ALM – success, dead end or yet another route

We live in an era of trends. As developmental processes increase their pace, interpreting the future becomes more and more important. Speed is of the essence; or else someone will beat you to it.

Virtually everything new is created from combinations of existing knowledge. The ALM-project (Archive-Library- Museum) is an excellent case in point. Evolution is still groping in the dark, but the concept of ALM speaks plainly enough. Norway has taken a significant step in creating ABM-utvikling/ Statens Senter for arkiv, bibliotek og museum (ALM-development. Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority). In Sweden regional and local projects have been initiated and will hopefully lead to wellestablished national practice. Sweden lacks a collective national agency for the libraries; it merely has a very brief library act.

The fact of the matter is that ALM leaves me in a state of elation. Though with certain reservations. The time is right. IT-processes have now caught up with the demands dictated by the trendsetters and via an up-to-date web gateway and Z39.50 anything is possible. Web sites such as http://kh.innovatum.se/industrihistoria/ with the addition of Z39.50 could be such an opening where all digital material could be made available on a single web page. To be able to search by epoch and place and to access museum material (images and documents), archive and library material in a single search. That is service for you. Round the clock.

The greatest gains for libraries, archives and museums are to be made in co-ordinative measures. To collect, make available and mediate is what all three are actively involved with, albeit with varying emphasis.

I can well imagine the public libraries acting as a superior window display for the other two, not least the archives that at present lead a somewhat secluded life. Acting ‘in co-ordination’ would afford all three parties greater impact. The prefix ‘co’ signals a ‘working together’ – acting as one. This implies that three separate cultures with separate traditions need to get on well with each other and need to find a common denominator in their approach towards assignments, their execution and strictly formal differences in leadership and organisation.

Time also fits the concept well and IT is the key. But even before IT reached its present stage of development, there were clear indications that what constituted the strength of the public libraries – mediation of knowledge – had also become of pressing importance to the museums. Today there is nevertheless a contradiction inherent in the museum world, that of directing information outwards and that of preserving history and artefacts. This dilemma was also to be found earlier in the library community. Successful and pedagogic mediation has for quite some time now become common practice at for example Jamtli Museum in Östersund, Sweden, where schools and the general public can try their hand at old time skills and lifestyles. The fact that role playing, medieval festivals and historical games have become so popular both touches upon and strengthens the pedagogic aims of museums.

On behalf of the archives the saviour comes in the shape of IT. Following membership of the EU, demands placed on archives have increased. It has also provoked a greater interest on behalf of the rest of the world and a need for active conveyance of information. There is of old an established genealogical research tradition in Sweden as can be witnessed in today’s veritable flora of literature on subjects such as rural community and local history. With the aid of IT a significant step can be taken. The archives are being digitised at an increasing pace. There will always be somebody asking, somebody who wants to know, and somebody who is interested in what took place, where and when, in the past.

Together, libraries, archives and museums constitute the collective memory of society and mankind. Thoughts and events traced in the shape of artefacts or hoarding of coal are here registered and documented. There are the myths and stories informing us on who we are, about the creature of culture, the human being. This is where the past is stored.

Thus I have listed my reservations, hindering a full state of elation with regard to ALM. The success of the ALM concept may well actually limit public libraries. They are currently doing their utmost to change their image as perceived by politicians and the general public. The libraries harbour the future within themselves. By connecting their efforts to those of museums and archives, they run the risk of getting stuck in old patterns and memory – and memory is often short. ALM should therefore be one of many routes on which libraries can travel. As an only route it carries too many risks.

Public libraries do need to be where museums and archives are; they need to co-ordinate and mediate in collaborative efforts. But public libraries also have other tasks to perform, of which that of lifelong learning is perhaps the most crucial.

I look forward to working alongside the museums and archives. Such collaboration must however never impinge on improvements for schools, adult education, distance tuition and the library as the citizen’s perpetual source of self-improvement and pleasure. The role of the public library is to mediate all available material. The more sources a library can access, the greater the benefits will be for society as a whole.

Translated by Jonathan Pearman

Uno Nilsson