Not just about books

By Lucia Camblor, photos by Guki Giunashvili

Close your eyes; I want you to travel to a place where different mediums coexist. It is a space for reading, for studying, for relaxing. You do not need to take off your shoes, but you might want to, especially if you are on the ground floor, comfortably leaning back in one of the massage sofas.

Welcome, you are at the Royal Danish Library (Det Kongelige Bibliotek) in Aarhus. If you are a regular visitor, you will probably have noticed the new atmosphere that fills the top floor: exuberant high trees and even a small waterfall now give life to the space called “Library Garden”.  On February 22nd, the project will officially be opened together with new study facilities. The idea behind this self-funded initiative is not only to decorate the building but also to follow one core objective: give ownership to the users that frequent its stairs, chairs, corridors.

The role of a library today

The deputy director, Erik Hofmeister has the expertise of a professional whose career has been dedicated to the management of libraries and the commitment of an Aarhus University alumnus who, during his study years, has spent a significant amount of time at this library.

“When I was a student, back in the 80’s, there only existed the reading room, the canteen, and physical books. I sat down at the library to study, and you had to be very quiet, but today there are a lot of other things that you can do as well”, said Hofmeister.

The silent rooms in the library keep a traditional design (photo: Guki Giunashvili)

Now, the silent room is still one of the cores of the Royal Danish Library. However, the building has not anchored itself to this conservative idea of a library. Its function today does not fit the role as custodian of knowledge that it used to be. Statistics Denmark show that people do not borrow so many books anymore. The lending of physical books was 26,8 million in 2015 Denmark, which means a decrease of 3 percent in comparison with the year before.

Meanwhile, the same source shows that 85 percent of the population between 16-89 years old use the Internet on a daily basis, and while the proportion of those who never have used the Internet declines, almost 100 percent of the young generation between 16 and 24 years old surf daily online. Confronting this fast-changing panorama, the versatile and always moving Royal Danish giant has transformed itself to meet the continually evolving needs of its society.

Digital and physical hand-in-hand

Three years ago, the ground floor abandoned its static role as archivist of magazines and periodicals restricted to the public and became one of the most bustling areas of the library with table tennis, a TV, a meditation corner and carefully designed furniture. “We wanted to reshape all the public areas to think it as a whole. Therefore, we did a workshop and asked 25 students what they wanted to emphasize and what was important for them”, stated Hofmeister. The result is a combination of several spaces where users can talk, relax, study, work in teams and eat.

Relaxing zone creates a place for users to work and rest at the same time in the library (photo: Guki Giunashvili)

A wide range of possibilities is treasured in the Royal Danish Library in Aarhus. Maybe this is why the main challenge it is facing is the increasing number of users. “It is a positive challenge because it means that the students like to be here”, Hofmeister reflected.

The journey is over, but you might want to stay…remember, they close at 18:00!

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