Sunday, 4 October 2015

Cycling for Libraries (part 2)

So to the libraries themselves then, some of which can stake a genuine claim to be (probably...) amongst the best designed in the world! All the biblioteks, stadsbiblioteks, "litteraturhus"-es and makerspaces we visited were pretty incredible, in their own special way but five which particularly stood out for me were:

Moss Bibliotek - Norway

This outside of Moss Library is reminiscent of the Granary Building in London's King's Cross, the front of which has itself been converted into a library (part of a Central St Martin's College of Art campus at the site).

Inside Moss are all manner of interesting knick-knacks, toys and games, including a fish tank, a kids' science discovery area and a small theatre! 

 Children can conduct their own experiments in this science area!

We visited Moss in the afternoon of the first day. Having encountered driving rain ever since we set off from Oslo, this archetypal "living room" of a library was a real gem to sit and revive ourselves in...if only for a short while (we had a ferry to catch to Horten, where it rained. Hard. Again!!). The library hosts coffee mornings, language classes and arts & crafts groups, amongst other events in this welcoming space.

One of many snug nooks and crannies at Moss Library

The library's website is also well worth a look and includes the option to translate into some 80 different languages!

Did I mention already that it rained quite a bit during the early part of the tour?

Gothenburg's central library is something of a treasure trove. The mix of furniture is remarkable, from areas which looked as if they were straight out of a 70s B-movie set to space-aged spinning top chairs (as seen at Helsingør library) and ergonomic recliners:

Bold furniture and carpets in the journals area!

Some übercool MAGIS Spun Chairs and rolling shelving in the lobby

This large events space greets visitors as they enter the vast Gothenburg library

The Dynamo area takes pride of place on the ground floor. It's effectively a 3,700 square metre sanctuary for roaming adolescents, where those with time on their hands can meet and play video games together! There is a "Dynamo Game" and a "Dynamo Read" section whcih includes materials on film, comics and manga as well as games.

The Dynamo Game area at the centre of
operations in Göteborgs stadsbibliotek

Gothenburg City Library also boasts this enchanting storytelling this

Sited within a shopping centre and completed in just 7 months (incredibly!) this is a library which is all about encouraging interaction...and fun! 

A parking bay for book trolleys!
(Whatever with those Danes think of next?!)

An omnipresent red line creates a literal thread through the library. The is one of the features spawned out of using artists as designers on this project, in conjunction with librarians. Urban sociologists were also called in when the building was established in 2008 to turn this retail area into a third place (as Ray Oldenburg describes them) between work and home. 
The red line leads users along a path around the building...

 ...and it is also used to highlight themes throughout the library!

Most of the library's 5,100 square metres has been designed with families in mind. There are slides hidden within the book stacks and all manner of other miniature play areas for those who are tiny enough to explore and enjoy! There is also a "Very Important Parents" section to relax in and one or two more secluded, quiet spaces for adults too, as well as a 'living room' area with screens showing news feeds, bus timetables and other relevant information.

Another innovative feature I spotted was the use of iPads attached to shelving trolleys - these can, for instance, be pre-loaded up with images and shelfmark details of books for staff to collect from picking lists. Thus making life that little bit easier for everyone!...

Even the staff area is brilliant! Check out the massage chair on the left!!

This library sits inside a larger "Kulturhuset" (culture house), sharing its space with a local archive, museum, an art gallery and performance space. It is a Brutalist building but the imposing concrete structure is skilfully softened through clever lighting and homely finishings around the building.

The children & teenagers' area at Randers

The library also boasts one of the snazziest book sorting units I've seen, complete with mechanical tilting trolleys:

I feel it is a library which perhaps epitomises what the Danes call "Hygge" - a word not easily translatable but is described approximately in this article as a sort of "cosiness of the soul".

A guitar/double bass combo played for us on the main stage!

Dokk1 - Denmark

A brand new, huge publicly funded space on the docks of Aarhus. This library is the largest in Scandinavia (and all of the Nordic countries in fact)  and forms a key part of plans to convert this area of the city from industrial to knowledge space. The aim was to create building to last for 100 years. An important part of that was to create as much flexibility as possible in the space. Everything within the building can be removed easily and it is described as an "intelligent" building, with a Class 1 environmental rating.

 Some 300,000 parts were moved from the old Aarhus library

The expectation is that Dokk1 will receive some 4-5,000 visitors every day!

Described as a "media house", this behemoth occupies some 30,000 square metres, 10,000 of which can be rented out. It is also home to a train station (located underneath one of the main staircases) and an automated car park - essentially an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) for cars!

 Hi-tech conference rooms can be adjusted acoustically
according to the type of event happening in these spaces

Large video screens broadcast tweets with the hashtag "#dokk1"

Architects Hammer Lessen set out to create this building with no obvious front or back, with as many open spaces as possible to create opportunities for interactions and knowledge exchange. These include exhibitions, workshops, gaming and events. Immediately outside is the building's "podium" space - an area with climbing frames, slides and other playground apparatus. Rather cutely, these are used to represent the direction in which that particular side of Dokk's 'star' shape the area is pointing towards (the side pointing East to Russia has a large bear, for instance...look in a south-westerly direction towards the US and you'll see a bald eagle!).  

 Designers have included many nods to the city's maritime heritage

Dokk1 includes the largest tubular bell in the world which

rings each time a baby is born at Aarhus hospital!

 It being Denmark, of course there was LEGO!

These have just been some of my personal highlights. To sum it all up  (and without getting too schmaltzy...) nothing gives so much energy, motivation and passion for what I do as the tours I do with Cycling for Libraries. Keeping that going through the relative monotony of life back on 'civvy street', with all of its frustrations, uncertainties and setbacks can sometimes be far more difficult than pushing through kilometre after kilometre of biking. The next tour may well take place outside of Europe for the first time, potentially ending at IFLA 2016 in Ohio! I'll certainly do all I can to be there. 

If you want to see more from the Cycling for Libraries 2015 tour, there is loads of stuff on the website! We received a lot of media coverage along the route, particularly once we got to Denmark (for instance at one stage a TV cameraman followed us around with his camera on his shoulder as he cycled along with us!). Examples of video reports can be found here (via Kjeld Jensen) and here (via Viborg Folkeblad)

A big thank you has to go to everyone involved in organising the tour, as well as to the sponsors; the seminar we had during our ferry ride between Gothenburg and Fredrikshavn all about skills & competencies required of library & information professionals was especially useful and was kindly funded by DIK, the Swedish professional association and trade union for librarians. A special thank you also goes to Lyngsoe Systems who sent this photo (taken in their backyard!) to all the participants when we got home!

Image reference:

Lyngsoe Systems [via Cycling for Libraries!] (2015) Cyc4lib 2015 tour at the yard of the tour sponsor. Thanks a lot! [Facebook] 25 September. Online at:

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Cycling for Libraries 2015 (part 1)

Cycling for Libraries participants arriving at Aalestrup Library (where we slept over!)

Earlier this month I took part in my 3rd Cycling for Libraries tour. Billed as the "New Nordic Tour", this was definitely the toughest itinerary to date, taking us (a group of over 80 librarians, information professionals and "library lovers" representing over 20 nationalities) some 700+ kilometres across Norway, Sweden and Denmark in 10 hectic days, with plenty of rain, hills and other assorted hardships along the way! 

At certain times...say when you find yourself sleeping in a gym hall surrounded by 40 other people...or creating a human roadblock at night on one of Gothenburg's busiest roads...or playing table-tennis at breaktime during an onboard library workshop whilst crossing from Sweden to Denmark on the ferry, it hits home that Cycling for Libraries is definitely not your ordinary library conference!! But it's an unforgettable experience and one which I would recommend to anyone in libraries (...or at least anyone not averse to a fair bit of physical exertion, I should point out - just as something of a disclaimer!).

It was such an ambitious tour this year that there is no way I'll be able to go through & describe each of the 25+ libraries we visited and all that we did. Some of the themes which pervaded this year's tour though were:

1. Libraries as Meeting Spaces

Each library we visited in Norway included a stage and a platform with audiovisual equipment for speakers to use. This provides a soapbox for campaigners, local politicians and other activists to voice their views and host debates. This is part of a national initiative to encourage discussion in libraries which is now engrained in the Norwegian Library Act (revised January 2014).

Meeting space with sound/projection facilities
at Horten Bibliotek, Norway

At Moss Library, which we visited on the very first day, it was explained to us that libraries of yesteryear are, in effect, "groceries" for selecting information products. These have now been transformed into "chef's kitchens" of collaborative knowledge creation. I rather liked this analogy and this was a transformation we saw replicated throughout Scandinavian libraries.

2. Digital inclusion 

Våga klicka or "Dare to Click" is a large scale project to get some 500,000 digitally disenfranchised Swedish citizens online. One example which we heard about in Uddevalla is 103 year-old Dagny, who learnt her web skills by visiting the library's classes and now authors her own blog - It has been incredibly successful, attracting nearly 1,000,000 page views to date! She uses to try and encourage others to join the "blogging party" as she describes it!:

Dagny Carlsson's Blog which has also featured on Swedish national news:

To note that unlike the UK, for example, there is no obligation to provide a library service in Sweden. The idea of a "People's House" where citizens can acquire these sorts of skills is simply engrained in Swedish culture and democracy. 

3. Flattening staffing structures

One of the optional visits in Gothenburg was to Chalmers University of Technology Library where I found a keen emphasis is placed upon space for staff. Yes - it is obviously vital to still prioritise space for users BUT providing areas where staff can thrive too is also important. At Chalmers up to 5 project rooms can be used at once. Each is equipped with the latest technology and ideas are littered all over giant whiteboards across the walls. In this revolutionary setup, projects are decided upon by staff members at all levels and then it is up to management to enable these projects to happen! Examples include a MOOC designed by library staff & a library management system created in-house. Everything the team does online is also made available as open source content.

A project space at Chalmers University Library

We later saw this being replicated at other academic libraries in Sweden & Denmark, for instance Aalborg University where staff generally work on projects for around 2 1/2 months at a time, rather than being in specific team structures. Aars Library in Denmark describes itself as a "spaghetti library" owing to its non-hierarchical structure. 

4.  User Feedback

This tour also highlighted the importance of users being given the opportunity to provide instant and direct feedback. At several libraries, a "hack the library"-style initiative had been tried, with users given ways to show what they liked or disliked about their libraries, then make the changes they wanted to see themselves! Examples include a system of green & red dots used in Vesthimmerlands libraries which the public could disperse around the buildings to highlight the good and bad points of their libraries. Users being given the freedom to reconfigure furniture in most of the libraries we saw is another example of how people are being made to feel engaged with their library services in Scandinavia.

At Aars Bibliotek users and local students
have implemented changes to their library

5. The Danish Model of Library Design 

Denmark does library design well. Astoundingly well, in fact!! I just updated my top ten list of recent library visits and found that no less than 4 of these are Danish libraries! One of the things Denmark has done so well has been to implement the "four space model" in the majority of its libraries. 

The four spaces are inspiration space, learning space, meeting space and performative space. It is a model which is an enduring one to the extent that it has informed the design of libraries far and wide in the 21st Century - examples inspired by the model include some of those I've blogged about previously, for instance Malmö City Library, OBA Amsterdam and the Library of Birmingham.

Danish libraries are also as accessible as possible, with the Open Library system meaning over one-third of the country's libraries can be accessed any time of the day and most of the night via a user's ID card when staff are not there.

I'm actually now feeling kind of knackered just thinking about all we managed to cram into the wild, sometimes frenetic journey that was Cyc4lib 2015 but in part 2 of this blog post I will try to describe some of the amazing libraries we saw along the way!...

Image references: 

Carlsson, D. (2015) BLOGGA MED MIG! (Translation: BLOG WITH ME!). Online at: [Accessed 26.09.15]

Vesthimmerlands Biblioteker (2015) TAK FOR BESØGET! (Translation: THANKS FOR THE VISIT!) [Facebook] 9 September. Online at: [Accessed 26.09.15]

Monday, 29 June 2015

Polish library tour...

In April of this year I enjoyed a whistle-stop tour of Poland, starting in Poznań - Poland's 5th largest city, made famous by its football club's unique goal celebrations and the mechanical goats which sit atop it's town hall clock tower. The goats emerge just once per day (at midday) to the sound of a live bugle horn!:

Taking in Poznań's impressive Biblioteka Uniwersytecka at Adam Mickiewicz University initially felt a little bit like stepping back in time, with card catalogues and microfiche readers aplenty. The library is actually a lot more forward-looking that it first appears, with major efforts taking place during the last five years to migrate the University's catalogue holdings online and to ensure readers are available to access online content (via ProQuest's Summon).

Just around the corner from this building is the Polish and Classical Philology Faculty Library which opened in 2009. Designed by Polish architects Neostudio Architekci,the building is half sandstone and half glass in order to prevent the modern development from looking too incongruous with the historical structures surrounding it on all sides:

Next it was off to Gdańsk on Poland's north coast and the Library of the Polish Academy  of Sciences. This library, which doubles up as an educational, information and cultural centre for the whole region, includes some quirky touches, not least the 'engines' jutting out of the front of the building:

Venturing inside, it turned out these turbine-looking things double-up as bookable seminar/group study rooms! The library also features a replica of John James Audubon's super-oversize (3ft x 2ft!) tome Birds of America which sits in public display. Some other unusual features include cacti at the helpdesks and a cafe bar built out of reused books:

After that it was on to Warsaw, hme to the spectacular University of Warsaw Library which was officially opened in 1999 by one Pope John Paul II. The ceremonial chair which was used during the consecration of this grandiose edifice still sits in the library to this day. It greets visitors as they come in through the building's imposing entranceway, towered over by pillars topped with statues of eminent Polish philosophers from Lvov-Warsaw School of Philosophy:

Biblioteka Uniwersyteckaalso w Warszawie also boasts one of the largest roof gardens in Europe at over 10,000m², including a fish pond and "cosmological" sculptures! It was great to be able to stand on top of the library and get a fantastic view of both the city of Warsaw itself and the Vistula River (or Wisla, in Polish):

I also just about had time to stop off at the National Library of Poland's main site in Warsaw's city centre where I was particularly impressed with the music collection which includes a display of some of Frederick Chopin's earliest scores as well as this reading room with its ornate mahogany baby grand piano:

The National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa) houses the majority of its special materials in its "country residence" of Krasiński Palace. It is important to remember that some 16 million volumes of Polish literature were destroyed by the Nazis between 1939-1945 in an effort to effectively wipe out Poland's rich culture and history. The National Library's collections were heavily affected by the war, as was the centre of Warsaw itself, 85% of which was destroyed. The University of Warsaw Library lost all but 262 of some 7,000 texts contained within its manuscript section during World War II. Seeing both of these libraries' collections as they are today, as well as visiting the painstakingly-restored Old Market Town was a reminder of the strength of human resiliance which was in evidence in Poland after the Second World War, to an extent perhaps unparalled anywhere or at any time in world history.

Warsaw is also home to Frédéric Chopin's embaulmed heart.
The rest of his remains lie in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

2015 so far...

I popped into the magnificent Weston Library, Oxford this afternoon and this has inspired me to do a bit of an update on my year so far. The library, which is a reincarnation of the former New Bodleain Library (and is therefore also the new New Bodleain Library, I guess...) officially opened earlier this month and is looking fantastic!

Some sneaky "behind the scenes" shots
of the new Weston Library at Oxford!

I was over at Cambridge not long ago too - just last month, in fact - where I attended an Academic and Research Libraries Group (ARLG) East event on 'Moving into Management' held in the equally salubrious surrounds of Christ’s College (…albeit in the Amenity room of the insalubriously-named ‘Z’ building – but undisputedly Christ's College, nonetheless!).

This session was in two parts. In the first, Professor Barbara Allan spoke about her varied career path, beginning as a Serials Editor in an academic library (where she was physically working in a cage!) and working up to her current role as PVC and Dean of Westminster Business School.

Barbara cited evocative experiences of being managed, ranging from “scorpion”-type bosses who left her walking on eggshells to those who conveyed what she describes as “authentic leadership” – a style of management consistent with the manager’s own personality & core values. She went on to tell some colourful anecdotes of her own experience as manager, often under difficult circumstances. 

Barbara broke the session into small groups to discuss different management styles. These were classified as:

Authoritative, Participative, Authoritarian, Laissez-Faire & Chaotic(!)

We were also encouraged to discuss our own experiences of being managed - both good and bad! Effective leadership was determined to be a vital quality for anyone in a management role.

Barbara talked about a number of ways staff can position themselves to become leaders. These include:
  • Belonging to communities/networks inside their organisation and/or outside (joining CILIP committees was mentioned as an example)
  • Developing skills and qualifications + Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
  • Taking public ownership of projects and innovations
  • Making sure that when you have achieved something you claim this success
  • Countering stereotypes and tackling cultural issues 
A questions and answers session followed where the impact of mentoring was stressed again. Barbara talked about “near” or “far” role models (those in or outside of your organisation). These could be formal mentors, as in the context of CILIP's Chartership scheme, but do not have to be. 

The key tips which I took away from Barbara’s talk were:
  • Communicate as much as possible with the staff you manage
  • Learn from mentors + get involved in networks to improve leadership
  • Move on in situations where you work is not being valued
  • Enjoy and learn from what you do! 
The ground of Christ's College...looking all leafy like!

In part 2 of the workshop, three managers who had relatively recently taken up their jobs were invited by ARLG to speak about how they had moved into their (very different) roles and to pass on any management tips they had.

Andrew Gray – British Antarctic Survey Library (@generalising on Twitter)

Andrew previously worked for the British Library so noted the contrast between this and working with only 1 other (part-time) member of staff in his unique role (...which is based in Cambridge, he emphasised, as opposed to more glacial territories!)

He described the big advantage of being in such a small setup in terms of allowing him to generalise (he co-writes a blog, in fact, called Generalising).

For Andrew, management can be broken down into 4 categories and getting experience in each of these areas is key when looking to moving into a management role:
  • Finance
  • Staffing 
  • Projects
  • Planning & Strategy
Claire Sewell – Cambridge University Library (@ces43)
(Senior Cataloguer currently working in an operations management role)

Claire emphasised the importance of not putting yourself under too much pressure, particularly when changing to a different team or subject area as there is always a lot to learn. She mentioned she had the benefit of working with a manager who was really supportive. Claire was also able to attend an Institute of Leadership & Management Course which she found very useful. She stressed that confidence will come with experience and advised not to get daunted in the meantime.

Mentoring and shadowing were cited as good experience for getting into management, as well as volunteering opportunities.

Claire echoed what Barbara said in the first part about leadership, reiterating that you have to follow a manager but you will want to follow a good leader. 

Hélène Fernandez – Cambridge University Library (@RomanceLibn)

Hélène works for the Modern and Mediaeval Languages Library at Cambridge as the Deputy Librarian. For her, leading by example and developing others' skills is key. She noted the difference between delegating and dumping work on people, stating that it is important to delegate where it will help to develop staff under your charge.

Hélène echoed some of the things which had been said earlier about mentorship (formal & informal). She also gave interesting tips on encouragement, citing a study which showed that it takes four times as much positive feedback to 'cancel out' negative feedback in the mind of the person receiving it.

Dealing with conflict is something Hélène views as an inevitable part of a management role. It is vital to empathise, to be consistent in one's approach and to try to see things from the other person's perspective, she stressed. 

The main points I took from the day were:
  • Clear communication is essential
  • You are not expected to know everything from day one!
  • It is important to have a support network
  • Handle conflicts which might emerge head-on
  • Be self-aware and don't admonish habits which you have yourself
  • Keep the bigger picture in mind (i.e. it is only a job!)
Slides from the event are available here:    

My main excursion so far this year was a trip to Prague - another city which boasts some amazing architecture... I mean look at this, for example, from Frank Gehry!:

The Dancing House - Prague
Prague is home to the famous Strahov Library which sits inside a monastery to the West of the city. There are two main rooms: the Theological Hall (left) and the Philosophical Hall (right):

The Theological Hall dates back to 1672 and was restored in mid-1990. It includes around half-a-dozen 17th Century geographical globes, along with around 20,000 volumes and a bookwheel (just about visible in the bottom left hand corner in the photo above!) on which to read them.  

The Philisophical Hall meanwhile was built around a century later (the room's facade was finished in 1783). It soon became famous in European culture, with visitors including Marie Louis, Archduchess of Austria and wife of Napolean Bonaparte. Books in the top gallery can only be accessed via secret staircases which are hidden in the corners, masked by false book spines (...I know, cool huh?!)

The library is deservedly a staple of many a most beautiful libraries list, so it felt like a real pilgrimage to finally see it in person!