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Paper of 3-5 October 2007, The Hague, Netherlands

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The Black Diamond in Copenhagen – 10 years after


Paper at the conference Building for the Future: National and Academic Libraries from around the Globe, arr. by the IFLA’s Library Buildings and Equipment Section at Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library), The Hague, Netherlands, 3-5 October 2007.

The planning of The Black Diamond goes back to det mid-80’ies, where nobody were talking about any Black Diamond. Like many other great libraries at the time The Royal Library in Copenhagen was in a big need for extra space. The explosion in books, readers and staff overloaded in a building, designed in 1906.

A plan was set up, based on two principles:

  1. The main building for the readers should still be kept on a very attractive spade in central Copenhagen, on the historic island where Denmark has been govern for the last 400 years and where the major cultural institutions were born.

  1. A central stack building should be placed in Copenhagen outside this historic island, but still somewhere nearby with efficient and regular transport of books

The plan was to build an extension on the back of the existing library (the 1906-building) out on an old harbour area. Therefore the official name of the project was: “The extension of The Royal Library in the Harbour Front”. In 1993 a political decision was taken to start the project for the extension and an international architecture competition was announced. In this process we had decided to set up a very close cooperation with the well-known English architect Harry Faulkner-Brown, making a contract with him to function as a personal adviser to our director. We also decided that Faulkner-Brown’s "Ten Commandments" for academic library buildings should be used actively in our planning process:

1. Flexible with a layout, structure and services, which are easy to adapt

2. Compact for ease of movement of readers, staff and books

3. Accessible from the exterior into the building and from the entrance to all parts of the building, with an easy comprehensive plan needing minimum supplementary directions

4. Extendible to permit future growth with minimum disruption

5. Varied in its provision of reader spaces, to give wide freedom of choice

6. Organized to impose maximum confrontation between books and readers

7. Comfortable to promote efficiency of use

8. Constant in environment for the preservation of library materials

9. Secure to control user behaviour and loss of books

10. Economic to be built and maintained with minimum resources both in finance and staff

1. Flexible with a layout, structure and services, which are easy to adapt

Much focus has been on this point. The building was planned at a time with big changes and massive introduction of it-technology. Therefore we knew that the building must be easy to adapt to future user demands. Apart from the main construction the rest of the building are furniture and walls, which can be removed or changed without very big costs. Flexibility was a main focus point for us during the whole building process, as it was obvious, that the it-development could result in a demand for major changes later on.

2. Compact for ease of movement of readers, staff and books

The entire building complex of the old and new building is approximately 50.000 m2. In the competition entry from the architects the old and the new building was connected with a transport bridge. Very early in the planning process this transportation bridge was changed to be the lending bridge with the circulation desk and at same time the central meeting point in the building complex, connecting the old and the new buildings. The lending bridge is in the centre. In this way we succeeded to make the building very compact, because any distribution of users and staff have has its starting point from this centrally situated lending bridge. In addition the building has transportation bridges for staff only, with are connecting the reading rooms directly with the stacks. The lifts are bringing the staff directly into the security controlled closed stacks.

3. Accessible from the exterior into the building and from the entrance to all parts of the building, with an easy comprehensive plan needing minimum supplementary directions

The Black Diamond is very visible and to day every Dane knows the Royal Library. The brand, The Black Diamond, has been a big success to make everybody understand, where the National Library is situated.

When you come closer to the building, we still need some improvement. The entrance is difficult to read because of the strict structure of the building. Very often tourist are asking their way, even when they are only 50 meter from the main entrance.

Coming into the building we also need improvement. The main entrance is bringing the visitor into the cultural part of the building. The feedback from the visitors is, that is difficult read in what kind of building they have entered. The exhibition rooms are in the basement, where you normally have the toilets. The toilets are not compact, but are placed in each end of this big building. The result is a massive plantation of signs for directions, which are spoiling the design of this very elegant entrance area.

From the library point of view we are discussing how to make the library more visible already when you are entering the building in order to give an answer to the most classical question from new visitors: “where are the books?” The requirement “needing minimum supplementary directions” is not fulfilled at the ground level.

In the library part, starting at the lending bridge the situation is different. All functions are very easy to read and the lending bridge is an excellent distribution point for users to the reading rooms and to the big halls were the users could study and use the pc.

4. Extendible to permit future growth with minimum disruption

In connection with the Black Diamond is build an office building, called The Fish (after the shape at the drawings). The Fish holds 5.000 m2 and is used by other cultural institutions. The idea was to straighten the synergy effect between the library and these institutions on the one side and at the other side have a reserve of space for the library in future generations.

The Black Diamond was planned without any big stack areas. A future possibility for extension of the stacks can be found in the inner courtyards of the old building were it with present day techniques will be possible to build big climate controlled stacks with compacts shelving. A very successful solution was realized in another cultural institution in Copenhagen and this convincing solution is an inspiration for our plans for future stack buildings in the very centre of the building complex. Building in the inner courtyards will be with minimum distribution to the users.

5. Varied in its provision of reader spaces, to give wide freedom of choice varied in its provision of reader spaces, to give wide freedom of choice

This point we had a lot of focus on, but things have changed since the mid 90’ies. One of the big issues at the time was the cabling. We did not want wires and cables all over and we did not want wells for the cables. The architects rightly warned strongly against the wells in the floor in this elegant building. The conclusion was fixed tables and cables are running under the tables. Every seat is supplied with sockets for electricity and it-communication. Wireless communication was so new at the time, so we did not dare to rely on it. This thing might be solved in another way today.

Changes for bigger variation is now a running process. In The Reading Room for students was at the opening 4.000 periodicals on open shelves. Most of these periodicals have now changes to e-publications, so the space for the shelves is now planned to be uses for study areas with a bigger variation in the layout and with no fixed cabling.

When the Black Diamond opened we were proud to have 90 pc in the Information Hall. Now every students have hers or his own laptop, so we noted that the pc’s were unpractical and in their way for moderns patterns of studying and group work. The Information Hall is fully equipped with wireless communication. The 90 pc are now reduced to 10 pc and the rooms are changes to support working with laptops and study works where the users are welcome to move the furniture round themselves. The layout of the furniture is changing the whole time, regulated by the users individual needs.

6. Organized to impose maximum confrontation between books and readers

This point must be implemented different in a university library and in a national library. In the university library the users expect to meet books for lending on open shelves or at least with quick delivery from the stacks. A national library is first of all a resource for researchers, searching for the unknown or undiscovered in publications and others materials from the past. These are hold in the closed stacks and are brought to the reading rooms, according to regular timetables.

At the reading room themselves are very extensive holdings of reference books. The goals, which we have fulfilled is, that within general reference collections we shall hold the absolutely biggest collection in Denmark – far bigger than anyone else. The same applies to Music, Manuscripts, Rare Books, Maps, Photos and Oriental and Judaic Studies. In these fields we have reference collections bigger than anywhere else in Denmark.

The newspaper microfilm service is on the other side an ongoing success. In one of the reading rooms are microfilms of most of the Danish newspapers from their beginning and up to last year. We offer self-service from the microfilms and the microfilm area is equipped with modern readers based on a digital technology. These microfilms are very much used and this service we expect to continue until the day, where the newspapers are digitised and accessible on the Internet.

7. Comfortable to promote efficiency of use

Comfortable – a word with many aspects.

The building is a very modern building; build of concrete, glass and steel. In Danish public buildings we are not allowed to have air condition and this causes some problems in summer time. The building is planned on a standard for average Danish temperature in summertime, but the change in climate has a result that all summers have been far over this average temperature, so the building is too hot in summertime. Some steps have been taken to make better use of the lower temperatures at night with higher circulation of air etc., but in many places the building is still too hot in summer.

One important feature is the provision of food and drinks. You cannot underestimate the importance of good facilities for a comfortable environment. We have four facilities. Users are welcome in the staff canteen outside peak time. The food is provided by our restaurant. The other facility is a French style cafe, very much used by students as a meeting and study place. The third facility is an area for study purposes, which automats with hot and cold drinks open until the library is closing at 9 o’clock at night. The last is a proper upscale restaurant for parties etc., but the restaurant has also special offers on the dinner menu for guests attending meetings and concerts in the evening.

8. Constant in environment for the preservation of library materials

In the planning process we met the condition that we were not allowed to plan stacks a in the most central part of Copenhagen. We were allowed to build for people and not for books. The only exception for this rule was the large collections of reference books and a climate controlled security box for precious books. According to this overall condition the Black Diamond is build without regards for preservation of library materials.

The planning strategy of the library has another track to build climate controlled stack buildings nearby. One is already finished and is extended in two month’s time and a second very large climate controlled stack building is opening in 2010. At this time all our important collection will be kept in climate controlled stacks and we still have the possibility of extending with a very large climate controlled stack building in the inner courtyards.

9. Secure to control user behaviour and loss of books

To control user behaviour it is very important only to have one entrance (and exit). We have manned this post in full openings hours. To this are added proper security checkpoints at the exit from all our reading rooms. Users are not allowed to bring bags and overcoats to the reading room and when they leave the reading room they are subject to a security check of everything, they bring out. All public areas are equipped with circuit surveillance systems. This is giving us the possibility to trace and document illegal user behaviour and tapes from our internal surveillance systems have already been used in police cases.

Internal thefts are a biggest problem in libraries with old and precious collections. To reduce the risk, we have very strict routines for access to the stack areas. The stack areas are divided into sections. These sections are in many cases controlled by electronic cards, where we can control and document that has been in the areas. No staff person is allowed to work in the stack areas of precious books just alone. They must always be two persons. Where keys are still needed, they had to be kept in special lockers, when they are not in use.

All main doors are equipped with electronic card control and the staffs do not need keys for entering the building. In case of loss it is very easy to block a certain key card.

10. Economic to be built and maintained with minimum resources both in finance and staff

Many are surprised when we are telling that The Black Diamond is not expensive to run in maintenance. One example is the window polishing. Two men can in two days polish the whole building. We just close the windows and with a hosepipe the clean and polish the building in a very effective way. A recent report on energy was quite satisfactory; regard the amount of glass in the building.

The first half of this tenth commandment, “economic to build, was by purpose not met in one respect. The government wanted a cultural building of high quality with high finish. 15 percent was added to the building budget in order to meet this demand.

Ten years after – the experiences

When we first time met the people from the state building department they told us – half as a joke, half seriously – well you give us your wish list and demands, then we build the building and you can come back, when we hand over the key to you. Supported by our ministry we were lucky to have a deep involvement in the planning and building process and chaired the building planning committee. In addition our external consultant supported us to our director, the above-mentioned architect Harry Faulkner-Brown. The result of this very satisfactory in all library functions, where only foreseen changes have been made, mostly as a response to the it-development and changed user behaviour in the it-age.

The Ten Commandments were a big help for us – the librarians – in the whole process. I know that they have been highly discussed an questioned during the last years, but for us they were a useful tool to create an constructive dialogue with the many parties involved in the building process of a big public building. A creative and constructive collaboration is of the utmost importance for a good result.

Are we satisfied with our building? There are still issues to be improved, but there is no doubt of an absolutely YES to this question . As I mentioned The Black Diamond is very visible– and The National Library – is known by every Dane and it is know by most people, that we take care of an important part of the Danish cultural heritage.


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