Tøyen, Oslo, Norway – a library branch in an area of Oslo seldom visited by tourists

Written by Sarah Elizabeth Hvidberg

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In Tøyen, a part of Norway’s capitol Oslo with high population density and many low-income citizens a fantastic smaller library is situated. I visited the library on a weekday morning and it was already buzzing with life.

”Biblo Tøyen” is different in many ways – one of them being that it is made up of two main buildings located a bit apart. One is a library for adults and smaller children and one is strictly for the 10-15 year olds. In this piece, I will concentrate on the library for adults because the library for young people deserves a piece for itself.

The library is placed on the ground floor of an apartment building and occupies two floors. On the ground floor, you find different seating areas, service point, fiction and children’s’ section. In the basement, all the non-fiction is placed alongside computers and lounge furniture.

In an area with many marginalised citizens and high population density the term “Library as third place” makes perfect sense. A place to go to that isn’t quite home but still has the familiarity of a home. The library is decorated with reused materials throughout and has a warm atmosphere.

The philosophy behind this library is clear:

• The library is for people not materials.

• The library knows its users and try to make life easier for them.

• The informal interior design helps de-institutionalizing the library institution.

Something that really caught my eye was the service point which did not look like anything you find in regular Danish libraries. It was simply made up of an old cable drum and on top a shining star. Easy to find and when the librarian would help a patron they would be standing side by side instead of being separated by a counter.

The signs where all written on black board with chalk, ladders and wheelbarrows used as display furniture, lamps made of recycled industrial materials creating a cosy lightning throughout was some of the ingredients used to create an inclusive atmosphere.

As a guest, you step into a library with a very strong profile. A library that is very used and with no doubt has found its place in the local community. This is a library that prioritize being a place to hang out over having a lot of materials and most of the programming is driven by volunteers. This also adds to the engagement with the surrounding community it serves.

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