Libraries in the Happiest Place on Earth

[Megan Lawson is a grad student at North Carolina Central University’s School of Library and Information Science, and she’s doing an internship in Cataloging and Metadata Services, Duke University Libraries, this semester. I’ve really enjoyed hearing about her summer session abroad experience, so I asked her to write a guest post about it for this blog. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about her experience as much as I have. Lesley]

For the past five years NCCU’s SLIS program has given its students the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen, Denmark and study in the happiest country on earth.  This last May I was one of the lucky four who made the journey under the wing of Dr. Abdullahi, the global libraries professor at SLIS and a past citizen of Denmark.  This two-week trip was by far the best experience I have had as a graduate student, and I hope to encourage others to follow in our footsteps. 

The three other students I travelled with (there were three girls and one guy total) made my experience even more enjoyable.  None of us had ever been out of the country before and Dr. Abdullahi, a seasoned traveler, most likely had had enough of our excitement and nervousness in the first five minutes of the trip (side note: Dr. Abdullahi was a trooper and put up well with all of our antics for a whole 16 days; the trip would not have been the same without him).  Never being out of the United States meant we were not entirely prepared for what the trip would be like.  For example, we did not realize how exhausting our first day would be.  Word of caution for those who are considering the trip: you will arrive in Denmark confused, exhausted, and feeling dirty after traveling for an entire day.  And because Denmark is seven hours ahead, you will probably arrive in the “morning” (for us it was about 2:00 am, for Denmark it was about 9:00 am).  So we had our first Danish metro experience exhausted and dirty, walked our first Danish streets exhausted and dirty…you get the picture.  The great thing about traveling with Dr. Abdullahi is that he let us out on our own after classes let out (probably because he was tired of our nonstop chattering and wanted to hang out with his own friends), so our first 2 days were spent wandering the streets, staring at signs (which are in Danish), and trying to figure out our “key to the city” (a free map from the Copenhagen visitor’s center).

Just saying that Copenhagen is a breathtaking city can’t do it justice.  There is a constant sea breeze from the Oresund Strait, there is virtually no litter in the city, and the buildings are something out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale (probably because he lived there).  The city is dripping with history, and a majority of the buildings in the main part of the city most likely date back to at least the 19th century.  Which makes it even more striking when you walk inside and see the famous Scandinavian interior design: tons of natural light, light wood, simplistic decoration (think IKEA).  It’s probably obvious that my favorite thing to do in the city was walk (and stare).  I soon became known as “Megan the Tour Guide” as I dragged my comrades to different historically significant and architecturally impressive landmarks (Rosenborg Castle, the Church of Our Savior, Parliament, the Marble Church, the Danish History Museum, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art–Google them all and you will be jealous, guaranteed).  For once, I had found a city that gave me a sense of direction and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Of course, we were in Copenhagen to learn as well and we certainly did plenty of that.  Our first week in Copenhagen was spent at the Royal School of Library and Information Science.  This school is interesting because it is not tied to any university, although it is located next to Copenhagen University.  This means that the school must battle for itself when enrolling students instead of depending on its mother university to do all of the advertising.  One of the most interesting things we learned about the Danish government is that all education is free to citizens from kindergarten to the doctorate level.  This means that the education level of Danish citizens is pretty high, and that schools must compete with one another for high enrollment since government funding is based on the number of students.  Our week at the school was spent in lectures given by professors from the school and colleagues of Dr. Abdullahi.  Our lecture topics ranged from library education in Denmark to library architecture.  We were given a tour of the school, which is quite large, and even had the opportunity to speak with some of the school’s students.  We also prized our time at the school because it was one of the few places we could use the Internet (another thing to get used to).

Our second week in Copenhagen was the one we looked forward to the most.  This was the week we spent touring libraries around Denmark.  We visited the Amagerbro Cultural Center, which had a gorgeous interior and included a workout center, Copenhagen University library, where we toured their state of the art temperature-controlled closed stacks, and the Royal Danish Library, an architecturally stunning building nicknamed the Black Diamond.

Helsingor Cultural Center-Children's Center

But everyone’s favorite was the Helsingør Cultural Center, which has a completely redesigned interior.  The center is located in Helsingør’s old shipyard and features stunning views of the Oresund Strait, the Swedish shoreline, and Kronborg Castle (better known as Hamlet’s Castle, the setting used by Shakespeare in his most famous play).  The center featured an amazing children’s section, which prompted all of us to play, top of the line gaming computers in the teen section, and an automatic book return machine that took up the entire basement.  This library is the realization of what the future of public libraries could look like, and we were all impressed with the possibilities.  Touring these libraries allowed us to take away a certain hope that libraries really could be the relevant, cool places to hang out.  We certainly saw lots of Danish citizens taking advantage of these centers, and we even had our own neighborhood library down the block that we visited almost daily. 

I’ve had a lot of people ask me what my favorite part about the trip was.  I’ve decided to make it easy to just categorize my responses because it’s impossible for me to just pick one thing about the trip and leave it at that.  So, as an extra nudge of encouragement to take the trip yourself, here is a closing list of my favorite things from the Denmark study abroad trip:

  1. Climbing to the top of the Church of Our Savior.  This church has a 250ish-feet spiral that requires one to climb through the bell tower and finish the last 20 or 30 feet of the climb on the outside staircase.  This is one of the most terrifying things I have ever done, but the 360-degree views of Copenhagen and the Strait are AMAZING.  This was the perfect thing to do on the last day of our trip.

2. Visiting Kronborg Castle.  Also known as Hamlet’s Castle, this structure is on the shore of Helsingør, which features a great view of Sweden.  The castle and casemates can be toured, which feature a terrifying statue of Holger the Dane and a ballroom that takes up the entire side of the castle.

3. The pastries.  While Danish food can be slightly questionable (Pickled herring? No, thank you!), Danish pastries are an entirely different story.  Thankfully, we had one of the best bakeries in our neighborhood, which was visited more than once.  While you can’t really order a Danish (they won’t think it’s funny), the chocolate croissants are basically the most delicious things you will ever eat.  Dr. Abdullahi explained to us that Danes only need three things to make them happy: coffee, a pastry, and good weather.  We had all three in abundance during our trip.

4. Danish culture.  I realize that this is sort of a general statement, but I feel like I can’t stress enough how cool Danish people are.  Every Dane we spoke to was super nice, especially after they figured out we were American (I stuck out well as a foreigner, with my brown hair and short stature).  It is only dark for a few hours during the summer, so we could walk the streets until 11:00 at night feeling perfectly safe, which we did just about every night.  We visited several of the local museums and had dinner in the homes of a couple of our lecturers.  Danes are probably the nicest people you will ever meet, and after visiting their country it is easy to see why they are listed as the happiest people on Earth.

5. The libraries.  Obviously, the point of the trip was to visit Danish libraries and try to learn something from their system.  If you decide to take the trip, you will not be disappointed on this point.  The libraries are unlike anything I have ever seen in the United States, and you will probably want to move to Denmark in order to work in one of these amazing spaces at some point during the trip.

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About Lesley Looper

I'm a full-time library employee. I enjoy reading, photography, travel, blogging, and geocaching.
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One Response to Libraries in the Happiest Place on Earth

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