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Copenhagen Main Library

by Rie Bojer Kooistra and Mikkel Christoffersen

It is entirely possible to miss the location of the main library of Copenhagen. It sits humbly amongst a row of old town houses on a small street in the heart of Copenhagen. It does not, as such, stand out from its surroundings. Across the street, the synagogue strikes an impressive pose, which adds to this impression. The humble appearance of the library fades, however, as you enter it. It immediately opens into an atrium, which offers views of all the bustling floors of the library. With close to 850.000 visitors a year, the building is alive with activity from early morning to late evening.

Every floor is dedicated to a specific purpose or function. Facing the atrium on each floor are high tables lined with students working. On the ground floor books are on display and a large screen offers information of activities to come. The event area is also situated on the ground floor, and all of this combined ensures a flurry of activity all day long. What lies at the forefront of the library’s philosophy is to apply a strategic approach to all library functions from space management to acquisitions.


In Denmark, as in most countries in northern Europe, physical library loans are in decline, while the number of visitors steadily increases. Aside from this, the population of Copenhagen also increases, while the budget does not. A few years back library management decided that this new reality called for a change, and in the following years all 20 libraries of Copenhagen have adjusted service concepts, competency development and collection management to match the demands of today.  



The service area of the main library is situated on the first floor. The library and citizen service center are integrated and the service area caters to both types of inquiries. The main library has in recent years changed its service concept, so more time is spent on programs that offer service to more people at the same time, and less on traditional 1:1 service.

As a consequence, the reference desks on the first floor are unmanned in the morning and evening. On the other hand, the opening hours have been extended, and the library is now open from 8 am to 8 pm. This means that patrons can visit the library at their convenience, also during off-desk hours.


Aside from being the largest library in Copenhagen with the most specialized and largest group of employees, the main library also carries out citywide library functions. One example of this is the call center Library Online, which is staffed by highly trained professionals. They handle all library inquiries by phone or e-mail to Copenhagen libraries, and answer video calls from the libraries as well. Screens with a video-feed have been placed in the library to ensure that patrons have access to personal service during off-desk hours.

Children and youth

A recent study on children’s reading habits reveals that children spend less time reading in their spare time, and that reading is perceived as a school activity. It also shows that the public library gets the lowest rank as a source of inspiration. Children and Youth is a strategic focus area in Copenhagen, and the following initiatives are part of the new service concepts:
Digital strategy

The public library finds itself in an attention economy. Especially digital media outlets are ubiquitous and information and knowledge are not the scarcity anymore. Time is. However, unlike many commercial services, the public library has ambitions on behalf of its users. If Copenhageners prefer not to use our service, that is fine, but we want it to be an informed choice. To that end we are bringing our physical and digital offers together in an omnichannel approach to marketing strategy. Rather than having many separate channels such as outreach programs, in-house activities and events along with traditional physical and digital lending that all run mostly independent of each other, our channels increasingly converge around the individual library user.

This is very much a work in progress, and a flurry of activity is surrounding each part of this strategy. Our web department is designing subscription services with digital theme packs and newsletters for targeted user groups. The national e-book and digital audiobook portal is reaching new user groups, who never enter our physical space, and outreach programs are bringing primary school classes into the library in large numbers. Finally, literature discovery and promotion in our physical space is coordinated with digital space, events and outside partners, so that everywhere our users turn and however they choose to approach our service, they meet the same thematic promotion.

This requires from us a new mindset and increased ongoing competence development. Every staff member now has a digital component to their work. Every manager is required to be extra mindful of great digital work being done by staffers and the acquisitions budget is in the process of being split evenly between physical and digital material. However, whereas our physical and digital space and services have been made equals in terms of strategic value and budgetary allocations, they are not treated in the same way. We try to cater to the strengths of each domain and their synergy by measuring the impact of both physical and digital promotion and by placing digital hooks in our physical space and events and physical hooks in our digital communication.

As you step into Copenhagen Library you are indeed struck by the bustling activity around the central atrium, but behind the doors into the administrative areas, the activity is even more enthusiastic among staffers and managers trying to bring about world class library service for the good people of Copenhagen.

Copyright 2018 by Rie Bojer Kooistra and Mikkel Christoffersen.

About the authors:

Rie Bojer Kooistra is a senior advisor at Copenhagen Libraries and primarily works with the strategic and organizational development of the libraries as well as program and project management.

Mikkel Christoffersen is a senior adviser at Copenhagen Libraries and project manager and chief negotiator for the national e-lending service and chairs the European expert group on e-lending. He also works with digital communication and digital competence development.

2016 Basic data

Physical loans
Number of activities
Opening hours
3.410 hours
Annual Budget
Square Meters
10.000 m2