One in five library users

The county libraries of Östergötland and Jönköping have commissioned an investigation into how these libraries carry out their policies relating to the immigrant population.

The author of the report One in five library users, Christina Ekbom, points out that the number of people born outside of Sweden has risen from 3% in 1950 to 11.4% in 2000. Indicating that every fifth (1.8 million) library user is either an immigrant or a person from different cultural circumstances. A library’s policy towards immigrants is no longer an inconsequential matter of servicing a neglected minority group. The evolvement and differentiation observed in the population structure of Sweden runs parallel to changes in the library sector as a whole in which opening hours and media subsidies are giving priority over, and to the detriment of, their visiting activities. Focus has been transferred to new areas and is especially applicable to libraries and their newly found roles within the spheres of education and information.

Directives from the Board of Integration and the Swedish Migration Board affect planning work at libraries. The Board of Integration has an overall responsibility to realise political integration goals. They negotiate settlements with the municipal authorities, which are in receivership of refugees and reimburse them with standard compensation remuneration. A refugee is a person who has applied for and received a residence permit in Sweden. The notion of a refugee is often applied on a daily basis at libraries, including those seeking asylum and who have yet to have their applications for residence permits granted. Responsibility for persons seeking asylum lies with the Swedish Migration Board, but municipalities and county councils are only reimbursed for certain costs related to children attending pre-schools and schools as well as certain medical service.

The first central media supply plans were approved in 1996 and revised in 2001. They consisted of an agreement reached between the International Library Lending Depository (IBLC) and the county and municipal libraries throughout Sweden. The extent of the IBLC’s field of responsibility includes all language groups except those of Swedish, English, German, French, Danish, and Norwegian and the Sámi language. The county libraries are by law assigned to supply, replenish and maintain holdings containing certain languages. In addition the Library Act states that the service provided to linguistic minority groups at primary municipal libraries is an assignment fully comparable to all other service aspects offered the community as a whole. In a shared sphere of responsibility the county libraries and the IBLC should replenish their various media holdings. The IBLC also have a responsibility to supply the refugee camps with various kinds of media. A number of refugees and asylum seekers visit the local library to attain support in their dealings with the Swedish Migration Board both at a central and local level. County libraries can assist by placing the resources, bestowed the municipal authorities for refugees assigned a particular municipality, for the local libraries to use as they see fit.

There is a noticeable difference in the number of requested depositions from the local libraries at the respective county libraries of Östergötland and Jönköping. Depositions are approximately half the number to those of the 8 SPLQ:4 2003 One in five library users county of Jönköping. There are fewer requests for children’s books, the amount of languages are halved as are the amount of loans. There are as many loans requested via depositions from the International Library as there are at the county library of Östergötland. The latter might suggest that holdings at the host library are insufficient. In the county of Jönköping there is a media support plan, in which the councils are advised not to create permanent holdings related to small and average-sized language groups. Instead, the necessary funding is pooled and shared. The county of Jönköping also has an extensive circulation of periodicals. The operation is a troubled one requiring considerable personnel intensive endeavours. The person in charge of the investigation is of the opinion that these tasks need to be simplified.

The report recommends that libraries should complement or replace depositions with individual loans, as the use of public depositions is often limited. Through developments in the expanding IT sectors the options to improve and offer individualised service have increased. In unison the user and the librarian can access the catalogues of the county library and the International Library to see what exactly is available in various subject areas. Libraries should create their own elementary holdings catering to those languages spoken by large enough groups of people and then complement their holdings with loans from county libraries and the International Library.

The investigation’s point of departure was everyone’s right to equal service. The investigator did not find it relevant to lump together a large portion of the population and consider them a neglected group, as this could be construed as depreciatory. The very word immigrant can be seen as a disparaging label for a person who has upheld Swedish citizenship for decades. Ekbom is also hesitant in using terms such as immigrant media, immigrant language and major languages. Instead, libraries should offer a full and varied supply of media choice in different languages in which the community’s populace is a reflected composite. The goals set by libraries should, of course, take into account immigrants. If, for instance, libraries plan to deal with the issue of information flow, then this should obviously be aimed at all target groups irrespective of what language they want their information in!

A major task for the county libraries is to offer in-house training in how to guide users when dealing with individual loans and the choosing of suitable links for the library’s website. The county library of Östergötland is in the process of offering its staff in-house training enabling them to offer immigrants and refugees a valid, individually adapted service and instruct them in the use of library catalogues and databases. A network for learning and methodology is to be established whereby library staff and professionals, who teach such subjects as Swedish for immigrants and Swedish as a second language, participate. The libraries need, to a greater extent than before, to market themselves among those who come from different cultural communities.

Translated by Jonathan Pearman

Library consultant County Library Östergötland.