Nordic Council of Ministers

The multicultural society
Improving the expertise of employees in cultural institutions

Two years ago the Nordic ministers for cultural affairs approved a grant towards a project entitled ‘Improving the qualifications of employees in cultural institutions – adjusting to a multicultural society’. The project, recently completed, has been a joint initiative of Nordbok and the Nordic Committee for Museums. The project leader, Per Bjørn Rekdal, has submitted a comprehensive report which will be distributed during the course of the summer. About a hundred persons from the Nordic countries have contributed to the project, either in the steering committee and the part-project groups or as participants in trial courses and meetings.
The project’s guiding principle is that the Nordic countries today have an established multicultural normality and that it is now time for cultural institutions to take this reality into account. The project focuses on archives, libraries and museums and the nature of the expertise that should be available to these institutions in a multicultural society. The aim of the project has been to determine the elements and themes which educational institutions can employ in order to ensure that various forms of multicultural awareness become a permanent part of training courses. The report describes the opportunities available to archives, libraries and museums, if they are to play a significant role in the multicultural society, and also discusses what themes this widening of expertise should focus on.

The report comes to the conclusion that the following themes are paramount:

Cross-cultural understanding is a fundamental qualification for those working in archives, libraries and museums and provides the essential basis for crosscultural collaboration and communication. This is recommended first and foremost as training best suited to the workplace.

Cultural awareness is a qualification taken for granted where expressions of the cultural majority are concerned. The basis of knowledge concerning manifestations of non-western cultures, however, is very weak. Cultural awareness is a pre-condition for establishing qualified cross-cultural contacts of value to both the majority and the minority and is absolutely essential for creating mutual critical attitudes based on insight. It is recommended that cultural awareness should be included as part of the basic training syllabus, as an item of choice in combined studies and also as a further education course.

Contemporary documentation has become increasingly important for both archives and museums. Since the 1970s immigration has brought about one of the 20th century’s most radical changes in society and will continue to have deep consequences throughout the 21st. It is vital to future research and for those who make use of archives and museums that contemporary documentation fully records this process of immigration and the multicultural situation of the present day. Contemporary documentation of the multicultural aspects of society must form a part of both basic training and further education.

Contemporary presentation in a multicultural society creates new challenges for archives, libraries and museums. There are considerable difficulties attached to reaching users among the new minorities and to establishing the co-operation and new functions necessary to turn cultural institutions into arenas helping to promote integration. Many of the principal questions which arise today of both an ethical and critical nature are central in themselves and independent of the multicultural dimension. Systematic teaching material on these subjects should be produced for use both in basic training and in further education.

Collection of ‘Best/Worst Cases. Sample material is of extreme importance when establishing a new field of research and not only examples of success. Even more can be learned from failures and the difficulties encountered. It is recommended that a website should be created and maintained for the collection of such examples and for the use of Nordic cultural institutions. There is presumably already a considerable amount of material in existence which has been presented at various seminars and conferences. It could be requested in connection with such projects that a down-to-earth, unvarnished report should be sent in. It is not unreasonable to assume that a website of this nature could make a significant contribution to practical advance planning and thus to more realistic projects.

Enclosures to the report include articles and overheads produced either directly for the project or in close association. In addition to a list of important links on the internet, there is also a description of the project, together with an account of the way it was conducted and an evaluation of the project’s trial course.

The report can be ordered directly from NORDBOK.
E-mail: nb AT abmutvikling.no
Tlf. +47 23 11 75 00

Translated by Eric Deverill

director, Nordbok.