A guidance strategy for progress

“Guidance lies in promoting deep reflection on personal actions and the reasons behind them”
Aust-Agder is a small county in the southernmost part of Norway. Its population of about 100,000 inhabitants is distributed throughout 15 municipalities. The largest of these, Arendal, is a coastal town with almost 40,000 inhabitants, whereas in the municipality with the smallest population, Bykle, the 884 inhabitants are spread across an area 5 times larger than Arendal. Bykle is a mountain municipality and lies some 200 kilometres from Arendal. The county motto “From the sea to the uplands” reflects the variations in a county with small towns along its coast and sparsely-populated inland municipalities.

All the municipalities have their own public library, but several branch libraries have been closed down in recent years. Many inhabitants live a considerable distance from their nearest library, although most have access to the county mobile library which serves 13 of the 15 municipalities. The libraries in general have limited resources, many of those in charge have no professional training (6), many work completely alone (7) and 6 of the libraries have less than 100% of staff requirements. Many of the head librarians are also newly appointed.

Meanwhile the demands on head librarians and their performance increase all the time, no less in our county than in the rest of Norway. Municipalities reorganise and call for greater efficiency, while users constantly demand more advanced services. At the same time librarians are expected to deal with the automation of routines, to be study advisers, to be cultural torch-bearers and to promote reading.

The county library’s advisory role
Given this situation, what is the role of a county library? There is a need to improve the ability of head librarians to deal with change, to create a motivation for change, while still retaining enthusiasm for the important social function inherent in a public library. From this point of view the role of the county library in providing support to its municipal libraries has never been more important than now.

The responsibility of county libraries for providing advice and guidance is set out in §10 of the Library Act: “County libraries shall act as advisers to the local authorities, provide professional guidance and assistance and arrange meetings and courses in matters of librarianship”.

Advisory services were previously closely governed by the stipulations of the Library Act and by its recommended norms in respect of library collections, staff, premises, etc. Nowadays municipalities enjoy a much freer position with regard to the range and nature of the services they offer and we see that the advice and guidance provided by the county library tends to relate more to the development of services and to encouraging new ways of thinking.

County libraries aim to provide necessary support for their municipal libraries in a demanding day-to-day situation. In Aust-Agder we have chosen to focus on a strategy of guidance as the preferred working method to assist our libraries.We hope to establish whether or not systematic contact with the libraries based on teaching techniques can provide a source of inspiration for the improvement of professional library practice. In order to equip ourselves for this task, all members of the county library staff in the spring of 2002 attended a 24-hour course in guidance pedagogy. The course was arranged by the Agder College of Higher Education applying a model already in use for counselling training in the health sector but specially adapted for us as ‘progress initiators’ in the library sector.

In formulating the requirements for this project we focused first and foremost on the needs of small libraries, but we believe that this approach can work also with larger libraries. It is also our opinion that the guidance we offer to the larger libraries when dealing with their problems may well prove to be of equal use to the smaller units.

A guidance strategy for progress
In September 2002 we started our project A guidance strategy for progress: Testing a model for professional guidance in Aust-Agder with all 15 head librarians in the county as participants. The initiative was ‘approved’ by the head librarians and incorporated in their half-yearly meetings, these acting as a hearing forum for the project. The project is supported by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. The main aims of the project are as follows:

  • To try out a model for a professional strategy of guidance in the public library sector
  • The model should be suitable for use as a working tool in the county library’s standard advisory practice
  • The model should be transferable to other counties.

Aims of the guidance strategy: By means of advice and guidance to improve the abilities of participants to view their own routines and practice in a critical manner and thereby

  • strengthen their professional expertise
  • enhance their ability to deal with change
  • stimulate new ways of thinking
  • encourage their interest in achieving progress
  • improve networking and co-operation across municipal boundaries.

Training takes place in groups of five participants. The 15 head librarians are divided into three groups according to geography, not according to area of special interest or other factors. A significant reason for this ‘regional’ approach is the subsidiary aim of improved networking and inter-municipal co-operation.

The county library sends two library consultants to each meeting as adviser and observer respectively. Three consultants in all share the roles of adviser and observer. One permanent adviser is responsible for each group throughout the whole project period, while the two others take turns in assuming the role of observer. The task of observers is to monitor the group process in the light of project evaluation. Since these three consultants have only attended a short course in guidance strategy and are therefore by no means fully trained experts, we have entered into an agreement with the Agder College of Higher Education ensuring assistance for our consultants when necessary.

The project will last for one year. Each group has held three meetings during the autumn of 2002 and three further meetings will take place in the coming spring; a total of 18 meetings of 2-3 hours. These meetings rotate throughout the libraries. In December 2002 the meeting of head librarians, where all 15 participants were present, was given a theme specifically relevant to the project: Communication – the roles and relations of collaboration.

What is a guidance strategy?
The most usual form of contact with the county library is when the municipal libraries or authorities approach us for advice, i.e. a concrete answer or specific advice in connection with a particular problem. In such a case our reply will be given on the basis of legislation, regulations or our professional experience.Where the situation requires general guidance, nobody offers a ready-made solution. In the project our role is seen as one of setting in motion a process whereby the person who has identified a problem makes it a topic of discussion and in this way works towards a solution which feels right for him or her.

Teaching literature contains many definitions of guidance strategy, such as “Guidance lies in promoting deep reflection on personal actions and the reasons behind them”. (Lauvås & Handal 2000)

The various definitions place an emphasis on training, development and growth with the recipient in the centre. Guidance is characterised mainly by dialogue.

Guidance methods
When considering problem areas, there is a tendency to get bogged down in the negative aspects and to dwell on the causes. In guidance discussions, however, emphasis is placed on seeking solutions, encouraging participants to describe their desired situation and indicating possible ways of improvement.

As a working framework we use a ‘stepby- step model’ formulated by Reidar Espeland, a teacher at the Agder College of Higher Education (Espeland 2002). This model is based upon the ‘Key Model’ (Dahl 1993) and the ‘LIFT Model’ (Langslet 1996) and consists of the following five stages: The present situation. The desired situation. The background to the present situation. The required means of improvement. The effects of change.

Under these headings are a number of key words further defining how these concepts can be used in formulating questions. All our group participants have copies of this reference material, so that they can use it when preparing to discuss the problem concerned.

Which problems should be dealt with?
The choice of problems to be discussed is left to the participants. At each meeting a theme is agreed upon for the next meeting in order to give participants time to prepare their thoughts in advance. Before starting the project the programme schedule and content were discussed at one of the meetings for head librarians, where the participants divided into groups to determine the theme for the very first guidance meeting. All the groups from the start have been interested in discussing the subject of co-operation in a variety of different areas, such as co-operation with the municipal authorities, with the schools and with various voluntary organisations. The initial question of introducing a common fee policy among the libraries has led to consideration of inter-library co-operation in a wider perspective. This in turn has led to questions such as whether or not a more uniform profile among the libraries will have any effect upon their reputation among the public and with the municipal authorities.When we explained the idea behind the project and asked participants to suggest problem areas for discussion, we emphasised the fact that the guidance programme was intended to be of practical use.We asked them to take day-to-day difficulties as their starting-point, such as specific dilemmas they had faced and situations which had proved difficult to resolve. We also asked them to suggest any initiative they would like to introduce but which they did not know how to tackle.

Status at the halfway mark
At the time of writing we are halfway through the project and it is consequently too early to judge the results. Nevertheless certain impressions have been gained. Response has been 100% and the participants have clearly stated their opinion that this is a worth-while initiative. They are all interested in hearing the different points of view expressed by other group members and they find inspiration in the solutions suggested by other participants. One of the groups has already started on a programme of practical co-operation within its region, working parallel to the project. From our own point of view we are optimistic. In spite of a rather uncertain start with an unfamiliar method of working, we soon began to feel that this was a constructive approach.

Evaluation and possible continuation
The project is planned to continue until May of this year. The project working group, which is led by the chief county librarian, will prepare a project report to be submitted in June. This report will be based upon the evaluation forms completed by the participants and on the notes of the observers at the group meetings. All participants will meet to discuss the project working group’s suggestions and will have the opportunity to make alterations before final approval. This meeting of head librarians will also decide whether or not the project should continue as part of normal management or possibly in some other form based on guidance from colleagues. The chief county librarian is planning a pilot project for the library programme to be presented later in the year and we hope that the activities of the guidance groups will serve as a useful foundation.

We also hope that participation in this project will strengthen the feeling among head librarians in Aust-Agder that they are part of a collaborative public library service and that they have good colleagues and partners throughout the county.

Translated by Eric Deverill

Chief county librarian Aust-Agder library and cultural services.