Cooperation between public and school libraries. A Norwegian view

… not all teachers look upon the school library
as a natural player in the teaching process …

The importance of learning is a constantly recurring theme in Norway as in many other countries. According to Oslo s new library manifesto, pupils must “learn how to learn” and should have the benefit of an optimal learning environment. A basic requirement towards that end is close cooperation between schools and libraries. Surely nothing could be easier. However, do the facts bear this out? The reality of the situation is that public libraries and school libraries belong to two separate sectors with different traditions and methods, a fact also underlined by Anne Kari Holm from the Deichman Central Library in Oslo and Ine Marit Torsvik Bertelsen from the Rogaland County Library in Stavanger.

Cooperation offers the possibility of arriving at mutual solutions but can also give rise to frustration. A concrete illustration of the fact that school libraries and public libraries belong to two different sectors can be found in Norwegian legislation. School libraries are governed by the Education Act of 1998, which stipulates that pupils shall have access to libraries, the preface containing the following requirement.

“Each school shall have its own library, except in cases where library access is guaranteed through cooperation with other libraries. Any library not actually on the school premises shall be open to pupils during school hours so that it may be actively incorporated into the school teaching programme. The library shall be specifically organised to meet school requirements.”

Thus we see that the Act gives pupils both in primary and secondary schools the right of access to a school library during teaching hours, but does not make it obligatory for the library to be situated on the school premises.

General library legislation has existed since 1935 and the Public Library Act of 1985 stipulates as follows:

“There shall be organised cooperation between public libraries and school libraries in the municipality.”

And furthermore:

“There shall be organised cooperation between the county library and the school leadership in the county.”

It can be seen that there is a difference in emphasis here. The Public Library Act voices a clear mandate for cooperation between school libraries and public libraries, but this is not so firmly expressed in the Education Act. Whereas public library services must be made available to each and every citizen, school libraries offer their services only as an active part of school teaching programmes. The picture is further complicated by the fact that not all teachers look upon the school library as a natural player in the teaching process, an attitude which may be partly due to little attention having been paid to the subject of school libraries during their teacher training. These factors have led to some frustration within the public library sector and have been a hindrance to effective cooperation in the most appropriate areas, such as media supply, purchase of library services and working together on projects.

The contributions from Stavanger and Oslo are good examples of deliberate, long-term attention to achieving closer cooperation. The article from the Rogaland County Library illustrates how an active overall regional library policy can help to develop cooperation between school libraries and public libraries, while at the same time strengthening the role of school libraries within the school system itself. The Rogaland initiative has concentrated on the promotion of literature and the improvement of reading skills among children and young people. In cooperation with the education authorities the Deichman Central Library in Oslo has achieved positive results with a 5-year school library project which came to an end in 2004. Deichman has had an official programme of cooperation with primary schools in the capital since shortly after the first World War. The library has its own special department to deal with the needs of Oslo teachers and school librarians, also offering advice and arranging courses. Similar types of service are to be found at the Stavanger Library with its own school library centre and at the main library in Drammen where they run a special pedagogic department.

A particular type of cooperation becoming more and more common among municipalities is the establishing of socalled combination libraries, where public and school libraries are situated in the same building. Statistics show that about one third of all public libraries throughout the country operate in this way and of these some 94% combine public and primary school libraries.

This solution is frequently found in the smaller municipalities, since it provides a basis for the development of branch libraries. A further advantage is that the combination of a school library with a public library makes it possible to operate as a learning centre for adult education and for decentralised studies at college level. A survey conducted some years ago among the country s county libraries and a selection of public libraries showed that success depends greatly upon the project being politically motivated and based upon discussions in the local political milieu. It is also very important for an agreement to be drawn up between school and library clearly stating the division of responsibility.

The school concerned should also preferably be geographically centrally situated in the local community. Finally and in order to serve the various user groups satisfactorily, it is vital to analyse their different needs with regard to media and services.

Bertelsen points out that the development of school libraries in Norway is based mainly on shared experience and only to a very small degree upon research and systematic planning. Here lies a genuine problem the education and library sectors in Norway must work together to solve.

Advisor The National Library of Norway