Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Around the Øresund...

Scandinavia has more than its fair share of fantastic libraries, from the futuristic curves of the Vennesla Library and Cultural Center in Norway, to the more traditional majesty of Stockholm Public Library. I visited 3 amazing libraries during my recent trip to the Øresund (the strait which separates the Danish island of Zealand and the Swedish province of Scandia) each of which was just bursting with bright and innovative ideas.

The first was Malmö Stadsbibliotek (City Library) which, as can be seen from the pictures below, is really two buildings linked together by "The Cylinder":

The library moved to "The Castle" at Regementsgatan in 1946

This entrance is also the link between the old and new parts of the building

This extension was added in 1997 and
overlooks Slottsparken (Castle Park)
According to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), "Malmo is also undergoing a transition from being an industrial city to a city of knowledge" and the library lies very much at the heart of this. This includes services to support entrepreneurs starting their own businesses and Swedish language teaching for adult learners. [These links are to web pages which are in Swedish.]

The newer section of the library makes good use of natural light
The library includes a range of touches to make the space more homely, including low energy lighting, artwork, video games and a choice of furniture for users to relax in..

Art and funky furniture are key features of the building. The examples displayed here are housed within "The Cylinder" (above & right)

One particular feature of the library which was completely new to me was the use of motorised, ergonomic trolleys! Items can be stacked on these either upright or longways, with a tilting mechanism allowing either convenient browsing or for the books to moved around easily:

Tilting trolleys!
Next up was the Den Sorte Diamant (The Black Diamond) which incorporates the National Library of Denmark and Copenhagen University Library. This grand national library building actually shares many similarities with Malmö Stadsbibliotek, architecturally-speaking. It dates back to 1906 (Malmö library was founded in 1905 although it has since moved) with an impressive, glass-fronted extension added in 1999:

The Black Diamond is another library which
mixes contrasting old and new elements
The entrance to the older part of the building. (At the time of my visit, the library was
an exhibition all about Danish Jews returning home after Word War II)
Much like the British Library and many other national libraries worldwide, the reading rooms were closed off for member/student access only. There were plenty of exhibitions and special collections to look around, however, including one designed by Russian avant-garde artist and experimentalist Andrey Bartenev:

Andrey Bartenev uses a lot of psychedelic and overtly sexual imagery in his installations,
making for one of the more colourful & provocative archivs displays I've encountered!

The inside of the building (also known as Det Kongelige Bibliotek
or "The Royal Library") looking out to Copenhagen's harbour
Finally I visited Biblioteket Kulturværftet in Helsingør. It forms part of this historical Danish port town's "Culture Yard" complex which is an imposing metallic structure, jutting out onto the former dockyard.

The library section of the Kulturværftet ("Culture Yard") can be seen on the left
I liked this library a lot as it has a wealth of fun elements in it, including plenty of toys and games - both traditional and computerised - for kids to play around with, as well as balconies, a piano, exhibitions and artwork, even a lighthouse(!), a table tennis table(!!).. the list just goes on & on! In addition to all this, the library has a very sophisticated book sorter (supplied by Lyngsoe Systems) which has also been specially designed so that it is in-keeping with the library's industrial maritime theme. 

The library includes countless allusions to the town's nautical past
(NB The lighthouse mentioned above can just about be seen in the background!)

Anyone for table tennis?!..

Even the shelving includes fun elements, with lego figurines atop many of the stacks! 
These spinning top chairs are rather fun too!

The balconies are reminiscent of those at the Saltire Centre
(Glasgow Caledonian University) and look over the harbour
The library also boasts views to the town's spectacular castle - supposedly the setting of Shakespeare's 'The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'...

Kronborg Castle, Helsingor (or "Elsinore") is believed 
to be the real-life inspiration behind Hamlet
It was great to finally see some of Scandinavia, if only this small section around the Øresund. I hope to go back and visit Norway, in particular, some day. Libraries aside, I would have to say Helsingborg was the real highlight for me. It's a stunning old city, right on the sea and I would highly recommend it to anyone!

The sun setting over the harbour at Helsingborg

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Daytrip to Oxford...

The John Henry Brookes Building (JHBB) at Oxford Brookes University
I took a jaunt to Oxford earlier in the month to check out the latest of the "super-converged" academic libraries here in the UK. These are buildings which bring together a range of university services in the one physical place. In this case the library space literally wraps itself around the other uses of this extensive flagship building which include a careers area, academic support ('Upgrade') and catering services.

The library overlooks 'The Forum' on the ground floor of the JHBB
which encompasses academic services, the IT Service Desk and a café
Further elements of this RIBA award-winning building include a 300-seat lecture theatre, the Students' Union and an innovative ‘market place’ and campaigning area to help students promote enterprises & good causes. The roof has over 600m² of solar cells, generating free energy for the building, with a further 1700m² of green sedum roof to encourage wildlife. This is all part of an ambitious £132 million development plan (called 'Space to Think') to update Oxford Brookes' Headington campus.

Large banners all over campus announce the 
major transformations occurring at Headington

Pink is something of a theme...
...including the trolleys!
It is difficult to find an area of the building which doesn't encourage visitors to make some use of the library space. Our tour guide spoke about how those who use the lecture theatre have to pass through the library, as an example, to get to the loos!

Plasma screens outside the lecture theatre display 
"silent disco" event held at the opening of the library
Subject enquiries and some training generally
happen in this Help Zone/"auditorium" area.
The building has 3 separate entry and exit points, which is certainly unusual (Newcastle City Library is the only other library which springs to mind with a similar setup). Most of the space remains open too after hours during term-time. It is only the reading rooms which are shut after core hours, with the rest of the JHBB building staying open.

(To note that the Special Collections area was still being completed at the time of this visit. More information can be found here on their website.)

The library entrance remains open outside of core hours 
but reading rooms are locked during late night opening

Many thanks to CILIP Thames Valley for hosting this visit and to Oxford Brookes Library staff for their insightful tours and generous supplies of cake!

I also had time to visit the unique Story Museum in the centre of Oxford which currently houses the enchanting '26 Characters' exhibition. Famous authors have had a lot of fun, from the looks of things, dressing up as characters from their favourite books. There is more information about the exhibition (which continues until 2 November)

Rochester's Extraordinary Storyloom and Katherine Rundell in 'Where the Wild Things Are' at the Story Museum