Culture in Context

Partnering with Copenhagen Public Libraries to evolve the future of their service offering and to provide opportunities for knowledge creation, and to expand their service beyond books and physical materials. For our 3 week exploration, we focused on outreach to immigrants, a particularly underrepresented part of the Library user base.

Research Objective
Understand the “smartness” and knowledge that immigrants can contribute to the Library. Uncover ways for the Library to utilize their skills, and ultimately optimize its offering to the evolving community.

Research Methods
We spent the majority of our time in the field, talking to both non-users and users of the library to find out the pain points and perception many people have of the Copenhagen Libraries using many research methods to prompt dialogue. Conducting in-depth interviews with immigrants allowed us to understand the barriers faced when coming to Denmark and what part the Library can play in alleviating these struggles. We found that tight knit immigrant communities have formed in the north western part of Copenhagen, where ties of kinship, ethnicity or religion create trust and collaboration. Restaurants, corner stores and barber shops become underground hubs for civil services, language exchange and integration. Despite the growth of these communities, the library has struggled to reach them.

Building a close relationship with Isyas at a local Ethiopian Restaurant in Norrebro, Ma’ed, he became a pinnacle part of our research and service. Using his establishment as a pilot store and spending time with him we gained many valuable insights that these immigrant enclaves often rely on word of mouth, and become unofficial leaders in the community for information.

Service Blueprint
For our service to be successful, we needed a human touch to foster the relationship between these unofficial leaders and the public library. We defined a new job role together with library employees, called the Cultural Ambassador that serves as an interface between the library and these tight knit communities. Together with the Cultural Ambassador, the shop owner selects materials for his establishment specific to his needs and the community. This could range from rare traditional music, travel information or even legal resources. The business owner showcases his culture by displaying the selected materials for his customers. Being exposed to more in depth materials begins to spark cultural dialogue between customers, and enriches the experience within the shop.

  • The library sends an employee called the Cultural Ambassador into the community to meet with small business owners. They bring a welcome kit explaining the service, and establish a partnership to curate and receive library materials, improving customer experience. They meet four times a year to update materials and tools to meet the business owner’s evolving needs. Meanwhile, the library preserves the community’s stories through the online audio archive.

Culture in Context, impact for the shop owner is a better experience for their customers, deeper inclusion in Copenhagen, and empowerment within their local Community. This exchange of expertise between these community members and the library results in long term partnerships, plugging the public library into previously unreachable communities, and thereby better informing future library offerings.

Final service
We created Culture in Context: A service that connects immigrant small business owners to the larger Copenhagen community, using public library resources as a means to drive inclusion.