Calgary Library active living in the library Photo credit: Katrina Olson

A library for active living and learning

Exciting new things are happening in libraries around the world. They’re no longer just spaces where people go to read and study. Now, libraries are hosting everyone from babies to seniors with free and inclusive programming.

From story time to chess clubs, music lessons to job searching, dancing to computer lessons, and knitting to teen times, libraries are becoming our hubs for community, active living, and culture.

But for all of this programming to occur, libraries need the right physical space. The new Central Library in Calgary was designed with just this in mind.

The four-storey library opened in 2018. Designed by architectural firms Snøhetta and Dialog, it offers a mix of vibrant and quiet areas for programmed events, reading, studying, and playing.  

Built over an active LRT line, the library is 240,000 square feet of fully accessible space. The building has an abundance of natural light, as well as displays of artwork that represent the city’s diverse inhabitants.

It also offers studios, 30 meeting rooms, programs for all ages, and a children’s library, all accessible for no cost.


Indoor program spaces

Specific and dedicated areas include:

  • newcomer services
  • a meeting space with Indigenous elders in an area featuring Indigenous art
  • business resources, programs, and support for budding entrepreneurs
  • adult learning spaces
  • studio spaces for digital technology
  • career services
  • a teen space with video game consoles, board games, a teen tech lab, and quiet spots for completing homework
  • a performance hall
  • a quiet space for reading, working, or reflecting
  • a “create space” where library users can work together
  • a family discovery room
  • a children’s library



The designers also incorporated outdoor space, including an amphitheatre and reading areas, to make it a welcoming place inside and out.


Kids’ library

The large kids’ area on the first floor was designed with both children and their caregivers in mind. The space has a nursing room, stroller parking, kid-sized doors, and nooks where kids can cuddle up with a book (and a friend). Children also have access to interactive games and activities, colouring stations, and chests of toys among the books.

School-aged children can explore at an activity area called Questionarium with literacy programming, board games, and lendable tablets and laptops.


Active spaces at the Calgary library

The children’s space also houses an indoor play structure with a bouncy floor, mini climbing wall, bridge, ladders, and nets. This area gives kids the opportunity to jump, climb, crawl, balance, and run, all within a safe zone and with other kids from their community.

Moving at the library teaches children that physical activity isn’t limited to just parks or gyms. And with study after study linking physical activity to cognitive development and longer attention spans, what better thing to do before cozying up with a book (or five)?

Areas created for specific activities, such as studios for podcast recording, provide the best possible use of space and a wide range of free programming.

This library is a place where people of all ages and socioeconomic statuses can learn, play, and engage in healthy living under one roof. It can and should serve as a model for other libraries across the country.

Learn more about the Calgary Central Library and view more photos of its design here.

If you were building your dream library, what would you want to see included?

Photo credit: Katrina Olson

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