Breaking down the walls

Connecting libraries
During recent decades libraries have undergone a process of change. The possibilities offered by the new digital reality are arguably just as revolutionary as those created by Gutenberg’s invention in his age. We must therefore ask ourselves how can we steer libraries through this process in a manner to ensure our emerging with greater selfesteem and a stronger position in society? The answer lies perhaps in the slogan of a successful Finnish concern: “Connecting people”. Co-operation must be both the present and future strategy for library development. Modern, electronic reality has extended our boundaries, while at the same time making us more dependent upon cooperation with other libraries.

“Take stock” (“Kolla läget”)
Do libraries make any difference? What is our role in today’s society? Are we necessary? Such questions simply indicate that there are not enough people outside our own professional circle who realise that the library is often the answer when it comes to learning, cultural enlightenment and local democracy. We must develop a greater understanding of the trends and tendencies in society and of the space for manoeuvre available to us as service providers to the public. Alliances between the library sector and the surrounding world will be of vital importance in redefining the library’s role. “Kolla läget” as the Swedes say about the need to look around and take stock of the situation before deciding upon a new strategy.

Against this background inter-library collaboration and co-operation between libraries and other sections of society must represent a step forward. It should be acknowledged that the library sector is relatively small and that it will gain strength and improved status through co-operation with partners who can contribute to making more evident the important social role libraries can play. Projects and initiatives connecting libraries more directly with the needs of their users represent part of the answer. Another part would be to set about redefining the goals and interests of libraries by means of a process starting in the libraries themselves. This issue of SPLQ presents different projects which all have one feature in common, namely that they are based either on co-operation between several libraries or between libraries and other institutions and organisations.

Breaking down the walls
The Norwegian Digital Library (NDL) has the following declaration of intent: “NDL is a system that breaks down walls between the separate libraries and makes their collective information resources available to everyone in a simple way.” That the time was ripe for a project of this type was clearly shown by the enthusiastic response and the many volunteers who offered to help. Expectations as to what the programme may develop into are still very high and have now been given concrete form in a project that involves the complete sector, including national, university and public libraries. In Norway we have learned a great deal from our Nordic neighbours. We are able to build on the experience of others and go all out for a digital library, a common resource of contents and services for both public and special libraries. Creating a digital library and making it available to every citizen as a communal benefit is a social initiative that strengthens the individual person’s possibilities for learning and for participating in and influencing society.

Arranging for easy use of Internet-based services is one of a library’s important tasks. A large number of institutions, either individually or in co-operation, have established gateways offering their users easy access to required information and documentation. The number of gateways and their maintenance, however, has become a lively topic of discussion. Is it possible or desirable to co-ordinate different solutions and initiatives? This question was the theme of a seminar held in May by NDL.

Looking ahead
There is excellent, close Nordic co-operation with regard to both content and network construction. In this respect the Halmstad conference has played a central role as a Nordic meeting-place for librarians and politicians concerned with cultural affairs. The focus has been on library development and new, likely scenarios for the future. Further confirmation is provided by this year’s international conference in Århus, entitled “Transformation”.

To round off this theme of networks and co-operation I should like to quote from a poem about bridges by the Norwegian writer Lars Saabye Christensen. He claims that “whatever we share with others becomes twice as great.”

Translated by Eric Deverill

Director Department of Libraries The Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority