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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Library cafe. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

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