April 23, 2017

The Hygge State of Mind | Office Hours

msapplestorenyc-170x170Scandinavian countries have introduced libraries to some wonderful things in the past few years. Nordic Noir fiction, some beautiful new buildings to gather inspiration from, and perhaps the most interesting of all: the concept of hygge. Pronounced “hoo-ga,” it loosely translates from the Danish as “coziness,” but bloggers, news reporters, and folks sharing #hygge-tagged images are quick to say it is so much more. Some might argue that it’s a feeling, a vibe, a state of mind. Others say it’s about connections, conversations, and comfort.

This definition shared on an Instagram post by Joe Pickard resonated deeply with me: “[I]t can be defined as the art of building sanctuary and community, of paying attention to what makes us feel alive. A feeling of belonging to the moment and celebrating the everyday.”

How might this concept inform our practice and services? Futurists, horizon scanners, and library prognosticators often look for the next “big thing.” I’d venture to say hygge may figure prominently in how our services and offerings evolve over the next few years. Perhaps it’s another example of the cyclical nature of most things.

Yin and yang

We’ve spent a lot of time recently learning how to put it all out there. Web 2.0, social media, and participatory culture are our sharing mainstays. Conversations flow through Facebook, comment-­enabled news, and virtual communities of all kinds. Getting through the noise to find ideas and emotions that ring true can sometimes be difficult, especially as being petty or callous (i.e., mean) online is as easy as creating an anonymous profile. Could we be moving toward a quieter time highlighted by a different style of engagement? The still and silent yin to social media’s yang? The conversation and chatter will always be there for anyone and everyone to join in, as will 24-hour streams of information and entertainment. Perhaps promoting comfort, a sense of belonging, quiet, and coziness for our users will serve as an equalizer of sorts, balancing our “living out loud” times with a bit of warm and fuzzy.

Comfort and joy

Curious, I spent some time exploring the concept in relation to libraries. New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology’s library tweeted a link to a BBC piece on the concept, stating, “We’re all for a bit #Hygge at the Library :).” Beth Cronk, head librarian, Litchfield Public Library, MN, shared in a recent blog post, hygge “doesn’t really have an English equivalent, because togetherness and well-being are part of it as well.” Her post outlines all the cozy and social events happening at the library for the winter months. Adaena Tray wrote on Pittsburgh’s Green Tree Public Library blog that “hygge isn’t about having or doing more, but rather focusing on activities and objects that offer a sense of gentleness and quiet contentment.”

Reading lists of cold weather books and DVD box sets of binge-worthy shows are a good start, as are any number of interesting programs we might build around comfort, such as hands-on cooking in the library kitchen. Feeling good might be promoted with sessions on yoga, tai chi, meditation, etc. Bringing people together for family game night, twentysomething book discussions at the local brew pub, knitting groups, and travel chats enables sharing and conversation. We do these things well. Standard library fare for sure, but hygge seems to point to something bigger. How might we celebrate the everyday?

Quiet thoughts

How might we use hygge as a means to integrate the life of the community into the library?

The newly opened Dokk1 library in Aarhus, Denmark, found a way to acknowledge the important moments of the citizens it serves. One of the main spaces of the building features a large tubular bell. Its purpose is to welcome new life in Aarhus: from the maternity ward at the Aarhus University Hospital across town, new parents can activate the gong when a child is born.

Consider how that child might grow up, reminded of the library bell ringing while attending events at Dokk1. What other life events might be distinguished at the library or enhanced by library ­services?

Dokk1 features innovative spaces for learning, group collaboration, and all types of engagement with content and people. The sky’s the limit for a community-centric entity built with intense user focus and involvement.

The Aarhus web page devoted to the project describes the mediaspace, as the building is called, as offering the opportunity for experiences and activities as well as “tranquility, contemplation, and learning.” LIS educator Jesse Shera’s concept of the “quiet stir of thought” (LJ 9/1/69), a space for reflection and quiet reading, is embodied here and balances perfectly with the more technological spaces and activities. Shera’s subtitle to his famous lecture on quiet contemplation? “Or what the computer cannot do.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Assistant Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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Comments

  1. “Could we be moving toward a quieter time highlighted by a different style of engagement? The still and silent yin to social media’s yang? The conversation and chatter will always be there for anyone and everyone to join in, as will 24-hour streams of information and entertainment. Perhaps promoting comfort, a sense of belonging, quiet, and coziness for our users will serve as an equalizer of sorts, balancing our “living out loud” times with a bit of warm and fuzzy?”

    News flash – this never went away; it was merely drowned out by the Maker Crazy Time hysteria of the past few years. I suppose we’ll be told next that print is the favored format of all age cohorts. And every library will have a fika in it with soft candlelight and really strong coffee. Wow, I’m a change agent!

  2. Anna-Carin says:

    I think people will always crave a bit of quiet comfort, despite how wired and connected they may be. There may have been an excess of enthusiasm for Maker spaces in the recent past, but I don’t see why thoughtfully serene spaces can’t coexist with the vibrant, noisy, participatory areas of the library. It will take some extra care and consideration to incorporate both, but I think it can be done, and will enrich the experience of all library users.

    It is difficult to translate certain ideas when they don’t have an English equivalent. I remember trying to explain the idea of a Saturday morning “kura” to a friend. My dad is Swedish, and as kids we would all pile into my parents’ bed on Saturday morning as they enjoyed their coffee and leisurely read the newspaper. There was no hurry to start the day, or even to get dressed. I realize that “sleeping in” is not unique to Swedes, nor is drinking coffee or reading in bed. But to me, “kura”, which loosely translates to “cuddle” in English, encompasses so much more, and is difficult to articulate.

    I think “hygge” is slightly contradictory, because on the one hand it suggests a kind of quiet contemplation, which is solitary, but at the same time involves personal well-being as it relates to the greater community. It would be great if we can incorporate this vibe into our libraries, which is as much being “in the moment” as well as a source of subtle engagement with those around us.