Challenging the libraries! The Demotek

Three years ago the basic idea of the Demotek was plain and simple: to create opportunities for young people to realise and submit their own cultural products. Giving these products the necessary co- verage was not the easiest of tasks, but something happened when libraries were taken on as partners. Three years ago the basic idea of the Demotek was plain and simple: to create opportunities for young people to realise and submit their own cultural products. Giving these products the necessary co- verage was not the easiest of tasks, but something happened when libraries were taken on as partners.

The reason for such a collaborative venture became clear when one of the project delegates showed concern about the cutbacks of media acquisitions facing libraries, so “why not let people submit their own work”? Since then they have not looked back.

From modest beginnings as a minor project with five Demoteks, initiated by Reaktor Sydost, a resource centre for filmmaking and young communication in the Swedish counties of Kronoberg, Kalmar and Blekinge, there are today over sixty Demoteks across the country, from Ystad in the south to Luleå in the north.

The Demotek framework is that of a delivery and lending station of personal creations. But most Demoteks arrange gigs, workshops, exhibitions and screenings. It is about libraries being brave enough to think in new ways and to show courage in receiving a new generation who might have discarded the library in favour of something else.

The perfect library

What characterises the libraries that are part of the Demotek project is their resourcefulness and interest in trying out new youth activities. Most members of the Demotek network want to participate in attracting people to use library resources in more fulfilling ways and making them visible. Unfortunately, this appears to be nothing but wishful thinking.

The project is occasionally prone to problems despite there being so many extremely clever Demoteks who really try to realise the dream, but there are also libraries that are exceedingly sluggish. This might be due to numerous factors, such as lacking in resources (hardly a surprise to most of us), a sense of vulnerability when facing a ‘difficult group of young people’;management might not be hip enough to what is happening or they make unrealistic demands. It goes without saying that this will lessen a sense of willingness and motivational force. This is to be expected.

However, those of us in the project keep insisting on what we have said so many times before: It is not about money. Willpower and motivational force are the crucial ingredients, the ability to break new ground. To us, this is the most important of issues facing future library leadership.

Reduce the generation gap

Another apparent problem facing the Demoteks is the generational gap – there is a lack of understanding about each other’s everyday reality and an inability to meet on common ground. Technical hindrances are also a common occurrence.

The project has invited young people to the library offering them an opportunity to teach the library staff about their ‘digital everyday reality’. This has been much appreciated and not just on a technical level but as an attempt to reduce the gap between generations. A bonding process appears, mutual understanding and the ability to sit down together and enjoy each other’s company in laughter and learning.

There are still adults who view young people’s computer habits as a waste of time. Headgear and skateboards in a library are unimaginable. No mobiles are allowed and silence shall reign supreme! Or, is it only young people who think that it must be quiet and that the wearing of headgear is off limits?

What young people can do for libraries?

Prejudice and ignorance are everywhere. To be active and elevate these issues whereby they are discussed is of great importance. Not only so that activities at the Demoteks can function smoothly but to reach a better understanding of each other and install a sense of faith. A positive attitude will open the library doors toward discovery for many. It is important to remember that it is not only about what libraries can do for young people, but what young people can do for libraries.

Let the entrepreneurial spirit into the library!

It is hardly a common-day occurrence when a group of youngsters suggest having fun at the library. This is where the Demotek has an important role to play. Once the local Demotek has arranged a gig or a workshop on, for instance, cover designs, it becomes more likely that they will come to think in such terms. Most of the time the younger generation has no idea whatsoever as to what a library can offer, both with regard to content and premises. This is where we all have a joint responsibility.

Our opinion is that libraries have very little idea as to how they should market themselves. Especially as to how they should reach out to younger people. Occasionally we hear about an enterprising library arranging courses for its staff in marketing. Brilliant! More of the entrepreneurial spirit in the library!

Coming to terms with young people

Another important question in this context is how to create something based on coming to terms with young people. Is the Demotek something young people can relate to? Had it not been better with a website along the lines of U-tube or Myspace? Well, maybe, but there are so many of them. Sometimes things need to be done which have not been thought of before. To open doors that no one knew of.

Would it not be cool if adults found it as natural as young people to connect to Lunarstorm or the above-mentioned music and video sites? We would be more than happy to encourage them. The internet is a part of the public space, but there are other factors involved. Personal meetings and conversations are still important to us even though they may take place in digital form.

The Demotek is also a physical entity (though the online catalogue lends it a digital aspect as well) because it needs to be. And all those gigs, workshops, exhibitions and everything submitted by young people since the beginning speak volumes about the need of the physical aspect despite the digital age we live in. One can view it as the digital coming out of the closet and more are given an opportunity to discover it. Young people are fully aware of this, the need to be seen and heard in many different media in order to succeed.

Even if far from everyone nurtures dreams of superstardom there is nevertheless a strong sense of wanting to be recognised. “See me, hear me, and listen to what I have to say”! And this I believe to be something everyone can identify with. It is about tales, stories, observations and reflections from everyday life. How else can we understand each other if we do not use these to communicate?

Ida Qvarnström
Demotek project leader
ida AT Demoteket.se

Translation: Jonathan Pearman

Demotek project leader