Children’s right to excellence in library service

Libraries for children and young people have long been a high priority area for Swedish municipal politicians. Municipalities have had years of experience in successfully developing and maintaining library services for children and young people. Libraries for children and young people have long been a high priority area for Swedish municipal politicians. Municipalities have had years of experience in successfully developing and maintaining library services for children and young people.

Effective models for cooperation between public libraries, schools, child care centres and youth clubs have been developed, but the very success of these models may have engendered a certain complacency – why be innovative when proven methods work so well? Scandinavian public libraries, especially those for children and young people, have long been objects of admiration and served as examples for library development in other countries. There is, however, always the risk of well-established activities stagnating. Everyday routines might preclude analysis or reflection, and the innovative might become merely monotonous. This is why it is so exciting to be able, in the pages of Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly, to follow the inspiring projects and ideas that continue to revitalize Scandinavian libraries.

Dialogue, interaction and cooperation have become more and more important in the development of library strategies, and nowhere is this more evident than in children’s libraries. Today, more than ever, the special needs of children and young people are taken into consideration, making it easier for them to influence library service content.

Library service for children and young people is just as important as service to adults. Public libraries have a special responsibility to create and reinforce reading habits, and to be a resource in searching for and evaluating information. Through the diversity of library collections and activities children can discover for themselves the joy of reading and the excitement of exploring knowledge. In this way libraries contribute to strengthening children’s and young people’s personal growth and their development into active members of society.

Library service for children and young people can’t be discussed without mentioning the cooperation that exists between public and school libraries, the latter being an essential element of public library service.

The Swedish Library Act, which came into force in 1997, makes it clear that municipalities are responsible for public and school libraries: “Public and school libraries shall afford special attention to children and young persons by offering books, information technology and other media adapted to their needs in order to promote language development and stimulate reading.” The act emphasizes the mutual responsibility that public and school libraries have by creating circumstances where all children have the opportunity to read for pleasure and to independently use information they have accessed.

Successful collaboration between public and school libraries is only possible if mutual responsibility is taken by each sector. There have been suggestions that schools sometimes place unreasonable demands on local public libraries by not shouldering their share of the responsibility, i.e. neglecting to establish adequately staffed school libraries.

The Swedish National Agency for Education has stated that many school libraries are not freely accessible due to little or no library staff. The Agency also maintains that international research has shown there to be a relation between reading ability and access to school libraries.

The municipalities are the local authority responsible for both public and school library budgets, and in accordance with an addendum to the Library Act in 2005, are obliged to formulate library plans – operational proposals for library service in the municipality. The library plan should be a strategic analysis of overall library requirements in relation to learning, social, health and industrial sectors in the municipality. The plans should also propose measures suggesting how these requirements can be met by, among other things, recommending roles and responsibilities and defining mutual and specific performance objectives. In June 2008 less than half of all Swedish municipalities had ratified library

Mats Hansson
Desk officer
Swedish Arts Council

mats.hansson AT kulturradet.se

Translated by Greg Church

Administrative officer Swedish Arts Council