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Inclusive democratic libraries Back

Inclusive democratic libraries

8 Mar 2022

How can we develop inclusive democratic library activities and empower people from the communities to use library services they would be unlikely to access before? The Europe Challenge recognises that libraries have a unique role in helping communities meet the challenges of where we live, such as democratising our public space.

With Aarhus Dokk1 Public library, their overall Europe Challenge topic focuses on using design thinking methods to engage with people who do not use the libraries and develop inclusive democratic library activities. Together with the community of Værestedet, Aarhus Public Library identified its local Europe Challenges: how to empower the citizens from Værestedet to use the facilities and possibilities provided by the library. The community at Værestedet is a drop-in centre and safe space for people with severe substance abuse problems and those who have either mental illness or other social challenges.

Their local challenge was fostered by an ambition to be a library for all citizens in Aarhus. This also means to be a library for fellow citizens who are socially marginalised due to drug abuse, social challenges, mental illness, or homelessness. Together with the community of Værestedet, they focus on empowering the citizens of Værestedet to use the library through co-creation design thinking methods to engage with groups of people who do not use the libraries and develop inclusive democratic library activities. They used design-thinking tools and approaches in their relation-building with the drop-in centre’s community, citizens, and staff. This resulted in building trust with the community by the community members realising that the library was interested in listening to their ideas and wanted to co-create activities together instead of just doing what the library thinks the community wants.

Image by Aarhus Dokk1 Public library

Using design thinking methods together with several citizens and the drop-in centre staff, Værestedet came up with four solutions to their local challenge: Social librarian, Cultural celebration, Reading corner and bookcase and “Tales from the street”. These solutions combined strengthen the connection between the community and the library while also making reading more accessible to community members.

Through co-creation and design thinking Aarhus Public Library learned valuable lessons about how libraries can engage and work together with vulnerable and socially marginalised communities. They believe such lessons could be helpful for other libraries across Europe.

“We believe that our solutions are relevant to other contexts in Europe because they show that by using design-thinking methods and focusing on co-operation and co-creating together with homeless and other marginalised people, one can achieve positive results as to getting vulnerable groups to use the library more and thereby redefining the public space at the library. Furthermore, our four solutions will show the homeless citizens and other marginalised people that the library takes them seriously and welcomes them, and as such, create a bridge between the homeless people and the libraries, which may be an interesting model to other libraries in Europe.” – Værestedet community.

You can read more of their community stories here.

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