Flashback to the summer when I was working as a library assistant counting down the days until starting library school. During one particularly quiet day on the reference desk, I was checking my e-mail and was suddenly reading about this new Dutch library. It is an example of an innovative approach to creating relevant and community-based information organizations that has stuck with me, even amongst the abundance of new things I’ve learned these past two months in library school.
One main point of working in libraries that has been addressed time and time again in many ways, in many of classes of mine is the idea that libraries a) absolutely need to be in tune with the needs and demands of the communities they serve and b) are rebranding themselves to be community hubs and community builders (from New York to Seattle to Toronto to London, all you have to do is look at a public library’s mission statement to see this). This is why I find Almere’s Nieuwe Bibliotheek (“New Library” for those of us who aren’t well versed in Dutch) to be such an interesting information organization, and a true example of a library putting it
s money where its values are: in the community.
Aside from being an impressive piece of architecture (both inside and out), Nieuwe Bibliotheek (NB) has adopted a retail approach to setting up its space. Instead of organizing its collection based on the traditional Dewey Decimal classification system, NB has arranged its shelves by subject and theme – a decision that lends itself to an arguably more accessible and intuitive way of locating library materials. Not only that, the library has undertaken a marketing and retail approach to its space. It was deliberately created to feel more like a bookstore.
Another element of the library that helps to create a community hub environment is the cafe included in the library space – not simply a place to purchase coffee but a place to sit down, relax and enjoy that coffee in the company of others.
While there are many more aspects of Almere’s library that I find intriguing and refreshing, I’ll let you find those out for yourself. I do want to say this, though: my favourite aspect of Nieuwe Bibliotheek is that it is undeniable that at its heart lies community. Right from the very beginning, those who planned the new library
“wanted to create a customer’s library. Convenience for the librarian wasn’t leading, but convenience for the customer”.
So what did they do? They involved the voice of the community in the decision planning and designing of the building. Talk about a team effort!
So what does Nieuwe Bibliotheek tell us about working in information organizations? For me, the main take away is that in info organizations, especially libraries, change has to be your friend. It is inevitable that communities change and grow and expand and age. And as they do so, so do the needs, interests and values of the community. Because of the dynamic nature of communities, those who manage information organizations must be able to translate the needs and desires of the community it serves into tangible, concrete services and capital (like a new library building aka community centre).
Also, those who work with patrons and information seekers must be able to adapt to the new changes in their organization in order to best serve the community. Regardless of an organizations org chart (whether its hierarchical, linear , circular or otherwise) communication is key at and between all levels of employment: without communication, a library will struggle to work towards a common vision. And without this shared vision, the community won’t be served in the ways it needs to be.
Just something to think about. Thanks for reading!