A Library Revolution

The proposed changes in library legislation send a clear message to these bodies that libraries are a public resource, part of a nationwide network and a communal store of knowledge.

The strategic plan entitled Library Reform 2014 recommends extra government funding of the Norwegian library sector amounting to about NOK 350 million per annum during the period 2008-2014. This should be measured against today’s operating budget of NOK 2·2 billion per annum for the sector as a whole. “Such a bold and comprehensive proposal is nothing less than revolutionary, embracing as it does both public and special libraries”, says Leikny Haga Indergaard, head of department at the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. “Entitling the plan a library reform accurately reflects the strength and scope of the initiative.”

In collaboration with Grete Bergh, senior adviser and leader of the project, Indergaard presented in September the report sub-titled The Norwegian Nationwide Library – a network for knowledge and culture as the result of an assignment given to the Authority by the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs and the then Ministry of Education and Research on 16th June 2004.

The argument for increased library sector funding is based on three main strategic initiatives: joint digital services, organisational reform and greater emphasis on expertise and research.


For those working in a library environment the most controversial proposal has doubtless been that concerning organisational reform. In Norway there are many small libraries with limited resources and restricted opening hours. 244 municipalities have less than one professionally-qualified librarian working full-time and only 67 have a public library working more than five man-years. The proposal is for libraries to combine across municipal borders in order to form larger units offering the public better services and access to greater expertise.

HUMSAM-library. Oslo University
Photo: ABM-udvikling/Bjørn Djupvik

As Indergaard points out, the library sector cannot influence municipal structure throughout Norway. “The law stipulates that each and every municipality should have its own public library but pays no heed to available resources. As a result we have many tiny libraries with limited opening hours and more than half of them with no professionally-qualified staff. This is hardly a satisfactory situation for the future”.

The small libraries function well enough with regard to the lending of books but other services are marginal. As Indergaard explains, it is simply not possible for one lone librarian in a one-man library to fill all the roles demanded by today’s modern society. There are children’s hours, a web-site to be edited, accounts to be kept, students seeking information, digital services, literature and other media to be made available, resources required for planning and development, various arrangements to be organised, etc. etc. Many of the smaller libraries are very good in traditional areas of library services and get the most out of the funds available.When, however, it comes to digital services, the requirements of the younger generation and participation in the Internet/SMS service “Ask the Library”, small libraries have problems.

At the other end of the scale, as Grete Bergh points out, the five largest municipalities, each with over 100,000 inhabitants, have at their disposal 22% of total library competence in the public library sector alone. “This overwhelming concentration of expertise stands in contrast to the extremely limited resources elsewhere in the country”, she says. Nevertheless, although Nor-way is sparsely populated, 93% of the population live in municipalities with at least one professionally-qualified librarian. One person is, however, far from enough and that is the thinking behind the plans for consolidation.

The report shows that a minimum of 6-8 man-years per unit is required in order to offer the services expected from the library of the future. This means that libraries with fewer than five man-years will have to be consolidated with libraries in other municipalities. There is, however, no intention of closing libraries down.

“The aim is not for fewer but for larger libraries. Smaller libraries will not be closed down but will become part of a larger unit. This will lead to a broader professional environment, which in its turn will attract competent staff”, says Indergaard. “Newly-qualified librarians are not going to head off into the provinces in order to sit alone in a oneman library”.

The proposal is not that branch libraries should be shut down, but that they should come together in larger organisational units in order to ensure wider expertise and the ability to conduct development work in addition to offering services to the public. Bergh points out, however, that it is up to the municipalities themselves to decide upon how many library units there should be and how best to organise consolidation.

“This reform could also include the joining together of different types of libraries, such as can already be seen in the town of Drammen, where the Buskerud County Library, the Drammen Public Library and the special library at the local College of Higher Education have pooled their resources”, remarks Indergaard.

The requirement with regard to professional competence in public libraries today is linked to Paragraph 5 in the Library Act, which stipulates that the chief librarian should be professionally qualified but makes no reference to the rest of the library staff. “The report describes the overall expertise a library should possess, the appointment of staff being regulated by individual requirements. Better services should result from the fact that in a larger system many tasks will need to be carried out only once”, says Bergh. “With regard to an improvement in overall library competence, the proposal is for a concrete development programme to be carried out as part of actual work situations”.

The Norwegian Nationwide Library

A central concept presented immediately in the report’s sub-title is that of the Norwegian Nationwide Library. This stands for a network of libraries throughout the country based on shared values, understanding, rules and agreements. Public, special and school libraries are all elements in this network. The aim is to create an infrastructure capable of ensuring that the advantages of library cooperation can be exploited to the full and for the benefit of the community. The features proposed include a national book transport system to be combined with the present and future regional arrangements, a Norwegian digital library and legal recognition of the library network. The latter, however, does not foresee joint legislation for special libraries and public libraries, only for those elements which involve areas of cooperation, such as distance-lending.

Grete Bergh reveals that in Denmark this type of legislation already exists, emphasising that library contents are a public resource. “In Norway the question has been mentioned so often in official reports that it should no longer be a source of controversy”, she says. “That libraries should wish to collaborate in this manner is, however, only one aspect of the situation. Library policy is also a matter for the relevant institutions and local authorities. The proposed changes in library legislation send a clear message to these bodies that libraries are a public resource, part of a nationwide network and a communal store of knowledge”. A reform based on consolidation will result in larger units and consequently greater room for improvements in expertise and services. Already today the largest libraries serve as central motivators for the whole library sector, providing encouragement for the introduction of new services. The larger units envisaged in the reform proposal will provide a basis for more efficient working methods, thus making more time available for longer opening hours and a general improvement in services.

“In many ways this will be a form of cooperation but with each participating body paying its own share”, says Bergh. She explains that it will be up to the libraries themselves to improve their services locally, while the Archive, Library and Museum Authority, with the help of government funding, will be able to initiate measures and promote joint, nationwide services. There is, however, a good possibility that the Authority will be able to provide financial support for services such as “Ask the Library” and “Whichbook” above and beyond the initial development phase.

“Financial support for projects will be made available and those that prove their worth will receive further funds to cover the cost of operation”, says Indergaard. She emphasises that the Archive, Library and Museum Authority will act as coordinator but will not engage in running any of these services. “These are areas of initiative which should all move in the same direction. Instead of supporting random projects, there will be an overall strategy and a plan for management and further development”.

The increase in project funds anticipated in an earlier report on archives, libraries and museums and also in the government’s “Cultural Policy in the period up to 2014″ has so far not materialised. The present report “The Norwegian Nationwide Library” makes it quite clear that the success of any library reform is totally dependent on the provision of public funds towards three main areas: an increase in project funding, financial support to encourage implementation of the organisational reform and the financing of a variety of joint services in the digital field.

With regard to the presentation of these services to the public, Indergaard gives priority to an archive, library and museum portal (ALM-portal), although one would not be restricted to this portal in order to access, for example, “Whichbook”. “Each and every library can present its services in the way it prefers on its own home pages. Although the ALM-portal will offer nationwide presentation of digital services in Norway, it should also at the same time be possible to access at a local level”, she explains.

The report also recommends the national licensing of digital library content. “This is intended to be a two-part service, where certain contents, such as dictionaries and encyclopaedias, can be purchased for use by the general public, while other more professional services can be restricted to specialists”, explains Indergaard.

A further recommendation also covers the digitisation of material in archives, libraries and museums, together with a specific programme for the dissemination of literature.

“A major concern is naturally to increase the spread of literature. This presupposes greater efficiency in presenting library contents, particularly where children and young people are concerned, but also with regard to the general population. According to a survey carried out by Statistics Norway, there are large numbers of people who have no knowledge whatsoever of the services available to them at their local library”, says Bergh.

Other initiatives proposed in the strategic plan include a strengthening of library purchasing arrangements, a programme for library construction, an improvement of library facilities in prisons and a high-speed wireless local area network in all libraries.

Indergaard emphasises that the initiatives proposed are those chosen as most likely to help the government and the Minister of Culture fulfil the promises made in the so-called Soria Moria declaration with regard to the future of the library sector.

“Since public libraries are first and foremost a municipal responsibility, the report concentrates on those areas best suited to a national programme aimed at strengthening libraries throughout the country, especially those with limited resources”, she says. Such initiatives will also be of benefit to special libraries and research libraries, particularly where digital services are concerned.

“The core of the reform is not merely to ensure a better, user-friendly library but also to create a new concept of what a library should be”, stresses Indergaard. “Libraries must heighten their presence on the Internet, in research, in education and in the local community. This applies not only to public libraries but to the sector as a whole. The key to success lies in larger, stronger units and by 2014 the library landscape will be completely different from today.” Leikny Haga Indergaard is convinced that if the initiatives outlined in the report are not carried out, the whole sector will stagnate.

The Norwegian version of the report is available at www.abm-utvikling.no/ publisert/ABM-skrift/ index.html. For your information part 1 of the report – strategies and measures – will be translated into English and published on the web. Since the issues in “Library Reform 2014″ are of crucial interest for many institutions and organisations the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs will coordinate a consultation. The recipients will be local authorities responsible for the public libraries and other stakeholders.

Translated by Eric Deverill

Senior Engineer ABM-utvikling and Journalist "Bok og bibliotek".