The local library

What is the significance of the library to people in everyday life and how is the library perceived as a meeting place? How does the Internet affect people’s social life and their use of the library? How can one offer a variety of services with the best possible use of the limited resources available? These are very relevant questions when deciding upon strategies for a library in a local community. What is the significance of the library to people in everyday life and how is the library perceived as a meeting place? How does the Internet affect people’s social life and their use of the library? How can one offer a variety of services with the best possible use of the limited resources available? These are very relevant questions when deciding upon strategies for a library in a local community.

The public library’s role in society is constantly evolving. The library system holds a unique position as a knowledge resource offering equal services free of charge to each and every inhabitant. At the same time a library serves as a cultural and social meeting place in the local community with a particular focus on literature and activities for children and young people.

The last few decades have seen a massive closure of small branch libraries in the Nordic countries and many of today’s libraries also have very limited resources. Users of libraries in the smaller municipalities, however, have just the same variety of interests and needs as those who live in the larger towns. Being able to offer adequate and varied services regardless of the library concerned represents a formidable challenge.

It is not often that the public library system rates as a topic in the national or international media, but when libraries feature on political agendas at local level, public interest can be strong. Users often express appreciation of their local library and many are well aware of a library’s importance to the local community. This involvement and the feeling of ownership among both politicians and inhabitants is of great value and should be nurtured with care in any future development of the public library system.

Nevertheless, although the library system has a good reputation and although politicians are supportive, statistics show that the use made of library services and the financial support given to libraries are both decreasing. Libraries must therefore start to think along new lines. The development of closer cooperation between libraries is a necessary strategy if these challenges and demands are to be met and if libraries are to be strong and active partners in the knowledge society of the future.

In Norway an official report Library Reform 2014 has been nationally distributed for professional consideration. The response from many municipalities is that they see a need for a strengthening and improved quality of local library services and that this can only be achieved through coordination and better collective use of resources.

By judging the individual resources of any particular library against what other libraries have to offer, both with regard to media resources and professional skills, a sound basis can be created for useful cooperation. Establishing digital library services, joint search facilities in all library catalogues, shared transport arrangements, etc. can all serve to exploit media resources and staff expertise in a better and more intelligent way, thus ensuring improved library services regardless of municipal borders and differing administrative levels.

Universities and colleges of higher education have seen the potential in cooperation, both the possibility to offer their students decentralised services through the public library system and also for they themselves to serve as a special library for all the inhabitants in the region working in their particular field. New types of library, such as the one recently opened in Drammen, can provide valuable experience and prove an inspiration to other local communities.

Library development is dependent upon national and regional support, upon the willingness of librarians to ignore traditional dividing lines when considering their resources and on cooperation, not only between libraries themselves but also with other institutions in the community. The challenge here is for library owners and administrators to be far-sighted enough to pioneer this type of cooperation without perhaps being able to foresee the consequences for their own library.

External project financing is often necessary in order to carry out reorganisation of this nature, but no less important to success are motivation, enthusiasm and creativity in the local community. Library development should place the user at the centre and challenge libraries to think along new lines.

Leikny Haga Indergaard
Head of department Norwegian Archive
Library and Museum Authority

leikny.haga. indergaard AT abm.utvikling.no

Translated by Eric Deverill

Director Department of Libraries The Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority