Europe Challenge 21 - Libraries

How do different communities around Europe contribute to the building of public spaces? What Is the role of public libraries in this?

The Europe Challenge

“Everyday life in libraries is a democratic experiment, and people cram into libraries to participate in it whenever the doors are open.” From Erik Klinenberg’s ‘Palaces for the People’


How do different communities around Europe contribute to the building of public spaces? What Is the role of public libraries in this?

The Europe Challenge aims to address some of Europe's pressing challenges in a networked way, by working with libraries - small and big across Europe.

The European Cultural Foundation (ECF) and the Amsterdam Public Libraries (OBA), in collaboration with Public Libraries 2030 and Democratic Society, kick-off the development of the Europe Challenge 2021.

The Europe Challenge is engaging and enabling libraries and their local communities to redesign the current and future meaning of public space, with diverse communities from across Europe together.


Seven public libraries in seven different cities and towns across Europe are working together to involve citizens more in shaping our public space.

Participating libraries are:

1. DOKK1 Aarhus Public Library (DK)

2. Valmiera Public Library (LV)

3. Kranj City Library (SLO)

4. De Krook Ghent (B)

5. Berlin Public Library (DE)

6. Saint Boi Public Library (ES)

7. OBA Amsterdam Public Library (NL)

The programme is developed in collaboration with Public Libraries 2030, Democratic Society and OBA, the Amsterdam Public Libraries with which the ECF has started a local long-term partnership in 2021.

With public libraries across Europe – both big and small, avant-garde and traditional, capital-based and rural – there is already a wealth of safe public spaces serving as centers for knowledge, social interaction and support for their communities. The Europe Challenge seeks to strengthen the position of the public libraries as relevant, safe and open public spaces in Europe and a place to solve local challenges by involving the knowledge of their communities.

“The library is among the most critical forms of social infrastructure that we have”- from Erik Klinenberg’s ‘Palaces for the People’

The participating public libraries will together design and implement a Europe-wide programme of activities that engage citizens in shaping and imagining a European public space, working on concrete challenges that are relevant for their local context.

European Values

The programme in underway in design phase and will launch officially on 9 May 2021 – the Europe Day. It will provide activities, methodological support, funding and space to the staff and the communities of the participating libraries for future-oriented conversations and solution-based experimentation in local and trans-local settings. We expect that this incubation and experimentation phase will result in a great variety of citizens-led imaginative ideas and solutions fuelling a positive sentiment for living together and fostering a culture of solidarity amongst Europeans, across national divides. This is needed more than ever, with all the challenges Europe is facing, be it with regards to exchange, travel and climate, migration, inclusion and inequality, digitalisation, access and participation, or – in this global pandemic – health, care and isolation.

With this fresh collaboration, we bring European perspectives to the local and international contexts in which libraries operate.

“Public libraries at their core are a meeting place. They are a public institution as well as a town hall where people can meet, gossip, and talk. As this is a powerful infrastructure present across Europe, it can leverage its position to encourage civic engagement”

Further info

From the summary of the Lighthouse session hosted by PL 2030 and supported by ECF:

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