Explore – Discover – Be inspired

There are three huge banners hanging in front of the entrance to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. They feature the words ‘Explore’, ‘Discover’, and ‘Be Inspired. These words could also be used to characterise the UmeåRegion’s joint library web site, minabibliotek.se. There are three huge banners hanging in front of the entrance to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. They feature the words ‘Explore’, ‘Discover’, and ‘Be Inspired. These words could also be used to characterise the UmeåRegion’s joint library web site, minabibliotek.se.

In 2008, the libraries in the UmeåRegion were awarded the United Nations Public Sector Award in the competition theme ‘Delivery of Services’. The jury stated in its decision that “This award is given in recognition of the exceptional contribution of the City of Umeå, Sweden has made towards improving the effectiveness, efficiency and quality of Public Service with Library 2007”. Still another international acknowledgement was bestowed upon us in 2007 – the European Public Sector Award. The jury’s motivation: “An exciting and highly innovative approach to improving access to cultural services within the city and its surrounding region”.

How did the UmeåRegion’s libraries get these prestigious awards? First and foremost I see it as confirmation of the long-term and proactive work that we have done to develop the libraries’ services for those who live in the UmeåRegion. We have been able to sustain a spirit of cooperation in the project, and we were able to cope with the challenges we have faced. Last but not least, we have not hesitated to confer with outside expertise to develop innovative services. The library cooperation within the UmeåRegion began as early as 2001. During a six-year period it was an EUfunded project that went under the name ‘Library 2007’. The project led to many lasting results that include a mutual library computer system, server, library card and borrowing regulations. Two activities AudioIndex, the Talking Library, and the joint web site minabibliotek. se are a couple of innovative activities that have received much attention.

AudioIndex, or the Talking Library, began as an audacious, somewhat playful idea in the project ‘Library 2007’. AudioIndex utilises RFID technology, which means that RFID tags (transponders) are attached to the spines of digital talking books, so-called Daisy books. The tags are read with a pointing device and the information that is related to the scanned tag is retrieved from a database and converted into speech that is read out via the headset. None of us could ever dream that our idea would eventually be put on the market as a commercial product for libraries, museums and convenience shops. In 2008 AudioIndex was nominated along with 1,000 other businesses for the Venture Cup, a competition that aims to stimulate the establishment of new, innovative businesses with growth potential. Minabibiotek.se, is an example of how we succeeded in fulfilling a very ambitious political decision. It is an important ingredient of Umeå’s candidacy for the European Capital of Culture 2014. Minabibliotek.se was the first virtual library to be nominated for the Library of the year competition. The jury stated in its decision that “The web site is temptingly easy to navigate on. The visitor is offered an abundant ‘smorgasbord’ of activities that include reading, music and film tips, knowledge and interactivity.

Minabibliotek.se inspires not only the use of the libraries’ joint digital resources, but also visits to the local, physical library.” During the past few months, minabibliotek.se has had close to 60,000 visitors per month, a threefold increase since the site started.

The joint library web site, www.minabibliotek. se, was launched in 2007 and is regarded by many as an answer to the Library 2.0 concept model. The objectives were:
• The library is an accessible virtual meeting place that is in harmony with the library’s basic tasks of supplying culture and providing information. These tasks are predicated on the idea that everyone is equally entitled to cultural experiences and information.
• The web site makes the facilities and services of the library visible and makes them more accessible.
• The web site produces added value for the visitors.
• The web site meets the needs of children and young people as regards library services.

Minabibliotek.se is being developed with the following catchwords:
• Innovative = innovation geared to people’s needs, desires and behaviours
• Intuitive = high accessibility and adapted to different target groups
• Informative = provide answers to questions and offer services that are requested
• Interactive = serves as a virtual meeting place, that is to say a place where people can log in and exchange views.

Minabibliotek.se offers core library services such as inspiration and opportunities for interaction. Our ambition is to provide added value for our visitors – something that they did not know that they wanted and by that means we hope to instil a love of reading and create a desire to revisit the library. At minabibliotek.se you can find book suggestions, articles, columnists, etc. There can be interviews with authors or library visitors, thematic texts or cultural reflections. Each article has book references and catalogue links that facilitate searches for the visitors.

During December 2008 the YouTube- Advent calendar was a popular feature on minabibliotek.se. Each day we published a new clip with the theme books, authors and the library. Daily updates provide an incentive to keep returning to the web site. Thus far this is the only time we have worked with moving images, but we have certainly got a taste for it and would definitely like to publish new YouTube serials at minabibliotek. se. Or why not produce our own film material; say something from our library events? We have the political mandate to provide alternatives for participating literacy. Today, it is inter- nationally said that libraries are going from supporting ‘information literacy’ to supporting ‘participating literacy’. Methods of dialogue with those who presently do not use the libraries must be developed so that it can be known what services and facilities can attract more people to visit the libraries, both physically and virtually. Good communication, active listening, and the readiness to change will be decisive for the development of libraries. More visitors can be attracted if the libraries offer the users an opportunity to create added value. YouTube,MySpace, and book tips and articles at minabibliotek.se are a few examples that show the value of personal ecommendations via the socalled peer-to-peer communication. Wikipedia is another example of the phenomenon where the contributions of many increase the attraction of a service.

An increasing number of our visitors contribute by rating books they have read, sharing their book suggestions and writing articles. The libraries in the UmeåRegion would like to involve our visitors more and improve literacy through participation. Currently we are trying to link up a number of interesting blogs on minabibliotek.se that are associated with literature and libraries. What services should we develop in order to reach those we do not reach today?

During 2009 we are working to develop a child’s perspective on minabibliotek. se. The first question that will have to be explored is “What is a child’s perspective and is there only one?”

Ever since the first public libraries were established in the 1900s, a specific objective has been that access to librarial services is as vital as being able to read well. Furthermore, having access to information is a basic prerequisite for participation in the democratic process. This fact, together with the opinion that all citizens have a right to cultural experience and access to information makes it most likely that our primary tasks in the future will largely be the same as today – convey culture, provide information, and serving as an accessible meeting place. These tasks still apply no matter the type of publication: printed text, Braille, audio books, eBooks, downloading, etc. The physical and virtual should support and complement each other. Based on these primary tasks, we think that the libraries shall: – act creatively through cooperation with other activities that can support and complement the tasks of the libraries – focus on what is beneficial for the citizens by asking for and listening to the viewpoints of the citizens and by directing attention and resources to the needs of different target groups – be available at a place that can attract new target groups.

The libraries should have a clear identity as accessible and neutral meeting places (physically and virtually) that are regarded to be hospitable to everyone irrespective of ethnicity, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation or social background. Indeed, our physical and virtual visitors should be able to explore, discover and be inspired.

Inger Edebro Sikström
Head of the Public Libraries
Umeå stadsbibliotek

Translated by Robert Mullins