Conveniently situated in a shopping precinct by the train and bus stations, Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek (BOB) is flanked by benches and enormous blossom filled planters.
Once inside the three story edifice, the new cafe invites you to grab one of the suggestions featured on various cubes and in the irregular openings of a cupboard and plop down for a hot drink and a snack.
At the main desk Karen Marie greeted me warmly in her excellent English and patiently answered my questions.
The system was established in 1872 and is the second largest in Norway. There are six branches plus two in local jails, but this historic location was built in 1917. BOB employs subject specialists and some have library degrees. Customers pick up their own reserves, a conveyor belt processes returns and helpful signage abounds.
It’s a very busy facility so many of the microsuede chairs, ovoid tables and comfortable couches with flat arm rests for writing were occupied.
In the basement computer center I met friendly and informative Matias. You can rent the auditorium here and there is a free meeting room available on a first come first served basis.
By another entry, state of the art security gates strike a note of discord in the aura of early 20th century grandeur radiating from the antique chandeliers, dangling disk shaped lamps, marvelous molded ceilings, and a staircase with a brass and wrought iron filigree banister set off by stone columns whose capitals evoke dragons. Elsewhere, old portraits, posters and maps and a glazed exhibit of obsolete library supplies contrast with modern paintings.
Back on the main level, a sunny arrangement of display surfaces in the middle playfully mocks the somberness of the stately dark wood spokes housing fiction and the mottled green tile glowing beneath the huge skylight.
An Ipad on a stand is used to demonstrate the technology to locals, and in Periodicals each magazine becomes the cover of its own back issues cabinet (so you don’t interfere in someone else’s browsing) and newspapers are neatly stored in cases lit by vertical neon tubes.
The library has regularly scheduled IT classes and language training and a weekly get together lets you practice your Norsk. BOB has many NSL titles and books come in over forty tongues (I’d never heard of Amharic or Dari). The floor in this section is emblazoned in blue characters indicating which dialect resides there.
I like these unusually placed markers and earlier followed a path of colored arrows leading to local history. So the patrons could access it, the composer Edvard Grieg willed his library and body of work to them and this archive includes almost 6000 digitized letters, some from Brahms and Tchaikovsky, and many photos. There’s also an extensive collection from Ole Bull, a famous 19th century violinist and Norwegian folk music champion.
Ascending the red spiral stairway that hugs tall glass panels etched in words encouraging freedom of speech, I came to Children’s where a wall has stencils of branches and green and gold netting draped above substitutes for the leaves.
The arms of a white tree clutch book CD combos and high up is a mural of youngsters’ artwork. A red donut chair on a silver pedestal sits near shelves blocked by an orange board dotted with small holes kids squeeze through to get in. The play area looks out on a verdant expanse and coats and gear cram the cubbies in the cloakroom.
There’s a padded space with toys and Lego blocks for the shoeless to romp in too (because of the ever-present mud of a wintry clime, it’s customary to remove footwear when entering homes).
At one end of a cheery caterpillar, you’ve got a choice of poufs to perch on.
BOB lends video games, and children have fun on Playstation here, or if over 13, on the second story where they have Xbox as well.
Tots can attend a series on Somali history, culture and language, view movies and listen to stories, hunt treasure or register for the summer reading program with author and cartoonist visits, performances and parties. At Family Sundays, kids explore clowning and bugs or see a puppet show.
Overlooking the pedestrian mall, furnishings are attractive and practical. Stacks are raised (great for a thorough cleaning) and have presentation racks on the ends and a central ledge devoted to face out recommendations. Volumes are gripped by wire book ends built into the top of each shelf and everything is illuminated by bars suspended from the arced metal extensions.
On the second floor, long flower boxes packed with DVDs and comics ensure no space is wasted along the balcony railing I leaned over to survey the activity under me. Sporting handles for support and water saving big and little flush buttons, even the toilets are full of functionality.
Not considering circulating items, there’s still a lot happening at the library. Adults could go to literary lunches, debates, theater premieres, films, concerts and dances or vote in elections, discuss philosophy, learn Firebase or genealogy, join a reading group, knit clothes for Tanzanian babies or hear book talks, Norwegian folktales and lectures on subjects as diverse as art and football.
The YA area is an adolescent’s delight. Stuffed with age appropriate offerings and a big screen TV, the tiered structure above and the delightful upholstered lounging spots on window sills and pictured below give growing bones plenty of opportunities to stretch out.
Gently curved cases cradle fantasy tomes and two massive piles of board games await tournaments. On Mondays and Wednesdays, Red Cross volunteers help students do homework and on other days, assistance is provided via an online service.
Aprons hang in an abutting workshop which has a 3D printer (that they’ll teach you how to operate), soldering iron, vinyl cutter, hammers… so you can work with tools or discover how to program or construct robots.
I love the geometric fixtures that are scattered around. A zigzag Lucite holder defies gravity and this intriguing piece reminds me of a math puzzle I had as a girl.
Use the audiovisual studio to edit movies, create music or just transfer old videos to a current format and if you want to immortalize yourself there’s Demoteket where you can bequeath BOB your output, be it written, filmed or recorded, so others will recognize your genius.
Wifi is on the ground level and in the Music Department as well. Headed by Siren Steen, it’s got tons of sheet music, an electric organ, LPs fittingly held in boxes made of album covers and guitars, violins and other instruments for loan – though not, of course, the grand piano or its candelabra 😉
BOB has 700,000 items and most everything published after 1964 (and half the material before that date) is available digitally through the catalog which is also searchable in English. Members can download 700 Norwegian fiction titles or borrow one of seventeen ereaders for a month.
This really is the perfect location – the bustling port is a quick stroll passed a towering fountain and a gazebo in a park, then along a promenade filled with foliage, statues and sculpted water courses.
What a wonderful asset for the inhabitants of this sparkling city by the sea!