Using real-time data to transform a library

Imagine a library that automatically transforms itself to fit the users. This sci-fi idea was the beginning of what has now become reality at public libraries in Denmark.

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The Transformative Library is a project created to work with so-called "Open Libraries" – a widely used concept in Denmark, where people can use the library at times when there are no staff at work.

The Transformative Library was built around these questions

  • How can we communicate new materials and events to the patrons using open libraries?
  • How do we make the physical library room attractive in a time when you can sit at home and get information online?

We made a system that can personalise the library according to the people who are currently in the library room, by collecting data from use of self-service machines, movement in areas of the room and other input. These data are processed real-time and a 'mode' is selected for the library. For instance if movement is detected in the children's area and children’s books are being returned, the library will begin to run children’s events on the information screens and electronic devices in the children’s area will be turned on.

The system is currently working in two libraries and new features are in development as we have just begun working on part two. The new project will take place in other types of libraries; one of these is a larger library with staff, others are libraries located in cultural institutions.

We found inspiration in retail and museums.  These sectors share our challenges to co-exist with online opportunities and an interest in creating new innovative solutions.

Users have given positive feedback to the new system and many have enquired about the books on display.

Privacy is an issue - and this has been important to us from the beginning.  Also early in the project, we decided to work with boxes, creating eight 'modes' which the users could be placed into. In theory we could personalise the experience further by displaying titles close to the ones being returned, but to protect users' privacy, we are not doing that.

In the original project we have worked mostly with information screens displaying relevant books, events and video clips with staff. However the system can handle any type of output you can think of, so in the new project, we will be working with lights, sound, interactive installments and more.

Both projects have been made possible with the economic support of the Danish 'Agency for Culture and Palaces'. Randers Public Library is working on the projects together with Silkeborg Public Library, Viborg Public Library and our technical partner Cordura A/S.


Henrik Secher Nielsen works at Randers Public Library in Denmark.  He will be speaking about The Transformative Library at  Internet Librarian International in Session B102 on Tuesday 18th October 2016.