New Danish report – a useful catalyst for the municipalities

A sizable tome has landed on my table. An introduction to a new national strategy. Public Libraries in the Knowledge Society, has been a long time coming, and great things are expected from it – do I then feel that as a library director in a medium sized provincial municipality, I shall be able to gain anything useful from it?

After having read it, I have to admit: Yes, most definitely so. It is a good report. It is well-written – not least in the very pertinent and precise analysis of the society that the libraries are a part of, and the framework conditions according to which we have to run a library. It is basically familiar material, but it is refreshing to have it presented in a form that condenses the complex set of challenges so that it also addresses people other than the professionals.

The report offers some obvious traces. Traces associated with the local, physical library and the more classic library services. Traces that have to do with inspiration and learning, and not least traces that indicate a solution to the challenge no library can solve by itself. Namely the challenges in connection with the digital library. Denmark’s Digital Library, as it has been christened already, is in itself a concept with many facets. It is about the development of infrastructure, common mediation, common entries, but it is not least about the greatest challenge of all: To organise and start negotiations about licenses, e-books and other digital products. There is no time to be lost if the libraries want to play any kind of role here and have digital goods on their shelves. A central effort is required – everybody agrees on that – but the struggle about what the concept truly encompasses, and also who should be wearing the ‘yellow jersey’ started already before the ink in the report had dried. Not an easy task to centralise in a country, where the public libraries are owned and run by the municipalities.

One general initial criticism of the report has already been voiced: “Not visionary enough, only a description of status quo”. My reaction is, however, that the level chosen for the paths forward is exactly what makes it workable in the municipalities. This is where the battle is going to be fought, and where the visions are to take flight, be implemented and turn into reality. If the content of the report is to make any headway out there in the munici- palities, then the story about the modern library must be told to the local politicians.

The report covers a wide area, but one aspect that I miss in the report is some visions about the library in new constellations. Admittedly, there is a large section devoted to partnerships, but here they are imagined as partner- ships built on the kind of organisation we know right now. In future I think we are going to see fundamentally different types of organisation, where the library is an integrated part. Already now we see intimations of it with integration of library and citizen service, library and cinema, library and swimming baths, library and tourist information, but from now on I believe we are going to see completely new civic centres where the framework is quite different in relation to local requirements. A necessity and a possibility for positioning the library in the local knowledge-, cultural- and service picture.

How then can the report be actively applied in the municipalities? Is its destiny to be yet another volume in the collection in the library director’s office? Hopefully not, because this is a fine opportunity to get the debate about the modern library placed on the local-political agenda. The present report makes me optimistic, and I believe that most library directors – tucking the report under their arms – will be able some time during the autumn to engage the politicians in a more long-term discussion about the direction in which the library ought to move. Internally in the libraries the report can be used actively to mirror your own library in the ‘beacons’ described. To get all members of staff involved in the discussion about: How to prioritise differently? Have we got the necessary competences, where should we intensify our efforts and what should we stop doing?

So, as library director I welcome a report which no doubt will have an impact on the agenda over the next three years, and which I am convinced will accelerate central as well as local initiatives.

Jytte Bræmer
Library director
Library of Fredericia

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Library director Library of Fredericia