The amalgamation of the Norwegian archive, library and museum sectors

- as viewed by smaller special libraries
The special library sector in Norway consists of relatively few really large libraries, such as the Norwegian National Library (NB) and those libraries attached to the four universities, together with a wide range of medium-sized and smaller special libraries. Even within the university and training college sector there are considerable differences between the university libraries, the regional college libraries and the special libraries attached to the colleges of science. Other special libraries are to be found connected to research institutes, museums, government administration, hospitals and private concerns. The authors of this article represent two specialised libraries, one within the museum sector and the other attached to a college of higher professional education.
The Norwegian library sector was previously administered by two government bodies. The Norwegian Directorate for Public Libraries performed a supervisory and advisory function in relation to library legislation and the public library sector, while the National Office for Research and Special Libraries (RBT) had an advisory role towards the special library sector but no responsibility for supervision or directives. The latter was established in 1969 and until 1993 devoted much of its efforts towards the creation of a Norwegian national library independent of the University of Oslo Library. Since the appointment of a national librarian in 1993 RBT has been able to concentrate completely on the challenges presented by the special library sector and has become a vital source of expertise.

Large areas of the special library sector in Norway have enjoyed a unique form of co-operation through BIBSYS, a common library system based on the sharing of data and co-operation in inter-library lending. In addition to its role as a service provider BIBSYS has become an important centre of competence for the special library sector. With regard to services and expertise NB also plays a vital role. An electronic central catalogue was set up at an early stage to cover the majority of Norwegian special libraries and several of the larger public and county libraries. NB runs a number of other databases and is also responsible for a deposit library vital for inter-library lending.

From two library bodies to the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. What does this change involve? Certain elements of the Norwegian library sector have worked hard for years to achieve a co-ordinating body for special and public libraries at government level. These efforts have been motivated by the needs of library users such as students constantly on the move, the demands of lifelong learning and a general desire for better utilisation of collective resources.We have, however, seen little concrete evidence that these tasks were beyond the competence of the Directorate for Public Libraries and RBT.

In the national budget for 2002 the government proposed an amalgamation of these two bodies. The great surprise, however, not least for the libraries, was to find that the museum sector as represented by the Norwegian Museum Authority (NMA) and also Norwegian archives were to be incorporated in this sector ‘fusion’. In its budget proposals for 2002 the government had the following to say about the most important responsibilities of the archive, library and museum sectors.

  • To preserve the community’s social memory in an electronic age
  • To exploit digital technology so as to reveal the unique material and sources of knowledge hidden from the general public in our archives
  • With the National Library as spearhead to develop the library sector into a wholly-integrated system based on user-friendly technological solutions
  • To create the so-called seamless library, i.e. library facilities which enable users to contact any library of any type or size in order to obtain the assistance and service they require
  • To expand the functions of public libraries by the use of broadband connections offering all sections of the population access to Internetbased services
  • To reconstruct a fragmented museum sectoron the basis of three principles:
    1. Preserving and strengthening local involvement in cultural conservation
    2. Ensuring professional expertise and institutional strength at a regional level
    3. Co-ordinating museums into a national network
  • To prepare the ground for the development of a large, national art museum in the vicinity of the capital
  • To establish a governmental coordinating and development body for the archive, library and museum field as a whole, a central body to develop joint solutions and provide the archive, library and museum sectors with joint services, both selfinitiated and on request. Although the emphasis here is on solutions and services which encourage cooperation and co-ordination between sectors, consideration must also be given to sector-specific requirements.
    (Authors’ emphasis)

This list of aims and proposals clearly shows that the archives and museums face massive concrete tasks, both with regard to making material accessible and to network development. A collective library sector has already accomplished a great deal in these areas – and this without any joint governmental co-ordinating body. This is naturally due to the fact that the library sector is internationally oriented with regard to technology and standards and has already established a long tradition of co-operation and network philosophy. Concern has been expressed that the financial investment necessary, particularly within the museums, will mean reduced funding for libraries.

The Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority (Norwegian official short version: ABM-utvikling) is now a reality and our intention in this article is to consider the possibilities arising from this establishment and to identify the challenges and needs of our particular sector.

As representatives of specialised professional fields we can see several possible benefits to be gained from strengthening and co-ordinating the archive and museum sectors. ABM-utvikling has indicated a number of central areas to concentrate upon, including the structure of collections where the objective is said to be “to contribute to collective action and work-sharing in the structure, management and utilisation of stored material and sources of knowledge”. With regard to presentation and dissemination the Authority’s aim is “to contribute to the organisation of sources so as to promote cross-sector utilisation of all types of material and to ensure source suitability to meet the wishes and requirements of a variety of users”.

We should certainly like to see ABMutvikling become a driving force for good, standardised joint catalogues for the archive sector with detailed information on each individual archive. Many museums have interesting collections of special material such as drawings and photographs but these can be difficult to access because they lack good catalogues. Extended catalogues with efficient search functions would ease the role of the libraries as providers of practical information, while at the same time enabling a greater number of end-users to obtain such information direct.

Concentrating on a national museum network with a sensible sharing of tasks, instead of everybody trying to collect everything, would strengthen the level of specialisation. The registration of museum artefacts is very important and again this is a question of giving priority to co-ordinating cataloguing functions. The archive sector is in the process of creating a unified catalogue by means of its Digital Archive, but the museums are lagging behind. Certain museums have laid out parts of their collections of objects and photographs, but so far no joint catalogue function exists. This is sorely needed. It is important that ABM-utvikling insists on all registration being based on the same standards within each professional sector in order to facilitate the creation of unified catalogues.

The field catalogue for museums of art and culture (NMA, 2002) is a good example of a registration standard for objects and photographs. The important thing must surely be to know what there is and where to find it rather than expect it to be delivered to the door.

The Norwegian digital library
One of ABM-utvikling’s first concrete steps in the library area is its report on the Norwegian digital library (NDL). The advisory committee proposes a five-year national programme to be carried out with the Authority responsible for the secretarial functions. The Authority’s press release reads as follows.

“A Norwegian digital library will consist of many component parts and services. Among the most central of these will be the following.

  • The possibility for co-ordinated search of all library services throughout the land, thus making it possible for library users to sit at home in front of a PC and order any book from anywhere in the country.
  • The creation of a Norwegian data base of knowledge consisting of our most important sources of information and cultural heritage. The working committee recommends that these should be made accessible to all and that the costs should be met from central funds.
  • A simple, effective user interface providing the university and higher education sectors with access to Norwegian and foreign journals…”

Norway, in contrast to both Finland and Denmark, has so far seen no government initiatives for direct funding of an electronic library system. However, a number of reports, proposals and projects have been launched, some of these under the auspices of BIBSYS, NB, the library committee of the Council of Universities and Colleges of Higher Education and the RBT, the latter having also succeeded in obtaining a number of consortium agreements with regard to reference databases and electronic journals.

The Authority’s report covers a wide range of subjects, including framework considerations, metadata, content and services, various aspects of co-operation and organisation and also concrete recommendations. Joint solutions for electronic journals, both with regard to financing and organising, are of vital interest to very many special libraries, depending upon their area of specialisation and the extent of their electronic publishing. In our opinion this aspect of the NDL represents one of the most important areas of initiatives in relation to the special library sector. Here there is a need for the channelling of project funds and the core financing of joint services, together with further development of RBT´s negotiating expertise.

The report also points out that licensing co-operation might well be viewed in an international or Nordic context. This is perhaps particularly important for the smaller, specialised areas. The producers of reference databases and electronic journals often come from smaller environments unconnected with the large publishers and distributors and these sources of knowledge therefore find no place in the large ‘packages’. A recent example of a Nordic model is the consortium agreement drawn up between ARLIS Norden (Art Libraries Society) and PrioInfo concerning access both to reference databases and certain full-text sources.

One particular challenge for electronic journal subscription lies in the question of storage. So far, neither nationally nor internationally, is there any unified solution to this problem which is particularly relevant to those engaged in the humanistic field. Until a reliable system of electronic storage becomes available, a possible solution might be found in an official requirement for all paper versions to be stored either in accordance with an agreed sharing of responsibility or alternatively perhaps in the NB’s Deposit Library.

The seamless library
We have observed that one of the government’s objectives in establishing ABM-utvikling is the so-called ‘seamless’ library. The proposals for a Norwegian digital library also reflect a vision that a user should not need to think about what type of library to approach when in need of library services. The report recommends extensive possibilities for co-ordinated searching and a flexible system for document delivery based on ‘inter-library lending goodwill’. This concept is not further discussed, but we doubt that the efficient functioning of an inter-library lending system is primarily dependent upon goodwill. Unfortunately the main requirements are of a substantially different nature.

Norway has no arrangements for the funding of inter-library lending of books. It is the major users among the libraries themselves that finance the system as part of their normal activities and without any extra funding from the granting authorities to the ownerinstitutions concerned. A number of proposals have been made in order to solve this problem of funding, including an initiative from the Norwegian Library Association’s special committee for inter-library lending which in 1992 launched a settlement plan whereby the libraries attached to universities and colleges of higher education agreed to a system of payment similar to that covering the ordering of copies. Such initiatives, however, have been stopped on the grounds of being in conflict with the principle of free lending and borrowing and also with reference to copyright legislation which bans any form of payment for the lending of books. The most important step towards seamless lending of documents would be central government financing of an inter-library system. Here the newly-established ABM-utvikling has a vital part to play.

Seamless document delivery does, however, possess other aspects. Loss of material is extremely serious for specialised professional fields, particularly in the humanistic sphere where the old is as equally important as the new. The likelihood of loss is greater when the borrower comes from outside the primary user group. Access to rare material in a library readingroom is also of much greater value to the general public than any compensation the library may receive for the loss of a book to some borrower’s private collection. Those of us who represent small special libraries whose collections are also of interest to the man in the street see great advantages in having lending procedures which permit some control of those wishing to borrow our material. We regard this in much the same way as we view the right to offer different services to different user groups.

In this particular respect many libraries with specialised collections have much in common with the archive sector. Archive material is unique and will in most cases only be made available in the reading room of the institution concerned. The user must come to the material, not the material to the user. The same applies to any book that is irreplaceable. The risks attached to sending books by post and allowing their use outside the library must outweigh any inconvenience to the user of being obliged to visit the institution concerned. In the long run the general public will be better served if the book is kept safe, but available, in a library. Also here, of course, much of the library archive material will be subject to control and use will require authorised access.

The concept of a seamless library is not confined to lending but also includes other library services, such as guidance and access to IT-facilities. For the user it may seem practical to approach a special library direct but for the library sector as a whole some form of worksharing based on the user’s primary attachment would appear to be much more appropriate. Even when putting visions into practice, a realistic attitude should be adopted in relation to priorities and the use of resources. From a social and economic point of view we can see no justification for specialist librarians providing assistance, for example, to pupils working on a school project.When university and college libraries become learning resource centres, this does not mean that the general public has access to computers, colour printers and scanners. The seamless library must not come into conflict with the responsibility of special libraries to tailor their services to the requirements of their primary users.

The need for continuity under ABM-utvikling
Finally we should like to consider some of the important tasks carried out by RBT which we should like to see retained by ABM-utvikling. RBT with its high level of expertise represented a professional approach to the needs of special libraries, particularly those smaller libraries with limited resources of their own. Through its journal Synopsis RBT has offered precise, specialised information on national and international challenges and initiatives. In our age of information deluge this is an invaluable asset.

RBT has arranged many important conferences and further education programmes, thereby contributing greatly to the professional skills of Norwegian special librarians. RBT has also fulfilled a vital advisory function and has engaged actively in creating a network through regular contact with the various types of special libraries. Finally, RBT has kept a watchful eye on events, both national and international, and has played an important role in securing both individuals and institutions to inform and assist the special library sector.

We are to some degree fearful of seeing these important functions lost or weakened.We welcome increased knowledge about the other sectors of ABM-utvikling but not a probable loss of initiatives and input specific to our own particular field.


ABM-utvikling’s strategic document: (in Norwegian)
Digital Archive: (in Norwegian)
Norwegian Digital Archive: (in Norwegian)
ARLIS Norden info 2002:4 p.7:

Translated by Eric Deverill

museum librarian Norwegian Museum of Science and Industry Library
chief librarian Oslo College of Architecture Library