How does one negotiate the fact that there is so much relevant information available, yet it is so difficult to access in an easy way?
In addition, what if it coincides with the fact that the library visitor commands neither the language, its technical innovations nor the complexities of society as a whole. Then what does one do?
Questions concerning these issues not only laid the foundation for, but also instigated, the project titled: Bridge of Words. Since September 2002, the County Library of Halland, the Regional Library of Västra Götaland and the County Library of Skåne jointly administer the project. The Library of Falkenberg, the District Library of Kortedala and Malmö Public Library cater for the practical aspects of this venture. The aim of the project is to construct an IT-gateway with a selection of links from all available resources found on the Internet and present a survey of these. The project’s target group are those whose native language is not Swedish. Another, though secondary target group are the libraries, their staff as well as other public authorities and institutions who will benefit on a daily basis when accessing the gateway.
Why these particular libraries? The reason being that they represent three different kinds of public libraries and therefore possess different prerequisites and resources enabling them to meet the expected needs of the potential target groups. One is a provincial library in the municipality of Falkenberg with a population of 38,000, but with a lesser number of inhabitants from other countries than the national average.
Another provincial library is that of Kortedala, on the outskirts of Göteborg, with similar population figures to that of Falkenberg. The difference is that Kortedala has a larger proportion of people from other countries. Finally, there is Malmö whose main library’s resources reflect the needs of a major city. Approximately 38% of its population are immigrants.
An initial thought was to offer the target group the possibility to take part in media coverage from their countries of origin, thereby enabling active participation in events taking place there. With hindsight, this objective has been revised on numerous occasions and new areas of interest have evolved. It became apparent that the target group thought it more important to take part in information concerning the culture and society of Sweden.
In an attempt to solve these issues, the libraries have approached them via different methods and ways of working. These have overall been reliant upon the knowledge, experiences and networking gained on previous occasions. In Kortedala they have for a long time been working for and with the people who have other native languages than Swedish and provided various technical computer solutions such as investing in software programmes. Previous projects have produced areas of interfacing activities moulding the libraries into natural meeting places for the inhabitants of Kortedala.
Within the framework of the Bridge of Words, priority is being given to computer training putting the emphasis on word processing and courses in navigating the Internet. So far, 300 have completed the courses, which were held in Swedish, Persian and Arabic. As a final addition to the courses, diplomas were issued and the students were encouraged to suggest links that had been of use.
The Public Library of Malmö has for some time had their own links catalogue, titled New in Sweden. This site has been extended through ‘link searchers’ on fee retainers, who were appointed for their particular skills. Taking the long view, an important aspect will be instructing the staff at all 33 of the county’s municipal libraries in order to create a well-used collection of links.
The library in Falkenberg had previously only offered its users a minimal service, without any knowledge of the target group, in the shape of newspapers, magazines and book depositions. The first part of the project entailed making a thorough inventory of the municipality in a search for prospective co-operative partners. Despite the fact that Falkenberg is a relatively small municipality, it soon became apparent that the number of potential partners was larger than expected, as was the partners’ sphere of very extensive activities.
Contacts have been established with the municipality’s responsible agency, SFI, for teaching immigrants Swedish. Representatives of the library visit the language courses on a regular basis, informing the students of its activities, asking them to fill in a form enquiring about their expectations and needs at the library. The investigation therefore becomes a part of the teaching and knowledge attainment of Sweden as a nation, simultaneously improving library service to its users.
Falkenberg intends to forge ahead by initiating a focus group aimed at immigrants who have resided in Sweden for a number of years. The purpose of which is to find out what needs the library can meet for someone who has only just arrived in Sweden.
Those of us involved in the project have overall been met with positive responses when presenting our ideas. Both the primary and the secondary target groups have taken note of the pragmatic gains to be attained, as well as the positive effect this project might achieve, such as a quality-checked gateway with links to several important web sites and an initial web page which provides a starting point leading to an endless ocean of information.
Translated by Jonathan Pearman