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.

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.

A Pop-Up Library in the Stockholm Subway

By Barbara Theroux, President of Friends of the Library


Stockholm subway art. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

Many foreign cities are known for their beautiful subways, but I had never heard Stockholm mentioned in lists of the world’s top subways to see.  Our trip to visit Bibliotek Kista involved taking a bus and the subway. We researched the bus route and had enough money on the bus pass to get us safely to and from the library.  As we checked the map at the bus stop, a woman asked about the trip, what we wanted to do, and mentioned that we should be across the street to catch the bus going in the right direction.  We arrived at the Central station and went down four levels to catch the train to Kista.  At each landing and station we noticed art, sculpture, carvings and even a waterfall—ways to make our minds off of how deep underground we must have been.

We were intrigued to visit because this library, located in Citycon’s shopping center, Kista Galleria has been awarded the “Public Library of the Year Award 2015”. We also read that since the library moved to Kista Galleria in August 2014, visits to the library have increased by 300 percent, and book loans have doubled.

Rebecca, our guide to the library, met us within a minute of the phone call stating we had just gotten of the subway.  We rode an escalator directly into the library—and what a location!


Stockholm City’s library outpost in the metro station. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

A few days earlier we had seen a subway library—one of several that the Stockholm City Library runs.  This small library had places to sit, places to charge phones, and displays of books.  There were “Fast Food Packets” and “Slow Food Reading Bags”—programs that recommend several books on one topic or by a popular author.  There was also a place to pick up reserved titles–library users could go online, reserve book and request subway stop for pick-up.  As the historic Stockholm City Library anticipates remodeling, they have been testing programs at various branches, including the subways.  All part of looking at the needs of the diverse users and communities.


View from the Stockholm City Metro Library. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.



Internet in Sweden

By: Jim Semmelroth, Missoula Public Library Network Manager
 There are some big differences between Sweden and the United States regarding the infrastructure providing Internet access.  Here at the public library in Missoula, a DSL circuit costs us $110/mo for a 15 MB circuit, if I sign up for a 3 year contract.  And I would only have a few different vendors to choose from.  These costs can often be higher, and sometimes there is only a single vendor, for many of the more rural areas in the rest of Montana.  We also have a variety of infrastructure technologies providing service.  DSL and cable are common, fiber is rare, and wireless is often used for those hard to reach places.

Sweden is one of the best connected countries in the world.  As of today, fiber is already run to 80-90% of end users in the country.  Any of these users are able to purchase bandwidth at rates in the range of $40/mo for a 100MB circuit, and .5 GB and 1 GB options are available also.  A user can also choose from a dozen or more vendors from which to purchase bandwidth.


An example of technology in Sweden–A green screen room with computers for creating videos. Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

That is the background which, I think, explains why we saw fewer public access PCs in the libraries in Sweden than I see in libraries I have visited here in Montana.  Here in my own library, we have a room dedicated to public access computers with 21 stations in it.  We also have two other areas with public access computers and many other stations dedicated to specific tasks, genealogy, for example.  So in our main branch, we have 34 stations available for general surfing for the public.  The main group of those, in our Web Alley, gets about 85% usage.

In Sweden, I was struck by how few stations were made available to the public for general Internet access.  The main public library in Stockholm, the largest city in Sweden, probably had about as many stations available to the public as little ol Missoula.  We were in the library during a busy time and only about half of those stations were being used.  The other libraries we visited had fewer stations available, and those stations were not used as heavily as what we saw at the main Stockholm library.


Another example of technology in Sweden–a DJ station in one room of a library. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

I think our trip to Sweden has provided a snapshot of what the future of Internet access looks like here in western Montana.   There are currently some promising efforts being made here in Missoula to extend the reach of fiber, but a future comparable to Sweden is still quite a ways off.  As access to faster and cheaper Internet access becomes more ubiquitous here in Missoula, the need for the library to provide stations and bandwidth will diminish because so many more homes will have their own access.  The reasons why that future is so far off are more political and corporate than technological, but whatever the root cause, the end result is that the library will need to continue to provide access to the Internet.  Rest assured we will do so with as much bandwidth and as many stations as we can support for as long as the community needs this service.  And someday, in a brave new world, the Missoula community will not need this service as much as it does now.

Creating the Cozy: Seating Cubbies

By: Jim Semmelroth, Missoula Public Library Network Manager

Photo by Logan Castor-Parson

One feature commonly seen in the libraries/culture houses we visited is a kind of seating one might call cubby seating. This is a seat characterized by providing a sense of seclusion from the surrounding area.   This kind of seating is provided for all age groups, but specific seats are always aimed at a specific age group.

Photo by Logan Castor-Parson

For example, at the Kista library we saw a couple examples of preschool seating embedded in the stacks for that age group so that a kid can simply grab a book from a bin and settle down next to it on a comfy pad and read.  More spots are provided in the kid’s area for parents and children to sit together in a secluded spot as well.

Photo by Logan Castor-Parson

Cubby seating is commonly seen in areas designed for teenagers. An interesting style seen in the Kulturehaus downtown Stockholm is an egg-shaped or spherically-shaped shell, either sitting atop a single post on which it can spin or hanging from a single line, so it can sswing as well as spin.  This kind of seating provided excellent acoustic seclusion and was often placed next to a glass wall overlooking a large and crowded space so that it supported people watching as well.

Photo by Logan Castor-Parson

To a lesser extent, we also saw secluded seating in adult areas as well, usually combined with bright lighting.  These areas provide a quiet and well-lighted spot for the retired crowd to read newspapers or their favorite author’s latest release.

Photo by Logan Castor-Parson

A contemporary library must be many things to many people and cubby seating is certainly important.  Age-specific, acoustically and/or visually secluded seating adjacent to appropriate materials seems to be a common feature for libraries in both Sweden and Montana.

Author relaxing. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson