Bridging the abyss

The Swedish Library Act of 2004 states how imperative it is for libraries and those in authority to collaborate. The number of students has taken a dramatic increase partly as a consequence of an expanding higher education.
Many of the students turn to their nearest public libraries searching for literature, guidance and a place to study.
Users call for joint solutions among libraries.
This has indirectly led to a closing of gaps between various library categories.
Despite differing assignments and work methods in a number of areas where cooperation offers the prospect of added value both for users and staff, there are currently formal and informal groups networking among county libraries and municipal libraries at every university and place of higher education.
Providing students with information has become a shared priority.

The past ten years have seen universities and colleges of higher education expand and decentralise. The establishing of new universities has increased. Student numbers are steadily growing, adding pressure on libraries. This onrush of students does not only affect places of higher education but also public libraries. Large numbers of students on distance tuition programmes do not have physical access to ‘their’ libraries, and as an alternative the nearest public library becomes the most likely outlet to provide them with course books, Internet services etc. giving students the means by which they can complete their studies. As is often the case, local public libraries provide familiar surroundings where students know the level of service and support the library is able to give.

A questionnaire from 2004 prepared by KULDA Sweden, which is the Swedish acronym for Consortium Procurement of Licensed Databases, and is a three year project for the development of a working model for consortium procurement and distribution of licensed databases to public and school libraries throughout Sweden managed by the Västra Götaland Regional Library, showed that 90 out of the 100 consulted libraries had queries on a daily basis from users about course books and relevant material.Whoever the responsible library authority may be is of no interest to the student, whose main goal is to find what he is looking for and obtain the necessary guidance in achieving this.

Over a long period of time public libraries have held the view that students pursuing studies within the sphere of higher education were the sole responsibility of research libraries, and they would therefore often refer students to these. But this attitude has more or less vanished as the student body is constantly growing and public libraries are just as likely to be used as research libraries. Public libraries have become an important resource in adult education both with regard to structured studies and more flexible forms of education. However, this must not disguise the fact that universities and colleges of higher education still have the formal responsibility for providing students with suitable instruction in dealing with the information flow required to enable them to complete their studies. Their mutual target group of students has induced research libraries and public libraries to interconnect in order to learn about each other’s resources and methods of work. The public libraries will often take the initiative when establishing contacts in order to discuss issues such as course books, interlibrary loans and access to digital information sources.

What forms of joint action are available at present?

Cooperation as projects
To claim that every university and college library has some form of cooperation or contact with regional or local libraries is not a particularly bold statement. The more structured cooperative forms often come in the shape of projects, at times sponsored by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, aimed at supporting adult education. Participants of such projects will most likely be libraries connected to higher education, local libraries and quite often hospital and school libraries within a specific county or region.

Networking is decisive when learning about each other’s assignments and user groups, the organising of mutual courses for further education, educational study visits and visiting other classes as a trainee, introducing Internet services and printed media supplying students with a foundation to their studies. Occasionally joint purchases of media to libraries will be considered, as will joint library cards among public libraries and university libraries. Links to each other’s web sites are standard practice today.

A research group from the Swedish School of Library and Information Science in Borås is currently examining projects financed by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs concerning adult education and has so far published two reports with an analysis and commentary. There will be a final report during 2006.

The gap, or rather abyss, that previously characterised the positioning of public and research libraries is on its way to being bridged through an increase in numbers of students finding their way to different kinds of libraries…

Photo: Nils Lund Pedersen

Municipal cooperation
A number of adults take part in distance tuition and study from home. Relocated courses in higher education and in distance tuition can be found in several municipalities and the local authorities are eager to keep such students. Most local authorities consider the opportunities given by education in general as a growth rate factor for their municipality. As a consequence several learning centres, higher education on-line etc. have been encouraged to and do offer guidance. An increase in networking takes place between public libraries and research libraries when learning centres and public libraries share premises. Personal contacts between management and staff lead to increased knowledge about each other’s assignments, target groups, methods of work and what resources are available. A number of local libraries have set up positions such as studies librarian whose assignment is to function as a link between public libraries, learning centres and university libraries.

Regional cooperation
Cooperation also extends beyond the level of university library – local library, to include regional libraries and one or more research libraries. The form of cooperation may be adapted to circumstances within each region of higher education, such as ‘TvÃ¥ länsbibliotek  samma högskola’ (Two county libraries  same university). Other examples are ‘Nya mÃ¥lgrupper  nya utmaningar’ (New target groups  new challenges), at which competence developmental cooperation takes place between university library, county library and the public library in Örebro, and ‘Nätverk för kunskap’ (Networking for Knowledge) where the county library of Västra Götaland have initiated a network with the region’s university libraries, hospital libraries and public libraries in Göteborg and BorÃ¥s.

The optimal form of cooperation must be that of the two co-libraries in Härnösand and Visby, in which university libraries, county libraries and local libraries share premises as well as a catalogue, media collections and generally collaborate in areas in which they share a mutual interest. An evaluation has yet to be made concerning the colibraries in Härnösand and the Almedal library in Visby. Such an evaluation should be able to answer the question whether the necessary prerequisites exist to enable other libraries to engage in this kind of cooperative ventures among various library categories.

Different municipal solutions to cooperation
The cooperation that exists today varies throughout the country pending political decisions and structural differences. In major municipalities where higher education exists, students will often congregate in the local libraries using them as places for study, wanting guidance, instruction and resources to accommodate their areas of study. This presents an opportunity for the staff at public libraries to refer students to university libraries in the region. The communication between the different kinds of libraries enables a student’s uninterrupted flow of studies. The setting up of networks in these larger municipalities between public libraries and research libraries has begun, but differences in traditions and working methods makes it difficult to find suitable forms of cooperation.

In municipalities with one university or college of higher education there is often an informal network between various library categories knowledgeable of each other’s assignments, target groups and resources and therefore able to refer users to the appropriate place. Regular meetings with representatives from the libraries permit the utilization of each other’s premises, media and collections wherever it is most suitable. There are further examples of municipalities where this approach has proved worthwhile and where even hospital libraries, high school libraries and for instance special libraries at museums, take part.

In municipalities with relocated higher education and with many students on distance tuition programmes, a number of learning centres have been established to meet the needs of students and offer them a sense of community.

Agreements are often drawn up with local libraries in order to provide the students with the necessary information. The cooperative initiatives can vary from learning centres purchasing the services of librarians for an agreed number of hours or a public library functioning as a library aimed at higher education, often aided by such a library in the region. Formal and informal methods of cooperation blend with one another and whether the cooperative measures are formalised or non-existent, students will use their local libraries for information, guidance and instruction.
In such a situation it is important that the students can make contact with their particular university or college using a personal password from the local library. To date this is not always The communication between the different kinds of libraries enables a student’s uninterrupted flow of studies possible due to technical obstacles or firewalls rendering such communication impossible.

Future cooperation requires identification
As student numbers increase and the numbers of adults in various forms of learning reach new heights, a need has emerged for public libraries and university libraries to integrate on a regular basis to meet the needs and requirements of students. The closing of gaps between the varying library categories does not necessarily imply the effacement of a library’s distinctive character. Nevertheless, it is important to identify the interfaces and develop these for future cooperation. Each is and remains a separate institution with different assignments and target groups.

Attention should be given to the following interfaces:

  • Users: students, researchers and teachers are common
  • Printed collections for reference work, direct loans and interlibrary loans are required by the students
  • Access to Internet services in the shape of web sites, catalogues, databases, e-books and gateways are asked for by students
  • Professional instruction aimed at user groups provided by the various categories of libraries albeit in different forms
  • Developed technology catering to self-service when lending, returning books, information searches and reference services remain common ground
  • The virtual interactive 24-hour library is required
  • Query services such as FrÃ¥ga biblioteket (Ask the Library) and Jourhavande bibliotekarie (Librarian On Duty) are cooperative initiatives shared by the various library categories
  • Mutual competence development and further education of staff within current areas
  • Method development.

Whilst public libraries have all citizens ranging from pre-school children to elderly people as their target group, research libraries will mainly have students, teachers and researchers as their users adding the assignment to provide for the level of information competence required of students to enable them to get through their studies.

Public and university libraries need not have the same printed or digital resources as assignments and users groups differ. The printed and digital resources reflect each institution’s aim and direction and access to electronic periodicals and databases are more comprehensive than at most public libraries. Municipal libraries differ from libraries run by the state because the Library Act complements whoever is politically in charge. Aside from the assignment to supply information, which is common for all categories of libraries, the public libraries also have a cultural assignment and in many of Sweden’s municipalities the library is the only cultural institution.

The Library Act
The practical necessity to cooperate and the will to participate in each party’s method of work and experiences have led to a narrowing of what was previously a wide and deep chasm dividing public libraries and research libraries.

In December the Parliament approved an amendment made to the Library Act passed in 1996, in which libraries and those in charge of the public sphere of libraries are urged to cooperate. This expansion of the Act increases the prerequisites required for a structured future cooperation among public and research libraries and hastens the already initiated cooperation to take further developmental measures. The Act also states that municipalities and county councils are obliged to draw up plans regarding library assignments. In the politically stipulated municipal plans that have so far been presented, cooperation between various libraries active within the same municipality is an important issue and will no doubt lead to research-, public-, school-, hospital- and special libraries increasing their collaborative measures.

Future cooperation
Future cooperation needs to be established on experiences derived from projects related to the area of adult education and from the common queries identified as suitable cooperative areas. The speed at which technology develops facilitates the connection between catalogues, search services, gateways and web sites.Work on a national gateway has been initiated and involves, at present, about 40 research libraries. Discussions are currently taking place that this gateway may even facilitate public libraries by connecting them with the gateway that is used for interlibrary loans and information searches at public libraries used in six southerly counties. The aim must be to supply the general public with access to such a gateway, though still requiring passwords for licensed services.

Query services
There is already a systems bridge connecting the electronic reference service such as FrÃ¥ga biblioteket (Ask the Library), which is the public library sector’s service to the general public, giving them the opportunity to ask questions via e-mail and to chat with a librarian and Jourhavande bibliotekarie (Librarian On Duty), which is the equivalent service for students and employees at universities and colleges of higher education. This service is open for assisting searches and guidance beyond the library’s usual opening hours. The mutual software programme facilitates, in the long run, services gaining closer proximity to one another.

Other areas in which cooperative measures between the library categories are generally lacking are within education and further education. Pedagogy and law are not part of the basic studies programme and are suitable components for future joint further educational measures. In a programme of further education a joint exchange can take place in which the public library sector gains knowledge about research libraries’ expert knowledge in specific subjects by presenting databases, Open Access and other freely available resources. And university libraries can take part in the knowledge found in public libraries, such as fiction and how this can be applied to research. Global studies and analysis is another area in which the different library categories have mutual interests in the growth rate and development in their own municipality and county.

The gap, or rather abyss, that previously characterised the positioning of public and research libraries is on its way to being bridged through an increase in numbers of students finding their way to different kinds of libraries for literature, counselling, Internet services and a space to study in. More libraries are becoming involved as mutually shared users among the libraries require cooperative solutions. Expanded cooperation will offer beneficent effects, not only for students of all kinds, but also for increasing competence among the staff as well as their sense of well-being. If such a cooperation also leads to the development and strengthening of the libraries’ role it will certainly benefit society as a whole.

Translated by Jonathan Pearman
Portrait: Kerstin Andersson