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.

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.

A Warm Sundsvall Welcome

By Barbara Theroux, President of Friends of the Library

Yesterday, as our group traveled from Stockholm to Sundsvall, I realized that we are in Sweden at an interesting time: All the major Swedish newspapers front page headlines (and in some cases) the entire front page covered the news of internationally-acclaimed crime writer Henning Mankell’s death.

This news, at the same time the winners of the Nobel Prize are being announced, with the most anticipated prize being the one for literature.

The literary genre, “Nordic noir,” exists in part because of Mankell, and informed the writing of one of the most popular Scandinavian authors, Stieg Larsson.  Swedish authors have gained a wide audience in the U.S.  Our hosts from Kulturmagasinet in Sundsvall organized a short historic walking tour of the town square followed by a lovely

Our welcome dinner with culure, library, museum, and government leaders in Sundsvall. Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

Our welcome dinner with culture, library, museum, and government leaders in Sundsvall. Photo by Logan-Castor Parson.

dinner.  Combining nine Americans and six Swedes made for wonderful conversations.  At my table we talked about Pipi, Elsbeth, Ove and the 100-year-old man–which led to a discussion of the Swedish vs American versions of the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  I learned that the Swedes very much regretted not being able to see, hear and meet 2013’s Nobel Prize for Literature winner, as her health did not allow her to travel and accept the award in person.  But, I was able to tell them that Alice Munro, whom I’ve met, was a wonderful, gracious person and writer.

Kulturmagasinet in autumn light. Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

Kulturmagasinet in autumn light. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

Prior to the trip, I had been looking forward to seeing the Kulturmagasinet–several warehouses together under one roof, similar to the concept we’re exploring in Missoula. This provides  a free space for all ages to learn, experience, and come together–while also hosting an annual book festival and various outreach programs.

It is wonderful to be part of this trip, but even more exciting to be a part of bringing “All Under One Roof” into reality in Missoula.

Cultural Warehouse Model Driven by Magic of Storytelling

By: Honore Bray, Missoula Public Library Director

Storytelling is a fundamental part of both libraries and museums, and it should add to the magic visitors should experience at both. Kulturhuset in Stockholm offers such magical experiences for all ages.

Stockholm’s museum-library culture warehouse is alive with rich color, texture, and features that add creative excitement. Young children crawl through nooks and

crannies, finding the perfect place to settle in for an adventure of their choice, while others climb the spiral staircases leading to the perfect read for the day. Moving through the seven libraries in the Kulturhuset, the experience is special and varied for every age, a totally different feeling than the Central library, which offers a historical perspective.

Story room at Stockholm library.

Story room at Stockholm library.

The children’s storytelling tower is painted in deep blue, featuring a painting of fairy tale whimsy filled with the whine of the subway bringing the dragon to life.  Since the 1920s, residents of Stockholm have had the opportunity to view this beautiful site. As Stockholm’s Acting Director of Culture Inga Lunden told us: “Every child has the right to have a story told to them and every child has the right to tell a story.” With the great spaces created in the Stockholm Libraries, children of all ages are experiencing magic every day.


Story reading nooks at Kulturhuset.

Twenty-first century libraries will continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve as libraries have for the past centuries. As Lunden pointed out, the difference today is that partnerships will be driven by the needs of diverse users and communities. She feels the strength or muscle of the library will be provided by the strength of the partners’ creating the whole, which is certainly the goal in Missoula.

Kulturhuset: An Incubator for Creativity and Community

By: Holly Truitt, the University of Montana spectrUM Discovery Area director

CulturehouseToday we had a guided tour of the Kulturhuset, a hip, inviting facility in the heart of Stockholm. Part library, part theater, part community hub, part art gallery, and soon to be part fine art museum, it is unlike any facility I have visited in my almost ten years in the field. Partners under its roof have been co-evolving and co-creating since its origins in the 1970’s.

Three points of inspiration from the Kulturhuset model and practice:

  • Learning spaces can be more like a stage than a room. Many of the learning-library spaces we visited were much like a stage located in one of the Kulturehuset theaters, ready to be adapted and changed to better serve and inspire learners: stacks on wheels in a music and comic book library to easily allow for a DJ’d music show, a “magic children’s library” that changes shape at the whim of the lead librarian with theatrical lighting, props, sketches, and currently a beautiful magic library wooden boat borrowed from a fellow Kulturhuset theater,
    Local family reads book in Magic Library

    Local family reads book in Magic Library. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

    followed by at least another half-dozen children’s spaces that each offer a unique experience and feel. Peppered throughout the building are amphitheaters that serve as visiting areas but easily transform into stages with seating for a performance, live readings, children’s story hour, or music.

  • Audience interests and needs should drive design. Any Goldielocks in the bunch would find their perfect spot in the Kulturehuset. Spaces are frequently divided by audience and interest. It has a space devoted to tweens – no adults
    Before-hours tour of Tio Tretton Area, which gives tweens a apace of their own in the Kulturhuset.

    Before-hours tour of Tio Tretton Area, which gives tweens a space of their own in the Kulturhuset. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

    allowed except staff educators – with lounge areas, drafting tables for drawing and making, a film studio, and a kitchen for cooking and doing homework after school. Its popular children’s area features a giant stop light that shines from its fourth floor location to let interested families know if the space is at capacity (green light) or not (red light), so they can decide if they want to make the long trek upstairs. And, signage in their library space for adults catalogs books by topics like poetry, humor, and science fiction.

    Signage in library for adults.

    Signage in library for adults. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

  • There is always room to more fully integrate. Although, it was mentioned that the Kulturhuset and its various entities could benefit from integrating more on a daily basis, it also was noted they regularly do thematic days that engage all the entities under their roof. On these thematic days, Inga Lunden, Acting Director of Culture for the City of Stockholm and mentor for Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shared “they really show their muscle.” However, as an outsider, it also was easy to see how having libraries, theater and art under one roof has brought theatrical design to library science and fine art to library stacks. Marvelous stuff.

To learn more about this fabulous culture house in the heart of Stockholm visit: