The last free space: on libraries and placemaking

When searching for a venue to host Thrive’s 2018 Community Huddle, no place exemplified community quite like the new Central Library.

Libraries are everything a community hub should be: a place where absolutely everyone is welcome, where imaginations run wild and new skills can be learned.

It’s also one of the few institutions left that doesn’t expect anything back from its users. Everything is free, as it always has been. The Calgary Public Libraries themselves serve 70,000 visitors in a year with 22,000 free programs and 50,000 products to borrow from books to laptops.

The new library, built in East Village, boasts over 30 community meeting spaces, including the theatre in which the Community Huddle will be held. As a community hub, it’s a meticulously-designed facility where community can “just happen,” says Mark Asberg, Director of Service Delivery at the Calgary Public Library.

“It also has to be an active space,” Asberg adds. “People don’t want to feel like they’re interrupting something or that whatever is happening isn’t meant for them – and I think libraries are doing a good job of showing that when you walk in, this is your space.”

The days of public libraries being stone-cold quiet places are long gone, replaced by encouragement of active learning, often through play. The multi-storey layout begins with the children’s section on the ground floor and subjects going “from fun to serious” with each level, from young-adult fiction to research texts, culminating in a quiet reading space on the fourth floor.

When constructing the library, it was important that it was designed with inclusivity in mind. Most importantly, the inclusion of Indigenous peoples – a demographic often left out by history. Calgary Public Library worked with eight Indigenous artists to create permanent art installations throughout the new library — such as a metal buffalo sculpture comprised of letters and words from various Indigenous languages, celebrating the rich culture of Calgary’s Indigenous population and to honour Truth and Reconciliation.

“It’s only the beginning,” Asberg says. “When you talk about community hubs, you want to make a place where everyone is welcome.”

“The library belongs to all of us.”

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