It was in the works for more than a decade, enduring controversy, unforeseen building problems, budget overruns and a pandemic. Oslo’s new main library finally opened to the public despite the pandemic, under the new name Deichman Bjørvika.
Close to NOK 2.5 billion has gone into the project, which Oslo’s City government at one point threatened to cancel because of rising costs and rising water seeping into its foundations. Instead, the whole project got restructured to fit a slimmer budget. “The final price tag is in line with that budget,” Deichman’s top executive Knut Skansen told NewsInEnglish.no.
Like most cultural institutions, Deichman is obligated to earn revenue, and parts of the building are being rented out for office use and events.
Meanwhile, Deichman’s former main library building has been put on the market for NOK 58 million (USD 6.1 million). The next owner will have to be flexible, though, as several strings are attached to the future use of the palatial property adjacent to the bombed state government complex that will be under reconstruction for the next several years. It has one thing in common with many of Oslo’s abandoned intitutional buildings: Plans for its future use are vague or nonexistent.
Last year, Deichman’s main library had 344,000 visitors, about as many as its 22 branch libraries combined. Officials expect that number to rise to 2 million visitors a year when the Corona crisis is over, and they insist that they’re not unrealistic.
“The first time I saw those projections, I found them overly optimistic,” library director Merete Lie told NewsInEnglish.no. “But when I dug into the underlying data, I changed my mind.”
The building can host 3,000 visitors. Under Corona restrictions, however, only a third of that is allowed.
Carl’s generous gift
Deichman Bjørvika is a new home for ranks as Oslo’s oldest cultural institution, created 235 years ago through the will of Carl Deichman (1700-1780), an investor, civil servant and patron of arts and science. He was also the owner of more than 6,000 books, a large collection at the time.
Deichman was born in Denmark but spent much of his life in Norway, which was then a Danish possession. Deichman was a true product of the age of reason, a golden era for belief in enlightenment. He believed that better knowledge would produce better citizens and thus a better society. The values embedded in his gift to the city remain at the core of of the library that carries his name, according to Knut Skansen, the head of Deichman.
“People borrowing books and other visitors will notice that we have high ceilings here,” said Skansen during a media preview on Thursday. A library buff since childhood, he strongly favours the term folkebibliotek – a people’s library.
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“A library should be democratic and inviting, the opposite of an echo chamber,” Skansen said. “At best, it’s a center of knowledge, wisdom and inclusion, and a force against urban loneliness, exclusion and radicalization. ”
Dating among the bookshelves?
Skansen even believes that Oslo’s new and hospitable library could be a popular dating spot, as it’s supposed to be much more than a place to borrow books. He wants the library to be a place where Oslo folks will want to hang out for free. It will be open until 10 or 11 in the evening.
Deichman Bjørvika has 450,000 books, including digital media like audiobooks. That’s actually fewer volumes than in its previous location. But in the crowded old library, much of the collection was tucked away in storage and not available to the public. In its current form, a much larger proportion is on display.
Lots of attention has been given to the visitor’s comfort. While the old library was nicknamed trappehuset because of its numerous steep staircases, the new one has elevators, escalators and threshold-free doorways.
State-of the art acoustics technology is supposed to make this a quiet place even when it’s crowded. Daylight pours in through diagonal shafts from the roof, and through narrow vertical windows imitating books on a shelf. Bookshelves do not block windows, with many of them instead found in surprising places, like on the outside of elevator shafts.
One could get the impression, though, that the trappings of modern technology, unrestrained playfulness and 21st century cool, mostly at taxpayers’ expense, have taken precedence over the bread and butter of a library: books and reading. Deichman’s new website proudly invites visitors to record their own podcast or sew their own clothes before there’s any mention of borrowing books. This place is about “adventure, technology and knowledge ine very form,” the website boasts, then listing “literature, music, instruments, film, comics, workshops, audio rooms, children’s activities, stages, classrooms, reading desks and much, much more.” There seems to be no end to the distractions, from complicated pieces of art to a crash course in playing drums.
This is an Oslo thing
Deichman is packed with little reminders to its visitors that it’s the city of Oslo’s main library. Most rooms are named after neigbourhoods in the city, from lakes in the hills to the suburbs of Groruddalen. It also highlights its proximity to the Oslo fjord and has a gathering area called Kringsjå (‘wide view’) , although the views are admittedly more spectacular from the roof of the Opera next door.
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Perhaps the most forward-leaning feature of Deichman is its emphasis on future users: children. During the move to Bjørvika last winter, long lines of very young people carried stacks of children’s books through the streets to their new home. There’s learning equipment and events programming geared towards the young, and a “future library” will be gradually filled with secret texts not to be read until a century from now.
According to library boss Knut Skansen, the “people’s library” also has offerings to Oslo’s growing international population and other potential visitors who may not speak Norwegian.
“We have books in more than 40 languages, and digital access to 6,000 international magazines and journals, ” he told NewsInEnglish.no. “Plus, it’s a great place just to meet others. There are lots of opportunities in this buildings, even for those who do not necessarily speak Norwegian.”
While Norway’s capital unveils its large new library, residents of remote communities along the West Coast have lost a unique floating library. For the story, click here.