Ready for 2.0? Social technologies in Danish libraries

If the libraries are to keep the coming generation of library patrons, we must all the time tackle the latest media forms. The Danish library service is well under way with web 2.0. And although from time to time we have met with resistance during our intensified dialogue with the users, we have gained a great deal of experience which will help secure the libraries a place in the future.

Internet services such as Google and Amazon have made a radical difference in terms of user access to knowledge and challenge the libraries’ status on a daily basis. Developments over the past years have made the Danish library service realise that we have to alter our way of mediating information.We must listen to the users’ expectations and habits. But how to do this exactly?

Experience shows that there are two primary challenges when libraries work with web 2.0-based services. One has to do with the professional skills necessary for handling and mediating knowledge in the social media. The other challenge is more intellectual and has to do with how to ‘convert’ the libraries to the new forms of communication and ensure a good dialogue with our users.

Examples in Denmark

Over the past few years Danish libraries have enjoyed a number of successful experiments with web 2.0-based services. One example is the music blogs that have emerged. Albertslund Public Library has established a blog where the music librarian blogs about news within the musical world. The users can comment, and the individual blog entries link to relevant materials in the library’s database as well as to BibliotekernesNetmusik. dk, from where the Danish libraries mediate and lend music as download. is another Danish initiative created in partnership between a number of libraries. The page is an alternative to Youtube where you can see Danish short features and documentaries. Like on Youtube it is easy to upload your films, tag, vote and comment on other people’s works. In this way the library acts as facilitator for new talents to find each other and share their films.

Spø ( is a Danish online search facility where children can ask all sorts of questions, which will be answered by librarians from all over the country. SpørgOlivia recently launched a facility where children can answer questions from other children. It is still too early to say what the effect is, but it is being followed with interest.

The three examples are in operation and show that web 2.0 has a lot to contribute when libraries develop services for their users. But two other projects in particular are worth mentioning when speaking about gaining concrete experiences with web 2.0 within the library world: 23 Things and

23 Things

In order to give library staff a structured and targeted introduction to web 2.0 and social technologies three Danish libraries have together developed the competence development project ’23 Things’ after an American model. Via 23 Things the staff is introduced to various web 2.0 services on the Internet. In the course of about 12 weeks the staff has to solve 23 different tasks which all contain social technology and possibility for collaboration, e.g. Flickr and Last.FM. All participants must maintain their own blog along the way, where they take stock and consider the services from a library professional angle and seen in the light of their own day-to-day work.

The people behind 23 Things have aspired to preserve an element of play throughout the course programme, to overcome the ‘technology anxiety’ many members of staff suffer from and to demonstrate that the Internet is legitimate in the libraries’ mediation of information and knowledge. To ensure a reassuring progress for the staff, a number of experts have been selected among them who are able to assist in solving the tasks. The first Danish 23 Things course programme had about 600 participants from three libraries, and since then it has been run at more than 30 other libraries. The entire course is published under a Creative Commons license which makes it possible for others to use and adapt 23 Things for their own library. 23 Things is free of charge which has not doubt encouraged many to acquire it.

The next step for 23 Things is to develop an edition where the libraries can offer web 2.0 learning programmes to the users. This part is under development, and xpectations are high as to the result.

‘Our Library’

Our Library is created in a collaboration between Roskilde, Gentofte and Gladaxe Libraries in order to tackle the phenomenon ‘user driven innovation’. The site is i.a. inspired by the computer firm Dell’s where Dell’s users discuss and make suggestions for the development of Dell’s computers.

Our Library ran as an experiment during winter 2007. The idea was to include the users, their ideas and creativity in developing the library of the future. In concrete terms, the user had to register on the site whereupon he could write his ideas down for the library of the future.When the idea was made public, other users had the opportunity to comment, tag, favour and vote for the idea. In this way the users determined which ideas were the best and the most interesting for the libraries to go on with.

With Our Library we had to examine how much users in fact want to produce, share and develop the ideas that cropped up along the way. Did the users just want to air their ideas – or were they going to seize the opportunity to have their say in arguing in favour of their idea and further develop it in an interplay with other users and librarians? is being evaluated at the moment.We can conclude already now that the users would like to put forward their ideas and develop them. The libraries have received many interesting suggestions which are well worth implementing, and where social technology has been the decisive factor for the further development process.

There has been a marked majority of incremental ideas – i.e. ideas which could easily be implemented and which are not rethinking the basic library concept. The more radical ideas were in a minority and often came from the same – few – participants.


Generally speaking, the Danish library service has welcomed web 2.0 and is working at many different levels to develop services based on the social Internet’s premisses.

It is noticeable that social media break radically with traditional library professional thinking. The remix culture which is the basis for web 2.0 means that one has to open up ones systems to share data and involve other systems. This is something foreign to libraries, used as they are to maintaining strict control with data and systems.

Our reference work has traditionally been limited to the physical collection – and today to the static materials on the net.We have not developed tools to handle content being constantly discussed and changed in the social, digital world.

A third challenge is that we have not been working in such close contact with the users that they exercise direct influence on our data and working processes. The users have been the ones we were helping and not the other way round, but now the volume of usergenerated information is so vast that nobody can ignore it.

Web 2.0 in Denmark in the future

If we are to develop a service for the new generation of library users, we have to be visible in a way where ‘digital natives’ consider the library as a natural and relevant help. Particularly the young are large-scale consumers of social network services on the net – and it is right here we have to meet them if we want to be part of their consciousness.

Experiences over the past few years in Danish libraries have shown that there are far more positive challenges than drawbacks. The all-important issue is therefore to get going.

Thor Dekov Buur
Copenhagen Libraries
Project manager

thdeko AT

Stine Staunsager Larsen
Roskilde Libraries
Project and Strategy Developer

stinesl AT


Photo: Colourbox

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Copenhagen Libraries Project manager
Roskilde Libraries Project and Strategy Developer