is flexibility. “When people enter the library, the first thing they do is move the tables and chairs into the configuration they want,” say Chief Librarian Åsa Kachan and architect George Cotaras. “The facility changes when it is modified. Families may come to the library to spend a day together.” In Halifax, architects have designed the library together with the library services without an architectural competition.

The new central library in Vilnius has been modified into part of the landscape, whilst the old, artistic Stockholm Public Library is fighting ventilation problems. These two libraries form a juxtaposition of old and new.

However, humans form the key element of all change. New and old libraries alike are modified for human use and in accordance with the wishes of people. According to Knud Schulz, people want to create, participate, discover and experience, be inspired, learn, encounter and present things.


The architect and director of the central library opened in Halifax in December, George Cotaras and Åsa Kachan, respectively

Discussion on the changing roles of the library

The public also had the opportunity to share their thoughts and discuss the future job description of a library employee:

  • a library employee should manage a range of roles from psychiatric nurse to IT wizard
  • the employees can learn a lot from the customers’ skills
  • challenges can be encountered by working together with the customers
  • learning how to approach a customer is a key skill: the approach should not be intrusive, but not distant either
  • flexible, personal service: each customer needs a specific style
  • studying the relationship between different customer groups: what do young people need and seniors wish?
  • attitude: a positive approach to change, adaptability and fearlessness


Tuula Haavisto, George Cotaras, Katti Hoflin, Anne-Marie Evers, Åsa Kachan and Antti Nousjoki in discussion

Practical implementation

One question began to emerge more and more persistently towards the end of the conference: how to do all this? How to squeeze all these fine ideas, model examples from across the world and citizens’ wishes into a single library building?

The final panel addressed the topic of the Helsinki Central Library once more. The Central Library architect Antti Nousjoki voiced an important question: what if too many people come to the library – will the building continue to work? How can the facilities be tested for days of excessive traffic?

Helsinki residents have been key participants in brainstorming future activities. However, the final process is always unpleasant, Library Director Tuula Haavisto notes. Even some good ideas need to be discarded. According to Nousjoki, not focusing on absolutely everything is a good idea. “Introducing too many uses may not produce a serviceable outcome,” says Nousjoki. Åsa Kachan wonders how to choose the right partners and know when to say ‘no’ to some.

Finally, Reinert Mithassel amused everyone by saying: “No one’s mentioned books yet!” He reminded the attendees that the employees’ perspective is completely different from that of the people who will actually use the library in their lives. Moreover, all changes are slow – both internal and external – so we do not need to rush. “The process will not end, and that is a good thing. Flexibility increases flexibility. When we cooperate flexibly and are prepared to share, we will move from dreams to an awakening and engage in practical implementation.”


Project Manager Reinert Mithassel from Oslo summed up the themes of the conference

Text: Siru Valleala
Photos: Maisa Hopeakunnas

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