Editorial: How to promote literature

NEW IDEAS, NEW WAYS

It is a marked trend all over the western world that the promotion of literature is finding new paths to tread. Everywhere in the libraries we can thus observe more appealing presentations of literature, thematic exhibitions where new and classical is being mixed, literary panel discussions, reading clubs alongside more traditional initiatives for encouraging reading abilities in children and stimulating adults’ interest in reading. This happens i.a. through the well-known and still popular meeting with authors at the library. One quite definitive innovation is the shift in focus from literary quality to the reader and the reader’s interests – pure and simple – which is part of the general change in our library concept. From product and collection orientation to user orientation.

We observe a clear historical development in the librarian’s professional basic attitude to the promotion of literature. The classic attitude that prevailed during the first half of the previous century we describe as ‘the patronising librarian’ whose knowledge was superior to the user’s. The break with this attitude happened with the introduction of ‘the neutral librarian’, who was not really supposed to interfere with the borrower’s undisputed choice once the works had been purchased and placed in the library. And this – somewhat insipid – attitude has now been replaced by what we might call ‘the personal librarian’, whose own commitment to literature is at the very root, who engages people through his knowledge and enthusiasm, but shows deep respect for the user’s different opinions and tastes.

Certainly, in Denmark we are seeing this attitude reflected in new forms of promoting – especially fictional – literature within at least three areas.

Firstly, the mediation in the library space is increasingly done by way of themes and topical subjects, where books are placed in groups that overrule the systematic and alphabetical arrangement. There is nothing new in that as such, but the frequency of the practice and the marked tendency to abandon the idea of the library space as store rooms for most of the collections are growing all the time. It can be observed most clearly in those cases where new libraries are being built or the design and layout of the library are being renovated. The new library is designed for people and should not have such tightly packed collec-tions that people are displaced.

Secondly, it is exactly the web-based literature promotion in Denmark that has developed significantly over the past few years. The web site ‘litteratursiden.dk’, which is created in a partnership between a large number of libraries (who are responsible for the operational side, with financial support from the Danish Agency for Libraries and Media), literary figures, authors and readers. Litteratursiden.dk contains an updated literature encyclopedia of all contemporary authors, prepared jointly by librarians and the authors themselves. It contains presentations and reviews of the new books, interviews with authors, done in collaboration with a Danish TV channel, blogs, discussions, theme presentations and a large number of virtual reading circles with a great deal of activity. The success is based on the particular mixture of professional ambition and reader-involvement and the inclusion of so many co-creators that the volume on the site is very large indeed.

A third innovation, which is a somewhat surprising success, is the growth in the number of reading circles. The most well-known is the book club, which is run jointly between Denmark’s Radio and local libraries, where the participants during the winter together read and discuss six of the new novels of the season, and where the readers choose one of these as ‘novel of the year’. Denmark’s Radio broad-casts a programme on each novel, which is in fact a trans-mission of one of the discussions in the library, facilitated by a librarian. The book club has generated other more specialised reading clubs, which Denmark’s Radio is also covering, e.g. the classics club and the crime club. What is even more remarkable is that libraries in typical Danish towns with 50,000 inhabitants each services more than 100 book clubs, each of which consists of a group of people who read the same books and meet to discuss them.

The development is an obvious example of how a new interaction between web and library space creates new activities that do not exclude each other, but on the cont-rary presuppose each other. There is no reason for pessimism as far as literature is concerned.

Jens Thorhauge
Director General
Danish Agency for Libraries and Media

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Jens Thorhauge Thorhauge Consulting, independent advisor