A Global View of Library Trends

Embracing Kids as Kids

A recent conversation with Corrine Hill, Director of the Chattanooga Public Library, spurred some investigation into what is happening in libraries beyond the U.S. Hill mentioned her travels to several libraries in Denmark, where in her words, they are really “rockin’ it” in children’s spaces.

Hill cited that the libraries she visited have really embraced kids as kids. At the Cultural Centre North-Western District in Copenhagen, Denmark, the absence of shelves creates a more lively and interactive environment. Replacing shelves with a series of cubes and stacking boxes and removing the worry about things being in order gives children a vibrant space to climb, discover, explore and actively engage with the materials.

Cultural Centre North-Western District, Copenhagen, Denmark, Designed by Cobe+Transform

The Hive, Worchester, England

At The Hive in Worchester, England, children can climb into a cube and curl up with a book or engage in a game of hide and seek.

This more playful approach to children’s libraries has trickled down to library spaces found in primary education facilities in the UK as well. The Miriam Lord Community Primary School in Bradford introduced a new Library and Lab in 2013. The library space incorporates hiding spaces and tiered steps to mounted tablets. The Lab, consisting of different colored zones, includes:

  • Cook/Eat Area complete with a fully equipped cooking area
  • Splish Splash area for water play
  • Lights, Camera, Action area featuring a stage with colored spotlights

The Miriam Lord Community Primary School

In the fall of 2013, the Helsinki Public Library in Finland announced that it would offer a Storybook Birthday Party pilot program at the Rikhardinkatu Library for children ages 6–10. Children could select from three themes and the library would organize the content, program and props. According to the library website, the party would involve “adventures in the world of stories, zoetrope animations, story customization, games, singing and naturally also delicious birthday food!”

The Super-Library

Libraries continue to offer a wider range of spaces, services and programs to meet the evolving needs of today’s users. As a result, the concept of the “Super-Library” has emerged. At the Wigan Life Center in the UK, this public service and leisure complex hosts a wide range of government services, a central library and a swimming pool in one convenient location.

The Library of Birmingham, which opened in 2013, is a larger multifunctional library offering culture and entertainment, as well as learning and information.

In an article from The Economist titled “It’s Not All About the Books,” Library of Birmingham Director Brian Gambles stated, “We have moved away from a transactional service to a transformational one.” Besides having access to more than 400,000 books for the traditional library services, the library offers free business information, advice and planning services. In addition, through a unique partnership with Birmingham Repertory Theatre (The REP) members are provided with greater access to the arts. The two entities share a 300-seat venue and work collectively to provide new and exciting events.

Most of the building’s digital features are invisible, with a focus on enhanced website and apps. The entire library is Wi-Fi enabled and houses 240 computers and interactive touch-screens throughout where digitized content (mostly from the library’s vast photography archive) can be viewed by theme.

While the debate over the relevance of libraries in the future continues, Scandinavian cities are planning large construction projects of multifunctional media spaces over the next five years. Aarhus, Denmark will open its Urban Mediaspace in 2015. The building will host new main library, service premises for citizens, media space, an automatic car park and three lively waterfront spaces. The media space will include project rooms, study cubicles, a café, a public living room, training rooms, small mobile workspaces, gathering halls, activity rooms and open, informal spaces for gathering, socializing and networking.

The Helsinki Central Library, due to open in 2017, is defined on the library website as a combination of personal cultivation, culture and entertainment. It will be a vibrant and functionally versatile meeting place, a house of literature in which the users are the focus. The plan for library goes beyond the physical space, with a central focus of the project being technology and a new kind of digital library that will serve its clients in the library space itself and through the internet. The new technology will make the contents of the Internet visible within the library spaces, integrated with the traditional library collections.

A common sentiment that runs through the planning of both buildings is the focus on citizens’ needs, ideas and desires. The Helsinki Central Library even encourages visitors to share their dreams for the Central Library on the website and features a video narration of the fairytale story of the Central Library.

This brief exploration of recently completed and future plans for libraries beyond our backyard provides a promise for continuing opportunities to create multifunctional destinations that focus on the evolving needs of users while remaining true to the core mission of libraries to inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge and bring people, information and ideas together.

Additional Resources


Marisa Amara

Marisa Amara

Library Consultant
Marisa works as a consultant on dozens of library space planning and furniture design projects as an associate of Kimberly Bolan and Associates. Her experience includes extensive background in product development, furniture project sales and architect and design market relationship development. This has given Marisa in-depth understanding of libraries, their spaces and the furniture needs.