Questions for a dialogue?

The basic and perpetual challenge for libraries is to keep attuned to the society they serve. Accordingly the library agenda is the same in most European and other western countries at this moment:to make sure that libraries are fit for the networking society, that they actually benefit from the new opportunities and offer relevant services.

Whether you like the term hybrid library or not it seems to be the most appropriate to express the vision for the library in the networking society. The hybrid library develops an increasing number of e-services tailormade for different target groups and purposes, and it makes it easier to benefit from the information. The ultimate vision is to integrate the access to value-adding information as much as possible in the daily lives of as many as possible.

The challenges are enormous. Here I should like to mention just three major ones which we are dealing with already. When I say ‘discuss’ I guess I mean that Nordic colleagues will share their ideas and doubts in articles on these pages, but I would like to take the opportunity to invite colleagues from the rest of the world too, to discuss these matters of extreme importance for the future of libraries.

The first challenge is actually to create new services. In the first place I am thinking of e-services, but obviously the physical side of the hybrid library also changes with the emerging virtuality and demands a rethinking of the service profile. In my own country, Denmark, we define our union catalogue, with online search and request facilities to all libraries in the country by choice of the user, as the backbone of the hybrid library. In these years the strategy is to add value to the catalogue and link it with new services such as the e-ask-a-librarian service with chat facility which should become a 7×24 service, but at the moment closes at 10 p.m., or the Internet guide, an updated subject-based selection of websites of proved quality, or the subject gateways that have been built within the framework of Denmark’s Electronic Research Library, just to mention a few from a long list of e-services that librarians have developed in recent years.

A very important question is: How do we finance the production of these services. In Denmark the state financed part of it via money from the library project pool, run by the Danish National Library Authority, but we need a discussion on the question as to whether the exploding use of the Internet should lead to a kind of public service thinking, parallel to the broadcasted public service.

In Denmark the production of the services has mainly been organised between networking libraries.And networking is the second challenge that I want to emphasise. Particularly in countries or regions with many smaller libraries, networking will be necessary in relation to collection building, service- and competence development. If we think in terms of giving access to econtent, networking between public and academic libraries is likewise needed if you consider this access important also for the general public. But probably the greatest challenge in the networking field is to establish closer co-operation with various user groups to develop real value-adding services. Think of services to kindergartens, university teams, ethnic minorities, dyslexics just to mention a variety of target groups. For a constant development of services we have to co-operate with the end-users one way or another.

The third challenge to be unde rlined is competence development. The need for competence development is only too well-known in most countries,as in many libraries the majority of staff have professional roots in a pre-ICTperiod. Sufficient professional continuing education and distance learning are relevant and classical answers to the demand, but they can hardly solve the problem as the development is moving so fast that you must calculate with lifelong learning. It is necessary to integrate competence development within the organisational structure, that is to establish some kind of learning organisation, systematic job rotation, combined continued educational programmes and so called ‘neighbour-learning’. Or what is more likely: a combination of these and other methods.

Here I have just mentioned a few examples of obvious challenges.I hope that this journal over the years wil l offer frames for discussion and knowledge- sharing in this particular field in a way that will a ctually be used for the benefit of future libraries and their users.

Jens Thorhauge Thorhauge Consulting, independent advisor