Building a Community Legacy in Missoula

By: Dr Lisa Blank, Professor, the University of Montana PJW College of Education & Human Sciences

Stockholm in the late afternoon. Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

Stockholm in the late afternoon with its famous Stockholm Public Library in the background, considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Sweden’s culture house model builds on the long legacy of libraries as community hubs, agents of change, and  places of learning, seamlessly weaving together library strengths with the strengths of museums, the arts, and social services “all under one roof.” Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

We were fortunate to be in Stockholm during the announcements for the 2015 Nobel Prize awards for medicine, chemistry, and literature. As many know, Alfred Nobel left his entire estate, built largely on the development and sale of dynamite, for the establishment of a prize “. . . to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” Immediately, many resisted Nobel’s request. It was five years before his legacy became reality in 1901.

Today, Nobel’s call to “better understand the world and change the world for the better” resonates in Sweden’s “culture houses” visited by the Missoula delegation. Each house provided safe and inviting spaces to create, understand, and celebrate culture. Each offered a warm welcome to all visitors, regardless of age, nationality, race, class, or language spoken.  Each spoke of empathy as an essential foundation for programming decisions. Empathy, they explained, builds healthy, vibrant, collaborative communities where people of all generations desire to live and work.

empathic-designEmpathy. I had not previously considered the central role empathy plays in creating strong communities, but it seems rather obvious now. Individual empathy fosters tolerance for diversity; diversity brings new ideas and perspectives.  New ideas and perspectives build social capital and social capital advances a community that is more inviting to those working in a variety of businesses; particularly the U.S.’s fast-growing creative industries (architecture, software design, advertising, publishing, education, and more).

The establishment of Missoula’s “All Under One Roof” library and cultural center, the first of its kind in the U.S., is a vision worthy of Alfred Nobel’s legacy of hope. The project sends a message to potential investors that Missoula is a community of innovators and social entrepreneurs. It is a community where diverse families and businesses can thrive, and it is also a community continually working to include and connect residents, expand opportunities, understand multiple perspectives, and solve problems. That’s a community legacy beneficial to all.


A Third Leg of the Stool: Addressing Community Need

By: Holly Truitt, University of Montana spectrUM Discovery Area Director

This trip focused on learning about Sweden’s culture house model, which places educational, cultural and social services and institutions under a single roof to work systemically and reduce overhead.

In our eight days of travel, we visited three popular culture houses and one in the making, as well as numerous libraries and museums. On the trip we met nearly 30 Swedes working in the museum and library field as well as in local government. We also were interviewed by a Swedish newspaper as well as its national library journal. Everyone we connected with was kind, welcoming and generous with their time and ideas.

Fika (coffee break) with Kulturmagisnet staff.

Fika (coffee break) with Kulturmagisnet staff to discuss a number of topics including program integration and governance. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

Visiting with Kulturmagisnet staff about their model.

Visiting with Kulturmagisnet staff about their model. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

 My Greatest Take Away

The culture house model creates a rich learning ecosystem that easily adapts to and reflects the unique needs and interests of its community.

A director of a library we met on our trip referred to the culture house model as having three legs: education, meeting space, and addressing community needs. In many ways, this third leg was unique for each culture house we visited:

  • In downtown Stockholm, it was incorporating theater;
  • For a community facing a contracting workforce and recent loss of major employers, it was the creation of co-working spaces and a retraining site;
  • For a young, hip community, it was recreation (they have a climbing gym in their facility – fine art, library and climbing under one roof – get out, right?!);
  • And for a community with high rates of unemployment (~25%) and decreasing enrollment in higher education,  it was a dynamic teen center with other support social services.
  • But for all, they were hosting very recently created programming to assist the wave of refugees arriving to Sweden each day. Very powerful work and reminder of how these spaces can respond rapidly to community change.

    Teen center at Kulturmagniset.

    Teen center at Kulturmagniset. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

In our model – by integrating an array of leading organizations to create a world class learning experience for children, rich with exhibits, role models, books and much more – a key aspect of our third leg will be Missoula children, which are one of our greatest hopes and treasures as a community and society.

Libraries, Cafés, and Kitchens…Oh, my!

By: Cathy Semmelroth, Retired Teacher and Missoula Public Library Supporter

You may be asking yourself what these three places have in common?  In our fact -finding mission to Sweden, we saw these places and more,  ‘All Under One Roof.’

Our first visit was to the Kulturhusets (culture house) and TioTretton Library located in downtown Stockholm.  Upon entering the multilevel building, the smell of fish permeated the air and the café was bustling with business.  Service was cafeteria style, with a smorgasbord of tempting food to choose from.  The café, stood on its own merits, attracting customers from the surrounding shops and offices as well as library patrons.


Library cafe. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

Libraries in this ‘house’, were on different levels, separated mainly by age groups.  As we toured, I was struck by the multi-sensory experience, the ‘All Under One Roof’ concept provides.  Upon entering the area for patrons ages 10-13, (we had to get special permission because we were not of that age.) a beautiful, large kitchen was included with the library stacks.  How cool is it that kids are able to prepare, smell and taste a food that they read about?  Not only can they have a cooking experience in the library, they are also able to check out equipment to create food at home for their families. As an educator, I know how important activities such as this can be in helping kids develop relationships.


Learning kitchen in TioTretton. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

In the Kulturmagasinet, in Sundsvall, Sweden, the public café was located just off the central courtyard that connected the four ‘houses’ together.  This space too, was bustling with townsfolk.  People were getting a bite to eat and visiting before the weekly scheduled lunchtime concert.  In this community as well, the library is a meeting place, where all ages feel welcome and engaged.


Cafe space in Kulturmagasinet. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

The Kulturmagasinet, also housed a place specifically for teens/young adults  (14-24 years).  It provided a variety of services/ activities, one of which was a separate café with reduced prices, recognizing the monetary limits of young adults. The operating philosophy was that no kid should be hungry.  We couldn’t stay long because school was out and teens were arriving.  It was their space; one they could take ownership of and one that provided a safe, positive environment to hang out with peers.


Teen cafe in Kulturmagasinet. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

In the small town of Harnosand (17,500), the library offered yet another café experience.  This café offered an amazing smorgasbord of hot and cold entrees; some dishes, typical Swedish fare such as meatballs and boiled potatoes to the not-so typical pizza and quinoa salad.  What I found amazing about this café was they had no kitchen.  All food was prepared offsite and brought in.  When I inquired about the labor and inconvenience of working with a barrier such as no kitchen, I was reminded of how important it is to have a space where community can come together and everyone felt welcome.  The café provided a place not only for patrons, but townspeople as well.  More work, yes!  However, the lack of an onsite kitchen was minor compared to the benefits this café gathering space provided.


Library cafe. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

The Power of Small

By: Becca Nasgovitz, Owner of Becca Nasgovitz Design


Intimate meeting room at the Härnösand Library. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

During exploration of the architecture of several Culture Houses and libraries in Sweden, I asked myself “which do I like most?”  There were many features I would love to import from each, but what resonated with me most were the smaller spaces in each facility that weren’t in plain sight; theaters, separate children’s and young-adult rooms, music and comic libraries, art galleries and museum exhibits.  These areas felt much less institutional than what I am accustomed to and evoked a deeper, more personal, and emotional response.


Children’s area at Kulturhuset. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

The Culture Houses were effectively marketed to their consumers.  I wanted to buy whatever it was they were selling, and it was free!  I could discuss the phenomenal programming and interior finishes in each of these spaces, but I’d like to stick to what I think worked in the floor plan.


Children’s area at Kulturmagasinet. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

One of the ‘All Under One Roof’ goals is to create a space in which people want to spend as much time as possible.  Of all the facilities we visited, I believe the Kulturmagasinet achieved this best.

Kulturmagasinet is a series of old shipping warehouses adjoined by a glass atrium, emulating an outdoor town square with a café at it’s center.  While the atrium was bustling with activity and sound, there was nearby respite.  The narrow four-story freestanding warehouses allowed natural light to filter into each building from multiple directions.  There was a high level of intimacy in the majority of the facility, despite it being so large.

I often find myself jumping ship from larger public arenas, feeling exhausted and over stimulated.  At Kulturmagineset, individuals or groups could enjoy a series of smaller spaces free of the noise and agenda in the rest of the facility.  What also struck me in this layout was the feeling that there was always more to explore.  This was a building that created a yearning to return because you just may have missed something.


Cozy reading space at Kista Library. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

Open plan design is so popular today.  In public institutions you often find one wide-open central space, with semi-private rooms interspersed or on the periphery.  In contrast, I found it refreshing to explore this labyrinth of smaller spaces. The Kulturmagasinet unfolded slowly as you moved through it’s interior rather than exposing everything at first glance, and it made for a lovely, dynamic experience.


Modern meeting room at Kista Library. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

Dieselverkstaden: A Community Engine

By: Holly Truitt, Director of The University of Montana spectrUM Discovery Area

Today team spectrUM – as our grand finale in our quest to better understand the “culture house” model – had a delightful time at Dieselverkstaden (also known as Diesel) while others in the delegation visited another site. A newer culture house in the Stockholm area, it came recommended to us multiple times as we visited other sites across Sweden.

Situated in a former diesel engine warehouse, it is home to: a library that feels like a favorite bookstore; a cafe with one of the best coconut macaroons I’ve ever eaten; art, dance and ceramic studios open for community use; an indoor climbing gym; a museum; and a small co-working space and theater.

First floor of Diesel.

First floor of Diesel.

My colleague, Hannah, and I planned to stay for an hour or so, but ended up spending most of the day because it was such a lovely place to explore and linger. As spectrUM

thinks of ways to help to build a Culture House in Missoula, here are three winning concepts we think are worth replicating back home.

Diesel’s design:

  1. On its vibrant main floor, it has a gallery with rotating art exhibition. Currently they’re displaying sculptures on a floor covered in butcher block for children of all ages to draw.We’re smitten with their approach of bringing together fine art and child- created art in one space.

    Fine art gallery for child and family exploration.

    Fine art gallery for child and family exploration.

  2. Those of us in the social sciences field think a great deal about creating third spaces – not home, not work, but a community space where you gather, connect and spend time. Diesel has hit a home run by creating a third place for its community in part because it has created ample space for gathering, meeting and connecting. At its heart is a cafe with great seating that was basked in sunlight throughout our stay. Plus, throughout the library, there were numerous small seating areas tucked among stacks, including a very sweet children’s reading area.
  3. By bringing so many partners and uses under one roof, they have created a rich environment with a hook for all learners, who likely come for one thing and stay to explore an array of other interests, including many that are new.  As a result, each moment during our stay buzzed with energy and activity.

    Diesel Museum.

    Diesel Museum.

Libraries Impact on Literacy Rate

The importance of Public Libraries in Sweden was very visual as we toured the Cultural Houses in Stockholm, Sundsvall, Hornosand and Kista.  People bustling about in all the areas enjoying performances, services, museum exhibits and yes, books.


The bookshelves of the Härnösand Library. Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

I was very curious about the structure of funding for the Houses because they all appear to be well stocked and well-staffed.  Digging a little deeper into why these institutions can provide exemplary services to their communities a few things surfaced; The Cultural Houses have been important throughout the history of Sweden and in 1997 the Government passed a National Library Act.  The Act regulates the assignment and responsibility for all publically financed libraries in Sweden.  If a library is publically funded it is open to all citizens.  This includes public, school, university, and special libraries all opening their doors to all uses in the community.  As we toured around we began to wonder about the literacy rate in Sweden.  If people have all the resources for lifelong learning at their fingertips does that make a difference?  Does that contribute to the Countries 95+% literacy rate?  In doing a little research I found studies from other Countries who are comparing their literacy rate with those in Sweden and indeed they do attribute libraries as having a huge impact on Lifelong Learning and its effect on the literacy rate in Sweden.


An attractive reading room for younger audiences at the Kulturhuset in Stockholm. Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

Sweden has been combining services of libraries, museums, teen center, and all arts since the 70’s.  Communities look at what the needs are and begin to structure the Houses to fill the gaps in their services and begin to pull the services that are necessary to the users together under one roof.

Another Day, Another Prize

By Barbara Theroux, President of Friends of the Library

The Nobel Peace Prize was announced on October 9th.  It was fascinating to see the live broadcast in the Kista Bibliotek, where there were two viewing screens—one in the main entrance of the library and another in the viewing theater.  After the announcement, when the minister was talking about the Tunisia coalition, National Dialogue Quartet, several people stopped to confirm the winner.  The Swedes knew the exact time of the press conferences–1 p.m. for the literature prize and 11 a.m. for the peace prize.  In the United States, we wake up to the news on NPR, so what a difference the time zone makes.

When the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced, Swedish libraries scheduled live broadcasts or at least had viewing areas where staff members were on stand-by, ready to post the winner and display his or her books.  The young librarian in Kista was pleased that his favorite had won and confirmed that all books were immediately checked out.  Posters were on display in Harnosand within minutes of the announcement and the main entrance display at Kista had changing screens for Henning Mankell and Svetlana Alexievitch along with welcoming information about the library’s services and programs.

Svetlana Alexievitch was the first journalist and only the third person writing non-fiction to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Print-on-demand copies of Voices from Chernobyl, first published in 2006 by Dalkey Archives, will soon be arriving at bookstores and libraries in the U.S.


Jim from the Missoula Public Library watching the announcement of the 2015 Nobel Prizes. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.