I have loved libraries since I was a child. My mother used to take my siblings and me to the library in downtown Moline, Illinois to pick out books every few weeks and we would lose ourselves among the shelves, exploring everything from detective stories (my brother) to ballet (my sister) to horses (me). On Saturdays I would accompany my father there to pick out art for our walls (prints, like books, could be borrowed for a month or so at a time). And as a teen I used the library as a quiet place to study and write.
I have visited and utilized the services of myriad libraries all over the world since childhood. Some have impressed with their enormous collection of materials while others have inspired me to read and write in their huge elegant study halls. And then there is the Aalborg Public Library, which belongs in a category all to itself…
Libraries in Denmark are known as the ‘3rd place to meet’. They function as more than a place just to find books and do research – they offer people a place to get together and study, talk, have coffee, play, take a class, get advice, or attend cultural events. According to librarian Bodil Bøtcher, the role of the Aalborg Public Library is to provide a space ‘where people can just stop by, sit and relax, read the paper, play with their children and use all the facilities we offer for free.’ The corresponding role of the librarian is the ‘friendly host, rather than the strict authority figure who is always telling people to keep their voices down. That stereotype has really been eradicated here over the last 20 years, as the new generation of librarians has been encouraged to talk with people and help make the library a pleasant place to spend time,’ says Bøtcher.
The Aalborg Public Library system boasts a large main library as well as 14 branches and a bookmobile that travels around the municipality. The main library offers myriad services and amenities. For children, there are age-appropriate spaces to play with corresponding toys, games and technology. Little ones might find it fun to dress up in costumes or play simple computer games, for example, while teenagers can master table football or make use of Wii and Playstation consoles. All patrons can listen to CDs and check out the extensive DVD and Blu-ray collection (there’s even a mini-cinema where films are shown periodically), play the piano in the main hall, or use the Internet for free at one of the many computer terminals located throughout the library. Those users who have registered with the library (one must have a CPR number to do so and one’s medical card functions as a library card) can borrow materials, read over 1700 newspapers from all over the world online using Library PressDisplay, or stream movies from the library at home via the Internet using a service called Filmstriben.dk. Cultural events for the general public as well as specific groups (children, foreign nationals, etc.) take place about once a month in the form of musical performances, book readings, and theater.
The library has experienced a lot of change over the last few decades. Perhaps the biggest change has been the rapid advancement of technology. ‘New technology has invaded [Aalborg Library] in a positive way – especially in the last 10 years,’ comments Bøtcher. ‘There are a lot of opportunities for library users and employees alike to utilize it, for example big databases of information that are useful when doing research.’ There has also been a rise in the number of new users to the library, whether they’re coming to take a class on using the Internet (mostly retirees) or as part of a school outing to discover what the library has to offer. More change is expected when the new municipal government steps in on January 1, 2014; a new minister of culture, health and bus transport – Mads Duedahl of the Venstre party – will take charge of all cultural institutions in Aalborg, including the library, on that date.
The library has been very active in helping foreign nationals in Aalborg. Once every autumn it hosts an Expat and Dane dinner to which guests bring a dish to share and mix and mingle with people they know…or meet for the first time. The library also hosts four to five Expat and Dane family events a year at which a magician engages the children in play and families share a light lunch together. Librarians also give tours of the library in English periodically and upon request. Many foreign residents borrow books in their native language (the library contains several shelves of books in English, German, Arabic, and Tamil, among others, and can order books on request), bring their children to play and meet, check out Danish language learning books, and use the library as a meeting place. Foreign students at UCN and Aalborg University frequently get together with their project groups at the library and one sees an increase in these groups as the semester winds down and project deadlines loom. ‘There are a lot of – a growing number, in fact – of foreign students in Aalborg and they ask us a lot of questions regarding their research projects,’ reports Bøtcher. The librarians also answer more general questions that foreign residents come to ask about living in Aalborg. ‘We tell them what is going on in Aalborg, help them navigate around things that are not easy for them to figure out by themselves,’ said Bøtcher. ‘We are happy to do this – we want foreign residents to visit us without hesitation and, when they have questions, to ask away!’
In the six-week period between applying for family reunification and receiving our CPR numbers, my daughters and I often visited the library. The elder of the two enjoyed playing in the space for little children, riding on the small riding toys, drawing, and looking at books. My husband and I also used the Internet there before our own service was connected at home. Today I go to the library to borrow books, CDs and DVDs, read the occasional magazine, and work on my laptop. It took me a while to get used to the freedom of bringing food and drink in with me but now I relish it. I also welcome the occasional impromptu piano ‘concerts’ by other patrons. The staff are friendly and helpful (and amazingly put up with my sometimes unintelligible Danish!) and I really appreciate the two hours a week of help with Danish homework provided by volunteers in the ‘SprogCafé’. I can understand why the library here is called the ‘3rd place to meet’. It’s a little like a home away from home.
Hours of operation:
Monday – Friday 8:00 – 22:00 (personnel available from 10:00-19:00 Mon-Thurs, 10:00-18:00 Fri)
Saturday & Sunday 10:00 – 22:00 (personnel available from 10:00-15:00 Saturdays only)
Please note that from 15 September of 2014 you must bring your yellow health card or library card with you when visiting the library outside normal operating hours. You will be required to swipe your card at these times:
Monday – Thursday: 19:00-22:00
The addresses and hours of operation of branches throughout Aalborg Kommune and the bookmobile’s schedule can be found here.
Help with Danish language homework, including Danish conversation practice, is available:
- in the ‘SprogCafé’ space on the ground floor level of the Main Library from 15:00 to 17:00 every Wednesday
- at the Haraldslund branch on Mondays and Thursdays from 15:00 to 17:00, and
- at the Grønlands Torv branch on Tuesdays from 15:00 to 17:00.
Please note: there will be no postings on Monday, 23 and 30 December while we entertain visitors from abroad for the holidays. However, I’ll be back on 6 January with a listing of cafés in Aalborg, followed by a post on immigration (what you need to get a CPR number, how long it takes, etc.) on 13 January. Stay tuned! If you have any suggestions or requests for posts on specific topics about life in Aalborg, please leave a comment or send an email to sarah_holsen (at) hotmail.com.