When Sarah Odedina was in Sweden a few weeks ago, she had a chance to stop by an amazing children’s library. She was inspired by the model, and thinks this project could have incredible applications in the UK as well.
In the Kulturhuset in central Stockholm is a remarkable and inspirational library for young readers, Tio Tretton. Open for visitors between the ages of 10 and 13, no adults are allowed. No parents, or teachers, or helpful advisors. This is an environment in which young people can go to read books, make films, play music, cook in the kitchen, do origami, draw graphic novels or just hang out. There are members of staff to answers questions but the mission of the ‘permitted’ adults is not to get between the child and what they want to do in the space in anyway at all. Including by offering advice on what to do!
The space speaks for itself. From the ceiling hang books, a Christmas tree made of books takes central space, there are shelves everywhere, covered in books and the books are shelved according to subject (body and mind, adventure, historical and so on) rather than by age range. This way a young reader can find something they want to read without being steered to ‘appropriate’ books.
There are tables too for visitors to use if they want to paint or play chess or use the iPads and technology that is available and wonderful seats to curl up in for some more private space. People are invited in to speak to the young visitors and the speakers are very varied in their backgrounds from authors to software designers and musicians. When there is a speaker, children don’t have to sign up in advance to attend, they can just turn up on the day and should not feel under any pressure to go if they don’t want to.
Launched just under two years ago, the library is entirely funded by the government, and all a child needs to use the space is a valid library card from any library in Sweden. It was a great pleasure to meet the inspirational Lena Thunberg who told us all about the work of the library and some of the challenges they face as an organisation running such an egalitarian and open service. Her biggest issue seemed to be the systems surrounding the use of the kitchen and people wanting to cook things that they didn’t have time to finish working on before they had to leave. In her idealism and utter dedication she made light of any issues to do with organising and sustaining the energy of the vibrant and unique environment.
It seems to me that Tio Tretton is a benchmark for what can be provided to young people in a reading environment. It is a high benchmark that would be excellent for many other libraries and organisations to aim for, and indeed for governments to realise that they should support.