The Library as platform for integration of international students

In mid October The Copenhagen University Library held it’s third Library Candle Light Dinner for international students and there mentors at the university. It’s the story about how the library can be used as platform for better integration of international students in academic as well as civil society.

The problem with international students

It can be a damn hard job to be an international student. Not only are you a student (which implies loads of reading, exams, expectations and hardly no money) but you are a student in a foreign country with a different culture and have to deal with a new city, new people, new university and often a new language. I strongly believe that international students (as well as international faculty members) are important for the diversity and development in higher education and being well integrated they are bringing valuable input to campus on both studies, learning, science and culture.

But in Copenhagen and many other cities the fact is that they don’t get well integrated: they quickly make small ghettos of international students, hang out in the same bars, playing table football and leave the city and university without giving that much of the diversity that is important for higher education. Why is that? It’s hard to pinpoint one reason but if the university and academic environment is closed around itself it certainly doesn’t help.

To make sure that international students get’s better integrated The University of Copenhagen has established a mentor/mentee program were new international students (mentees) get hooked up with mentors (danish students or international students who have lived in Copenhagen for a while). The mentor/mentee partnership makes sure that the new international quickly gets established a local network which is important in both integrational, social and pracitical sense.

It’s a good program and the library has a part in it; It involves (fake) candles and library cake.

kage1120 international students hooking up at Library Candle Light Dinner. Here in line for cake

The Library Candle Light Dinner

In the beginning of 2014 I got contacted by Jacob Ørum who is director at Studenterhuset (‘The Student’s House’ – a great meeting place for students in Copenhagen across subjects and faculties). Jacob wanted to talk about how we could join forces in making some activities that would serve as platform for better integration of international students. We came up with the concept of ‘The Library Candle Light Dinner‘.

The concept is simple: It’s a candle light dinner at the library for new international students and there mentors. The purpose is simply to create a welcoming space for them to meet earth other and have a good time and by that make a steppingstone for further tie up the connection between mentees and mentors – between new international students and the university and country.

The Candle Light Dinner itself is a piñata of good stuff. The event holds 120 mentees and mentors and there is always a welcome speech (by yours truly), fake candles on the tables (it’s a library you know), a great dinner, music and the world famous “Welcome to Copenhagen” Cake. Besides that we always have a bit of extra for the evening, e.g. some live music, a DJ set, a quiz or something like that. But the most important thing is that they have the time to talk to each other and have a good time. It’s held two times each year – one on each semester. Oh, and like most things at the library it’s free of charge.

cake Two international students from China getting a slice of the library cake with there home countries flag

It can be hard to measure the actually effect concerning integration but all three events has been a massive success when it comes to participation (all three events has been filled up in no time), the evenings has been carried out in a buzzing and chatting atmosphere which was just awesome to experience. People were talking to each other and that’s basically the whole point. The responses from both international students and mentors has been great: they are really thrilled that The Library and Studenterhuset is putting up such an event, just for them, so there has been an unseen payoff on library kudos in that context. But most importantly they told us that they had a good time with there mentors and that is what counts.


The world is a book (but the library is not only about books)

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page

I’ve quoted St. Augustine in all my welcome speeches. It’s a great quote that holds a truth about how traveling, meeting other people and cultures expands you view on the world and it’s one of the reasons I really like to work with international students: they have broken out of there comfort zone, left home and is embracing the world and that just brings good things to campus.

That is also way I believe it’s important that the academic library get’s involved with the community of international students and in collaboration with the university and relevant parties pinpoint how they can support integration and well being of this very segment of students. A Candle Light Dinner

The academic library is not just about books, journals and places to study. It’s also about supporting higher education when it comes to diversity and the well being of all kinds of students. Finding activities that supports integration is one way and the Library Candle Light Dinner is a fairly easy – and fun! – concept.


The fine art of collaboration

A final note on the importance of collaboration with different types of people.

The collaboration between Copenhagen University Library and Studenterhuset on this matter is both obvious and valuable: We both have a major shared interest in the international students and they are both places for all students across subjects and level of academia. Besides this we complement each other great: The Library has good locations and funding’s for setting it up and Studenterhuset has great expertise in doing big events and getting it all together with sound systems, catering, DJ’s, live band’s ect. Hands up for Stine Agerbæk and her crew from Studenterhuset who have been rocking these events with us.

And the cake? Made in-house and got librarian all written over it 🙂


I will post the recipe soon. Cheers



The Snowden-Badass-Librarians Button

So Edward Snowden joined Twitter and recently he did a tweet on how the Library Freedom Project stepped up against Department of Homeland Security in there attempt to stop the Tor relay pilot at Kilton Library, New Hampshire:

Goes without saying that Library Land went nuts over this rather powerful support from a prolific gentleman within internet privacy. Snowden ended the tweet with the statement: “Librarians are badass”.

He is right and when somebody is right i calls for a button. So we started the button maker at my library and ended up with this bad boy:


After I tweeted bout the button I got a lot of inquiries from librarians all over the world that wanting to know how to get there hands on this little piece of button art. I’m not gonna start and button industry but I’m happy to share the template so you folks can make you own.

Find the templates in this Dropbox folder (both single pic template (.jpeg) and in a pdf print version with 24 pic’s).

Enjoy! #LibrariansAreBadass


Are we making libraries for people or libraries for books?

What is the purpose of the academic library building when it’s no longer filled with a physical collection of books and journals?

I had the pleasure of presenting two different perspectives on the development of the physical academic library space at The Danish Research Library Association’s annual meeting in Aarhus on the 17th and 18th of September (slides can be seen at the bottom of this post).

The two perspectives is what I call the traditional and the intelligent library space.

The traditional in ‘traditional library space’ is meant in every positive way and is framing the great work we have been doing on library space development for years; a diverse space with a variation of different kind of student environment, e.g. group rooms, lounge areas, small study hubs and large reading halls, along with an aestetic and nice atmosphere. And it works – we are great at it, it creates value and the academic libraries will continue to work on this.

The intelligent library space is grounded in our work with Digital Social Science Lab at The Faculty Library of Social Sciences – a physical lab to connect academia with tools, skills and methods to handle data. The ‘intelligent’ part is the skills that is embedded in the lab.

The development of the traditional and intelligent library space is not a question of either/or. They are highly connected and should co-exist in development and in practice. Togther they create value to the academic community.   

Asking the right question: “Why?”

The development of the intelligent library is closely related to the development of the traditional library space.

My favorite question to ask in my professional life is always “why” and “why a physical library space?” is an interesting question because the answer to the question has changed over the last 20 years or so. In all time, before the migration to the electronic medium, the academic library as a building has highly been a place to storage and access a physical collection of materials. The library was filled with books and journals on shelves like big temples of knowledge fixed in physical materials. Those days are long gone – at least at The Faculty Library of Social Sciences and The Copenhagen University Library. We spent approximately 7,5 million US dollars yearly on electronic resources and 700.000 US dollars on physical materials and most of the physical books we have are in remote stacks. So asked 20 years or so ago the answer to the question would have been something like “to collect and storage a collection and make it accessible to the academic community “. Asked today the answer would be different:

We are making libraries for people – not for books.

The consequences of this development are significant – or at least they should be if you act on them. The library has a lot of extra space to use for something else than shelves with books and the very identity of a library as a building full of books is under pressure.

The books and journals are retrieving from the academic library shelves – what should be the library building function of the library space post-books? 

The academic library anno 2015: A library for people, not books. Here the Faculty Library of Humanities, Copenhagen University Library

The bigger picture: Liberating library services from the physical space

So when you step back for a while and look at the bigger picture of academic library development I think it’s fair to say that we, apart from national and special collection libraries, have moved away from a library that functions as a building to storage books and journals to a building that serves as a working space for students and were many of the services, e.g. instructions, bibliometrics, open access, data services, is liberated from the physical library space. Some of them might take place there but could – or should  – function apart from the actual library building, e.g. in the lecture hall or researchers office.

So is the library building in itself still important in 2015? The students that comes there to work might just be as happy if they have a chair and a table anywhere and one could question if study environment, table and chairs at a library, really is a core library task? I don’t think the future of the academic library space post physical collection is fixed in the traditional study environment but in a combination of this and relevant academic support to the community – services that is not grounded in the building but in the skills of great librarians and other library folks. With the growth of data labs within academic libraries there also seems to be a tendency to re-embed researchers and students as an active player in the library space  were focus is shifting from the physical collection to instructions and workshops on data handling and research methods instead.

The library collection: more accessible, less space and lower resources 

The collection? It ‘s still as important as ever. It is, and will for many years on, be a cornerstone in the academic library. But it has changed form: It’s even greater and more accessible than ever before since electronic books and journals don’t get checked out and don’t take up any shelves at the library and at the very same time the administration of licenses don’t take up that many resources as the handling of physical collection. This means that even in times with budget cuts we have been able to scale up services like data, bibliometric, open access and copyright services.

The academic library of the present and the future is a library for people – not for books.

Slides from my presentations on the development of the traditional and intelligent library space [in danish]

The traditional library space

The intelligent library space