Local History Enquiry Website

Close contact with the past in Sogn and Fjordane
In the county of Sogn and Fjordane on the Norwegian west coast the Sogndal library is breaking new ground in the field of local history. In collaboration with the county archives and the Heiberg Collections – Regional Folkmuseum of Sogn the library has created a local history information and enquiry website.
Instead of having to contact three different institutions during their restricted opening hours, the public can now sit at home and click on to http://sporejevev.sffarkiv.no or send their queries on local history by E-mail. This also serves to lower the threshold of accessibility, since not everybody would know initially which of the three institutions to approach for an answer. Although the queries must in some way bear a relation to the region of Sogn and Fjordane, people from all parts of the country, indeed from all corners of the world,can make use of the website.

The service is free of charge and an answer is guaranteed within a week. The professional staff at the three institutions share the responsibility of dealing with queries and can suggest suitable sources which the enquirer can approach for further information. The county archives, the museum and the public library may have different points of departure, but in this project they work together towards a common goal of making local history material more accessible to the public and presenting it in an inspiring manner.

The project brings the library, the archives and the museum closer together, creating in each individual institution a greater awareness of what the others have to offer. There have been no signs of professional rivalry.

“Far from competing, we actually complement each other,” claims Gerd Vik, leader of the project and member of staff at the Sogndal library. “As professionals in our own particular fields, the project has brought us closer together. Nevertheless, in order to make the best use of the resources and expertise at each of the institutions, it is still necessary to define areas of responsibility in the way we co-operate.”

A variety of questions
The local history information website came into being in June 2000 and has so far dealt with a total of some 60 questions. The site is visited by 11-12 different users each day. Enquiries at the start were few and far between, but as gradually more and more people have become aware of the service, the range of questions has widened. The limited interest so far is mainly due to the fact that no active marketing of the website has been carried out. The longterm aim is to create an interactive service where users can be drawn more directly into the development of the site.

All the questions so far dealt with, together with the answers,can be accessed on the Internet for the benefit and inspiration of users. The most recently answered questions are presented on the first page and there is also a subject- based search function.

Questions vary greatly but many users require help in obtaining information about individual persons or on specific historical events which have taken place in Sogn and Fjordane, a county with a present-day population of about 100,000.

The website has dealt with questions ranging from local incidents during the war to long-life light bulbs, school closures, textile factories and bailiffs removed from office.

“When were Ragna and Edvin Nore married? Are there any photographs available?” is a typical type of question. The enquirer is given an answer and reference is made to a photograph from the wedding which exists in the county archives and which can be accessed on the Internet.A click on this reference number brings up the photograph directly, together with all relevant information.

We learn that the wedding concerned took place in 1935 at the Norane farm and there is a list giving the names of those people in the photograph who have been identified. It is possible to click on the name of each individual person and if they are registered elsewhere in the photo archive, there will be further links also to these. The website has not the capacity to deal with purely genealogical questions, but the service tries to inform the user about relevant sources.

Another enquirer seeks information on children’s games and toys in the old days and is given details on books and manuals where this theme can be studied. An offer is also made to send some of this material home to the enquirer. Another query comes from a person who has been given the task of writing about a particular hotel. He needs advice on possible sources of information.

50% of the questions received come from people living in Sogn and Fjordane, the other half from all over Norway. Those making use of the service are mainly men and one in four of all enquirers wishes to remain anonymous.

The web pages also offer links to various databases which can assist people researching their family genealogy and who are interested in local history. Although this information is made available through a new medium, the service is still based on traditional library methods.

“This is normal everyday library reference work,” explains Gerd Vik. “The difference here is that it becomes more visible. Since our replies are available to the general public, it may well be that we put a little extra effort into our work. As librarians we are accustomed first and foremost to referring to printed sources, but this co-operation with historians and archivists has taught us to take also other types of sources into consideration. The threshold for making contact with the other professions involved has been considerably lowered.”

Interdisciplinary co-operation
In addition to making local history material available in an interesting way, a further aim of the project is to try out new modes of co-operation between archives, libraries and museums. In Parliamentary Report no. 22 (1999-2000) Sources of knowledge and experience, emphasis is laid on the public having easy access to their cultural heritage and on the need for closer cooperation between archives, libraries and museums.

The Sogn and Fjordane county archives are glad of the opportunity to participate in the project together with the library and the museum.

“This is clearly a win-win situation for the archives,” claims archivist Snorre Dag Øverbø.“Everybody is familiar with the activities of a library or a museum, but an archive is a more diffuse concept for most people.We look upon the museum and the library as big sisters and this type of co-operation here in Sogn will help to g ive us a public profile. All of us provide documentation about the past and now we can come together on the Internet. This is a step towards the future and new, exciting projects should result from our co-operation.”

The county of Sogn and Fjordane is ahead of most in the use of information and communication technology in the cultural sector. Already in the 1980s a number of projects were set in motion to register church records, census results and place names in databases.

10,000 photographs of historical interest have been scanned in and made available on the Internet. For a long time now the public library in Sogndal has collaborated with the Sogn and Fjordane College of Education with regard to literature of local historical interest. Primary schools and the Sogndal secondary school also work closely with the public library in the field of information and communication technology. The library was therefore well equipped to initiate a project such as the Local History Enquiry Website.

Modern methods
Norwegians are considerably interested in local history and family research. Many public libraries have important collections of local historical material and have acquired wide expertise in this area. In order to reach out to a wider and younger public, many libraries have started to disseminate this material through new channels such as the Internet. The Sogndal library’s Local History InformationWebsite has been part of a nation-wide project, Screen contact with local history, www.bibtils.no, which was initiated by the Norwegian Directorate for Public Libraries in 1999 and completed in 2001.

The seven participating local projects throughout the country have had different aims, themes and forms but have shared the common purpose of presenting local history through the use of the Internet. In several of the projects children and young people have been an important target group.

Seminars have been arranged where the local project leaders have met the central project management in order to discuss relevant problems. These meetings have rotated so that most o f the municipalities involved have hosted one seminar during the course of the project period. Experts on a variety of subjects relevant to the projects have been invited to lecture at these meetings.

Cataloguing and indexing
The Sogn and Fjordane website project also includes other measures to improve the public’s access to local history literature. Work is well advanced in preparing a joint catalogue for the library, the archives and the museum. The books and periodicals held in the museum and in the county archives are being converted to the same cataloguing system as that used by the public library. In this way the three institutions will be integrated into a joint data – base – the Sogndal base. This will also mean financial savings for all involved.

Local school libraries are already incorporated in the system and the literature will also be made accessible through the Norwegian National Library’s Union Catalogue.

This joint catalogue will p rovide access to a rich collection of local historical literature from Sogn and Fjordane. Books and writings from the Heiberg collections – Regional Folkmuseum of Sogn the library and the Sogn County Archives, previously not catalogued and therefore inaccessible to a wider public, will be given a new lease of life.

One third of this local historical project is devoted to the indexing of relevant literature for the municipalities in Sogn. All articles of local historical interest appearing in periodicals and county yearbooks will be analysed, registered and made accessible to search. This work is being carried out through the so-called Fjognedok project which was initiated by the Sogn and Fjordane county library and where the Sogndal public library is one of the co-operating participants. This project takes its name from the dialect word ‘fjogning’, meaning a person from Sogn and Fjordane.

Translated by Eric Deverill

Journalist for the periodical Bok og Samfunn.