February 16, 2018


The Future of Communities | Designing the Future

Resident-led innovation is transforming towns around the world




Community engagement is at the heart of Dokk1, the main branch of the Aarhus Public Libraries, Denmark. The system received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries division to “pioneer an innovative library model” with the help of IDEO, a global design company (see The Future of Futures). Its efforts were rewarded with IFLA’s 2016 Public Library of the Year award. The jury noted that “with a high degree of user inclusion during the construction process, the intention has been to transform the [building] from being the library’s place to being the citizens’ place.”

ljx160902web140communitystatThe design process helped not only to “obtain insights about user preferences and habits but also make use of their brainpower and abilities in the actual creation of services,” per Rolf Hapel, director of libraries and citizens’ services. That collaboration didn’t stop once the design was completed: the library works with more than 100 partners from education, public services, NGOs, and civic society organizations.

The physical facility is designed to promote community engagement. According to Hapel, “most of the furniture encourages…being together, many of the spaces invite [users] to various kinds of collaboration, the openness and transparency of the premises give incentives to and lowers the threshold of community,” as does the ability to reserve gathering space for free.

Dokk1 also has a Citizens’ Services department that offers digital access to forms for passports, driver’s licenses, and other municipal paperwork and draws about ten percent of the library’s 1.3 million annual visitors. Aarhus’s Citizens Services and Libraries division also runs the local Smart City initiative and exhibits big data generated by all sectors.

The structure has a literal connection to the growth of the community: when a child is born a nearby hospital, new parents push a button that sounds a tubular bell, the world’s largest, in the library. Additionally, visitors can share their Instagram images of the library on large screens in the building, “enabling everybody to be a part of the story.”—April Witteveen

ljx160902web140readsslug2United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground
and Advancing the Common Good
by Cory Booker (Ballantine, Apr. 2016)

Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution
by Sadik-Khan & others (Viking, Mar. 2016)

Cross-City Collaboration

The key to crafting a better future for communities lies in civic engagement through collaboration, according to the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI), a “think and do” tank located within the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University.

IEI works with the state’s communities to solve problems they define using strengths they already possess. The annual Emerging Issues Forum focuses on a theme with “the audience set[ting] the priorities,” according to Patrick Cronin, assistant director for policy and programs. In 2015, the forum focused on economic growth via the technology sector beyond the North Carolina’s Research Triangle region. A cross-city learning collaborative, InnovateNC, grew from that event and now supports five communities in total with up to $250,000 of consultation, access to best practices, and technical assistance.

The 2016 forum, Futurework, resulted in a statewide bus tour of North Carolina’s eight “prosperity zones.” IEI staff engaged residents in conversation about strategies to ensure a skilled workforce. “We asked about how these regions are responding to shifts in the economy, and…what kind of support they may need,” says Cronin. IEI will compile data from the tour and share it with state leadership.

Cronin says IEI is committed to connecting with rural areas, where populations have been “hollowed out” by economic change and aging in place; “by and large they are resource constrained,” he says. According to Cronin, IEI knew “there were very few institutions left [that] can play the role of locus or catalyst for community action,” so it looked to the faith community, which, along with public libraries, “remain the strongest, most impactful, and most trusted local institutions.”

IEI also seeks to engage North Carolina youth through the Discovery Forum, a social entrepreneurship competition offered at the high school and college level. —AW

Top illustration ©2016 Daniel Hertzberg

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

The Latest Trends in Library Design
Hosted in partnership with Salt Lake County Library and The City Library—at SLCo’s Viridian Center—the newest installment of our library building and design event will let you dig deep with architects, librarians, and vendors to explore building, renovating, and retrofitting spaces to better engage your community.
Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library Journal, Stronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.