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Library space design has been a challenge for many Ukrainian libraries. Often hosted in old buildings with uncomfortable furniture and no heat in winter, many libraries do not come across as cozy and welcoming spaces to their users. Frequently an open layout of shelves and tables is overlooked, which contributes to the “unwelcome” look of libraries filled with stacks of books instead of  space for users to socialize, hold meetings and serve as a “third space.” These issues are key factors affecting library visitation in Ukraine.

The librarians visited the new Philological Library at the Free University in Berlin.

Fortunately, many Ukrainian librarians recognize the importance of modern library space design, and Vinnytsia Regional Scientific Library is leading an initiative to address these challenges. The Designing for Harmony and Success project  (http://bit.ly/H5TO1G) is focused on the modernization of the library’s space through researching best international and Ukrainian practices, compiling the findings into a handbook, and offering training for Ukrainian librarians. To do this, the library has already forged partnerships with local designers, as well as the city public library in Berlin, Germany.

I had an opportunity to accompany a Learning Library project team headed by library director Natalya Morozova on a study trip to Germany on March 13-15, 2012. Taking advantage of the existing partnership with the Central City and Regional Library in Berlin (also known as ZLB, http://bit.ly/HfPmKu), the Ukrainian librarians traveled to Berlin to learn more about German libraries and their design, meet with leading library interior designers and architects to collect information and gain even more inspiration to implement innovative library space design methods back home and transform Ukrainian libraries into more vibrant, welcoming spaces for users.

Over three working days the group visited nine German libraries, including eight in the city of Berlin and one outside the city, in Eastern Germany, in a small town called Luckenwalde, where the library is located on the premises of a redesigned railway station: http://bit.ly/GGdjz7

Project team in Berlin Library

The Humboldt Box, part of the Humboldt Forum project, which brings together museums, Humboldt University, and the Central and Regional Library in Berlin.

One of the many highlights of the trip was visiting the public library in Adalbertstrasse in Berlin: http://bit.ly/GLq49W, which is located in a neighborhood populated by recent immigrants who often do not yet speak the language and need substantial support accessing information and overcoming a range of social challenges. The library has been recently renovated, and the architect who was responsible for this project, Ralf Fleckenstein, accompanied the group on the tour and shared design ideas, including materials, color scheme, furniture, and layout aimed at creating a welcoming space. The library served as an example of a multicultural center open for everyone, and showed us how it effectively responds to its users’ needs by providing a print collection in different languages, offering homework assistance, and holding a variety of community events. The team found this library especially interesting not only in terms of its design, but also in the services provided to the diverse local community.

The newly equipped public library in Adalbertstrasse in Berlin.

The Learning Library project team returned to Ukraine after brainstorming and identifying ways to adapt the experience to the Ukrainian context, and materials about German libraries will be included into their handbook  and training materials. One idea was to use mats on wide windowsills on the library’s top floor to attract more users with laptops to sit there and enjoy wi-fi access. Next, the team will look into changing the library floorplan to provide more space for social activities. The library will share its expertise with their colleagues at the Libraries and Community Development Fair, which will be held by Bibliomist and its partners on May 21-22, 2012 in Kyiv: http://bit.ly/GKz1wL More photos from the study trip are available on the Bibliomist Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/GLiz4e

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