Space, a familiar frontier

According to Rolf Hapel, “Libraries aren’t just entities that have dropped down from heaven” (As cited in Peet, 2018, LIS instruction section, para. 2). Libraries are working hard to please their users. They have plans, goals, and objectives. One of those goals is to provide a space where everyone feels welcome. Even in this age of digitization, the library as a physical space remains an important element of the services that the library provides (Hapel as cited in Peet, 2018). Laerkes (2016) writes that this space should be for people to do things in, not a “passive, collection based space” (Para. 2). Laerkes (2016) discusses the four spaces model, and the many different types of activities a particular library might want to emphasize, such as artistic activities, lounging, organized meetings, and learning opportunities for children and adults. By providing space for all kinds of activities, the library is providing space for all kinds of learning. This will most likely include books and a quiet space for good old-fashioned reading, because people still want those things too (Rainie, 2014).

Providing these different types of spaces means that libraries must be fluid. Or, as Stephens (2016) puts it, “Changing daily. Filled with art, sound, life, and inspiration” (Para. 1). This fluidity can be physical, such as the motorized system of 50-foot screens used to change the space of the massive LocHal library to fit that day’s needs (Schwab, 2019). 

Fluidity can be policy-based as well. Østergård (As cited in Stephens, 2016) urges us to get rid of rules that get in the way of people actually using the library. After all, people have to be comfortable in a space if they are going to use it. The Galiwin’ku library tossed the revered Dewey Decimal Classification when they decided their users would be better served by a categorization system based on the culture of the community (Thompson & Trevaskis, 2018).

Libraries create space for their users in cyberspace as well (Laerkes, 2016). Invercargill City Libraries has an amazing online presence (Eng & Mager, 2018). It is almost as if they are showing an idealized version of their libraries, but so what if they are? Everyone’s Facebook page is like that. It is a story about their libraries that their users can be a part of. 

Here’s some of my favorite slides from their APLIC18 presentation (Eng & Mager, 2018):


Eng. A., & Mager, B. (2018). Keeping up with the librarians [PDF]. Available from

Laerkes, J.G. (2016, March 29). The four spaces of the public library [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Peet, L. (2018). Rolf Hapel: Toward a global instruction and practice. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Rainie, L. (2014). 10 facts about Americans and public libraries. Retrieved from

Schwab, K. (2019). The library of the future is an 80 year-old converted train shed. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2016). Dream. Explore. Experiment. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Thompson, J. & Trevaskis, L. (2018).  A remote library dropping Dewey to use local indigenous concepts instead. Retrieved from

5 thoughts on “Space, a familiar frontier

  1. Invercargill is having the most fun. The spoofs and playfulness reminded me of that Keeping Up With The Librarians parody magazine cover of the Kardashians, and I googled it just now only to discover… it’s the same library! Wow. They are on fire.

    “[G]et rid of rules that get in the way of people actually using the library. After all, people have to be comfortable in a space if they are going to use it.” This immediately makes me think of rules around food. From what I gather, some libraries are starting to entertain the idea of allowing users to eat in the library. Has your library talked about this at all? I would be hesitant. On the one hand, it would make the library more welcoming. But it can introduce a lot of messiness that can damage the library and its resources, falling to library staff to clean up. Part of it could be a design challenge, though. My branch has carpets which get stained all the time. If the floor were linoleum or some other easily cleaned surface, such a change would be at least somewhat more workable.

    • @mjulrich, Invercargill is on fire. They demonstrate the difference between a library having a social media presence and a library really having a social media presence. The question is, can any library do it?

      Food is a tricky issue. My branch has a courtyard, and we let people eat out there. It’s a nice option to have when someone really wants to eat something. I saw one group of teenagers get pizza delivered to the library and have a little pizza party in the courtyard. It would have been very sad to have to tell them they couldn’t eat it. For libraries that don’t have a courtyard, I’m not sure what the solution is. Especially if the library is low on space in general. I would be less worried about damaged materials (except maybe the computers) than I would be about the mess in general and the additional space that food takes up. I guess it depends on the library, and how much that library’s patrons want to eat in it.

  2. This rocks – and yes Invercargill = 🔥

    The thing about rules is spot on – when I was in public libraries, we had so many rules…and meetings about making more rules… I am so happy that mindset has faded a bit. Sure we need policy but prohibitive rules do not help anyone.

    • It is so fun to see the examples of rule breakers in Phillip’s post. Thanks. I saw a humble little sign on one of my local library’s doors that says, “sometimes the library will be loud”. It was an apologetic little posting to break the rules with permission. The most frequent attending patrons at this library are elders and late retired folks who utilize a retirement community and rec center across the street. I can see how the librarians are in a little bit of a polite pickle, as far as making the elders happy and serving the needs of the youth, who are notably loud… I do think libraries set the mood, the trend, and the precedent and have to learn how to lead with confidence in this direction. It may give the elders more permission to accept the fun that is to be had. I hear them on their nearby bocci courts and I know that they understand. We have to shake up the concept of community!

      • Hey @narrability,

        “A humble little sign,” heh heh. I like it. Balancing what people expect from the library is a pickle. Young, old, houseless, students, etc. It’s great when they are balanced. What most impressed me when I re-discovered libraries as an adult was seeing all kinds of people using the library for all kinds of things. Sharing the space. You are right, we do need to shake up the concept of community.

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