Archives, libraries and museums share common ground in that we exist for our users. This means that if we are to judge the value of our institutions, it is not enough to consider only ourselves and the sources and media in our care. We must also take into account our role and significance in the society around us.
If we place the user at the centre of our activities, we face the formidable challenge of making our sources of knowledge and experience available across our traditional sector borders. It is of no importance to the user whether these sources are administered by an archive, a library or a museum, provided they are arranged and presented in a manner to satisfy the needs of the various user groups.
The digitisation of source material and the use of electronic media provide new opportunities but also create a greater need for the development of expertise and skills among staff. The range of tasks we could tackle is restricted only by our imagination, but all the sectors involved have limited financial resources. On this basis the challenge lies in seeking a form of co-operation which will ensure better use of our collective resources. By working more closely together, archives, libraries and museums may well discover that there is a great deal to be learned from each other.
Co-operation between archives, libraries and museums is a current theme in many European countries. A body called Re:source has been created in England and in Norway we have recently established the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority (ABMutvikling). In the other Nordic countries no similar steps have been taken at national level, but many interesting projects have been carried out and cross-sector co-operation exists at both regional and local levels.
Public libraries represent one of the few arenas freely available to everyone. A library should not only be a centre for the borrowing of books and other media but also a place to go, a place to meet others, to listen to music, to see exhibitions, to relax and to find new ideas and inspiration. A library is a sanctuary for children and young people and also one of the few places where immigrants and the local population can meet. If I could start today with a clean sheet in some municipality or other, high on my list of priorities would be a programme to bring archives, libraries, museums and other cultural institutions together under the same roof, thereby creating an exciting meeting place and closer contact with the general public. Unfortunately one rarely gets the chance to start with a clean sheet and the possibility of coming together under one roof may be far removed from reality. Nevertheless, there is always room for closer co-operation and improved co-ordination, particularly in an age characterised by the development of electronic media.
Translated by Eric Deverill