Posted by: bluesyemre | August 5, 2019

A room is not just a room: The #Library as shared place and why it matters to communities by #ChristianLauersen


Text of my keynote (that did not happened due to unexpected circumstances) at the CILIP Conference in Dundee, Scotland June 4 2019. Link to slides:

I like places. I especially like public places and when talking about the library as a shared public place I find two questions relevant;

First question is, “what makes a great place?” Try to think about a place that you were recently that just made you feel good and comfortable, that made you feel safe and welcomed.

Could be a lot of things; the light, the smells, sounds, the people, the decor, your feelings or perseption of a given institution, the values that institution or place represents to you etc.

It is a subjective feeling that defines what one finds a great place but I find it really useful, whenever I’m in a place where I really  feel good, where I feel that I belong, to think about what it is about that place that make me feel like that. And then I start thinking that about how to take some of that and maybe transfer it into the library space. Chances are that I am not the only one who feel that way about that place.

Next question is, why do they always set the scene for interviews with academic experts in a library? I’m not sure if this is only a Danish thing or it is a global trend but I think they do it because they want to set a stage that connects with the person being interviewed, the ‘academic expert’. So why a library? Why not a university? First of all a library is often easy to spot. The book factor you know. A University as a place do not hold that significant placemakers as a library does. Then I think it also connects with some of the values that are connected to ‘A Library’. Trust for a start, they want the academic expect to be trustworthy. Knowledge and wisdom for a second – the books are great and powerful symbols of that and third, libraries are for everybody and it’s likely that they want the academic persons message to respond to everybody. I’m just guessing here but it is significant that interviews with academic experts are always staged in a library.

The reason why I’m asking these questions is that they both capture the essence of what this piece is about; Physical places matters to us and in a world with more digital ways to connect and communicate I think they matter more than ever. Creating great public and shared places for people to live, connect, belong and grow are essential for our communities to thrive and develop.

The library as a place is one of those significant shared places both because of what we do but also because of what we are.

This piece is gonna be about why public places matters, how to work with public places and to wrap it up, the library as a public shared place and why it is so important to communities. This will not be about library décor, library architrchture or library design.

Working with places is working with people

Working with places is working with people and communities. A building is not just a building to us and a room is not just a room. You need to understand people and understand communities to successfully work with the development of places. I’m not a psychologist, I’m just a library director but as a library director I’m in a people business and I often remind myself of Mashlow’s hearchy of needs when I work with developing libraries for people. Abraham Mashlow propose the hierarchy of needs in 1943. What his theory is suggesting is that humans are driven and motivated by different steps of needs in life. The first one is physiological, we need food and water and rest to function as human beings. It is basic and is proven by the general popularity of library cafes and coffees houses. A hierarchy of needs for students would 100% have coffee mentioned. The next one is safety: Could be the safety of our lives and health but also financial safety. The next one is really significant; We need love and belonging. We need family, friends, lovers – we need to sense that we are connected to something greater than ourselves. Many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression in the absence of love or belonging. This need for belonging may overcome the physiological and security needs, depending on the strength of the peer pressure. Then the need to feel respected by our surroundings and we need to have self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem presents the typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People often engage in a profession or hobby to gain recognition. These activities give the person a sense of contribution or value. The last level of need refers to what a person’s full potential is and the realization of that potential. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.

So how does this correspond with places?

It is a scientific fact that we respond to our surroundings and Marshlow’s needs is a pretty simple way to grasp what is going on when we respond to places. The physical environment can give us opportunities and limitations and it has the power to shape us and connect us and makes us thrive and make us sad or uncomfortable.

I like to give you two examples of the significant power of public and shared places.

My first example is personal. I love Berlin. I don’t have any formal connection with Berlin as a place; No relatives, no job etc. I just really love the city and as going back to the question what makes a great place? I tried to pin point why I love this city. One of the main factors is the huge amount of shared public places. Berlin has around 2.500 public parks and other green places and to me, those places works as connection points or gateways to the communities around the city. I like just to sit down and hang out in those areas that as shared spaces connects the community. They are always lively and the atmosphere is great and even though I’m not talking to anybody I fell that I am a part of something.

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