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: kirjastokaista.net

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

Come and be a Friend of the Central Library!

Helsinki residents have been involved in many phases of planning the Central Library, and now we are offering a new challenge for doing things together, the Central Library Friends project.The participants of the communal project will get the opportunity to help plan the library from their own perspective. They will be a part of the team carrying the message of the large and small proposals requested by city residents for the library plans. You can apply to be a Friend from 10 October to 10 November at www.keskustakirjasto.fi/kaverit. Read more »

The library’s makerspace born in a lead user workshop

Crisp morning air gusts in through the windows, with the flip charts and post-it notes fluttering in the breeze. Markers in different colours have been scattered around the room in deliberate patterns. Everything is ready. People start to arrive, a little early, nervous, expectant, excited. Soon, some of them are already at the table tapping on their laptops, one takes out a knitting project – here we already have something quick and electronic and something hand-made and slow side-by-side, just like it should be in the maker culture. The first lively conversation is already in progress, and the back row is buzzing.

Lead users in hacking, fablabbing and maker culture, people who live the future trends already years before the mainstream, have been invited into the workshop. The first impression they give is already a multi-faceted image of the different subcultures of DIY and making stuff. The people involved include experts from IT firms to festivals, freelance creators to entrepreneurs, civil activists to coders – everything from ties to fuzzy hairdos, from people wearing Woody Allen glasses to sneaker aficionados. Read more »

Clear the way and open the doors – here comes the wheelchair!

The doors to public buildings are often heavy. What if you could not open the library door by yourself? Sometimes the service desk is quite high. What if it was too high for you to see the things placed on it? Many were touched by The Punk Syndrome, the hit documentary about a disabled punk band, but could a book lending machine do the same?

The library is meant for everyone. It is a social space that enables people to actively participate in society and communication. In the library, you are welcome to come as you are and do interesting things for free.

In order to be all this for everyone, the library has to be accessible. The disabled too must be ensured smooth and effortless access to the library. This is an opportunity for the new Central Library to pave the way and set an example for other new and renovated constructions. Read more »

Shared library of communities

Besides being a space, the Central Library should also be a tool, platform and publication channel for the activities of individuals and various collectives. “Vacant space just for you, your association, organisation, community or group. Come and fill up the space, animate it, make it your own, interact, spend time together.” Perhaps the Central Library could advertise the opportunity provided by the public urban space to residents, users, creators and participants in these words. The metropolitan area is bustling with active people whose arrival in great numbers at the Central Library is anticipated with great enthusiasm. Read more »

City residents decide on funding – library to launch the selected pilot projects next year

The participants of the three participatory budgeting workshops held on 25 Oct, 29 Oct and 30 Oct delved into the question of how next year’s development budget of €100,000 should be spent with excitement and a torrent of ideas. ”This is exciting, but in a way it also feels difficult,” commented one lady standing at the door of the library group work room. It’s very true that the atmosphere in the workshops was not all fun and games. At times, ardent discussions were needed to bring about consensus. There was also a lot of joking and laughter. But more than anything, there was a lot of work to be done and a fantastic result: four pilot projects will be launched by the library next year.

Read more »

The Weighty Words of Early Education Professionals

The workshop designed for pedagogues produced numerous ideas for turning the Central Library into a picnic place for children and families.

”An urban campfire site for urban families, a meeting place for generations…A rooftop garden for cultivating plants and literature…A large, inner-city playground in the library courtyard…”

Helsinki’s Annantalo provided shelter from a snowstorm and a spark for a Central Library project, planned by a group of professionals working in the field of early education. What kind of space could the new library be for children, families, people of all generations? The Idepro workshop sought to answer this question. The group included operators from various fields of children’s culture, including Koulukino, Mediametka, Annantalo and word art schools. Each group was asked to select four most important areas to be observed in the planning of the Central Library. The enthusiastic discussion highlighted four themes. Read more »

The Central Library through the camera lens: young people’s perspective

The janitor provides directions: ‘Just take the lift to the fourth floor!’ and soon we are seated on the cosy top floor of activity centre Happi, our eyes scaling the rooftops of Helsinki as we wait for the Central Library youngsters’ workshop to begin. ‘The last episode of Putous was no good,’ reports an upper-secondary-school-aged workshop participant sitting next to me. The youngster flashes a beautiful smile and gazes expectantly toward the video projector light. The theme of the day is reflected on the screen: ‘The Central Library – a future workshop for young people, method: video opinion essays’. Read more »

Building the Central Library openly together

This year, the Central Library project ball is in the court of the city’s inhabitants and the project partner groups: what kind of library or ‘urban town hall’ do they want to see in Töölönlahti in 2017? This is genuine interaction – a building that is still under construction, yet already lives through its users. Read more »