The Twinning project started in September 2007 and ended two years later. The project aimed to investigate whether twinning – cooperation – might be a way for libraries in developing their activities. The inspiration came from an earlier project, in which two smaller libraries by exchanging ideas produced positive results.
Inspiration also came from the school sector, whereby collaboration between schools in some places is an approach in which activities can be evaluated. Even in the corporate world so-called benchmarking is a process used in developing organisations.
Within the library sector it was previously used for international contacts between libraries, such as within IFLA. Several other projects involving comparing library activities have been implemented earlier, in Sweden and other countries.
The Twinning project was a collaborative undertaking between nine county and regional libraries in central Sweden and in which the Stockholm Regional Library was the project owner. It attracted almost 40 public libraries and the funding came from the National Arts Council.
When the Twinning project began the project management paired off libraries in couples, who wished to work within similar areas of activities and who shared similar conditions. Areas of focus could, for example, be marketing, media issues or children’s activities.
The project had a broad approach in that the participating library staff in addition to the cooperation itself also received instruction in applying various methods of knowledge development. Just as much as Twinning was tested, there were also tests as to how these methods worked in collaborative ventures. Some of the methods used were observation, process mapping and focus groups.
It is debatable whether Twinning in itself is a method and what is required of a work approach in order to be called a method. Visiting another library can be rewarding in itself, but this project aimed higher. The project idea took as its starting point that it is not enough to meet over a cup of coffee in order to instigate a process. Libraries need their own goals in order to achieve development. Only then can Twinning become a method.
During the two project years there were organised study days in which project participants were able to examine the different methods at workshops. In between these it was intended that the Twinning couples arranged their own meetings and could receive support by the county libraries if they so wished.
The results from the project varied from library to library. In some places one could see a tangible change in their activities. Elsewhere, the project left no lasting effect whatsoever. In a few libraries something was initiated that could lead to activities over time.
In their final reports, library staff indicated both advantages of the Twinning method and difficulties they had experienced in the project. Here are some quotes that reflect the positive experiences:
“We believe that Twinning has great potential for change, development of something new but as yet not part of ordinary operations. But it can also be used to evaluate current practices and services/activities and not least, create networks that are not only useful for just the activities that the Twinning method concerns.”
“It is a great way to ‘gain perspective on one’s own activities’ by mirroring others’ activities. Cannot be stressed enough as a method for development!”
In brief, according to project participants the benefits of working with Twinning were the following:
• By meeting new colleagues one has gained new knowledge that is of use.
• To see other approaches and get others to view one’s own library offers new perspectives.
• We have received feedback on activities we otherwise would not have got.
• A mirror effect is achieved when one sees colleagues performing the same tasks as you do. It can lead to both confirmation and self-criticism.
• The project has created new relations with colleagues at other libraries.
• In some quarters it has become a new start for their business.
• The Twinning approach has provided an opportunity to discuss and reflect on its own activities.
There have also been difficulties in the project. Some of them may be linked to the project design in itself and some to the Twinning format. A quote which reflects this:
“It’s been very difficult to hold together the group. We felt at a loss when our partners were not able to prioritize these issues to a greater extent. We feel we have not really succeeded in developing contacts and cooperation. The expectations varied and there was a distinct lack of a genuine climate of cooperation.”
This is a summary of the difficulties that libraries have indicated in their reports:
• Geographical distance between libraries is a hindrance. Travel costs time and money.
• It has sometimes been difficult to be more than two collaborators. (For various reasons, some of the libraries worked in groups of three.)
• Lack of common goals for libraries. The cooperating Twinning libraries have sometimes had different goals or even unclear goals related to the project.
• Different expectations and different opportunities among the cooperating libraries in devoting time to the project.
• It has in several cases been difficult to engage library staff, including management.
• It is difficult to put abstract thoughts into practice when developing something more permanent enabling the work to advance.
• It has been difficult to attain working structures. Work plans and the like have often been lacking.
Success factors for Twinning
What should one consider when looking to work with another library and developing activities? Based on the experience of the Twinning project it has been concluded that Twinning is an effective tool in developing methods if the following points are met:
• Keep the format on a small scale – two libraries working together.
• Reasonable geographical proximity between the libraries.
• Cooperating libraries should have similar goals. The objectives should be clarified.
• Strong support from external instructors.
• Time and energy should be spent on planning and structuring work plans.
• Libraries should adapt additional platforms for communication as an option between the actual physical meetings, such as virtual meetings and web-based platforms for discussion, collaboration and knowledge sharing.
• Accuracy in selecting alternative methods of knowledge development and evaluation.
• Continuity needs to be upheld, even if library staff or management has changed. Knowledge is needed in the staff groups to create participation of all concerned.
• The development makes clear that in many cases, changes in activities need to be made. A state of preparedness is necessary to handle this, so that the positive effects may be utilised.
One important result of the Twinning project was the book Ett steg till! En metodbok för biblioteksutveckling. The book aims to inspire others who want to work with development using cooperative strategies.
Stockholm Region Library
Project Manager for the twinning
This article is an adapted version of the chapter “Twinning” in the book:
Aleman, Lotta, et al (2009). Ett steg till! En metodbok för biblioteksutveckling. Tvinningprojektets slutrapport, Regionbibliotek Stockholms skriftserie 3.
The book can be ordered from the Stockholm Regional Library, regionbiblioteket.ssb AT stockholm.se Price: SEK100. It can also be downloaded free of charge as a PDF from
Translation: Jonathan Pearman