Viewpoint: The Nordic Library

Given my personal background with Swedish ‘father tongue’ and Danish mothertongue it may well be that my need for literaturein Swedish is abnormally great. Butif we are serious about the Nordic cooperation, then it also has to be a question ofcreating library solutions across the Nordicborders.

With the Danish (library. dk) solution I can straightaway have books from the library in Skagen delivered to my library in Copenhagen. But the catalogues do not cross borders, which means I cannot get books from neighbouring Malmö. Because the Nordic countries are not connected.

The question is whether the Nordic libraries are connected. Yes, I am sure Nordic library directors talk to each other and exchange experiences. But is it the same kind of library we have – or want to have?

When I visit libraries in other Nordic countries, they do look like each other: books, counters, computers, friendly and helpful members of staff.With a sensible id one is always allowed to borrow a bit from the local library flora. And always free of charge. Fantastic!

But what I am seeing, is in fact only the old, analogue library. So I made up my mind to read something about the library of the future and found a suitable selection of national descriptions of existing library strategies.What strikes one first of all is that Sweden – which we in Denmark have always thought of as being centrally governed – has no national library strategy at all.

The Swedish cultural strategy, Time for Culture, deals with the need for an overall library policy and the need for better interaction between the national and the local libraries. But the national strategy does not address the question of which tasks the libraries should take on. Although I most certainly believe that library development must rest on a local foundation, I understand why the Swedish Library Association time and again has been calling for a national library policy.

Unlike Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway all have sound, comprehensive descriptions of library strategies.

Generally the three countries’ strategies emphasize two tracks: the digital and the community. The library strategists do not only perceive the libraries as passive recipients of new digital possibilities, but see the libraries as entrepreneurs and prompters for creating new services and opportunities for the public by way of the digital possibilities. This is most clearly formulated in the Finnish strategy which in every context juxtaposes the analogue with the virtual library. This partly as opposed to the Danish strategy, which still emphasizes “the traditional core services”; the kind of material, physical or digital, continues to play an important role in the Danish debate. With the proposal about Denmark’s Digital Library as a compre- hensive, common library service, the Danish strategy seems to be a bit more action oriented.

At the same time as the libraries want to provide the public with more digital services that ultimately can be obtained from home, the three library strategies underline the importance of the physical library as “a place for meeting and arrangements … with space and services for studies and work … possibility for quietude and concentration … prevent loneliness and encourage community” (Finland).

The Norwegian strategy extends the library concept to include “the social library”, where the social functions are emphasized, based on the wish for a public meeting place for everyone. And the Danish strategy describes “the open library”, which has to do with providing better access, developing the library space as such and establishing more activities.

The Finnish and Nordic strategies are more distinctly activist in their stated objectives than the Danish one. The libraries must “guarantee the citizens equality in terms of knowledge” and contribute to “community, participation and cultural diversity” as well as “support the citizens’ cultural education, national identity, cultural diversity and internationalism” (Finland), “create understanding and respect for cultural diversity, whether this is due to ethnic, religious, social or geographical preconditions” and “the library’s social role is to be found at the point of intersection between cultural policy, educational policy and a policy for strengthening democracy (Norway).

The Norwegian and the Danish strategies stress “learning and personal development” as objectives for library activities. The Danish strategy in particular emphasizes learning and inspiration as vital development objectives, where the libraries’ experience from ITintroductions and integration initiatives can be carried on and developed significantly.

The Norwegian and the Danish strategies deal with the libraries’ interaction with other partners in local cultural life. In Norway: The municipalities should think in terms of combining activities and tasks within the whole cultural spectrum. In Denmark: The libraries should enter actively into partnerships, locally as well as internationally.

It is also rather striking that all three countries’ strategies to a great extent stress the necessity of having welleducated and competent library staff – and indicate possibilities for further educational initiatives. I have many excellent reasons for looking forward to the Nordic libraries of the future. But I have still not been able to work out how to get books from Malmö to Copenhagen.

Tom Ahlberg
Editor of cultural political newsletter Søndag Aften (Sunday Evening) Director of the Publishing Firm Underskoven and former Mayor of Education and Culture in City of Copenhagen Translated by Vibeke Cranfield


Tom Ahlberg

Tom Ahlberg

Editor of cultural political newsletter
Søndag Aften (Sunday Evening)
Director of the Publishing Firm Underskoven
and former Mayor of Education and Culture
in City of Copenhagen

Editor of cultural political newsletter Søndag Aften (Sunday Evening) Director of the Publishing Firm Underskoven and former Mayor of Education and Culture in City of Copenhagen