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Design thinking for libraries

Wellingtonian Ralph Johns imagines Wellington City’s new library

Since the Wellington City Library was suddenly closed a couple of months ago there has been a strong feeling that something is missing; more than just books, magazines and reissued vinyl. We have lost our ‘living room’.

It is too early to tell whether Ian Athfield’s building will be repaired or if a new facility will have to be built, but either way this is an opportunity to debate the range of important civic functions that contemporary libraries play.

But what is the purpose of a library in the 21st century?

While I was in Denmark last month I took to opportunity to visit the new waterfront library in the city of Aarhus (with a population 340,000 Aarhus has roughly the same as the combined population of Wellington, Porirua and the Hutt Valley). Dokk1* – The Dock – looks out to the rapidly transforming waterfront well as back to the old city.

The Aarhus Main Library occupies the two-storey transparent middle of the building, and is elevated one storey above the ground. The metal-clad upper floor houses the Aarhus municipal public services department, meeting rooms and commercial space.

Local citizens and organisations participated in the design processes for the library, as well as being involved with the evolving cultural programme. The building is light, open and welcoming; at its heart is a terraced public space, an indoor civic square for the days when the wind is blowing and the rain is beating down.

It feels like a home-away-from-home – and on the Saturday that I was there it was full of young families making it exactly that.

The municipality of Aarhus collaborated with Chicago library, and with funding from the Gates Foundation worked with IDEO to create the free Design Thinking for Libraries toolkit.

Design Thinking would help Wellington to discover what our community wants out of the library, whether it is an upgrade of our beloved existing one, or something entirely new.