Build or die: Finding new bricks for the library of tomorrow

Text of my opening talk for the new DigiLab and Makerspace (DigiMaker) at Linköping University Library September 28 2018

I like to tell you a story about a man named Ole Kirk Christiansen. Ole was a Danish carpenter and he opened up his own carpenter business in 1916, 102 years ago. He primarily made wooden furniture. In 1932 the Big Depression hit the world and it also influenced Ole’s carpenter company. He had to downsize his business and in that process he started making miniature wooden figures of his products for design aids. He was pretty good at that so he turned some of his industry into a toy business, making wooden toys for kids. Focusing more and more on toys in 1932 Ole decided that it was time for a new name for his company and he held a contest among his staff to name the company, offering a bottle of homemade wine as a price. It was Ole’s own suggestion that won. He called it Lego which is a self-made contraction from the Danish phrase leg godt, mearning “play well”.

OKC_1957-originalOle Kirk Christiansen (1891 – 1958)

After World War II plastic became available in Denmark, and in 1947 Lego purchased a plastic injection molding machine. In 1949 Lego began producing small bricks of plastic called “Automatic Binding Bricks”. They were developed in the spirit of the old wooden blocks that could be stacked upon one another. The difference with Lego’s bricks was that they could be “locked” together and also easily be taken apart again. In 1953 they got a new name and the ‘lego bricks’ was born. In 1958 Lego partented the lego brick in the form we know it today. Ole also died that year but the lego brick was here to stay, Lego Group grew into a major global company and the lego brick has sparked ideas, creativity and joy of millions of kids and grown-ups over the years.


So obvious this is a piece of Danish business history but why am I’m telling you this today? Well the point is, that today, with the opening of DigiMaker at Linköping University Library you are also taking a step towards turning wooden furniture into little plastic pieces. The conditions for Ole’s firm changed with the great depression. He looked at the situation, went over his options and he acted. He made a choice of action. So have you with the decision of opening DigiMaker but obvious there is a difference from Ole’s choice and yours; The DigiMaker is not about survival. It is about creating value to the academic community of researcher, teachers and students at Linköping University. Though there is also similarities between Ole and Linköping Universty Library; Ole ended up with Lego, an extremely cool and creative tool and a globally strong and positive brand. In the same way you encourage student and researchers to go beyond the curriculum, to play, to be creative and to build new skills and networks. And the brand? I would any day say that in the cooperate world Lego is one of the strongest brands and in the non-for-profit world the library is one of the most trustworthy and praised institutions in the last 5000 years.

Is the scope of DigiMaker a library task one could fairly ask. Shound’t the library just concentrate on the books and the journals? In my opinion libraries are not about books and journals. Libraries are about people, they are about learning and supporting education and research. In that sense books and journals are powerful tools but we should create value and be relevant to the academic community beyond the collection and I like how Justin Windsor, the first president of the American Library Association, frames it in the 1800 were he point out that The Library both had to be “…a repository, a collection, but also a workshop, a place where you together could be informed and learn about the world“. I highly agree with Mr. Windsor.

You have looked at the landscape of education and research and seen that it’s not the same landscape as it was just a few years ago. Scholars and students use new ways and methods to investigate the world: they harvest digital born data, they use virtual reality in their teaching, they produce 3D-models of their ideas and I think it’s important that we realize that the library and university of today might not fit the reality of tomorrow and that’s why it’s crucial that we don’t just do what we always has done, but continuously talk to students, teachers and researchers, look at their behavior and make choices to create value and relevant services in an ever-changing world.

Will DigiMaker succeed like Ole and Lego? I don’t know but creating spaces and services that is in sync with the development of research and education is a sound move.

In Copenhagen, at the Faculty Library of Social Sciences, we have also been turning wooden furniture’s into little plastic pieces. In the beginning of 2016 we opened Digital Social Science Lab. Digital Social Science Lab can be compared with DigiMaker in some ways; it is a collaborative and open platform for education and events on digital methods and work with data. It’s made an impact beyond our imagination and by making this move we have gained three things that I think a crucial for higher education and research: Inspiration and new skills, co-creation and belonging.

I think and hope, that after some time you will experience that you have gained the same with the opening of DigiMaker.

Inspiration and new skills

The first one is obvious. That was our main target with opening Digital Social Science Lab. We do instructions, teaching and workshops on various digital methods, tools and programs for harvesting, cleaning, analyzing and visualization data. We don’t say it’s the best or only method. We simply want to show students and scholars at the faculty that there is other options than the traditional when you want to investigate the world. We want to bridge that gap and give them some skills so they can move on and we want to bring them together. An important part in doing this is to facilitate that students and scholars do peer-to-peer sessions on digital methods. As a library we don’t have to be the expert all the time. But we are excellent at creating an open space where people can meet, collaborate and create communities within the community. This brings me to aspect number two: Co-creation


So how do we create that inspiration and foster those new skills? In DSSL we have initiated some activities in order to create a bridge between the students and the digital methods. The library teach and do workshops on various software and methods for handling and analyzing data within social sciences – for example Netvizz and TCAT for harvesting data, Open Refine for cleaning, NVivo, SPSS and Excel for analysis and Gephi for visualization. It is a very important part of DSSL, but it’s only half of the content we provide. Besides that we are trying to create a platform for people to meet and learn from each other in relation to work with data, we are trying to create a community where the library serves as platform and the library worker as facilitator.


I’ve seen many attempts at creating new spaces at libraries to facilitate learning; Fab Lab’s, Makers Spaces, Data Labs, Learning Commons. Some were great and some failed and I really love failures, we should embrace failures and learn from them. When we fail we take a room and fill it with some nice furniture and some state-of-the-art hardware and software and stand back, excitingly waiting for people to start learn something. What happens in those cases is that students come with their own lab-tops, sits down and stats working like they have always done. To actively create learning and new insigts a room is not enough, you need people to facilitate, to meet, to collaborate. That is why the library worker and the library users are the most valuable asset of any library.

Now I’m not a learning expect but I can see that something different is happening when we set the scene with peer-to-peer sessions instead of the regular instructor/expert-to-student setup. First of all it gives us other opportunities to create different events and learning content than if we were to be the expert/teacher/instructor on every event. I only have a certain amount of library staff, resources and skills and we have no chance to cover the whole spectrum of relevant digital methods and tools. And sometimes a student simply looks different at a certain method or tool than a library worker be course they are more often to use it on tasks in their academic life and not only as an instructor.


The last one is a bit different than the two others and it was not a thing that we aimed at when we opened DSSL. The case is that we all need to belong to something; a family, a job, a football team, a nation. If you tell me you don’t need to belong I’ll say you either a psychopath or a liar. Students and researchers at institutions of higher education are no different from that. For many students the study is a huge part of their life and I think it’s crucial for their well-being and ability to perform that they feel that they belong. Same go with researchers and teachers. As an open space, not focused on administration or grades, I think the library can help students belong in many ways. I’m sure DigiMaker will not only provide skills to the academic community – it will also make a number of students feel like they belong to something, e.g. a community around DigiMaker and the library. They will connect with peer students and scholars, they will form study groups, they will help each other, inspire each other, challenge each other. They will feel that they belong. And if they have that sense of belonging they will do good. In general I like academic libraries and universities to be more aware of the social role they can play on campus.

Congrats with your new building bricks and good luck




One comment

  1. […] Looking at the building from the outside it is really hard to get your kicks on. Squared brown-ish anonymous building in no man’s land just on the outskirts of world famous LEGO Land. The building itself is not the whole library. It’s like a community center with a small church, an art school, a café, day care for kids, tourist information and the library. Doing some research on the building it was actual a gift to the city of Billund by LEGO founder Kirk Christensen (on that note you might wonna read this connection between LEGO and libraries from a talk I did a while back: […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s