Combined Shape

Discover how world-class design and tech can turn a library into a community’s third-place.

The Cologne Public Library hired renowned architect Aat Vos to turn the Kalk Library into the community’s “third place.” They needed top-notch tech that would expand access and provide a library experience worthy of the space.
The library installed a full range of RFID products including self-checkout stations, premium security gates, and an open access system that provides extended hours and library access even when the library is unstaffed.
Using open+ access, Kalk Library was able to increase access to their new, modern space by 53%. The library has been praised as a beacon for the city as a whole.

Kalk Library: Cologne’s new library becomes a third place and extends access to the community with open+ access 

Published: October 2017

The Cologne Public Library, Germany’s 2015 Library of the Year and fourth largest public library system in Germany, turned to internationally renowned creative guide and architect Aat Vos to transform the Kalk Library branch into a vibrant, modern space and create a third place for the community.

The Cologne Public Library partnered with Bibliotheca to utilize open+ access, a comprehensive product that offers access to building and services when the library is unstaffed. In addition to 32 staffed hours, the Kalk Library is now open an additional 17 hours each week with open+ access self-service technology, resulting in a 53% increase in open hours and accessibility for the community. With its high experiential value and flexible hours for users, the requirements of a forward-looking Library 4.0 are fulfilled.

Designing a third place

The inviting design and cutting-edge technology make the Kalk Library one of the most modern and innovative non-commercial spaces in Germany. Aat Vos’s creative concepts are inspired by the philosophy of Dr. Ray Oldenburg, an urban sociologist who writes about a Third Place and the importance of informal public gathering places. Ray Oldenburg describes one’s home as first place, one’s work or study place as the second place and a third place within the community that facilitates and fosters broader, more creative interaction, often public spaces, like a public park, or other favorite hangouts like your local coffee bar.

Aat Vos has a clear vision: “Our third places should be fair, informal, inspiring and personal. They should be places where everybody feels welcome. Contemporary designed rooms within the Kalk Library not only invite you to do gaming or relax on your own, but also to interact. This new library is the result of a participatory design thinking process that involved citizens, library users, and library staff. The library team was highly motivated and engaged to create the best possible result for the customers.” 

Hannelore Vogt, Director of the Cologne Public Library shares the vision of the library as a third place: “The aim of remodeling is to create spaces and services that demonstrate how libraries are evolving in a contemporary way. Young people are encouraged to learn through creative play and interaction. The Kalk Library has been transformed into a shared space that invites library users to gain new experiences, forge plans, deepen their knowledge, learn social cohesion, or simply enjoy the comforts of a non-commercial and friendly environment.” 

Rita Höft, Head of the Decentralized Library System at the Cologne Public Library, adds: “Kalk is a vibrant, blossoming district, with a colorful, engaged and creative community. The redesigned branch library manages, with its playful aesthetic, casual interior design, and innovative technological solutions, to create the ideal conditions for diverse educational opportunities in such a heterogeneous, multicultural environment as Kalk.”

In order for the library to function as a true third place, it was crucial to maximize access to the building and services. The library sought economical ways to extend open hours and open+ access presented itself as a first-class library technology solution. 

Extended opening hours with open+ access

Bibliotheca’s open+ access solution makes it possible to run the entire technical infrastructure, including lighting, alarms and library systems, unstaffed.  The building, collection and computers are controlled from a remote, central location.

The Kalk Library’s state-of-the-art RFID technology incorporates security gates, self-check bins with integrated payment functions, and automated return bins. To gain access to the building during unstaffed hours, visitors scan their library cards at the entry panel. Patrons use selfCheck 1000 kiosks to borrow and return library materials, as well as to pay fees using cash, card, or NFC. The attached return bins include sorting options to optimize the return process.  The self-service kiosks feature intuitive touchscreens that users come to expect in the smartphone age. 

Markus Rösch, Bibliotheca’s Managing Director of Central Europe, emphasizes that “Public libraries play a central role as non-commercial public zones where people can meet, talk, learn, read, play, work or even grab a coffee. With open+ access, Bibliotheca’s open library solution, the public library can extend and adapt its open hours according to local needs and offer an extended range of services.”

A beacon for the community

During the opening ceremony, Cologne’s Vice Mayor Elfi Scho-Antwerpes described the library as a “beacon for Cologne.” She further stated that the district was “Up and coming, emerging from its old, industrial past and reinventing itself as a modern, trendy neighborhood. With the exceptional new library branch, it is getting what it deserves – a place for experimentation and well-being, topped off by a visionary design that has until now not been seen in Germany.” 

Even before the renovation, the Kalk Library drew in young people with its experimental gaming and digital offerings. Now the entire upper floor of the library is a haven for the younger generation, with its whimsical, comfortable atmosphere and specially created electronic Tagtool wall. The library provides the children and teens, 75% of whom are immigrants, a place to hang out, study, and enjoy a wide variety of creative, interactive makerspace programs, thus opening a door to the future for the younger generation and discarding the notion of libraries as outdated and irrelevant.


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