Inside the Deichman
Exploring education in new, creative ways
An ocean for learning, a meeting spot, and an open space
The library is a sky, each cloud is a book, the library is an ocean, each book is a wave.
– Lars Saabye Christensen
Looking up at the glass facade opposite the Oslo Opera House, six floors containing literature, reading and study areas, stages, a movie theater, and workshops for young and old—all this may seem overwhelming to venture into. Outside the entrance, a family of three is watching, not yet prepared to enter. That fear is unfounded.
“We aim to redefine what a public library can be,” says Knut Skansen, the library director and head of the agency first founded in 1785 that operates 22 public libraries all over Oslo.
Oslo’s new flagship library, Deichman Bjørvika, is an extension of the 235-year-old history of the public library in Norway’s capital. It is perfectly located between the Opera House and Oslo S (Oslo Central Station). The excitement around its opening engaged the entire city, as 1,000 schoolchildren filled the streets of Oslo as they helped move thousands of books from the old main library.
Inside, you will not find the traditional rows of books but a look into the future, what a vibrant library can be. The library offers reading, relaxation, activities, and learning: how to play the piano, how to record a play, or how to use a 3D printer. In addition, you will find movie stations, music stations, audio studios, a mini cinema, a games room, and a small stage. A magazine, the view, and a glass of wine at the roof café will also do for some.
We are about to enter nearly 156,077 square feet of space, with more than 450,000 books, films, and CDs. It is an innovative, architecturally visible, and accessible public library, with escalators bringing visitors from floor to floor. Each floor has its own distinctive character, all the while with a breathtaking view. Starting at the cinema downstairs, free family films are shown, and a range of children’s books, many in English, are available to explore.
While the second floor consists mainly of departments for children and fiction, the third is aimed more at older youth. Let’s pause for a minute. Here we find hands-on activities: a workshop with access to 3-D printers, sewing machines, vinyl cutters, textile printers, large format printers, and tools such as drills and laser meters. Both the fourth and fifth floors have lots of study and reading places as well as a multilingual collection, Scandinavian artistry, and the Future Library section.
What will the world look like 100 years from now? The art project “Future Library” unites the future, literature, and the environment.
In Nordmarka, the forest close to the city center and frequently used by the city’s inhabitants and visitors, 1,000 trees have been planted to become printed books in the year 2114. Each year, an established author will submit a text to the project “Future Library.”
Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Sjón, Elif Shafak, and Han Kang have already written texts for the Future Library, while Karl Ove Knausgård will present his text on Sept. 5. Each year, a new author will write a text, and in 2114, these texts will be published. In the meantime, you and your descendants will be able to see and reflect on the manuscripts in Deichman Bjørvika’s Future Library room.
“Neither I, nor anyone else in Deichman, know who the next year’s invited writers are,” says Jørn Johansen, communications manager.
We meet a young Swedish-Norwegian family outside, Axel and Kjersti, who are looking up at the building, not yet convinced.
“We just came from sunbathing in the Oslo Fjord! We love our local Deichman library, but I am not fond of the facade here in Bjørvika. Too much glass and concrete, yet the much-criticized Munch building behind the Opera is cool,” Axel says.
Kjersti disagrees; she finds the area lively and interesting and hopes it will continue to be as vibrant as on this sunny day in Oslo. They will visit the new library, but for now the two and their little baby, too young for the experience, are looking up and imagining what it is like inside.
But Axel is wrong about the façade: the library is not made of glass. Almost 1,200 tons of recyclable reinforced steel supports 28,252 cubic feet of environmentally friendly concrete in the three shafts, but the facade material is made from fiberglass-reinforced plastic (GFRP) filled with mineral wool insulation.
If they could only have a peek inside, they would discover that the books are mostly arranged on the walls, while easy-to-use screens are placed everywhere for the borrowers to find books and even get the info sent by e-mail. A couple passing us on the third floor are checking out the sound studio for recording, while a boy wants to try the DJ system. The smell of old books, the tiny study places some of us recall are gone.
We ask Director Skansen to explain how the library redefines what a public library can be.
“Library development is about creating a sustainable public space for people’s interactions with each other, with content and with tools, thereby helping them become active participants in their communities. This requires a new type of public space that is attractive and non-institutional—somewhere between the personalized and the public. These spaces offer people the chance to take on a new and more important role as volunteers and resources for their communities and for each other. The new Deichman Bjørvika Library is the embodiment of our overall vision. We aim at a society in which all people feel at home, find affiliation, feel a positive commitment to their communities and their own lives—and have unlimited access to books,” he says.
And this is how we feel in this welcoming, open space, with a variety of seating areas available everywhere, for one or a group, for the elderly and the young. Whether you prefer open spaces and views of the fjord or more secluded and quiet nooks or mezzanines, there is a study room for you.
The library is a forest
The library is a forest, each reader is a tree who borrows light, who borrows rain. The library is a circus.
– Lars Saabye Christensen
At the opening on June 18, prominent guests including H.R.H. Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, the mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and governing mayor of Oslo, Raymond Johansen, were present to listen to Lars Saabye Christensen reading his opening speech, as music filled the huge room.
“Finally, the people of Oslo and visitors to the city can come and start using the library. We are looking forward to showing people this building, of which we are proud. I hope people will also feel pride, because this library is first and foremost their building,” said Skansen.
As we wander around, we can hear many languages. Two girls speaking Portuguese tell us that they are studying in Oslo, an American with his girlfriend tells me he is local, and the “Other languages” section also shows us that the library is for all of Oslo’s population.
Our interest sparked by the linguistic cacophony, we ask what the library has to offer to non-Norwegian visitors.
“Deichman Bjørvika holds a rich collection of books, movies, and music in a total of 137 different languages. In addition, we offer the free download of 7,000 newspapers and magazines from 70 countries via the Press Reader app. From the library, users can also access various types of databases and dictionaries,” our guide tells us.
In the fiction area, we recognize the author of 19 titles, Jan Ove Ekeberg, who is currently working on the fifth and last book in the Viking series Den siste Vikingkongen (The Last Viking King).
“It is my first time here, but I am really impressed, both by the architecture, the light, and the way the library allows you to mingle, yet still find quiet places to work,” says Ekeberg, who has spent five hours in the library.
Ekeberg, a TV anchor for 23 years with a master’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota, became a full-time writer in 2016.
He tells us that the characters and events in his books are historical and as authentic as can be, thereby the series gives the reader a chance to learn about an important period in Norwegian history, so far available in four languages, with an English version forthcoming. Viking history not only appeals to adults but is a natural theme on the downstairs level.
Play and learn—at any age
The library is a castle, the library is a station, the library is a city, the library is a sky, each book a cloud.
– Lars Saabye Christensen
An old Viking grave and some mysterious objects have “strayed” into the cellar. There is a playroom filled with children, hiding spots, areas for watercolor painting, and a mystery chamber for children between age 6 and 15, an “escape chamber” for solving mysteries during the summer months.
Deichman wants to contribute to a society where everyone, young and old, feels a sense of belonging, ownership, and commitment, toward both the community and their own lives. No matter why you come here, you will leave with something.
“At Deichman, we aim to give our visitors a trust for their future, built on a foundation of knowledge and experiences we offer,” says Skansen. As he said during the opening ceremony, “The library has become a house that offers an abundance of light, air, and spectacular views. There is a generous ceiling here—in every sense of the word. The library is a democratic and cultural bedrock. The library is the opposite of echo chambers and exclusion. The library is a vaccine against one of the challenges of big cities: loneliness. This will be the children’s library, the adults’ library, a library for the city’s east and west, a library for all of Oslo.”
The library is a door
The library is high, the library is low. The library is a door, where you do not meet yourself but another—that shows us who we can be. The library is a road. The library is you, the library is you.
– Lars Saabye Christensen
“It has been great to walk around the library and watch it filled with people. The citizens of Oslo have really taken over the building that is theirs,” says Merete Lie, department director for Deichman Bjørvika. Nonetheless, as people wait to stream in, numerous control measures for the pandemic have been put in place, which means that, among other things, only 1,000 people can be in the building at the same time for now.
It is easy to believe Christensen while slowly walking around and discovering new things the entire time. The architectural firms Lund Hagem and Atelier Oslo designed the building, a unique structure that excels in energy efficiency and using technology to create a new type of library space. The library will endure as an important contribution for the enrichment and strengthening of Oslo’s position as a city of culture, and it is within walking distance to the new Munch Museum and SALT art & music, a cultural village of architecture and music, a lot of fun, not only by the fjord but in the fjord itself.
A splash made us aware of a sauna floating outside the Opera House and a family jumping into the fjord. The sauna is available on a drop-in basis or can be rented for a sauna experience and a refreshing swim in the fjord. Nearby Sørenga has opened a 53,820 square foot. new sea bath with beach, grass, and a wooden jetty, lit and ready for nighttime swimming. The new waterfront promenade stretches over 5 1/2 miles—and you can, of course, borrow a book to take along with you!
As we leave the library, we meet a family from Bergen on “Norgesferie,” a “holiday in Norway,” an expression the coronavirus pandemic has made popular.
“No, we haven’t visited the new library yet, but it looks great!” they say.
With two youngsters, the family certainly has something to discover while in Oslo, a place to spend hours, but for now they are having fun climbing into the 7.7-yard-high sculpture “Creation from Iddefjord,” created by the 79-year-old American artist Martin Puryear. A step inside away, they may someday climb even higher, as they discover a new world of wonder and learning that is Oslo’s new Deichman Bjørvika Library.
Til glede for norsktalende lesere
Hver sky er en bok, biblioteket er et hav, hver bok er en bølge. Biblioteket er en skog, hver leser er et tre som låner lys, som låner regn. Biblioteket er et sirkus. Biblioteket er et slott, biblioteket er en holdeplass, biblioteket er en by, biblioteket er en himmel, hver bok er en sky. Biblioteket er høyt, biblioteket er lavt. Biblioteket er en dør- hvor du ikke møter deg selv- men en annen- som viser oss hvem vi kan bli- biblioteket er en vei- biblioteket er deg- biblioteket er deg.
– Lars Saabye Christensen
All English translations of Lars Saabye Christensen by Tove Andersson.
Learn more about the new Deichman library at deichman.no.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.