Editorial: Drama? Good service? How do we get people to use the library?

The library user is our main focal point for this issue of SPLQ, but this is the case every day for those of us who work in libraries. It is important to continue to ask questions about which services are in demand and how to develop them as best we can to reflect the interests of our users and to fulfil the duty libraries have to society. It is particularly important to pose these questions in a digital age where there are more people surfing the internet than coming to the libraries: Not to mention the fact that we must assess where and how the library should be represented on the internet.

We know that throughout Scandinavia, library use is on the increase, but the picture of which services are used or are in demand changes. It is interesting to observe how new library buildings are increasingly seen as an important priority for municipalities, both as a place to acquire knowledge and experience, and as an arena for culture in its broadest sense. The libraries provide a social meeting place comprising many facets and opportunities, while at the same time we are relatively advanced in terms of multimedia facilities and digital competence. Libraries are increasingly being featured as a place where differences can be eroded, for example differences between groups within the population and between those who have digital competence and those who do not. Statistics point to this.We can also see, from statistics and observation, a change in user behaviour in all  the Nordic countries. This influences developments within library services.

More and more people visit the library for other reasons than borrowing books. In fact, this is not an unexpected development given that libraries have long provided other services than simply book loans and, just as in other areas, it is a case of supply and demand. In Norway visitor numbers and loans have been stable in the public library sector, despite a steady decline in the media budget over the last 15 years. Borrowing figures have increased slightly in recent years, especially for fiction. At present, fiction accounts for 70% of loans as opposed to 65% in 2000. There may be many reasons for this. Is there perhaps a particular interest in fiction in Norway? Is it because of good quality publications, good marketing or our special state purchasing system? Is non-fiction easily available elsewhere? Does it have to do with changing methods of teaching and learning in schools? Is non-fiction to a greater extent provided on digital platforms for learning? Loans of music are on the decline. There is reason to believe this can be attributed to Spotify and similar applications on the market, which are cheap and easy to acquire. It is interesting to see that loans for film/ video are on the increase. It will be exciting to follow this trend in the future; in total, loans of other media than books account for 31% of loans in Norway, as opposed to 22% in 2000.

Statistics give us an immediate picture of the situation, but first and foremost a basis to analyse and find explanations for the developments behind the figures. We need surveys of user behaviour in order to elaborate on and supplement the statistics. A Nordic project is under way to find out what concrete effects libraries have on a population in relation to life situation, roles and problem areas, in Finland, Norway and Sweden respectively. We are impatient to see the result of this investigation, but that will have to wait until a later issue of SPLQ.

In the meantime, this issue highlights various approaches to the question of how to motivate people to come to the library. We know that those between the ages of 15 and 45 are the dominant user groups. We know that most non- Norwegian speakers say they use the library to meet other people. We know that children use the library most and men least. But which services do the various groups use when they come to the library? How do we welcome them? What barriers do people encounter? How do we achieve user influence? These are some of the questions we take up in this issue of SPLQ, which ranges in subject from studies of the way children are received in the library and how it affects their perception of libraries to how drama in the library motivates men to become library users.

Hurray for more men and more drama in libraries! Happy reading.

Vigdis Moe Skarstein
National Librarian, National Library of Norway
Vigdis.skarstein AT nb.no
Translated by Akasie språktjenester AS

National librarian