Strategic use of government means – and how to highlight results

One government instrument for influencing developments in society in general or in one individual sector is legislation. Another – and in many cases – at least as effective means is money. In Denmark we have a library act that provides guidelines for the obligation of each municipality to run a public library. The act includes (in § 18) a provision to the effect that the state gives grants to development within the area of public and school libraries. The grants are entered into the annual national budget and administrated by The Danish National Library Authority.

The development means are given to pilot and development projects upon application from libraries, municipalities and others and are awarded according to two contrary principles: grants to “help along the rear guard” in order to place citizens in all parts of the country on an equal footing, or grants to spearheads with a view to supporting the most advanced developments and with the expectation that others will be able to draw on those experiences. Over the years we have done both in Denmark. The first principle was applied in the 1990s to get all libraries connected to the Internet, and after the adoption of the last library act, which extended the materials obligation, it has been used to make sure that all libraries could build up collections of music and multimedia.

Action lines

Over the past few years The Danish National Library Authority has shifted the emphasis in the distribution of means from “free means” to isolated experimental projects in the libraries within specific action lines, chosen according to a national strategically planned line of development. The individual areas have been selected in a dialogue with the municipal parties, represented in an advisory committee. As far as the action lines are concerned, the spearhead idea has been prevalent.

Examples from the years 2003-2006 with the total government funding in brackets:

  • Development of children’s and school libraries (5,7 mil. DKK)
  • The libraries’ efforts in terms of integration (4 mil. DKK)
  • The library’s role as place of instruction in information literacy (8,4 mil. DKK)
  • The physical library and new forms of dissemination (9,4 mil. DKK)
  • Cooperation across municipalities and recently the merging process in the new municipalities (13,9 mil. DKK).

Altogether about 41,4 mil. DKK and the equivalent of 54,3% of the total means available have been spent during the period on some form or another of a nationally coordinated strategic effort.

In the Danish National Library Authority we have tried in different ways to follow up with a nationally coordinated support for qualification, exchange of experience and dissemination of individual projects. Giving financial support to a number of libraries that develop within the same area is an advantage in terms of creating networks along the way and exchanging experiences between the different projects. It provides the chance of coordinating, thus minimizing the risk of parallel development.

Despite the strategy of having action lines we have also maintained the important principle of offering a free scope in the form of non-earmarked means for libraries and others with completely fresh ideas for pilot projects.

Communication of experiences and results

In the wake of the distribution of government means for the development of the public libraries there naturally follows an obligation to communicate experiences and results to the sector in general. In The Danish National Library Authority we spend quite a lot of time doing this and we have to admit that it is by no means an easy task and something that we should like to do better.With an annual grant of 15 mil. DKK, a large number of projects may well be running concurrently which makes it rather hard to keep track.We have no doubts whatsoever that a government grant is a welcome incentive for the individual library to set in motion processes of change and development and that the money is put to good use. The real challenge is to get the full benefit of the general method development and gaining of experience that the projects produce. This entails results being disseminated to other municipalities and other libraries.

Every project that receives financial support must submit a report. In case of major projects we also emphasize the importance of an external professional evaluation and dissemination of results.

Reporting

Reporting normally takes the form of written reports submitted to The Danish National Library Authority on completion of the project with an option for requisition by a third party.We receive many fine and useful reports that unfortunately tend to collect dust on the shelves in the archive. The reports must be presented via the libraries’ own homepages, and abstracts must be sent to The Authority’s homepage. It means smoother access, but it does require some outreach work. Articles in the specialist press are also very useful – as are video presentations and conferences.

Conferences

Several libraries have used conferences as a way to present results from one or more projects.

The Danish National Library Authority has also by itself or in collaboration with various larger libraries used the conference as a means of coordination and qualification of a group of projects within the same area. ‘Pooling’ a number of projects makes it possible to afford to hire introductory speakers, which a single project could not afford, and this could mean a quality enhancement for several projects. A conference is a good place for networking between projects and for exchange of ideas and knowledge, or one might agree on joint evaluations for several projects. “En route” conferences have been held within the area of children’s and school libraries (‘På samme hammel’ – in English approx. ‘Pulling together’), The Role of the library as learning centre and The Physical Library.

Publications

Results from a variety of projects can also be gathered together and presented in journalistically edited publications or publications in The Danish National Library Authority’s series Råd og vink (Advice and hints). Experience has shown that this is an excellent way of gaining far greater impact than via isolated reports.

Dissemination in the form of journalistically edited publications has taken place within the development of children’s and school libraries and the integration area.

Four booklets in the Råd og Vink series have been published recently, turning project experiences into practical advice to other libraries. A similar publication about the library’s role as learning centre is in the pipeline.

Follow-up research

At the moment a number of projects under the action line ‘Lån og læs’ (Borrow and read) are being followed by a research project at the Royal School of Library and Information Science. A publication presenting the experiences from a number of projects is to follow later.

The new municipalities

The library act from 2000 gave Denmark a law that introduced new and greater demands for up-to-day library services, and it was to be expected that the smallest municipalities in the country would find it hard to live up to these demands on their own. The act, therefore, included a request for cooperation across municipalities (i.a. in the shape of regulations on inter-municipal payment schemes). As a natural follow-up on the act we subsequently introduced an action line, which gave financial support to projects that established collaboration across municipalities. With the adoption of a structural reform that from 1. January minimizes the number of municipalities from 271 to 98 the action line has been brought up to date and in practice changed to awarding grants to the processes of the merging of municipalities in relation to the library area.With fewer, larger municipalities each municipality’s library system is expected to a large degree to be sustainable. On the other hand they are actually in the midst of a taxing fusion process. Financial means for the action line have been augmented with a request to use the process for innovative thinking, and in all 42 projects have received funding.

In connection with the merging of municipalities that takes place during 2005 and 2006 we are testing new ways of dissemination. Traditional reports with process descriptions after a completed project will in this context be of limited use. The demand for reporting has therefore been reduced to submitting the actual result of the project in the form of a vision for or definition of the new municipality’s library services.

Future developments

A picture emerges of some strategies and methods, some paths to tread in order to exploit the national grants to the full.

Strategy for library development

Analyses from OCLC (Online Computer Library Centre), the Danish ‘cultural habit’ study, and analyses that the Danish National Library Authority itself has instigated, show that the libraries have to face extremely great challenges if they are to stay the course in the digital age. The Authority has followed up on the analysis with a strategy for library development in Denmark that emphasizes national infrastructure and new roles and services in the libraries. Apart from an analysis of the situation the strategy From information to knowledge contains a number of action lines and concrete suggestions for action. Many of the suggestions are in the nature of ‘back-office’ and of a technical character, while local strategy work is left to the individual libraries.

Community versus institutional thinking

How to use the government Development Pool naturally enters the strategy. As opposed to previously action lines can now be decided on the basis of a formulated overall strategy. The strategy recognizes the importance of meeting the challenges in cooperation with others, if the libraries are to gain sufficient impact. The sector faces ever more complex tasks that cannot be solved by some primary municipalities alone, and which in many cases also require cooperation across public and research libraries. In terms of means from the Development Pool, it means deliberations as to the advisability of thinking to an even greater extent in strategic action lines, and perhaps spending some of the money on major analyses and experiments, launched and coordinated at national level. The Municipal Reform with its prospect of fewer and larger municipalities must encourage this development and lead to the distribution of fewer ‘minor portions’ of the means.

When the strategy very shortly is adopted, it will be followed up by a number of new action lines, which after consultation with the municipal authorities can be announced to the libraries in ample time before application deadline in the autumn.

Communication via the homepage

Alongside the formulation of new action lines it is necessary to further develop exchange of experience and dissemination. As far as resources allow, we will be doing more of that which we know to have effect. A good and structured organisation of communication on the Authority’s homepage can provide an overview and the chance to follow active projects continuously. Meetings and conferences will provide the opportunity for knowledge sharing and in this way help to promote results.

Marketing of the libraries

Another relevant and necessary initiative is a more concentrated and professional marketing. An initiative that would guarantee that innovative library development becomes known outside the sector itself and its own specialist press. Time and again user analyses reveal that citizens’ (and politicians’) picture of libraries is very traditional, and that for example only very few people know about the great variety of net services which the libraries have developed and operation in networks between a number of libraries and on which millions of government development means have been spent.

The results from those times when the message has got across show that it is worth it. The publication about the libraries’ initiatives for furthering integration got a full page in a major daily paper with the result that several years of hard work on the development of this particular area became visible to the public at a stroke. An advertising campaign based on well-known musicians as ambassadors of The Libraries’ Net Music led directly to a doubling of number of online music loans. Participation with the union catalogue, library.dk, in a joint advertising campaign last autumn with television spots and advertisements in the daily papers for public digital self-service solutions led to a record number of visits to the site of more than 100,000 during the week following the campaign. There must be more areas where the libraries can be branded together.

Halfway through the processes in connection with library mergings there have been two conferences – one arranged by the Royal School of Library and Information Science, the other by Vejle Public Library in collaboration with a consultant who is attached to a number of library fusion projects and to us in the Danish National Library Authority.

The Vejle conference focused on local library services – an area which has turned out to present a specific challenge to the new municipalities. The conference attracted 88 participants from a number of ‘fusion-affected’ municipalities and the emphasis was on personal involvement. After a number of appetizers with presentations of interesting ideas from some of the most innovative projects, individual project plans were elaborated upon in workshops and each subjected to a chosen opponent. Each participant was offered the opportunity to take part in three (of five) workshops, which guided by four questions for reflection, resulted in an actual method development across the participants’ own projects. We learned that the participants were ‘turned on’ by this form, and that it is possible in the course of one single conference day to develop ideas across projects. The conclusion is that conferences that actively involve the delegates are the most productive.

Participation with the union catalogue, library.dk, in a joint advertising campaign – using two well-known, popular danish actors – last autumn with television spots and advertisements in the daily papers for public digital self-service solutions led to a record number of visits to the site of more than 100,000 during the week following the campaign

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Chief Consultant Danish Agency for Culture, libraries