Children, reading culture and libraries: Building blocks for a better future

Children’s Library in the making at Roskilde Library

The Children’s Library is something special. Working with children in a library context (like in any context) is so important and comes with a huge responsibility; making children meet stories, imagination, books, community and open doors to new worlds.

Being a Children’s Librarian is a crusade for a better future for us all.

At Roskilde Libraries we have an outstanding group of people working with our programs and activities towards the youngest citizens but for many years we had a very old and out-of-date physical Children’s Library at Roskilde Library. We wanted to make a better universe for the children to meet stories and books and we wanted to give our awesome group of library staff a better platform to do what they do best – fostering a strong reading culture. We decided to make a new Children’s Library.  

We had four criteria for the new Children’s Library:

  1. It should not be made for children but with children
  2. It should not be a playground – it should be a universe for stories, imagination, curiosity and community and a place where children and their families could meet books and library staff in an inspiring and inclusive environment  
  3. On a functional level it should be flexible and be able to hold different kind of activities
  4. The collection should be made accessible from a children’s logic – not a librarian’s logic

We have raised money within our own budget and we opened the brand new children’s library in the beginning of 2023. From day one the new children’s library had been a tremendous success; Lot’s children and families and a high number of families we haven’t seen before, a welcoming and functional meeting with books and stories and great spikes in our lending stats on up to 325 % compared to the same period the year before.

Some words on the four criteria that we deigned the new library upon:

Talking to children about stories and places (not libraries)     

We wanted to make a new children’s library together with children and not just make it for them. Our take on it was not to ask children what they wanted from a new library but what places they liked and used in Roskilde and what stories and feelings they connected with those places. We did this because we wanted the library to be build upon what the children linked with living in Roskilde and the stories and places that made the feel welcomed – made them feel home.

We did it simply with paper and color pencils; 150 children making drawings of their favorite special places in Roskilde. In the process we talked with them, why they liked those places and how they were important for them.

We ended up with a lot of drawings and a lot of places, colors, experiences and feelings which we distilled to four very unique places in and around Roskilde:  

The red gate: A unique piece of Roskilde history in shape of a red gate just by the city entrance. Build when the rail road came to Roskilde in 1847.

The city center: The city with all it’s buildings, shapes and places to hide.

The People’s Park: The huge city park just by the library with big trees and lakes

The fjord: The local fjord with water, waves and wind

Children crawling through The Red Gate into the new library
In the city
Looking at birds in The People’s Park
Story time a The Fjord

It should not be a playground

It was a crucial for us not to build a playground but to build a library in the library – a universe for stories and imagination. A place with lots and lots of bools. A place that opened window to new worlds. We did that very simple by creating lots of space for collection and places to read – alone or with others. And by making practical solutions for our library works to do different activities with the children.  

Flexible design

A physical library is always a fragment of time and the needs and use of the library will change over time. From that perspective you really want to make a library that was so flexible that you could change it from one day to another but that would collide with our ambitions of the universe and the design so what we decided was to make the library as flexible for different activities as possible within the design. This means that by very little adjustment we can make room for readings, theater, music, workshops, movies etc. within the library.

Collection management from children’s logic (not library logic)  

Let’s be honest: Library collection classification in general is great for library staff to navigate in the collection but not always for the user of the library. To our experience, this especially comes to light when children and their families is faced with our collection logic. We wanted to changed that with the new library in order to make the collection as accessible as possible and our main take was to try to think as a child when the want to find a book or be inspired which resulted in a set of subject icons representing ‘friendship’, ‘at the doctor’, ‘everyday’, ‘to loose’ etc.


‘To loose’
‘Everyday life’

We are proud and happy with the result of our new library and everyday it is a huge pleasure to experience the difference it makes to the children and families of Roskilde.

Huge shout-out to our head of the children’s library, Henriette Dybdal, and her awesome staff which with passion, creativity and high ambitions has carried this through. Below some pictures from the grand opening (and one of a very happy and excited me just a few days before the opening)




One comment

  1. I love how you engaged with children in the design! Making sure that your users are actually informing the space.


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