Civic service and libraries A partnership with perspectives

At the turn of the century a new municipal structure was introduced in the municipality of Aarhus. One innovation is an administration for civic service and libraries. The department is responsible for creating one joint entry to the public sector by using as point of reference the many common core services that link the new concept ‘civic service’ with the well-established libraries.

Synergies, core services and individual characteristics

Looking at civic service and libraries individually, it is easy to find differences in the ways of perceiving both citizens and public administration. There are different types of assignments, and one can easily find unique core services which might defy – or at least complicate – joint ventures.

However, we have chosen another point of reference, namely to look at what the two have in common: Fig. 1.

When talking in terms of common core services, focus is thus on mediation of the public sector mainly through the possibilities offered by the Internet (digital self-service solutions, public homepages etc.).

It therefore very quickly became clear that a common future had to be built on further exploration of the intersection of the figure. This also meant that from the start we were able to live with the realisation that there are many things – and even important things – outside the intersection.

Civic service as well as libraries must preserve and strengthen their respective identities and at the same time build a common identity within a number of interesting areas.

Civic service in libraries without civic service department

Apart from a number of culturemerging events, focus has been on establishing common initiatives directed at the citizens and based on common core services. In this connection we should mention the project ‘BoB uden B’ (civic service in libraries without civic service department).

Fig. 1 Common and unik core in Civic Service and Libraries

This project is based on common denominators seen from another angle: the local. There are 14 medium-sized and small local libraries in Aarhus, and it was decided last May that a pilot project in two of these is to gather experiences by letting library staff manage civic service offers.

The staff of the two libraries, Lystrup and Harlev, is to attend a brief competence course, where they will be instructed in civic service-relevant Internet resources as well as being introduced to specific civic service problematics, for example differences in legislation and guidance, specific service situations etc.

The aim is for library staff to handle civic services and base them on those solutions that are already available to the citizens, e.g. the municipality’s homepage or (soon citizen. dk). In fact library members of staff are to act like ‘super citizens’, i.e. citizens’ super users in relation to public information and digital selfservice. This is the way to encourage a strong, decentralized civic service, which – provided the project gets a positive evaluation – can be extended to all local libraries in the municipality of Aarhus.

And here we have arrived at the core of the matter and its main objective: the citizen. Seen from a citizen’s perspective BoB’s ‘collective mass’ can be condensed to Common and unique core services in civic service and libraries – From a civic perspective – Fig. 2

By incorporating civic service the libraries become the framework for a number of offers and services which together give the citizen as a social individual the chance to have the broadest possible entry to offers from the public sector – all in one place – that is.

Fig. 2 Common and unic core service and Libraries – from a civic perspective

In this connection the local library is a relevant bid for a geographical anchorage to support the citizen in the exploitation of his possibilities in a network- based society. And as such local libraries (also) become ‘social competence houses’, a made-up expression, which is possibly a bit difficult to handle, but which on the other hand encompasses the entire philosophy behind BoB: To give the citizens the best possible conditions for participating and enjoying everything the public scene has to offer.

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Head of Developmentand Citizens' Support Center, Civic Services, Aarhus Municipal.