Theory and practice: a necessary correlation

The public library system is based on a beautiful idea, namely to offer as much as possible to as many as possible. This philosophy makes great demands upon those responsible for the dissemination of literature. Do student librarians at Oslo University College learn enough about this aspect of their future vocation? The quest for any correlation between theory and practice formed the basis for a project undertaken in 2007 by two lecturers at the Faculty of Library and Information Science.

Dissemination of literature is one of the cornerstones of the public library system. Aiming to ensure that the largest possible number of people can actively participate in a democratic society by making knowledge, information and cultural values available to all, calls for purposeful dissemination on the part of libraries.

What kind of expertise do librarians require in order to carry out professional and effective dissemination of literature in an age of changes in the media situation, throughout the book market and among library users? Furthermore, is this the expertise they acquire through their studies at the College?

In 2007 we carried out a limited survey of literature dissemination at three public libraries together with an appraisal of the training provided in this area at the Faculty of Library and Information Science.We chose the Tromsø Library, which is new and therefore in a position to introduce changes in dissemination procedures. Our second choice was the Lillehammer Library, since it is closely connected with Norway’s leading literary festival. Finally we included the Deichman Library in Oslo, by far the largest public library in Norway.

We decided upon three avenues of approach. The first was to find out what the administrative legislation of each institution had to say about dissemination, while the second was to determine what was actually happening in practice. Our third approach consisted of conversations with those professionally responsible for library policy in order to become familiar with their strategies and better to understand their code of practice.

Differing concepts

The three libraries and the Faculty of Library and Information Science hold somewhat different views on the concept of literature dissemination. In its curriculum the latter relates the concept to a wide range of working methods aimed at bringing literature and the user together, such as digital forms of production and dissemination.

One of the three libraries regards dissemination as the marketing of products and services. In the case of the other two libraries the concept is less clearly defined but refers generally to outgoing initiatives of various kinds aimed at drawing attention to literature and other media.

Strategic approach

The strategy of the Tromsø library gives priority to developing its collections before concentrating on dissemination. According to their Library Plan 2006-2010, improvement of the latter will be based on the creation of professional teams with greater expertise in relation to target groups and to “various types of literature”.

The strategy and action plans of the Deichman Library place the dissemination of literature together with fostering a pleasure in reading, improving reading skills and cooperating with other participants in the cultural field. The Deichman Library maintains a working group responsible for the promotion of works of fiction and priority has been given to recruiting staff with literary expertise. In much the same way the library in Tromsø has appointed a full-time promoter of literature, working in a team to improve dissemination. The library in Lillehammer also attaches considerable importance to dissemination initiatives in its plan of action, although without any staff specifically employed for this purpose.

What the libraries do best …

The three libraries have somewhat different profiles with regard to their users, opening times and methods of promoting literature, but all three emphasise the need for cooperation with other forms of cultural activity.

Since moving to new premises, the library in Tromsø has seen its number of visitors double. This in itself is a challenge, although lending has by no means increased to the same extent. Media services have been improved and video lending has increased, most probably due to the fact that the library and the cinema share the same building and people tend to move a great deal between the two.

The promotion of literature is naturally a concern of the programme committee for ‘Ordkalotten’, Tromsø’s annual, international literary festival, when the library premises provide an arena for many of the festival arrange-arrangements. The new library building itself functions as a display window for the services on offer. It is easy to drop in and there are many places where one can relax, read or work. The increase in the number of visitors, when compared to lending statistics, clearly indicates that the library has acquired a new role, not so much a lending library as a place to be.

Lillehammer, one of the country’s oldest libraries, promotes literature mainly through a series of varied arrangements, through cooperation with its cultural partners and by means of its special programme in connection with the annual ‘Norwegian Festival of Literature at Lillehammer’. Lillehammer gives priority to breadth and topicality in its book exhibitions and aims to draw attention to literary treasures of the past through articles written by library staff in the local newspaper.

The Deichman Library possesses a high level of expertise, extensive collections and a long tradition of active dissemination of literature. The library celebrates the anniversaries of famous Norwegian authors but also invites the public to meet modern writers and lecturers. Every weekend in Oslo’s own local newspaper the head librarian offers recommendations on books to read, while the various library departments cooperate in their efforts to bring new literature to the notice of young people.

… and where they have problems

Both the Lillehammer and Deichman libraries are aware that figures for the number of visitors and borrowings reveal a downward trend. Since media budgets are also shrinking, this means that all those engaged in the dissemination of literature face an extra challenge. Revised opening hours, improved advisory skills and above all some modernisation of library premises could well improve the situation, as Tromsø Library has shown.

Tromsø and Lillehammer both see the need for greater use of the Internet, but so far this has received little priority, partly because of other more immediate tasks and partly because of a lack of expertise in this area.

The Deichman Library’s possibilities of developing expertise in the relevant technology and applying it to the promotion of literature are at present greatly dependent upon project funds. Under these circumstances the relationship between projects and the daily running of the library represents an enormous challenge.

Lillehammer wishes to aim its activities more directly at young people, while Tromsø intends to make its collections more attractive to this same target group.

Greater interest in dissemination skills Courses of study exist today offering both Bachelor and Master degrees in library and information science. The subject area ‘Literature and Society’ covers cultural and literary sociological themes, dissemination theory and analysis. In addition students learn practical dissemination through written, oral and visual working methods. It is compulsory for students to carry out a dissemination assignment in the public sector in order to strengthen the relevance of their practical training.

At Bachelor level students gain a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 60 study points in the subject area ‘Literature and the User’. The Bachelor assignment carries an additional 15 study points, thus making it possible for a candidate for a degree in library and information science to reach a total of 75 study points connected with literature, other media and dissemination. This total represents more than one year’s course of study.

In combination with other studies, it is today possible to acquire a Bachelor’s degree within the space of two years at the Faculty of Library and Information Science. As a result fewer students stay on for the third year which under the present curriculum offers specialisation in dissemination skills.

At Master level there are two modules under the heading ‘Literature and the User’. These are Literature Disse-mination and Literature Sociology, each providing 15 study points. At present there is considerable interest in these two options. The Master course special subject, worth 45 study points, can be directed towards the dissemination of literature.

The overriding impression of literature dissemination at the Faculty of Library and Information Science is that it deals almost exclusively with literature in the traditional sense; in other words – books. There has been some increase in attention paid in the curriculum to the promotion of other media, such as Internet literature, computer games, comic series and films but this in no way matches the growth in demand for these services experienced throughout the public library system and already now some 25% of all user borrowings.

Our survey deals with very few libraries and provides no basis for categorical conclusions. Nevertheless everything appears to indicate that the library system is in need of broad and varied professional competence in the field of dissemination.

Åse Kristine Tveit
Oslo University College

Aase.K.Tveit AT

Knut Oterholm
Oslo University College

Knut.Oterholm AT

Library Plan 2006 – 2010.
Municipality of Tromsø

Library Reform 2014. Part 2 The Norwegian
Nationwide Library – Network for Knowledge and
Oslo: The Norwegian Archive,
Library and Museum Authority

Oslo University College (2007). Curriculum for
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Plan of action for Lillehammer Library, 2006

Oslo University College
Oslo University College