The more open library concept is a relatively new and controversial concept. As Lisa Roberts, Head of Culture and Leisure at Peterborough City Council highlights in her interview with Princh, this could be caused by the local governments promoting it to reduce library costs. (Haven’t read our discussion with Lisa? You can find it here.)
Even so, the combination of staffed and unmanned library services is beneficial to communities, especially in smaller ones, as it ensures that the needs of libraries are fulfilled. The concept is popular in Denmark as it was the first country to implement it with 56% of library opening hours being unmanned.
To learn more about the ways this concept is implemented in Danish libraries, we have interviewed Karen Delfs, the Chief of the Library and the Citizens Service at Naestved Libraries.
How the unmanned library concept is implemented in Danish Libraries
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your activity at the library?
I am the Chief of the Library and the Citizens Service in the Naestved Municipality (kommune). We have 5 libraries and the main services we offer is free access to books, magazines, music, movies, paintings, and games for the approximately 25,000 active users.
At the library, there is a lot of inspiration for the visitors to immerse themselves in reading, learning, as well as being free to just meet, talk or listen to music. We also offer the e-library and the book machines which are throughout the city allowing visitors to borrow and return books. There is also a self-service solution we are using for printing during unmanned hours.
We are now implementing a new library system which is common for all libraries in Denmark. This will ensure the cooperation between all public libraries and other educational centers.
2. Besides the library system, I know you have adopted a more open library concept which includes unmanned hours. Can you tell me more about how it was implemented?
There was a lot of work to do before it could be implemented so we had a lot of conversations with people delivering the systems; electricians, guards, first aid, and services. All of these things are important to be ready when we leave the library since there is no staff at all when the library is open during the extended hours.
For example, if something is going on, like a fire or a burglary, we need a clear plan on how to act and who should act. So, there were a lot of plans to make before we implemented the unmanned open library. Also, there were a lot of technical implementations because all our equipment had to be marked and secured, such as the PlayStation, computers, and printers.
3. Did you have to redesign some spaces of the library or just add some signage?
No, we just used signs so people have some self-explanatory indications on where to find different key points at the library. We also marked everything just in case something is stolen so we could then trace it afterwards. We also had to secure the computers’ cables with a simple plastic strap that makes it difficult to remove the cables without tearing the whole computer apart. Basic tricks like these are working and giving us more security.
4. How has this change influenced the library’s activity?
We have more users. At the beginning, we were wondering if users will want to come in at different times during the day and it seems that has happened.
Even so, they are not only coming to borrow books. They are also visiting us for other reasons such as to use the computers, to have little meetings, to have a calm place to go sit and read because they can use the library for whatever they want.
5. Was the library’s staff influenced in any way?
Nothing has changed in the staff’s activities when it comes to the unmanned open library because there is no additional activity. We already had activities managed by the staff for the evening because before implementing the open library, the staff would come and unlock the door to let people get in and out.
Today our users get access to the library with their health insurance card. Every citizen in Denmark has a health insurance card and you can use this card to check in at the machine outside of the library and add the pin code that opens the door.
We have also made an arrangement with an external security company for when the open library closes at 22:00.
6. The idea of an unmanned open library is controversial, especially in the countries that have just started implementing it. What was the librarians’ perception at the beginning, when adding the unmanned hours?
Actually, at least in our library, they were not frightened about it. The only issue was that we also had the open library in the morning while the staff was at work. Our open library opens at 8:00, but the library opens at 10:00. So, usually from 8:00-10:00, the staff work to get the library ready for the public.
This has been a challenge in several libraries because they were wondering whether they had to answer questions from our users while the library was “unmanned”. We decided that, yes, if anybody asks you something, you will always be a staff member and you must answer the user’s general questions.
7. When is the library open? Is there a big flow of visitors during the weekends?
We open during the weekdays from 08.00-22.00 and during the weekend from 08.00-18.00, including the unmanned hours. During the weekend, the staff is only present on Saturdays from 10:00-14:00 and there is no staff on Sundays.
Yes, there are people at the library during the weekend. A lot of families with children visit us on the weekend, mostly on rainy days, where they can come to play and read books in the children’s library.
Actually, we discovered that there are people who prefer the libraries when there is no staff present. Of course, there are still visitors who prefer to come when the staff is present because they need our expertise but there are people who also prefer the room without the staff.
8. Do you have any advice for libraries that might be skeptical when implementing the open library?
One last thing would be the common issue that people are wondering about; are the library users stealing or damaging things in the library during the unmanned e hours? No, in general people are taking care of the things and watching each other. So, I would say that there is no problem with opening your library because the public will look out for each other.
Of course, the fact that the library will be noisier must be considered. This is the reason that some of the elderly people, who use the library for the quiet space and to have deep concentration, now believe that this development is not that nice.
When staff is there and if people make a little noise, then the staff will tell them to be quiet if needed. When there is no staff, it changes the dynamic of the library.
Hope you have enjoyed our discussion with Karen Delfs, the Chief of the Library and the Citizens Service at Naestved Library.
To conclude, when implementing the concept of a more open library, there are a few strategies that facilitate the transition. We have dedicated a post to these strategies and you can find them here. Want to read more about the open library concept? Carl Gustav Johannsen, the Danish writer and promoter of the open library concept explains more in his interview with Princh here.