Editorial: Library plans for a changing society

The interest shown in the role of librariesin society is greater today than for a longtime. During the last few years in all theNordic countries political initiatives have been taken in order to develop nationalstrategies for the public library system.

We can speculate as to the reasons for this increased concern with library policy but it seems clear that developing trends in other areas of society demand fresh thinking throughout the library sector. Libraries must adapt to changes in the community and look for new solutions. They should aim to improve services by better collaboration with local cultural activities, by responding to the community’s need for knowledge and by closer dialogue with the public.

Throughout history a constant theme has been that greater changes have never taken place before. The new situation today is that individual countries no longer steer their own course of development but have become part of the global reality. National boundaries have lost their significance. In this process of globalisation we must manoeuvre in accordance with international trends and adapt services to the requirements of the modern knowledge society.

A further important factor which demands fresh thinking is the question of Internet-based services and how we offer these in a digital world of search engines, file sharing and the constant introduction of new communication and knowledge channels such as Wiki, Facebook, tagging, etc. These innovations reveal that the very basis of library services has been extended by others and that we, the libraries, no longer have a monopoly of access to knowledge put into system. Users can now actively participate in assessing the material we offer.

The new political interest in libraries finds expression in government reports and strategies throughout the Nordic countries. In Finland the government has already initiated a strategy for the public library in the knowledge society 2007-2010 with a clear focus on the development of digital services. This document has been followed by a further plan to update strategies and priorities onward to 2015 so as to adapt them to the social changes foreseen for the future.

In Denmark in 2010 a government committee has presented proposals for the improvement of the public library system by means of interplay between culture and learning and by the development of the physical library together with the use of digital technology. The proposal is to coordinate ICT initiatives among libraries on a nationwide scale by joint access to all library services on the Internet. The report focuses on the question of how libraries can best develop to meet the varied interests of their users.

In Sweden in 2009 a government report pointed towards a more centralised control in order to ensure closer interaction in the development of public libraries. A further strengthening of the role of the regions is also indicated.

In Norway in 2009 two government reports have been presented, one emphasising the role of the library as a cultural arena and the other proposing a large-scale digitisation of Norway’s cultural heritage. As in Sweden, the Norwegian reports also stress the importance of coordinating library services and of achieving collaboration at a high administrative level.

The strong Nordic tradition of free access to information ensures a leading position in the task of finding new answers. Professional discussions among the Nordic libraries and the trying out of new projects indicate that we are on the way to creating a new library concept. There is a strong focus on users and their needs, including also efforts to reach out to those who are not users at the present moment. New services based on interaction between the physical and the virtual library are being tested.

There remains also the challenge of being able to provide digital material at the same level as physical books. The demands of offering new content and new services may affect the organisation of the library system and lead to changes in infrastructure. The need then will be to adapt to a new structure while still maintaining the professional expertise which exists in the local library.

Leikny Haga Indergaard
Director Department of Libraries
The Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority
Leikny.Haga.Indergaard AT abm-utvikling.no

Translated by Eric Deverill

Director Department of Libraries The Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority