May 11, 2018

What’s Next | Office Hours

The following cry echoed through the Dokk1 library in Aarhus, Denmark, from participants in the Next Library 2017 conference as a morning icebreaker/creativity exercise: “Yes, we made a mistake!” Mistakes were encouraged and celebrated during the three-and-a-half-day International Festival for library folk in June, intended, the conference website notes, as a “patchwork” of colearning, cocreative, participatory, engaging, pluralistic, and interactive meetings. It was one of the best professional conferences I’ve ever attended.

High Tech

Next Library integrated technology into the fabric of the activities seamlessly, not for the coolness factor. Hashtags, Instagram posts, tweets, and other notifications displayed on all the library’s monitors throughout the event. More than 250 participants chose to wear a small beacon tag while in the library as part of an experiment (see also “Asking for More,” “International, Interactive Innovation | Next Library 2017”). Real-time data displayed on the web and via monitors showed how people moved around Dokk1. This served to educate participants about tracking technology used in libraries and helped organizers understand the ebb and flow of conference attendance and use of space. A preconference excursion took me to see cutting-edge virtual reality applications and digital projection experiments centered on learning and play at the Centre for Advanced Visualization and Interaction at Aarhus University.

The Heart Can’t Fail

Next Library, however, was not a technology gathering but a human-focused and relationship-driven conference. Encouragement and smiles flowed like water from session to session—as did some challenges to our thinking. The keynotes emphasized themes familiar to my readers. Peter McLeod from MASS LBP in Canada told us that librarians are “radicals with heart.” HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands urged us to ask the right questions of our users and said “How” questions are the best to begin a conversation. And MIT Media Lab’s Philipp Schmidt explored hacking as an exercise in learning and innovation. “Hacking is an act of kindness,” he said, and libraries can offer a safe and inclusive space for similar learning. Quote of the conference winner? Schmidt’s “You can’t fail at library.”

Built for People

Next Library was visible and deeply connected to community. The library was open and fully in use for most of the festival. Instead of being relegated to meeting spaces away from the public, attendees became part of a thriving and busy facility. Sue Lawson, service development coordinator, Manchester Libraries Information and Archives, England, said, “Dokk1 was a top space to get lost in. I heard a gong sound the birth of a baby…. I don’t think I’ve been to a conference with the same ambience and positivity before.”

I got lost in Dokk1, too, as part of the interactive workshop “Library as Retreat Space.” Inspired and led by anthropologists and staff from Dokk1 and Wisconsin’s Madison Public Library’s Bubbler, the workshop leaders touched on programs meant to offer mindfulness and quiet for users, including dark room meditations and music and inner theater (think story time for adults). One of the exercises was to wander the library, find a book on a shelf, choose a few words as a mantra, and then meditate on that phrase for a bit. To finish the session, a robot led us in guided meditation.

Global Relationships

Finally, Next Library enhanced the global perspective that I’d argue benefits all information professionals. Over 50 Ignite sessions gave participants a sampling of innovation in libraries around the globe. Petar Lukačić, head of the adult department in the Fran Galovic Public Library in Croatia and a scholarship winner to attend the conference, told me, “I realize that our core value is the same all around the world: see what your community needs and react. If you talk to someone from Denmark or Ghana, it’s the same problem, but a librarian with a heart always finds a way.” These connections were forged with grace and courtesy. Jeff Nyoka, an Electronic Information for Libraries and Next Library scholarship winner, expressed thanks by sharing a saying in his Zulu language on the Next Library Facebook page: “umuntu ngumuntu, ngabantu”—one becomes a better person through good relationships with other people. “Next Library made me feel like a better person because of everyone’s kindness,” he said.

Next year, there will be a satellite Next Library conference in Berlin. If possible, put it on your radar along with a visit to Dokk1. If travel is not in the cards, or to prepare, access the rich archive of videos, session descriptions, images, and more virtually from the 2017 Next Library. You’re sure to form your own inspiring impressions.

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 ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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  1. Maxine Bleiweis says:

    I second Michael’s observations. Experiencing Dokk1 in operation as their staff carried out the same philosophy of service expressed in each workshop and keynote made NextLibrary 2017 a more powerful marketplace of ideas than learning in a vacuum. The spirit of organized chaos meant we had to be open to whatever happened next–new ideas, meeting new colleagues, and the ever-changing use of the same spaces. Bravo to organizers and participants.

  2. Andrea Meszaros says:

    I was at Dokk1 the week after the conference and only found out about the conference after I returned home to Hungary (although I am Canadian). If I had known I would have gone a week earlier to attend the conference.

    I found Dokk1 an innovative and creative space, plus a place for community. The Satuday I was there it was full of parents with their young children. They even have parking places for strollers.

    The city of Aarhus is a welcoming place. There were volunteers roaming the city looking out for tourists they could help.

    Dokk1 is just one of the innovative libraries I’ve visited in the Nordic countries. Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, all places that I’ve visited, have public libraries which are on the cutting edge of being centers of their communities. The libraries are in the main square and shopping malls. I think as North Americans we have much to learn from the Northern Europeans.

    I hope one day I can return to Dokk1 for the conference. On a side note: For anyone thinking of visiting the Nordic countries be sure your ready for the cost. It can be a shock!

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