From collections to connections – Reshape-conference inspired library specialists

RESHAPE – Designing the future of the library -conference gathered library and service design specialists from fifteen different countries to Helsinki, Finland. The conference manifested the idea of libraries as human-to-human business as well as the thought that libraries are changing from collections to connections and relationships. Co-operation and user involvement were noted to be the future form of library work.

In the international conference held in 26-27 September 2016, arranged by Helsinki City Library’s international unit, the participants listening live as well as online were able to hear the latest information and learned lessons about some of the newly build and renovated quality libraries from different cities around the world.

The lecturers shared their experiences of new and renovated libraries, their thoughts of the current changes in library philosophies and the new ideas from the library field.

Reshape - Anne Stenros


The keynote speaker Anne Stenros, Chief Design Officer of City of Helsinki, told the audience that speed with the sensory rush it gives is one strategy for distraction.

– Faster, better, smarter. That is our time. However, if you think about old cars, that drove 30-50 kilometers per hour, what kind of feeling did you get? Totally different. You could see the faces of people walking by, you recognized the surroundings, you felt relaxed and had time to think, Anne Stenros said.

She pointed out that smart and slow life could “save the world”.

– Relaxation is often a precursor to slow thinking. The research show, that when a human being is relaxed and unstressed, he or she thinks in a more creative way. A slow city is more than an unstressed place, it has sense of community too.

The speed is also part in the digitalization.

– People are the same everywhere: they are confused with the speed and they look for happiness. At the moment, the young people are returning to traditional books and the book selling has turned upwards.

Space, as well as library space, is important.

– In order to express feelings, the space must work in progress with feelings and mentality in order to manifest thoughts. If space is not precious, people can hack it, she said.

A library has to gather all the different and important pieces together from digitalization, space design as well as service design.

– Libraries have to serve the people, it is a human-to-human business. And like the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has said, if you want real stories, you have to go where people live.

Reshape - Tom Loosemore

Many of the lecturers had the same message: the users and their needs are the most important thing for libraries.

Tom Loosemore, who has worked with the -web site, spoke ideas about the user experiences of web sites. Tom’s ideas can be easily translated into library work.

– According to Conway’s law, an organization creates the web site structure that reflects the structure of the organization. You must resist this. It is easy in theory, but hard in practice. You need to understand what your users need and you must work in order to offer the people what they need.

Library director Tuula Haavisto from Helsinki City Library, Finland, continued about the same idea.

– We shall move from collections to users. When planning the upcoming central library of Helsinki, we have gathered the dreams of the Helsinkians and taken them a part of the planning process. By sharing information, knowledge and stories, we are creating new civil societies.

Reinert Mithassel, the head of Toyen libraries in Norway, supported also the idea.

– Library is not a place for books, it is a place for people.

Chief Librarian Jens Lauridsen from Tårnby Public Library in Denmark, told the audience that he might have been a little scared for the future of the libraries: will the library become only a space where people can just spend some time?

– This conference reshaped my thoughts with inspiration, tools and ideas, with service design methods. Now we have to go home and make these things happen.


– Libraries are citizen’s driving force for innovation, said the library director Knud Shulz in his presentation.

He should know about what he says, because the International Federation of Library Associations IFLA rewarded his library the Best library in the world -prize 2016.

The local people have also responded to this idea.

– All people want to change something in their lives. They want to develop themselves and gain information and knowledge. Libraries are places where the public can find inspiration and meet new ideas. They are a place for dialogue, knowledge and inspiration, an informal learning place open for all.

Mr Shulz said that libraries are changing from libraries of books and other media to libraries for humans and networked society.

The Dokk1 library had many ways to create the best library in the world. They used co-creation with the designers and staff as well as user participation during the planning. They built a partner process and partnership strategy.

– A modern library must act adaptive and innovative, it has to support spaces. We have media space, arrival space, playground space, inspiration space, learning space, performative space, meeting space as well as urban offices, oases, reading rooms, living rooms, corners, transformation lab and so on. This is about how the people use the library. Library has to move from book storing to supporting citizens needs.

But at some point all planning must stop too. Mr Shulz gave an advice for this: maximize the unprogrammed space. This seems to be working in Aarhus.

– Users are taking the control of the building. It’s about the user needs.

Reshape - Keskustakirjasto


The City of Helsinki is currently building a new central library that will open December 2018. The library is one of the main projects of the year celebrating Finland’s 100 years of independence.

Lead planner of the central library project Pirjo Lipasti and Deputy library director Anna-Maria Soininvaara told the conference audience what is currently happening with the planning and the construction of the new central library.

– The basement is ready and the building is about to start above the ground. You can follow the construction from live-camera on, Pirjo Lipasti said.

The first floor of the library will provide room all kinds of action, events as well as a restaurant. The second floor is reserved for digitality, maker space and learning. The top floor will be dedicated to books, reading and for children.

– We use service design methods diligently, as well as user participation. We are currently organizing a public name competition for the library and competitive tendering for the restaurant services as well as using robotics in the library. In addition, we are planning the interior and ict-services.

In the end of the conference, recently appointed head of central library, Anna-Maria Soininvaara, had an invitation to everybody.

– We warmly welcome you to see our new central library in December 2018!

More information

Videos from the conference
Central Library Oodi

Text and photos: Maisa Hopeakunnas, Helsinki City Library
Helsinki Central Library photo: ALA Architects

– Maisa Hopeakunnas, 17.10.2016 –

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