Parallel national projectsA step forward or backward?

There are at present two Swedish library portals of similar character emerging in the library sphere. There is a difference however; they are each aiming for two separate target groups.

SESIM is a joint library portal developed as a collaborative venture involving the county libraries. The library staffs at public libraries are able to search and retrieve information using a service that not only makes use of library catalogues, but also to integrate databases, websites and other electronic services. The software application for library portals MetaLib and SFX are currently being tested for the first time in Sweden. During 2006 the portal will allow the end-user full access, focusing on learning processes.

SAMSÖK is the library portal maintained and developed by the LIBRIS department at the National Library of Sweden. The purpose is to facilitate searches and present a collective and easy form of access to the electronic repositories at Swedish research libraries. As in the case of the SESIM portal, it is the software application, MetaLib that forms the basis of the service.

There are those who ask themselves why Sweden fails to unite, despite its importance, on such an issue as a mutual library portal. It would no doubt make it easier for the end-user. The reason for the emergence of parallel library portal projects is considered to be the lack of a coordinated Swedish library policy. In Sweden, support to the various library sectors is supplied from two different authorities. The National Library of Sweden is an official authority, whose instructions are to collect, describe, preserve and provide access to the printed Swedish cultural heritage. This also applies to collaborative and developmental ventures among the research libraries in Sweden.

The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs is a government authority whose principal task is to implement national cultural policies determined by the Parliament. The Council is responsible for the allocation of state funds to cultural institutions including those of county libraries and public libraries.

Expectations are high as to the establishing of a Swedish library authority. At present there are no inclinations from the government that this is to become a reality. It is therefore important that the National Library and the Council clarify the present situation and make clear what the two authorities’ duties are. There is also the urgent need to explain how the collaboration involving the two authorities stands today and how this can be elaborated upon.

The National Council for Cultural Affairs and the National Library of Sweden have each come to the conclusion that they are better off financing separate joint search projects. Both sectors have their reasons, their libraries and their end-users to consider. From the point of view of the public libraries there is an emphasis on the satisfactory kind of library service which includes users from the categories of children and young people, the physically impaired and those who have other native languages besides Swedish. Concurrently, adult education is increasingly becoming a priority target group. On the other hand, the research libraries stress the importance of not fabricating generalisations about students; instead try to find solutions adapted to the kind of studies being pursued.

It need not necessarily be a negative that there are two variations of the same kind. Two library portals might complement each other instead of competing. A process in itself is also worth its investment. And the projects continue to listen, discuss and learn from each other. Nobody knows what will happen with the two portals in the future …

Translated by Jonathan Pearman

Executive in charge of regional library planning. The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs.