For the library it is essential to stay in close touch with the local community and keep abreast of developments
For most people a summerhouse means pleasure, in Sölvesborg the word summer- house is associated with the pleasure of learning.
Red as Bordeaux wine, octagonal, with large windows facing the old-fashioned garden, the annex added to the library was soon baptised The Summerhouse. Thanks to this extension, inaugurated in September 2003, the public library became Sölvesborg’s centre for further education, a next-door university.
In only a few weeks, more than a hundred students were registered, most of them students at university level, but also those attending courses from other adult-learning institutions. Now, three years later the Library Learning Centre is an established and a successful ‘business’, with 170 students presently registered.
Sölvesborg is a small municipality with 16,000 inhabitants. Unemployment numbers are above the national norm and the average level of educational attainment is low. Local trade and business consist of small business with few opportunities for the investment of time and money in competence development. Politicians and officials from the municipality, the regional university and the local society of trade and industry decided to do something about the situation and after discussions a cooperative named Campus Sölvesborg was formed. During the nineties the library had already established good relations with the local society of trade and industry and when further education was focused on, the library was invited to participate. The aim of Campus Sölvesborg was “to improve the average level of educational attainment among adults in the municipality of Sölvesborg and to enhance competence among local trade and industry, in order to attract new business and new citizens.” The quote comes from the European Union Objective 2 application that Campus Sölvesborg made once we had decided to create a learning centre.
The new centre
The public library (1,200 square metres) was extended by 200 square metres. The extension was designed by city architect Jan Lagerås who also designed the main building in 1983. It was equipped with 25 new computers, a videoconference system, an electronic key- and alarm system and a separate network allowing a secure system separate from the existing administrative network. We wanted to use systems that could be easily administered and updated by the library staff and which would depend as little as possible on support from the specialist at the ITunit. Library staff was involved in the entire process: They helped to unpack machines, install programs and were trained by the IT-technicians in various routines such as registering students and administering the key- and alarm systems. With a total of one library director, three librarians and six library assistants (with three branch libraries and two small school libraries) it was vital to design the technical systems to run as smoothly as possible. The total cost for the building, hardware and software was approximately 400,000 euros.
The Learning Centre is integrated with the library and the entire building is used for educational purposes. When the public library is open the students have access to the open library, the study rooms as well as the annexe. The library has a wireless network and the students can work with the library material in groups or individually using laptop computers.
The library reception desk also works as Learning Centre reception desk. Here students can sign in, receive guidance regarding the curriculum, assistance with technical problems, place interlibrary loan requests, find material for their papers, pay for copies etc.
When the library is closed the students have access to the study rooms and annexe using their own electronic key. In this way the Centre is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.
The Learning Centre is mainly dedicated to individual education, but we also have lectures for regular groups and groups studying in an integrated learning environment. The Learning Centre offers support for all kinds of education for everyone over 18. Courses are provided mainly by the Net University (www.netuniversity.se), Nätbildarna (www.natbildarna.nu), the Blekinge Institute of Technology and the Kristianstad University. Last year we had students enrolled at 13 different universities. The support provided by the Learning Centre should facilitate and encourage groups that normally hesitate to consider higher education enrolment.
In order to raise awareness of the project and to inform the community of the possibilities it offers, the Learning Centre has worked with a marketing strategy that attempts to brand the Sölvesborg Learning Centre.
The Learning Centre has, apart from normal marketing through pamphlets, sales letters, advertisements and newspaper articles, arranged various events. We have offered free public lectures (traditional and via videoconference) on a varying range of subjects, from Alzheimer, Digital Management to Tai chi and Antiquities. We have arranged small education fairs where education providers have had the opportunity to demonstrate their courses; visitors have been able to try out a variety of courses such as massage, digital image handling, sound engineering etc. We have showed videoconferences and different educational platforms as well as aids for disabled students.
One very important factor has been that the same staff manages the Learning Centre and the library. Surveys show that public libraries are visited by more than 65% of the Swedish population and that all kinds of social groups use the library. The staff has been trained to market the Learning Centre in their everyday contact with patrons. This ‘informal’ marketing has lead to remarkable results especially with the groups that are unfamiliar with higher education. Every new enrolled student will in turn inform other prospective students.
All librarians have participated in different distance courses using all kinds of platforms. Costs have been balanced by the fact that ordinary staff at the library have been involved throughout for the duration of the EU project and now are able to carry on without the need for new recruitment. The library staff put it this way: “We find it positive and strategically beneficial for us that the library is focused on and closely connected with further education and competence development. The demand for us and our skills as information specialists has increased and the connection between the library and the Learning Centre is a natural development of our profession.(…) It is challenging and exciting and it gives us a lot of credit as well as invaluable new work experience.”
The Library Learning Centre project has placed demands on everyone involved, but the calculated strategic choice to become a player in the field of adult education has turned out to be a winner. The library has now become an essential part of the forum for strategic education planning and truly strengthened its role as educational resource.
In other libraries there may be other paths to follow, but for the library it is essential to stay in close touch with the local community and keep abreast of developments there. What are the strategic goals for local government? In what ways can the library be a part of developments? How do we change our goals in order to participate? How do we market our competence to politicians? Funds for different projects can be found outside of the library budget if we show that we can and want to develop new areas. In this process the main factor is the library staff. If we get the chance it is vital that we demonstrate results. Communication skills, information and ICT competence have to be built and maintained over time. The strategy has to be made clear to all involved. For us in Sölvesborg it is now obvious that adult education is not a ‘new’ or ‘additional’ assignment. It is a fundamental element of basic library service.
Sölvesborg Public Library
folke.frommert AT solvesborg.se