Ten Commandments for the future children library

A new report gives recommendations and suggestions for the libraries’ services to children in Denmark. The goal is that the libraries can match children’s actual everyday lives, media interest and various other cultural needs with focus on the position of play, social inclusion, cultural formation and good reading skills. A new report gives recommendations and suggestions for the libraries’ services to children in Denmark. The goal is that the libraries can match children’s actual everyday lives, media interest and various other cultural needs with focus on the position of play, social inclusion, cultural formation and good reading skills.

Children have acquired new media habits and more leisure arenas, and this means that the use of libraries is decreasing. The number of children using the public library at least once a month has fallen from 51% in 1998 to 39% in 2004.

This fact made the Danish minister for culture, appointed a committee to consider future library services to children. The committee made an analysis and wrote a report with ten specific recommendations – and the conclusion iscl ear: The library is still one of the most important cultural resources for children in the local communities. Butwe need radical changes if we want to make sure that the library maintains its status as a central educational institution for children. Important focus areas in this change are the staff ’s ability to communicate with children and to support their cultural development and competences as well as their play culture.

Library services in the future must provide broad media experiences across materials and genres. Mediation should be adapted to the children’s need for participation, and they must be given exciting physical frames within which to expand. New partnerships with i.a. school libraries and more outreach activities are also areas open to change and innovation.

Challenges and new possibilities

The library can no longer base it legitimacy solely on giving children physical access to sought-after materials as was the case in the industrial society. Today the library is not a concept with one clear function: The library is both a physical building in the urban space/at school and a cultural institution in society. The libraries therefore have to find a new legitimacy and a more definite profile in relation to children.

In order to support children in areas relevant to both their everyday lives and their future, the libraries must combine the library act’s three overall objectives about enlightenment, experience and education.

Enlightenment is not just giving individual access to information via search engines, portals etc. Enlightenment is also application with insight. The library’s task is therefore to contribute to developing children’s ability to transform information into relevant insight. Experience is not just mediating fiction in book form and creating frames for cultural events. Experience includes all cultural expressions – visual, auditive and multi-medial. The library’s task is therefore to contribute to developing children’s quality awareness in relation to all kinds of expressions and to encourage their interest in the curious, surprising and provoking content in all kinds of materials.

Education is not just the ‘measurable’ that takes place in the formal classroom. Education also happens in semiformal rooms such as the library, and in informal rooms where learning is not the prime objective, when children e.g. learn the rules of role play in order to join the game. It is the library’s task to help create frames where children in the company of other children and adults can ‘cultivate’ themselves and develop competences. The library cannot and should not be a school. But the library can become a bridge builder between informal learning processes, individual networks and formalised educational institutions like school.

The report has been presented on a number of road shows different places in Denmark, and the reaction from the librarians are very positive, so far: They see the report as a tool to make strategic development of their service and they are very open to solutions based on nationwide concepts which gives some clear advantages and possibilities to ‘pump up the volume’.

The National Library Agency is now working to support the implement of the recommendations and suggestions in the report. Development of new competences is first priority and there will be offered courses on diploma level to the stuff in the library. Beside that, a number of other initiatives will be taken by the Agency, launching a national granted programme concerning the library and social inclusion, e.g.

The report is available in printed and in digital form. Please send an email to post AT to order one, or download it at: fremtidens/index.htm. A summery of the report is available at our homepage

The committee’s main recommendations are set out as Ten Commandments:

1. New competences create new activities in the library

A new media landscape, new cultural habits and different demands and expectations require the development of new competences in the library. Library staff must be more visible on the net, facilitate activities in the library and organise meetings and dialogue with users where they actually are.

2. The library space must create surprise and inspiration

We need new concepts for the design of the physical library space. The library must be attractive for children to be, learn and play in.

3. The libraries develop their net services

The libraries create new frames and facilities i.a. by exploiting social technologies and using staff as hosts and resources in virtual networks for children.

4. Children play – in the library

The library can turn play and play culture into a central area of activity. The library can create space for play, make toys and games available and advise on games and toys.

5. The library gives children reading experiences and reading skills

The library continues the work on encouraging children’s zest for reading, reading experiences and reading skills.

6. Create assets in new forms of cooperation between school library and public library

Schools and libraries can work more closely together and coordinate services to children. Exploit the various competences of the two library types by doing things together.

7. The library creates community feeling – also for those outside

The library adapts its services to children with special needs: Handicapped, socially vulnerable and children with ethnic background other than Danish.

8. The library supports learning and cultural development

The library supports formal and informal learning that enables children to grow and develop competences in coding, creating and exchanging text, sounds and images.

9. The library must reach out to children

The library reaches out to children and offer services where children actually move around: Kindergartens, day-care centres, schools and associations.

10. The library’s management focuses on children

The libraries’ management prioritizes staff, money and time – for continuously rethinking, innovating and locally adapting the library’s services to children.

Instead of discussing whether we should focus on children’s cultural development or their information needs, on books or computer games, on places ‘to be’ or places ‘to learn’, we need a new foundation for development. A vital resource in the knowledge society is people’s ability to create, interpret and exchange all forms of content in physical and digital media. Consequently, a new ‘cultural formation’ concept can form the basis for progressive library service. The concept includes both information, experience and communication, both intellectual and emotional learning components and ‘old’ as well as ‘new’ media.

Anna Enemark
Consultant on children and culture
Danish Agency for Libraries and Media

aeb AT

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

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