Adventures in a Danish Library

Not only did I visit a Danish library during my holidays, but I got a user card and learnt firsthand how Danes use their local library!

I love immersing myself in the ordinary life of foreign countries we visit. We rent as much as possible instead of going to hotels, we take local transportation if it makes sense and visiting the local supermarket or the launderette gives me a sense of how people are living.

But getting a library card was a totally new step for me. I didn’t imagine it was even possible. In France, you need a proof of residency, mostly a utilities bill (don’t get me started on the omnipotent power of the utilities bill in France, short for it: if you don’t have it, you don’t exist).

We visited the library of Frederiksberg (a borough of the capital Copenhagen) to get internet access (having no computer and in need to check ferry timetables). The staff kindly issued a card to me (I only needed to show my ID) and I realized I was entitled to borrow books with it (even though I read no Danish and stayed there temporarily). Of course, I could not resist! I was so excited to try their system (all the more as in Paris, my neighbourhood branch library has closed down for the year).

In that library, checking books in and out is totally left to library users. That made me realize how much the French system of queuing to have a librarian bored to tears scan your pile is terribly outdated. Near the doors there are scanning machines (where you input your card and a pin-code) to check books out. You’re issued a ticket to know what and when you have to return. In France, it’s the makeshift way: recycled papers are cut in thin bookmarks and stamped with a date 3 weeks from today and you can take one if you want (not many bother, since you can go to the library website and check the official return deadline).

To return books, you check them back in using another scan and an automatic conveyor belt (like at the supermarket but only shorter on the user side) that grabs your book and sends it to a back room where it will be sorted. I’m sorry if your library has already such a system and my description sounds naïve, but it was the first time I ever saw anything like that.

The good point of it is that librarians no longer need to do boring tasks. They help out and answer questions (and certainly someone has to put the books back on shelves later on). It makes splendid sense! But I hope it was not done with the objective of downsizing the staff (as French librarians would immediately think).

Obviously I couldn’t take advantage of the shelves full of fiction in Danish, and I had little time to borrow another novel in English – there was a great choice – but I checked out art books according to my little obsession of the time: a book on P.S. Kroyer, a painter I like a lot, and a design book on Christiania, the hippie neighbourhood of Copenhagen.

If you’re curious about that particular library, they have a few pages in English (and a picture of the self-service machine to borrow).


4 thoughts on “Adventures in a Danish Library

  1. What fun experience! We have the self check out machines at the public libraries here and the downtown library has the self return with the conveyor belt thing. It’s pretty cool. Utility bills are a big thing here too. If you have just moved and your permanent ID doesn’t have your new address yet you can show a utitlity bill as proof for a library card and to vote in an election!

  2. Very interesting to see how the Danish libraries work. And I smiled at the power of the utility bill (which we also have to have to prove we exist). That self-checking system sounds like a pleasure for borrowers and librarians alike.

  3. Utility bills are useful for udentification in my state – but only a driver’s license or state license for non-drivers will allow you to vote.

  4. Pingback: 2010 in First Lines « Smithereens

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