Why do they come? The Library as place and brand

You probably all know the scene: A library reading hall with endless rows of students working, studying, learning. Alone together. A nice view. Makes me happy every time I cross it. But we should never stop question our services and our users behavior (also when it’s a very positive behavior) and I often ask myself: “Why do they come? Why don’t they sit at home and study?”. Some of them for sure because they are gonna pick up a book or need library help or instruction and don’t get me wrong: I love a library filled with working students and I think we do an awesome job giving them good conditions but still, why do they come just to sit and work? I find the question important because it might be a window to both insights on the library and the people using them.

humWhy do they come? Students working at Faculty Library of Humanities, Copenhagen University Library

I think the questions holds several answers. Sometimes, when I ask the question out loud, I get the answer from library professionals that it’s because we, as libraries, are excellent at creating learning and study environments. I will not argue that is not a part of the answer but if we break that part down, what we do, are providing our libraries with tables and chairs so our users have places to work. Other institutions, for instance the universities themselves, can do that pretty well too I guess and I don’t believe it’s the only or most significant answer to the question

I think the answers should be found elsewhere but before I dig into that I like to tell you a story from one of my libraries.

Case: Thrashed campus, neat library

At the Faculty of Social Sciences at The University of Copenhagen we have two physical library sites: The Faculty Library and a smaller Study Library at the center of campus. The Study Library has a small reference desk that are staffed from 10 am to 3 pm on weekdays and 3 large reading halls which are open from 8 am to 10 pm which means, they are un-staffed every day for 9 hours. I meet with the provost at the faculty ones every month to deal with cases evolving the library. He often complains about the way the students treat campus; Trash everywhere, a trail of parties, broken stuff etc. For some reason we never experience this at the Study Library even though it’s un-staffed many hours everyday. Why is that? Why do they trash campus but cherish the library? I think the answer to the question “Why do they come?” could be found in this pattern of behavior and I think it has to come with both the library as brand, development of the library as place and the life of the student in 2017.

The Library: A trustworthy brand since 2600 BC

I would argue that a  part of the answer to why students flock to academic libraries to work has to be found in the library as a brand. In my whole professional carrier I have been hearing voices inside the profession who calls libraries and librarians ‘traditional’ and ‘dusty’ and is arguing that we need to re-shape the brand of libraries. I don’t mind taking a discussion about re-shaping the brand but what if the library in the head of the users are just what they need? Thinking about it, libraries has been around for almost 5000 years and has since the introduction of public libraries during the Enlightenment era been associated with spaces for learning, education, research and cultural activity. Our values are openness, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (or at least that the values I like to be floating through my libraries). We are democratic institutions (but not neutral!). The book itself, which many link with libraries (for good reasons), are one of the strongest brands in the world. Looking at the example with The Study Library at Social Sciences I would not conclude that students love libraries but they for sure respect them.

Libraries don’t want people’s money – libraries want them to succeed, want them to learn, to explore, want to give them access to a bigger world.

In a highly commercial, capitalistic and digitized world, I think many students in higher education connects with that. So what if our brand is a bit traditional? It’s strong and it’s trustworthy and we should acknowledge that and use it in the future development of libraries.

19a8ff0760f0904dd9cb1a4e4e03226f--peterborough-the-libraryPeterborough, New Hampshire Town Library. First free public library supported by taxation founded April 9. 1833

Discipline, identity and belonging

The conditions for Danish students in higher education has changed pretty radical over the last couple of years: There are clear limits for your time of being a student, you got 5 years to finish your study or you are out. You can take on education and then decide to switch to another. The weekly hours students has access to there teachers and supervisors has been limited. It’s harder to get into most studies, the demands for good grades are bigger than before. I will not go into a discussion on how this development is good or bad in the bigger picture for higher education but I think it has forced our students to take on a more professional and disciplinary approach than before. They discipline themselves with going to the library to work. They make a work day of it: Waiting in front of the library in the morning till it opens, find a good spot to study and finish around 3 or 4. Couldn’t they just do that at home? Sure but we all know that you often rather do the dishes than reading Foucault. To many distractions at home. The library gives them an opportunity to separate their private life from there study so they can be more relaxed while at home.

It can be hard being a student. And lonesome. The social aspects of students life is crucial for there ability to be the best students and human beings they can be. Look at remote students: The drop-out rates are way higher than regular students studying at a physical university with other students. With the decreasing hours in class and supervision students are looking for other places to boost there academic identity as students, as learners. They probably find that in different places but one of the places are The Library. Alone together sure but every time they look up they see that they are not alone. That is important and closely connected with the last aspect of why students come to work at the library: Belonging.

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 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 there life and I think it’s crucial for there 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 with the feeling of belonging with stimulating their academic identity and create and facilitate spaces where they can connect with other students (and teachers and researchers).

Looking at disciplines, identity and belonging one could argue that the university or Starbucks could also created those aspects in student life. Maybe, but not so successful as the library I would say. Why is that then? Because the library, as I pointed out in the beginning, is a 100% awesome brand and place. It’s solid, it’s open, it’s there to help you not because it want you money but simply because that’s the job of the library, it’s a place for learning and enlightenment, it’s a space that want you to succeed and don’t give you grades or mark you as a good or bad student, it’s simply a wonderfully place and a very powerful brand. Let’s acknowledge that as library professionals and not try to make the library something it’s not.

Perspectives: Is a library without books still a library and the perfect jungle for social animals 

So we have students flocking into our libraries and I’ve tried to answer why they come with different perspectives as outlined above. That’s nice but so what? Should we just sit back and be happy about our foot traffic stats?

No. First of all I strongly believe that the library as place is a potential cornerstone in students well being and success if we acknowledge that physical spaces is not getting less significant in a world that is getting more digitized – I believe we will experience the opposite. We are human beings and social animals. We need to be around other people to function, explore, develop, be challenged, have fun, be alive, learn, do good. ‘Online’ will not replace that. Ever.  That goes in general and for higher education and research.

I want us to embrace this and actively use the critical mass of working learning minds in our spaces to create value, network, diversity and inclusion in higher education and research. I want us not just to focus on chairs and tables but to take on an active approach to the library as place and facilitate cross-disciplinary activities. When we bring people together from different backgrounds great things happens. People who thinks alike accomplish nothing. Let the library be the social and academic jungle for people of different race, gender, age, political views, cultural and economic capital and subjects of interest, study and research.

At a talk a while ago I asked the question “Is a library without books still a library” and my own answer was yes: If we . Link to blog post: “Is a library without books still a library? Some thoughts on The Library as place”.

I think personally that a library is not only defined by its collection – whether it be physical or electronic. It is a very important part, but our main assignment in my opinion is to support research, education and learning, and it relies on other activities than just the collection.

Let’s use that space that’s left when the books leave the library to make a jungle to make the wildlife and diversity of higher education flourish.


Final note: Track the behavior

In the above I’m kind of guessing on why students come to the library in 2017 if it’s not to get a book or get professional help. I don’t take a big swing in the dark, I take in what I see, observe and believe and make conclusions from that, but it’s not a study. I don’t have a quantitative or qualitative data set at hand.

It’s important that we don’t just take light swings in the dark when we talk about the use and non-use of libraries and the life of our users and non-users. So my Final note on asking ourselves questions on why and how users use (or not use) libraries is: Don’t just guess and don’t just ask them. If you ask them you only get an answer to what you ask and that might no be the whole picture. If I ask 10 students if they would like 24 hours access to the library they are likely to all answers “yes, sure” but it’s not the same as they would actually use it. User Experience (UX) methods and research holds an important key to understanding our users behavior and needs in the present and developing libraries for the future.

Huge shutout to UX heroes like Andy Priestner and Anneli Friberg and other #UXLibs folks who in theory and practice advocate, support and empower the library community with UX tools, methods and awareness. Keep it up.

An remember: “The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food” – Dean Ornish

Comments on this matter is highly appreciated




“You know it’s bad when librarians rally”. Praise to a non-neutral profession

Let me start to detach from the heading: “You know it’s bad when librarians rally”. I’ve heard it quiet a few times in different versions and sure it’s funny to some extend because it plays on the stereotypical view on librarians as quiet introvert people with cardigans, glasses and buns, driving round book trolley’s, never raises their voice or interfere in other peoples business (unless someone is to loud in the library and has to be shushed). I don’t find that to be true. Over the last couple years I been hearing a voice among the library community who has been more and more concerned about social justice, inclusion and diversity in society. Especially in North America. I like that voice. It’s an important voice. And that is because I believe that libraries – both public and academic – are important institutions in building an open, equal and diverse society. To fulfill that role we need to be active in our choices and take part in the debate. We need to take a stand and say it out loud when something is wrong. I don’t believe in such a thing as ‘neutral libraries’ or ‘neutral librarianship’. When public libraries do programs for homeless people in the community they are not neutral or indifferent – they act on a problem. When academic libraries advocate for open access to academic literature and research data they are not neutral – they take a stand that open access to information and data can help create a better world. When librarians march in protest because of budget cuts in higher education or closing of school libraries they are not neutral. They act.

I think librarians has been focusing on social justice issues for a long time but the voice I’ve been hearing is getting louder and louder. I hear it especially on Twitter and in Facebook groups but also out on the streets in various demonstrations and rallies around the world.

The Library – public, academic, special etc. – is a crucial institution in building a healthy democracy; libraries are open and inclusive spaces. They care about you, not your money. They educated people and bring them together. They create healthy and smart communities. They don’t flunk students, they focus on how they can help them succeed. Librarianship is the key to all that. It’s important that we are aware of this and that we take our responsibility as an institution and profession serious and act when things are not right.

So, let’s talk about this and let’s keep be that active institution that care about our communities and raises our voices when something isn’t right. And in the mean time I like to dedicate this blog post to all the badass librarians, library workers and library lovers who spent time and energy on advocating for social justice, inclusion and diversity by bringing the best librarian/archives rally sign I could find (I couldn’t find courtesy for all the photos so please write me if one of these are yours).

Enjoy and keep on believing that you can make a difference.

Cheers, Christian

Librarians against nazi shitheads. Gayle Lauren at the Boston Free Speech rally 2017. Photo courtesy: Gayle Lauren

Read and resist. The Women’s March in Washington 2017

Facts are real. Sincerely, your librarian. The Women’s March in Washington 2017

A school librarian is a right. Not at privilege. Rally to restore Illinois School Librarian 2017 

Save Cardiff's Library ServiceLibraries gave us power. Cardiff Library cuts ‘read-in’ protest 2015

carnigieThe Internet can’t replace a trained librarian. Save Carnegie Libraries rally 2016

carnigie2I [heart] librarians and books. Librarians to be at Save Carnegie Libraries rally 2016

Z682.4.G39. Boston Pride Parade 2006. Photo courtesy: Lana Mariko Wood

What do we want? Evidence based science. When do we want it? After peer review. Women’s March in Washington 2017



Tales from The Library: A growing collection of library love stories 

I love pictures. They often take me places and creates different kind of stories in my head. I like many different kinds of pictures but I really dig pictures of libraries and the people who work there and the people who uses them. Pictures of rows of books, students that are reading, kids learning to code and all the small and big sparks of the good things that libraries are.

I’ve visited many libraries in my life and had many great library experiences. Some of them I’ve captured in a photo. I thought it could be nice to find those photos, put ’em up somewhere so people can enjoy them (I don’t really know what I’m doing when I take pictures and it’s just iPhone pics but it’s pic’s of libraries so that secures 99% of the joy) and use them for websites, library marketing etc.

So here you go: Tales from The Library, a growing collection of quality library love stories from around the world: https://www.instagram.com/librarylovestoires



Tales from The Library: https://www.instagram.com/librarylovestoires 

Don’t be square. Roskilde University Library

Sparks. New York University Library

Alone with books. TU Delft Library

And The Winner is.. How libraries can support students working for a better life on campus

Altruism. I find people who are voluntarily doing things for other people simply because they think it makes a different, one of the most beautiful things in this world. Those people are making the planet a better place to live. All the time. A lot of altruism is going on in higher education and on campus. Students are doing social and educational events, arrange debates, do bars, board game clubs, campus days etc. in order to create a good study environment and great experiences for their peer students.

I think the academic library has a huge stake in students success and well being in higher education; as libraries we are platforms and spaces who support students studies, learning and collaboration and we lack the evaluation and authority of the mother institution which gives us a position, where we can focus on their success without limits but our own imagination and drive for making them the best students they can be. In this context I’ve been thinking about how the library can support the voluntarily spirits and activities on campus and here is one idea: The Study Environmental Award.

The Study Environmental Award is given to students and student organisations who do activities for their peer students in order to make a greater study environment.

The purpose of the award is two-pieced:

1) To honor those students and organisation who is putting effort, energy and good ideas into creating a better study environment

2) To inspire other students to do the same by putting a positive focus on voluntarily actives targeting the study environment on campus.

The concept is simple really: Just like the Oscars and the Grammy’s are events that put praise and focus on the film and music but also the whole industries, The Study Environment Award is meant to both give a big hug and a high-five to the cool students who make an effort to make study life better for everybody but also to open fellow students eyes for the opportunities to contribute.

Two campuses, two libraries, two student councils, two awards

I’m library director for both Roskilde University Library and Faculty Library of Social Sciences at Copenhagen University Library and we have created a Study Environment Award on both campuses. We haven’t done it alone. Both at Roskilde University and Faculty of Social Sciences we have teamed up with the student councils which have a shared interest in supporting and developing the study environment. Collaborating with student organisations is really awarding: They bring in valuable and highly relevant perspectives which library folks is not able to cover alone, they often have a huge outreach on campus and collaborating with them, creates ownership and awareness of the library activities.

For the actual ‘Award show’ we are aiming a tapping into some of the larger activities going on at campus. At the Faculty of Social Sciences the award are given on the yearly Campus Day in the end of April and in Roskilde at the students yearly Summer Party in the beginning of June.

17457806_10154283447915951_893634756879903624_nThe Handshake. Emma Bach from the Student Council at the Faculty of Social Sciences and yours truly settling the deal on The Study Environment Award.

And The Winner is… 

The award show got everything it takes to be an.. award show: Reading and praise for the nominated students and organisations, an envelope with the winner, the breathless seconds just before the winner is announced, endless happiness and joy and spotlight for the honorable winner, reading of motivation for selecting the particular winner, handover of prize, bubbles and flowers and thank you speech from the winner.

In both case the prize has been money to make new activities for the study environment.

At The Faculty of Social Sciences the award went to ‘Pedalarmen’ (The Pedal Arm) – a space for fixing bikes, drinking coffee and have chats with fellow students across campus. One of the reasons The Pedal Arm won was, that it is not focused on subjects or education – it simply creates a social space, a welcoming, friendly and open get-together, where students can meet with other students (and teachers) from other disciplines (and learn something about how to fix ones bike – Copenhagen is a biking city you know and for many people the bike is like an extra part of the body).

The happy winners of the Study Environment Award 2017 on The Faculty of Social Sciences

Benefits of the award approach to supporting student driven study environment activities

The Award approach comes with different benefits:

  1. It celebrates the cool students and voluntarily spirits that is doing something good for the study environment
  2. By creating focus it can inspire others to do the same
  3.  It’s an well known concept, easy arranged, and everybody loves a good award show
  4. Collaborating with student councils and student organizations creates valuable network within the student community for the library
  5.  Having The Library name on a popular award is good branding and story telling about the library

This is working for us and can be twisted in many ways. A Study Environmental Award is just one of a number of different ways the academic library can support student driven activities on campus and in higher education. Let me hear yours.



“Facts are real. Sincerely, Your Librarians” and other badass signs from #WomensMarch

On January 21 2017, millions of people around the world took the streets to rally for women’s rights at the Women’s March. The first protest was planned for Washington, D.C., and was organized as a grassroots movement that took place on the day after Donald Trump’s January 20 inauguration. It aimed to “send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office”. Quickly the rally spread to other cities around the world.

I find the Women’s March a mind blowing and strong statement and I find great comfort in the fact that a huge population of fellow citizens around the world will unite to protect women’s rights and other causes under fire like protection of the natural environment, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, freedom of religion, and workers’ rights.

Lots of library workers participated in the Women’s March and some of them where out there flashing some some really badass protest signs. I’ve collected some of them here for collective memory and inspiration (I’ve tried to located the primary sources for the photos with out much luck. If you know any persons who took the photos please ask them to reach out to me, so I can either make a reference to them or, if they don’t want the photo in this blog post, I can remove it).

“Thank a school librarian if you can tell fact from fiction”

“Librarians against Trump – ‘Book Him'”

“Read and Resist” – Librarians are pissed

“You know it’s bad when Librarians are marching”

“Librarians against post-truth”

“Real news? Fake news? Ask a Librarian”

I’m telling you, kids are the future. This one proves it big time.

Yep, science really is real

Love this one
My fave: “Facts are real. Sincerely, Your Librarians”