Well-read (and red): New library opens to raves about space and modern features, plus a few startling moments of alarm


The ribbon-cutting ceremony was low-key and quiet, as befitting a traditional library. But moments later Susanna Margula and Bjørn Torjus Hansen provided the first of many noise-making moments showing how the new Longyearbyen Library is far different and more modern than the old.


Susanna Margula and Bjørn Torjus Hansen trigger the alarm system Tuesday morning when they enter the new Longyearbyen Library with a book previously checked out. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The pair got caught in a “who me?” moment during Tuesday’s opening by setting off the high-pitched alarm and red neon lights of the security panels just inside the entrance, which was triggered by a book Hansen was returning. But after that blameless moment of shame (which a few others would share during the day), both had nothing but positive things to say about the 500-square-meter space on the ground floor Næringsbygget adjacent to Kulturhuset.

Margula, who’s mainland hometown of Vikersund has about 2,750 residents, said Longyearbyen’s new library far exceeds the scope of what her expectations are for a typical small Norwegian town.

“We would never get a beautiful library like this there,” she said. “The people of Longyearbyen are really lucky.”


Head Librarian Elin Anita Olsrud provides a demonstration of Longyearbyen Library’s new automated check-in/check-out system. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The 4.5-million-kroner library, work on which began last fall, is part of a large-scale overhaul of the city’s main municipal building. Head Librarian Elin Anita Olsrud said the city has considered moving out of is former space on the second floor of Lompensenteret since 1999, but decided against it due to the cost.

But new owners purchased the shopping center in 2014 and are raising the price of leases as they expire, thus making the move practical. The old library closed its doors May 11 after 31 years in the same location and extra temporary help was hired to bring 19,000 books, movies, games and other items to the new space.

In addition to twice the floor space of the former library, the new one has all new computers placed in several areas, including three in a gaming area that’s a replica of the dome-shaped antenna buildings at the Svalbard Satellite Station, as well as various seating and meeting spaces for groups. An automated check-in/check-out system now allows borrowers to stack their books, movies, etc. on a counter that will automatically scan each item and display them on a touch screen.


Elin Anita Olsrud, right, hands scissors to Sophie Cordon so she can perform the official ribbon cutting to open the new library while Roger Zahl Ødegård takes a photo. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

There were no crowds – or individuals beyond the author of this article, for that matter – waiting outside the sliding glass door when it opened for the first time at 11 a.m. But Olsrud coaxed Sophie Cordon, who was on her way to get something from the cafe before visiting the library, to make a detour and perform the official ribbon cutting as Roger Zahl Ødegård, the city’s cultural programs director, took photos from inside.

Among the first visitors was Pia Røkenes, who brought her seven-month-old son Noel for what’s usually a regular Tuesday gathering of mothers with infants. Although she was alone with her son when the library opened, in part due to some families departing for the mainland for summer holidays, she said she didn’t expect that to be the case for long.


Elin Anita Olsrud, head librarian at Longyearbyen Library, serves cake to youths during opening day. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“I think it’s super nice,” she said. “I think it’s a welcoming interior. I think it’s because of all the space and because it’s so modern.”

Hansen said the library should give youths a place where they can comfortably gather.

“It’s like you almost want to have a kid now,” he said.

Quiet time ended at 2 p.m. when the library celebrated its opening by serving cake, luring scores of youths and adults inside to explore the space – and unlike the “shhhhh” days of old the younger visitors voiced plenty of cheers and jeers as they cooperated and competed at various video game.

“It’s much better because it’s bigger,” said Kristian Seljevold, 13.


Youths play video games inside a replica of a SvalSat antenna facility at the new Longyearbyen Library on Tuesday. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“And there are many more computers to play ‘Minecraft’ on,” said Mathias Ianssen, 13, adding “I’m being here – if I’m allowed” after all the noise-making.

Elias Hagebø, 13, discovered one aspect of the new library that definitely doesn’t make it an ideal place to run around recklessly as some of the younger visitors were.

“The corners are a lot sharper,” he said, pointing to metal edges that protrude from the bottom corners of all the bookshelves.

Elsewhere about a dozen women chatted while sitting on a large semi-circular sofa and individuals found relatively quiet corners to check their smartphones for messages.

But while cake flowed freely on opening day and the library is attached to the cafe at Kulturhuset, Olsrud said there are likely to be some limits on where food and drinks are allowed inside, although an official policy hasn’t been determined yet.

Several special activities are planned during the debut week, including author Reidar Kjelsen offering storytelling to kindergartners during the day on Thursday and primary school students on Friday. Author Sigbjørn Mostue will offer a presentation and screen a movie during a pizza party for youths ages 14 to 18 from 8:30 p.m. to midnight Friday.