SIM and BIN – supporting modern media communication flow

… the projects aim at the same goals – to organise media communication flow for its inhabitants
Co-operation is the key to strength. The phrase may seem dated, but the projects are immensely innovative. SIM in the south of Sweden with modern simultaneous search functions and BIN in the north with a well thought out and structured media plan. And yes, the two do meet but how these two co-operative ventures will shake the very foundation of the Swedish library sector – remains to be seen.

At present there are two major library projects concerned with media communication flow. The SIM-project includes the county libraries in the south east (Blekinge and Kronoberg), Kalmar, Jönköping, Västra Götaland, Halland, Skåne and the Central Lending Depository in Malmö. All in all 3,8 million people are affected. The BIN-project is the SIM-project’s geographical opposite, affiliating the county libraries in Västernorrland, Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Jämtland, Gävleborg and the Lending Depository in Umeå. Fewer inhabitants, but spread across a substantially larger part of the country than its southern counterpart.

Nevertheless, the projects aim at the same goals – to organise the media communication flow for its inhabitants. However, their priorities at the initial stages differ. Briefly, the difference is that the SIM-project lends focus to the advanced technique needed for simultaneous searches among different media, whilst BIN put their efforts into teaching about media planning. Two, equally important sides to the same coin, exchanging experiences, making collaboration conducive to both parties.

The SIM-project’s abbreviation stands for ‘Ny struktur för informations- och medieförsörjning i södra Sverige’ (‘New structure for information and media communication in the south of Sweden’). They explain the chosen direction as: “The purpose of the SIM-project is to improve and simplify the information and media flow in the south of Sweden and enable the municipal and school libraries to achieve a more efficient and faster service from the county libraries and the lending depositories.

The gateway SESIM has received much attention. An advanced search engine, which not only accommodates library catalogues but also integrates databases, websites and other Internet services. You can either read full text or pursue a reference and find out where the nearest place is to acquire the medium. The gateway programmes Metalib and SFX are being used for the first time in the public library sector, but have been available for much longer among the research library community around the world. How come such an advanced system was chosen?

– We were in Denmark for the purpose of studying and shared tutorials with the staff from the University College Library in Blekinge, says Solveig Einarsdottír, librarian at the South-East County Library, and were informed about different systems. It would not be possible for each county library to have its own system. Instead, we have to share such resources.We are fortunate to have Malmö in on this as they have a computer systems department from which we purchase certain services.

A reminder of Internet services
There is quite a bit of effort required in adapting a system to the needs of a public library and producing a userfriendly interface. Of course the aim is, as in Denmark, to enable the users to do most of the work themselves and order different media to their local library, regardless of where the media are. But before we reach that stage there are a number of hurdles to clear, both those of a technical kind and municipal decisions. One decision that has been arrived at refers to collections of two regional text-book pools, which are now made available to the entire project area.

– This collection has been made available through public funding via the county libraries. If we intend to proceed with a free flow of the municipality’s books, political decisions on a local level need to be taken.We have also begun looking into transportation, but with the possibility of performing simultaneous searches we hope for an increase in the Internet services, and not in the use of interlibrary loans. The first stage will see librarians using the gateway and for this an intense period of teaching needs to take place. Solveig goes on to say that they intend to reach every municipality, every person who works behind an information desk.

When you see the system at work you understand the possibilities that are to be gained. The libraries are filled with different media, but it is difficult acquiring an overview of these at the information desk. Tools are needed. This is like going back to the source of information work – to extract that which is useful to the user and evaluate its sources. Assisted by the system one can also offer continuous subject watch, where listings are e-mailed to the user. One sets up a search string, decides at what intervals it should run and for how long, and the result will automatically be sent to the user. An efficient approach when assisting politicians and civil servants who require a basis of facts when making global evaluations.

Decisions and not only discussions
One must not believe that the gateway is the entire project. It should rather be seen as a tool to be used in the daily work, but what else is new about media venture?

– Discussions have become more intense and structured and we are now deciding on measures to be taken. There is a special committee for this and we make mutual applications for funds which we then pool, says Solveig. Passing on the information about how the project was proceeding to all those involved proved more difficult than we thought initially. At first there was only one project manager assigned to the development of the gateway, but now we have someone responsible for establishing and integrating searches of the KULDA databases in the gateway.

KULDASweden (License consortium for databases and Internet services) is an initiative which has taken the path from project to a co-operative venture on a regular basis. Through mutual purchases the Swedish county libraries are able to offer the municipal libraries interesting databases at a more favourable rate than if they had made the purchase straight from the commercial suppliers of databases.

The acronym BIN reads ‘Bibliotekssamverkan i Norrland’ (‘Library cooperation in Norrland’). Is there a difference now that it is a project instead of, as previously, a media co-operation?

– This project places media communication flow in a wider context, says Roland Tiger, county librarian in Västernorrland. The customer should be at the centre and receive the fastest possible service. And the fastest way can be achieved in the municipality where the people live, where the media collection should reflect the population and the local needs.

– A beneficial purchase policy lessens the need for interlibrary loans, says Roland. The KULDA databases are included in this. Even the smallest of public libraries must aim to become hybrid libraries, equipped with databases and net services. Or else, there is a risk that they will fall behind despite the fact that the technique can afford all libraries better service.

Media planning courses
So far the BIN-project has given two 5- point courses, (One point is equivalent to one week of full-time study, including lectures, etc. One academic year normally consists of 40 such points. One point is thus equivalent to 1.5 ECTS credits.) attended by sixty participants. Later this autumn the course will be given in a more compact form, consisting of three days with independent studies.

– The best results have come when libraries have sent more than one participant, says Roland, as it is very much a project about attitudes. It takes training to realise the importance in offering library users access to databases and electronic publications. Roland implies that many libraries still hold on to oldfashioned ways of thinking.

They rely too much on the services supplied by Bibliotekstjänst and let their ‘instincts’ rule instead of looking at the facts that make up a municipality. There is still a prevailing sense of scepticism against new forms of media, such as databases. They are viewed as something extra, something one needs special funding for. Instead they should be making allowances for it in their regular budgets. They also feel that databases with English text might be too advanced for the local population.

Norrsök and method project BIN has chosen a basic simultaneous search function in its initial stage.We felt it was a priority to get off to a quick start, to have simultaneous searches done by counties and a shared simultaneous search facility, such as Norrsök, for the county’s host library and lending centre.

– It’s cheap, but it only works as long as they do not want the remaining Internet resources, says Roland. He also feels that it is a good thing that SIM is developing a more advanced gateway, seeing that maybe this is the way that BIN will eventually go.Within the context of BIN there are three parallel methodprojects being pursued. Fifteen municipalities get to share in the county library’s funds in order to purchase complementary media collections. Instead of using the interlibrary lending system, they buy the books for their own municipality. Another part-time project looks to the co-use of media collections among neighbouring municipalities. Some of them work together in pairs and on request send each other parts of their media collections. Ten municipalities are currently testing a system whereby different media are sent to the user’s home address. The closure of a number of library branches in the Norrland region often makes a local library seem very far away, says Roland. Not everyone gets to benefit from the library buses, and even if they do it might take a long time before the next visit. Receiving a parcel through the post might be a viable alternative. As long as this remains a project and the county libraries inject much needed funding, there need not be a collision between the libraries and municipal autonomy. On the other hand, if the chosen option is a model of free flow and user-directed interlibrary loans, then political decisions will have to be taken throughout the municipalities.

– If you have a regional federation, then it is their strategy that prevails even among the municipalities. On an organisational level many of the libraries are part of the county council and one cannot take for granted that the municipalities take the same view on co-operative ventures across municipal borders. Several of the county libraries in the BIN-project invest a lot of effort in supplying a strong basis for decision- making through interlibrary loan surveys and a regional plan for cassette books.

What about the rest?
What about the so-called ‘waist of Sweden’, does not mid-Sweden have any co-operative ventures?

Aside from the usual everyday co-operative interlibrary loan, a new gateway has been initiated: Katalogsök Mellan-Sverige. This includes the county libraries of Dalarna, Gotland, Stockholm, Södermanland, Uppsala, Värmland, Västmanland, örebro and östergötland and the Central Loans Depository in Stockholm.

The similarities between them and the gateways of SIM and BIN consist in the fact that they only have the host library’s collection and not those of the other libraries in the region. This is how local initiatives evolve into cooperative ventures on a national scale, just as the Internet service Fråga biblioteket has developed. This began when a few public libraries needed to try out a service whereby users could e-mail questions and receive answers from an ‘on duty’ library. This has now become a national service resource endorsed by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, and the number of libraries who wish to affiliate themselves is growing steadily. Both large and small libraries are welcome to participate. As Roland Tiger points out, the smallest libraries have equally great possibilities for providing good service to their users.

Translated by Jonathan Pearman

Consultant Spiralum Kommunikation.