Joint Library Card Project

In recent years a great deal has been written and said about the seamless library in Norway. Is there in fact any reality behind these words?

The seamless library

In Norway the vision of the seamless library was first introduced in the Parliamentary Policy Report No. 22 (1999- 2000): “(…) The ideal objective is to offer library services which are as seamless as possible, so that members of the public can make use of any type of library regardless of the nature of their requirements. (….)” (Norway 2000, page 11)

This was later followed by Policy Report No. 48 (2002-2003): “A central aim for development in the library sector during the coming years will be the creation of seamless library services. In practice this will mean that optimal user access based on nation-wide coordination of information resources shall be a cardinal principle underlying development across institutional and other administrative boundaries.” (Norway 2003, page 174)

The Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority was established as of 1 January 2003, its primary objective being to create improved seamless cooperation between these three sectors and between different types of libraries.

Two counties, Østfold and Oppland, developed large projects based on the vision of a seamless library.

The Østfold Library Project has its origins in the work carried out in connection with an earlier library plan for the county (BRODD Foundation 2000). This plan established the terms for the Østfold Library Project as “(….) a virtual and coordinating organisation across administrative boundaries and regardless of ownership”.

One of its strategies was: “A universal library card for the whole county of Østfold (…). Members of the public shall be able to borrow media using the same card no matter where in the county they happen to be and regardless of the type of library in question.”

The Østfold Library Project has received financial support over a period of three years, initially from the Norwegian Directorate for Public Libraries and later from the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. Many of the strategies outlined in the plan have been implemented, including a very successful transport scheme, joint searching and improved lending cooperation between libraries throughout the county. As a result of the work on this project, the Østfold County Library was awarded the Norwegian Library of the Year in 2004.

The Personal Data Act also gives citizens the right to know what personal details are kept on record … Photo: Nils Lund Pedersen

In 2002 the Norwegian Directorate for Public Libraries and the National Office for Research Documentation, Academic and Special Libraries gave the Oppland County Library the task of organising a pilot project for ‘A seamless library – the Oppland region’. The report on the pilot project (Oppland County Library 2002) identified the aims of the project as follows: “A seamless library – the Oppland region” shall involve providing the inhabitants of the Oppland region with a comprehensive library service across administrative boundaries and independent of sector affiliation. Services shall be adapted to the requirements of the individual in a modern ICT society. Patrons shall have no need to consider which library or which municipality they approach when seeking library services.”

Yet again, one of the aims is “to work towards a joint library card”.

The main project ‘A seamless library – the Oppland region’ has received funding from the Archive, Library and Museum Authority for 2003, 2004 and 2005. The project covers college education, libraries in secondary schools and public libraries. The programme of cooperation includes the development of collections, specialisation, arrangements and transport services. In 2005 Oppland will establish a portal offering joint search access to library catalogues and other information resources. A manual will also be produced, providing information on the services and special areas of each individual library.

Joint Library Card

Since 1999 a cooperative forum has existed in Norway for suppliers of library systems. This forum focuses particular attention on problems requiring joint decisions and coordination.

In 2002 the suppliers of library systems registered a growing demand for support for seamless library services. They agreed that a joint national register of library patrons would be a necessary prerequisite for services of this nature and therefore set up a working group to examine the situation.

In the spring of 2003 the working group presented a report which recommended the establishment of a national register of library patrons as a first step towards introducing a Joint Library Card system. On the basis of this report an application for project funding was submitted to the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority and in the late autumn of that year financial support was granted through the Norwegian Digital Library programme.

The main aim of the project was defined as follows:

The project shall develop a joint library card for library patrons in Norway. In order to achieve this goal a joint register of patrons shall be established. A joint library card linked to a patron register offers obvious advantages for both libraries and their users.

  • First and foremost patrons will appreciate the greater seamless quality of services on offer. It should be possible in the long term to borrow from all public libraries in Norway on the basis of one single library card. Information concerning the address of borrowers will need to be provided only once and the same will apply to any subsequent change of address. Members of the public will be able to regard themselves as users of an entire library network rather than of just one individual library
  • Libraries will be able to cooperate on the registration and updating of information on user addresses, thus helping to improve efficiency and the accuracy of the information stored.

Internationally it is difficult to identify any comparable joint library card solution. In the USA, Great Britain, Sweden and Finland there are a few regional solutions, usually based upon a common library system. In Denmark the National Health Insurance card is widely used as a library card. The difference, however, is that since the Danish card is not a dedicated library card, the personal information is stored only on the card’s magnetic strip and not in a joint database accessible by the library systems. Any change of address or other information therefore requires borrowers to obtain a new insurance card.

Main strategies

A central feature of the Joint Library Card is to ensure that each holder is provided with a unique, individual number. Card numbers are allotted by means of a web site. In addition, every patron has an individual identifier, which can be date of birth or one of the special codes assigned to immigrants and asylum seekers or to foreign nationals liable for taxation in Norway. These identity numbers are further encrypted to guard against misuse.

The project considered compiling a register of library patrons using data already held by the various libraries. It was found, however, that these generally lacked reliable and consistent quality, and they didn’t possess any unique key information, such as date of birth. The Norwegian National Register has very strict rules regarding the provision of personal data and is expensive to use. At the same time it has considerable weaknesses with regard to temporary addresses. The project therefore decided that the register for the Joint Library Card should be compiled from the ground up.

It quickly became clear that student cards at colleges and universities would have to stay valid as library cards, since these patrons could not be confronted with a choice between connection to their own institution or connection to the Joint Library Card.

It was therefore decided to arrange for information on student addresses to be exported from the student administrative systems to the Joint Library Card Register.

The central register will not contain information concerning organisations, reminders, fines, blacklisting, etc. Individual library systems communicate with the Joint Library Card Register by means of Internet web services.

Project organisation

The project team contains representatives from five library systems and the Norwegian National Library. The project’s steering group consists of three members appointed by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority.

The project has a reference group representing 11 libraries in the counties of Oppland and Østfold, together with the respective county libraries. Colleges of Education in the town of Gjøvik and the county of Østfold are also represented in the reference group. The libraries in the reference group have also tested the technical solution arrived at by the project.

The library card

The project team has proposed a design for a joint library card. This design is used by the reference group during the test period, but it is also possible to give the Joint Library Card a local design. The reverse side of the card, however, must in all cases conform to the following rules:

  • The card shall contain the owner’s personal number in the form of a Code 39 barcode positioned at the bottom of the card. This decision was taken in order to minimise problems of compatibility between different barcode scanners and lending systems
  • The barcode represents the lowest common multiple for all Joint Library Cards, but individual libraries are free to add a microchip or magnetic strip. There is also nothing to prevent the use of a ‘smart’ card
  • The card must show where it has been issued and must provide a space for the owner’s signature
  • The card must display the logo of the Norwegian Digital Library in order to confirm its identity as a Joint Library Card.

Issue and use of the card
The functional features of the Joint Library Card have been developed as an integral part of the lending processes of the various library systems. In the case of one particular system a separate web-based registration module has been created.

All new patrons will normally be issued with a new Joint Library Card or continue to use their existing card. Patrons have the right not to declare their personal identity number and to forbid the storage of personal information in the joint register. In such an event they may be issued with a local library card. All libraries making use of the Joint Library Card Register will have a copy of the data stored in the central register concerning their own local patrons. If there is a change in this information at the local level, the central register will be immediately updated. Any changes made by other libraries will usually be imported every night.

Personal privacy and protection

A brochure describing the Joint Library Card initiative will be handed out every time a new card is issued. The brochure contains information on how personal information is stored and administered. The Norwegian Data Inspectorate has verified that the brochure fulfils all legal requirements with regard to personal protection and privacy.

The Personal Data Act also gives citizens the right to know what personal details are kept on record. The project has therefore constructed a web site where library borrowers can check on the information stored by quoting their library card number and personal identity number.

Use of the personal identity number, which lies encrypted in the database, ensures correct identification in the Joint Library Card Register. The original number cannot be recreated, but it is possible to compare encrypted key codes to see if they relate to the same number.

Libraries connecting to the register will have their authenticity confirmed by means of a national library number and a password. Library staff themselves will be authorised by the local library system and will need no further log-in procedure.

Communication between clients in the library systems and the Joint Library Card Register utilises the Secure Sockets Layer Protocol (SSL). This protocol takes care of encryption and the authentication of the network server.

Preliminary conclusions

The Joint Library Card system has been tested in 11 reference libraries from February to May 2005. During the test period 1500 joint library cards were issued and 13% of these were connected to more than one library. The idea of using student cards as joint library cards proved difficult to test, since student cards are only issued at the start of term. In this area the project was therefore only able to carry out some random sampling.

An assessment of the test period shows that all project participants have met all the main specification demands and there have been hardly any problems with ‘down time’ in the register. Test evaluation also reveals that the administrative and training demands arising from the introduction of the Joint Library Card are greater than the purely technical problems. The Joint Library Card also increases the need for regional and national coordination of library issuing rules and regulations.

The Joint Library Card is viewed as a strong symbol of the seamless approach both by librarians and by library patrons. The card often brings with it expectations of obtaining a collective overview of all lending in all libraries, together with the possibility of distance lending on the Internet from any library and of being able to deliver to each and every library. The most probable of these developments would seem to be the use of the Joint Library Card Register in connection with user-initiated interlibrary loan. The register could offer both authentication and authorisation while at the same time providing the user with reliable details of addresses. The library system suppliers have already received a request from the Østfold County Library for a follow-up project to examine a development along these lines.

Another area of possible interest is the use of the Joint Library Card register in connection with library portals. The register could provide authentication and authorisation and portals could also access information on borrowers in order to create personal user profiles. The Oppland County Library wishes to make use of the Joint Library Card register in connection with a search portal for its project, ‘A seamless library – the Oppland region’.

There is a definite reality behind the vision of a seamless library system in Norway, even though considerable time may pass before the goal is reached. Østfold and Oppland are showing the way and the library system suppliers in Norway have added a new tool to the toolbox.

Translated by Eric Deverill Portrait: Jens Christian Strandos

System consultant, IT Centre for Norwegian Libraries.