The Next Library of Aarhus
New Aarhus Central Library a model for inspiration and innovation

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European winners of the EIFL Public Library Innovation Award for Contributing to education, ‘B. P. Hasdeu’ Municipal Library of Chishnau (Moldova) and Pelči Library (Latvia), received their certificates and trophies during the festival.

In September, EIFL Public Library Innovation Programme (EIFL-PLIP) team members and representatives of EIFL-PLIP grantee libraries travelled to Aarhus – named by some studies the happiest city in Denmark  – to attend Next Library 2015 festival, and to celebrate the opening of the new Aarhus Central Library, also known as Dokk1.

Over 350 people from 30 countries took part in the festival, and everyone was intrigued by Dokk1.

The festival organizers used the new library to full advantage, keeping it open to the public and fully functioning throughout the event. This made it possible for members of the general public to interact with international delegates, join in discussions and watch technology demonstrations – and many did, bringing different voices and perspectives to the festival. 

This was a great example of an idea that has been taking root in the public library sector: co-creation of library services and events with library users, and so making them less exclusive and inwardly focused.

Through different projects and partnerships over the past 10 years, I have been able to follow the development of this modern library, from the early vision and design stages, through construction, and finally – the opening.

THREE PRINCIPLES GUIDING DOKK1

Located on the Aarhus waterfront, and with magnificent views of the harbour, Dokk1 attracts attention for its modern architecture by the world-famous Danish company Schmidt Hammer Lassen.

Dokk1 is a truly great example of a 21st century public library, distilling discussion and trends that have been influencing the library community over the last decade. By integrating print and digital, cultural and social functions, this modern library is ideal for the active, curious and happy community of Aarhus.

In my view, the library’s most valuable lessons are to be found in the three principles guiding its development and operations:

  • Focus on people and non-traditional community development services;
  • Working with and learning from a wide range of local and international libraries, library associations and other organizations to realize the vision;
  • Partnership with library users – of all ages and from all community groups – to co-create services.

At EIFL, we believe deeply that a strong focus on community needs, community impact and building partnerships are fundamental to successful public library innovation. Therefore, since the launch of the EIFL Public Library Innovation Programme in 2009, we have looked to Aarhus Public Libraries for inspiration.

During the Dokk1 opening event, I saw to my delight that the inspiration has worked both ways, and the names of two EIFL team members appear on the new library's 'Wall of Inspiration'.

INSPIRING SPONTANEOUS INTERACTION AND LEARNING

Dokk1 was also the perfect place for a Next Library event: both Dokk1 and the Next Library festivals, which are organized every two years by Aarhus Public Libraries, provide inspiring spaces for spontaneous interaction and learning.

Representatives from two  EIFL-PLIP grantee libraries from the Balkans were delighted to receive scholarships offered by the Aarhus municipality to attend this exciting event. The two scholarship winners, Alica Kolarić of Rijeka City Library in Croatia, and Jelena Rajić of Jagodina Public Library 'Radislav Nikčević' in Serbia had never before attended a Next Library festival. They found it eye-opening experience:

“Visiting Dokk1 and participating in the Next Library festival was like being in a different universe. I had an incredible opportunity to see with my own eyes the basic value of our profession – equality of access for all, embodied in a library building, in Dokk1,” said  Alica Kolarić.

“I'm really amazed by the decision-makers who recognized the value of a public library and the importance of such a precious public place for the people of Aarhus. I hope that in Rijeka, my home city, we'll find a way to advocate for a better library space for our own community,” she added.

Like many other delegates – judging by positive messages on social media – Kolarić found the Next Library festival presentations stimulating:

“I've been empowered by listening to presentations and interacting with many forward- thinking librarians and people, who support libraries from various countries. For example, the session ‘Libraries as a Global Force’ reminded me of how important networks and connections are for library workers. I plan to keep that in mind because joint enthusiasm, creativity and collaboration, as well as mutual encouragement and respect are a recipe for success,” she said.

“As a children’s librarian I was most impressed by the session ‘Teens Shrink the World’. Teens from Aarhus created a video for their peers from San Antonio, Texas, US.  And this inspired me to talk with Jelena Rajić – who also received a scholarship – to start a joint project for teens of Rijeka and teens of Jagodina. Keep your fingers crossed!” added Kolarić .

Jelena Rajić thanked the Aarhus municipality for the scholarship.

“This was a unique opportunity for me to visit Dokk1, network with other librarians, and hear prominent speakers. I was very impressed with the whole concept of Dokk1 as the library of the future and the library for all.  The Aarhus municipality completely understands the role and purpose of a public library in the community, and the real value of Dokk1 for the citizens,” said Rajić .

“I’ve learned that libraries can re-define themselves and turn into a community playground or a study room, or anything that supports the community,” she added.

Aarhus has been named a European Capital of Culture 2017, and will host some of the most prestigious European cultural events of the year. The main theme of the Next Library 2017 festival will be ‘Let’s rethink’, and the festival will have an important part to play in the Aarhus 2017 – European Capital of Culture programme.

I recommend that all library innovators add Aarhus and this exciting and valuable festival to their list of dream destinations.