A new library in the middle of a crisis

A new public library branch in the Alver Municipality Library System in Norway became a reality very quickly and in the middle of the Covid pandemic.

“Great news! The social services are taking over our library!” Not sentences that usually spark joy among the library employees. This time the bitter pill was full of sugar.

Our current library, the Knarvik branch of the Alver Municipality Library System in Vestland, Norway, was 450 square metres and it was bursting at the seams. As compensation for moving quickly and quietly, the library was offered 850 square metres in another part of the local mall where the library was already housed. Truly, an offer we could not refuse.

Everything happened really fast. An interior architect was engaged in November 2019 with the brief to re-use as much of the current library furniture as possible. She did an amazing job. Three smaller shop areas were merged, doors moved, ceiling opened up and every fixture from the old shops torn down. In January 2020 we had a clean slate.

Then COVID struck. All normal library activities were suspended. Suddenly everybody was sitting at home and communicating through Microsoft Teams. Two of us immediately started planning the practical aspects of the move—packing, logistics and systems for storing and unpacking. By the end of April two people were allowed in the library simultaneously, so we worked in shifts packing in opposite parts of the library to stay socially distanced.

While this was going on, the library director finalised the interior architectural plans and ordered the furniture. Thanks to a lot of COVID-related cancellations of other projects, our order was moved up and ready by the end of June. At that time Norway was opening up again, and we could all return to work and start unpacking.

The new library is like a dream come true. Almost double the size and triple the number of seats. A separate youth area gives us fewer conflicts between young and older library users. Now, in September, three weeks after opening, the library is full of 10th graders after lunch. The noise level is amazing, but I must admit I love the bustling scene and the casual use of the library. We never had such large groups of young adults in the old library. We now have a separate young adult section, a computer game room with both xbox and Playstation 4, and plenty of space to relax, work or just hang out. Our collection is more accessible and the users seems happy with that section.

In the children's department we have tried to replicate a feature of our coastal area, a dock with fishing pond and a small bridge to climb over. We have a small seating area with room for, in ordinary times, a whole class.

The adults appreciate their section as much as the children. Plenty of seating in both cafe-style round tables, a small alcove section and awork area with a bench, tables and chairs. 

The main difference from the old library, apart from three times the number of seats and work-spaces, is that we now have a stage—a professional stage with adjustable lighting, wireless sound and a top-grade projector. The space is in the middle of the library, but without moving much furniture, it can seat 50. If we move a few shelves (on wheels) we can theoretically seat 200, but that is for a future time, post-pandemic. Currently we are allowed an audience with a maximum 35 with one metre distance in all directions for each seat. On normal non-event days, the stage is where people sit and read newspapers and journals.

For the library staff, the working conditions have improved significantly. From cramped offices where people shared desks to offices with sufficient space, better light, air and new furniture. We have two different meeting spaces, one internal small (also lunchroom) and one large that is open to the public for meetings. The large meeting spaces are equipped with the latest model smart-board TV screen. It is set up so that we can use it for everything from story-hour to remote lectures. When we opened on 19 August, we wondered if people would find us in the new location and how they would react to a totally new experience. We had no need to worry. The first reaction from everybody who comes into the is a smile and open and wonder-filled eyes. It is a joy to work at a place where everybody who comes in the first time is pleasantly surprised.


Thomas Brevik is the Childrens and young adult librarian, Strilabiblioteket, Alver municipality, Vestland, Norway. He has worked in all types of libraries, great and small, public, academic and special. Of special note, he worked on the Norwegian bookboat Epos for 14 years, which he describes as "the ultimate library experience." (The service was discontinued in June 2020 after 50 years of operation.) His remaining ambition is to be a librarian in space.