Overall responsibility for government support and coordination of library services Government assessment: The National Library of Sweden should be given a special assignment when it comes to assuming responsibility for a national overview, promoting collaboration and the development of library services, as well as continuously monitoring the work of the libraries in consultation with the county libraries. However, this assignment does not cover the research, university and college libraries. The government intends to give the National Library of Sweden the task of drawing up a plan for the practical implementation of this assignment.
Reasons for the government assessment
Libraries are a vital societal resource that possess a major development potential in tomorrow’s society, as they strive to promote literacy, education, lifelong learning, culture, and the dissemination of information.
Sweden has highly developed library services in the form of public libraries, school libraries, county and regional libraries, and also university and college libraries, all of which are publicly financed but are the responsibility of different public bodies, at a national, municipal and municipal/county council level. In addition, there are corporate and private libraries. Their tasks and target groups often coincide but are also different. Different kinds of libraries, however, are converging: for example, students are making increasing use of public libraries. In various localities, school libraries are being incorporated into municipal public libraries. In severalcounties or regions, efforts are in hand to view all libraries within a region as a common resource. Development efforts are being undertaken for various reasons, including bridging the divide between public and research libraries and transcending regional boundaries.
As pointed out by the committee of inquiry into cultural policy and the majority of consultation responses, what is needed is both a national overview and greater interaction between national, regional and municipal library services, two factors in line with the Library Services Act (1996), which states that libraries and the bodies responsible for public library services, should cooperate. With a view to improving the conditions for such wider collaboration, it is proposed that the National Library of Sweden, in addition to its present role as a research library, also be responsible for this national overview and promote collaboration and development within the library services sector that is administered by municipal or regional bodies. The government intends to give the National Library of Sweden the task of drawing up a plan for the practical implementation of this assignment. Research and college libraries are thus not included in this new specific assignment. Together with the county libraries, the National Library of Sweden is to monitor the practical implementation of the Library Services Act and also be responsible for the provision of relevant information and statistics in this field. The county libraries will be assigned a clearer role in monitoring developments within each region, thereby assisting and complementing the efforts undertaken by the National Library of Sweden with regard to these issues.
The National Library of Sweden is primarily a research library with overall responsibility for receiving, preserving, describing and making available the entirety of printed matter in Swedish as well as films, phonograms and videograms for research purposes. It also collects and makes available certain research works in foreign languages. Such duties will continue to be its primary mission, and its capacity to undertake its primary duties must not be restricted by its assignment to promote, coordinate and explore issues within a wider field of library services. The government also considers that it is necessary to ensure that its operations are given the special resources that this task requires.
The duty of the public libraries to promote reading through cultural activities and in a local context, where in many cases children and young people are the primary target group, differs considerably, however, from the role of the research libraries. In its role as coordinator, the National Library of Swedenshould also focus its attention on differences between different kinds of libraries and it probably needs to widen its expertise with regard to the work of public and school libraries.
The government considers that the universities and colleges should have a far-reaching autonomy so that they can act independently and outside the control of other public bodies, while the pluralism of the research and college system is also to be maintained. Consequently, the government does not consider it justified to expand the role of the National Library of Sweden as regards the college and research libraries.
The National Library of Sweden
The primary mission of this institution is to receive, preserve and describe the entirety of printed matter in Swedish and also maintain a representative collection of research literature in foreign languages in the social sciences and the humanities. Its other responsibilities include LIBRIS, the national online catalogue, certain collaboration issues between research libraries and also coordination, development and certain studies in the field of library services. It is considered that there are excellent opportunities for further developments relating to licence procurement, joint cataloguing and similar functions. The National Library possesses great expertise and experience in promoting and coordinating digital cooperation and should therefore be assigned a clearer role on behalf of the entire sector. Developments in digital technology also mean that access to digital literature is one issue that should be highlighted.
The Swedish Arts Council is currently responsible for national library statistics and this responsibility should be transferred to the National Library, which should also cooperate on this issue with the county libraries.
The county libraries
The County libraries deal with development and renewal of the libraries in the counties and their duties include supporting, coordinating, developing and supplementing municipal and municipal/ regional libraries located there. Around 30% of the budget of the county libraries is financed by central government and the remaining 70% by the county councils.
In addition to the county libraries, there are lending centres and legal deposit libraries, which function as central interlibrary loan repositories. In Stockholm, the Inter- national Library also functions as a lending centre for all the libraries in Sweden. The county libraries are key actors in the national library services infrastructure, and the government holds that it ought to be possible to develop and clarify their role in certain matters, including the responsibility for coordination and quality enhancement of library services within each county or region. In this context, the cooperation between the National Library and the Library of Talking Books and Braille is vital.
The Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille
This institution cooperates with other libraries so that those with some form of disability are able to have access to e.g. Talking Books and Braille books as well as e-texts. The committee of inquiry into cultural policy proposes, among other measures, that the Library of Talking Books and Braille should be charged with monitoring compliance with Section 8 of the Library Services Act with respect to that public and school libraries shall devote particular attention to certain designated groups, which would enhance the propensity of the Audio Books to collaborate with other public bodies. In this context, the government would like to stress that the collaboration between the National Library, and the Library of Talking Books and Braille, should be enhanced.
In order to further promote the access to and use of Braille among children, the government proposes in its 2010 draft budget that the appropriations for the Library of Talking Books and Braille should include funds transferred from expenditure area 9 Health care, medical care and social services.
The school libraries
According to the most recent school library statistics (The Swedish Arts Council 2009:1), nearly one fifth of the country’s pupils have no access to a school library in any form. Eighty percent of schools use the public libraries for borrowing books, reading and factual information retrieval. The Library Services Act states that there shall be suitably distributed school libraries to stimulate the interest of the pupils in reading and literature and to satisfy their need for educational materials. School libraries and their operations are a municipal responsibility.
The draft Education Act presented by the Ministry of Education and Research (Ds 2009) contains a stipulation that all pupils shall have access to a school library.
Ultimate responsibility for pupils’ having access to a school library rests with the schools and the municipalities. However, in the view of the government, suitable aspects of the responsibility for coordination that rests with the National Library of Sweden, for example, with regard to statistics, ought also to apply to school libraries.
Evaluation of the Library Services Act
The Library Services Act was introduced in 1997 and stipulates that everymunicipality shall offer its citizens access to public library operations. It also states that the public shall be able to borrow literature for a specific period free of charge. In 2004, the Riksdag made amendments to this Act to the effect that libraries and the bodies responsible for their operations within the sphere of public library services shall cooperate and that municipalities and county councils shall adopt plans for their library operations. The Swedish Arts Council currently compiles statistics on municipal library operations, including such matters as which municipalities have library services plans, but the Arts Council has so far not evaluated the content of these plans in any detail, nor has it undertaken a more thorough evaluation of the Library Services Act.
In previous draft budgets (e.g., prop 2008/09:1, expenditure area 17) the government announced that an evaluation of the Library Services Act would be undertaken during the life of the current Riksdag. This, however, would not involve any changes to the fundamental conditions for library operations. The objective is to strengthen the role of libraries and their future accessibility. This evaluation is closely linked to the issue of a national authority with responsibility for coordinating library services in their entirety. Consultation responses presented by, for example, the National Library of Sweden and the Swedish Library Association, stress the importance of continuous monitoring of the Act.
The Ministry of Culture has started its review of the Library Services Act and its practical operation. This involves a summary analysis and survey of its application, with regard to such matters as cooperation and library services plans, as well as the effects of the Act on the development of library services. Other aspects include highlighting relevant external changes after the Act passed into law, assessing the need for a revised Act, putting forward proposals for possible amendments and considering ways of monitoring and supervising the Act. It is important that there is continuous monitoring of compliance with the Act at a national level, although there must be scope for local variations as to how library operations are structured and organised. In 2010, the government intends to present an account of possible proposals arising from the current evaluation of the Library Services Act.