With cosy lounge chairs scattered throughout, an art and activity floor for the kids, a cafe area to read todays regional and national newspapers, extensive language courses and materials, free wireless and access to over 600 full content international newspapers, spread over four floors in an award winning architectural building, it’s no wonder Tromsø Library has been voted the best in Norway!
The Tromsø Library (‘Tromsø bibliotek ‘in Norwegian) is the most used library per capita in Norway. Situated in the heart of the city, the library occupies the old cinema building. The plan was to create a state-of-the-art library in the centre of town but the designers faced a big challenge . The old Fokus Cinema was built in 1960 showcasing a hyperbolic paraboloid roof (a roof held up by its own weighht). The architect, Gunnar Bøgeberg Haugen, had in mind a Mexican construction (designed by Felix Candela which is referred to as Candelaskall), when he designed the cinema roof – 4 large arches joined at the base. Because the old cinema had such monumental architecture (it had already won several awards) the library designers needed to find a way of preserving the roof but building a library that would make a statement. In the end they decided to scoop the inside out and leave the shell. After careful planning, designing, building and fitting, the Tromsø library move into its new home in 2005. Since then, the library has become internationally famous being listed amongst other innovative architectural library buildings by the National Authorities for Public Libraries in Europe. I must say, I knew the library was famous, but I didn’t know it was that famous!
But international recognition and award winning architecture isn’t what makes this library so great. Sure the library has what you need – books, computers, newspapers, DVDs, internet access – but that’s just a given. What sets this library apart from any other library I have walked into is its programs. This library isn’t just a library – it’s a complete learning centre. And the best thing – this library doesn’t know the meaning of ‘shhh’!
There are so many different innovative and active learning activities going on throughout the year I couldn’t possible name them all but here is a snapshot of what you can expect:
The whole basement floor is dedicated to children and youth. There is a huge drawing and activity table in the middle of the room where children and parents sit, play and draw with each other – free paper and pencils! It’s a great place where your children can interact with others. You can take your drawings home or put them up on the wall of fame – a circular wall that can be seen by everyone. The library’s website is very kid-friendly and they also have computers especially dedicated to kids and youth.
A snapshot of the library’s search program for kids.
Often there are special activities for mums and bubs – once there was a sound group playing ‘organic’ music to sooth babies. There is a weekly reading program for toddlers and often theatre groups give performances and readings. Sometimes the librar puts up a big screen to watch special films and programs. The area is a hub for family and mothers groups – a time out from busy shopping – a needed change of seen and pace for even the youngest tot. (The first outing we went on when Lilu was born was a trip to this library.)
The cafe lounge is an ideal place to pop in and read the news from around the country. The library usually has some exhibition on – photographic, books, history etc in different spaces. One time I arranged an exhibition there for International Dance Day (Dansens Dag). The goal was to dance in an unusual space – and so without fear the library welcomed us to dance in their space (lunchtime on a Saturday even!) The library also arranges and supports talks and seminars about topical issues, book signings, poetry readings and also discussion groups.
International week is coming up and the library always puts on a grand program of activities. This year one of the cultural activities is called ‘Living Books’. People from different cultures and places will be available to talk about their life and experiences in their home countries. They will be ‘borrowed’ for 20mins by interested parties for one on one questions and discussions – and if you know how to speak their language you can have a chance to brush up.
For Language Learners
I don’t think I have even barely tapped into all the resources at the library but there is a librarian dedicated to helping people learn Norwegian. She actually came to our Norwegian school and introduced herself. She wanted to make sure we knew her face so when we saw her in the library we could practise our Norwegian on her and she would help us find resources. She also arranged special Norwegian learning groups at the library and weekly practise sessions. A lot of immigrants hang out at the library as it is a ‘safe’ place to practise Norwegian. Of course, there are many learning materials for other languages too – learning via CD is very popular. There is also a section of the library that has international language books. I haven’t seen any Aussie language materials there – I guess I have to stick with just English ;D
Tromsø Library for Art Lovers, Historians and Tourists
Obviously tourists who are into architecture (and architects alike) would really dig the outside of this building. The first picture in this article of the outside of the building is the stereo-typical shot. (You might have to crouch down to get the angle but the shot always impresses.) The library is actually part of a complex that joins with the new cinema Aurora Fokus Kino and town hall. There are many artworks in the library – some were from other places in Tromsø and have been restored and transferred to the library. (I wanted to show all of them to you here but I don’t want to spoil it for you.):
The Rådhus (or town hall) has a unique lighting display at night. When everyone has gone home for the day (generally 4pm) the office lights flicker on and off at different levels to represent the Northern Lights.
Hanging over the basement floor is a group of steel sculptures created by Karl-Gustav Gjertsen. He won a competition to decorate the library with his artworks. The main figure is call ‘Rangifer Tarandus Pegasus’ (Flying Reindeer). The other smaller figures are ‘Bok Finken’ (Book Finch), ‘Lesehesten’ (The Reading Horse), ‘Bok-ormen’ (The Book Warm) and ‘Bok-nafisken’ (Bokna Fish). Guess which one is in the second photo above?
The artist Ulf Dreyer created an image of Tromsø in 1957. The picture was originally painted directly on the concrete wall in the old town hall. When the Town Hall was demolished, the concrete wall was saved. The picture was restored by the artist in 2005 and its new home is now between the cinema and library.
The Cora Sandels memorial statue ‘Albert’ was created by Gunn Harbitz. It is a monument that stood on Stortorget, the main street. Because it is made of wood, water began to seep into it and so it was removed and restored. It is now placed in the passage between the library and city hall.
The artist Tor-Arne Moen gave Tromsø municipality 5 plates and 5 woodcuts. His inspiration was from the writings of Knut Hamsun particularly ‘På Gjengrodde Stier’. The artworks now hang in the library for everyone to enjoy.
All in all, Tromsø library is a must see. Whether you are a tourist looking for impressive architecture or needing a place to get online, or a local catching up with friends or hanging out with the kids, Tromsø library is the place to be.