The road to greater seamless library services

For our part we favour projects which require cooperation between several institutions.
The road to greater seamless library services A bin full of money, like Uncle Scrooge’s, is something we all would like to possess and Norwegian libraries are no exception. Within the library sector there is constant discussion about priorities and the use of project funds as a means of achieving improvements.

Much of the background to this discussion lies in the fact that the government’s policy report, Sources of knowledge and experience (1999-2000), appeared to recognise that significant increases in project funds would be necessary, once the planned amalgamation of the archive, library and museum sectors had been carried out. Three years after the establishment of this new body, however, we have seen little of the proposed increase to about NOK 70 million (EUR 8·5 million) per annum. For 2006 the Authority has allocated no more than NOK 34 million (EUR 4·5) towards the funding of projects in the archive, library and museum sectors.

However, money is not the solution to every problem, even where libraries are concerned. Also important are a willingness for change, an improved level of expertise and, not least, an ability to use the money available in coordination with other initiatives in order to achieve policy aims.

One of the main challenges lies in increased seamlessness. This concept was introduced in the above-mentioned government report as a guideline for development in the Norwegian library sector and was initially restricted in definition as applying solely to closer collaboration between all elements of the library network.We now see a need for a widening of this concept to include the fusion of different formats and technologies.We are looking at a situation, where telecommunication, data technology and broadcasting converge can become more closely integrated. The concept of seamlessness could equally well be applied to internal cooperation between the various public services and also between the private and public markets. A further possibility exists of achieving seamlessness throughout the archive, library and museum sectors.

Already we have the example of the European Digital Library which does not confine itself to library material alone. Similarly our own national Norwegian Digital Library (NDB) is planning to include resources from the archive and museum sectors.

One of the Authority’s most important concerns at the moment is carrying out the national library survey; a task assigned to it by the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Research. This extensive undertaking is now in its final phase and on 19th September the competed report will be presented for distribution and consideration. The strategic plan submitted in connection with the report proposes a series of aims and concrete initiatives, setting out requirements which will be vital to the sector’s development in the decade ahead. The aim is for the report to lead to a national library reform similar to that already underway in the museum sector.

Any future development of the Norwegian library system will greatly depend upon close interaction between the Authority and the various professional fields involved. The sector is represented in the survey’s reference group and a number of meetings have been held with various professional bodies. Also the Authority’s administration of project funds depends upon a dialogue with those working in the sector in order to pick up fresh ideas.

The Authority can also assign projects to particular professional fields. Project funds represent one of our most important administrative tools and are handled in a number of different ways.

Each year we invite applications for project funds from libraries, archives and museums. In 2006 funding was offered in the following categories:

  • Support for cooperation and development projects in the ALMsector.
  • Support for local and regional ALMinitiatives
  • Support from the web-site “kulturnett.no” for the production of new material
  • Support from the web-site “kulturnett.no” for the establishment and development of new, regional cultural web-sites.

Under the heading “Support for projects of cooperation and development in the ALM-sector” we indicated that we were looking for projects which would

  • promote learning and dissemination of knowledge and culture
  • expand net-based access to knowledge and culture
  • promote cooperation in organisational development and network creation.

These are areas common to all sectors. For our part we favour projects which require cooperation between several institutions. More and more often we enter into a dialogue with those seeking financial support in order to assist in planning the project before it receives final approval. The Authority can also invite cooperating partners into a project, particularly in areas where we seek an initiative. In such cases linking institutions together to create a professional network is good strategy, creating possibilities for an exchange of expertise. Passing on experience and results from successful projects is always a challenge.

Contributions to a seamless library

I should like to present a number of different projects to illustrate how they came into being and how they obtained financial support from us. These are projects which in various ways contribute to the development of a seamless library. The aim has been to establish good pilot projects and the results represent a valuable contribution to the national library report. Several of the projects also have a connection with the Norwegian Digital Library. Three of the projects share a common feature in that they cover a wide geographic area and are based on cooperation across institutional and municipal borders. Another common aspect is that they represent long-term thinking and are politically anchored on a regional basis. These are necessary conditions for success.

The Østfold Library Project

The county of Østfold was the first in Norway to achieve a common library service for all the inhabitants in one county. The public can make use of collections in all the libraries regardless of municipal borders and place of residence. The service includes not only public libraries but also those in secondary schools, colleges of higher education and even a medical library.

Borrowed material can be returned to whichever library is most suitable for the user. For the inhabitants this means an improvement in quality more in line with today’s demand for efficient services. The project makes use of a federated search system and a universal library user’s card. This card is not restricted to Østfold county but is a nation-wide service developed by the Norwegian Digital Library. In order for the scheme to work efficiently, a transport plan has been devised. Østfold county looks beyond national borders and cooperates with neighbouring Swedish authorities with regard to transport and other arrangements of mutual benefit. Access to books and to other media may constitute the basic service, but the project is also aware of the need for cooperation in other areas.

Libraries work together to promote literature and the pleasure of reading through special campaigns, meetings with authors, exhibitions, etc. Many of these initiatives are linked to national projects such as “Make Room for Reading”, “The Cultural Rucksack”, Nordic Library Week and also to municipal programmes of cooperation with refugee bodies and reception centres for asylum seekers.

The Østfold Library project is an example of an idea conceived locally by a county library with a solid regional base. Their application for financial support was forwarded to what was then the Norwegian Directorate for Public Libraries, where the initiative was seen as a positive contribution to a more inclusive development of the library sector. The project was granted special funding for a 3-year period, at first by the Directorate and later by the Archive, Library and Museum Authority, but is now continuing under normal daily management. Cooperation between the Authority and the Østfold County Library has been very close and together with Oppland County, as described below, has created a “test bed” for professional development in the form of a higher level of expertise among staff, an improved infrastructure and more user-friendly services.

The Oppland Library Project

The county of Oppland has objectives similar to those of Østfold. The aim is for the inhabitants to enjoy total library services regardless of administrative boundaries and independently of sector affiliations. Services should to a greater degree be adapted to the needs of the individual in our modern ICT-community. The information resources stored in the Norwegian library sector in its entirety should be available to everybody. Parallel with the work underway to create the physical, seamless library, a digital guide to services is being compiled. The libraries develop in different directions in order to complement each other within one region. The service guide is meant to help members of the public check which library they should contact for the particular services they require.

Oppland county is divided into smaller regions and the region of Valdres has acted as a model for inter-municipal cooperation. As part of the programme to promote professional skills the county has introduced a scheme whereby staff work for a period at another library within their region. In line with the increased recognition of libraries, archives and museums as significant arenas of learning, the Oppland County Library has chosen this aspect as its particular area of initiative. Through its ability to collaborate and its willingness to consider other points of view, such as the needs of the educational sector and the business community, the county library has contributed to a greater insight into how best to manage library resources.

Unlike the Østfold Library Project, the Oppland project had its roots in a government initiative, a pilot project carried out in 2002 by the Directorate for Public Libraries together with the National Office for Research and Special Libraries. A year later an agreement was drawn up with the Oppland County Library to carry the project to its completion.

Namdal Libraries. Cooperation for improved quality and access

This is the third project in the Authority’s initiative to develop inter-municipal and regional cooperation. The common denominator to all three is that the county library acts as a coordinator. It is vital for the lessons learned here to be incorporated in the national report, since the future of county libraries is one of the major problems under consideration. At the present moment a debate is taking place concerning the need for changes in the number of counties and their responsibilities, the outcome of which will determine the fate of county libraries.

Discussion about their future is therefore part of the process in establishing a new regional structure and a subsequent division of responsibility. The role of libraries in regional development may well prove to be their most important contribution also in the future.

This project, which involves all the libraries in the Namdal region (14 municipalities), was partly initiated on a local and regional basis but acquired its final form after a period of close dialogue between the Archive, Library and Museum Authority and the North- Trøndelag County Library. The main element is the creation of a common library plan for the region, but work is also being carried out on local schemes. Recruitment of regional library coordinators is seen as a way of improving library expertise in a district where the smaller municipalities have difficulty in finding and appointing professionally-qualified head librarians. This is a problem shared by many Norwegian municipalities, 75% of which have fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.

The project not only demonstrates the coordinating role of county libraries in this process but also provides the Authority with useful experience of how initiatives based on cooperation can help to fulfil the legal requirement that all municipalities must employ a qualified head librarian. In connection with the national report now under preparation, certain libraries in the region are carrying out a user survey to see if the project has led to an improvement in services.

The Drammen total library

Oslo’s neighbour, the town of Drammen, is building a new, extensive learning centre comprising public, county and college libraries and including that of the private Norwegian School of Management (BI). The initiative comes from the municipal authorities and the learning centre will form an integral part of Drammen’s “Knowledge Park”, a project designed to provide an arena for active cooperation between the business community, colleges of education, research institutions and the public sector. The Authority has supported this project with a view to establishing yet another model of cross-border collaboration both within and outside the library sector. We are very interested in looking closely at the organisational aspect, in particular the best way to ensure that different types of libraries can work together so as to exploit and develop their collective skills to the greatest advantage of both staff and visitors.

Should there be one library with a single organisation or three library units operating in parallel but with common user rights to all their material? We should also like to establish the possibility of offering all user groups equal services, especially in the light of copyright restrictions.

The Norwegian Digital Library – a vital contribution to a seamless library The Norwegian Digital Library is a national initiative, not merely a project. The vision is for NDB to offer easy access for all to digital information and knowledge. In establishing NDB it has been important for the Authority to stress the significance of digital services and a national infrastructure. The response to NDB throughout the library sector strongly suggests a desire for more infrastructure and shared services. It takes time and resources before results are visible but already the following concrete steps have been taken towards greater seamlessness.

  • Universal library card “At last!” a great many people must have thought when a universal library card was introduced in the autumn of 2005.With one card it would be possible to borrow from any library. This is in fact a truth with modifications, but generally all those libraries operating one or other of the systems which form the basis of the agreement between the suppliers can use the universal library card. It is particularly pleasing to note the public’s demand for this service in response to mention in the media. At the present moment there are some 300 libraries participating in the scheme in one way or another and the list grows longer every day. The process has required collaboration and coordination on many levels and both the Østfold and Oppland county libraries have assisted in the test programme. Since they have worked towards greater cooperation and have had a common library card as one of their own objectives, it was important that the national project should take notice of their opinions and experience.
  • Ask the library The library answers your enquiries by telephone, e-mail and sms. This service came into being under NDB but is still in the development stage. The challenge is to increase the number of libraries taking part, particularly special libraries, in order to widen and improve the quality of the service.
  • Norwegian Open Research Archives The four universities in Norway have set up open institutional archives and a programme of mutual cooperation. The 20 colleges of higher education, however, together with certain similar organisations, still have a long way to go, since their size makes them dependent on collaboration with others or restricts them to participation in national initiatives. The launching last year of NORA, the university library project, marked a step towards a better coordinated development of open institutional archives and the prospect of a nation-wide search facility within NDB. Several college libraries have taken up the challenge and have entered into projects with similar objectives. This is important in order to achieve a critical mass of digital content. The service is intended primarily for staff and students at universities and colleges of higher learning in Norway and abroad.

Seamlessness can also include cooperation between different public services. In most countries the educational and library sectors would appear to be natural partners. In Norway, however, these two sectors have developed differently, not only with regard to technology but also in their degree of pedagogic organisation and user-friendliness. Nevertheless they do have a number of problem areas in common, such as document description, production of resources, copyright problems, access to material, etc.

In collaboration with the Norwegian National Library and utdanning.no (a portal for Internet resources in the educational field), NDB has produced a report on these problems as a basis for further action.

The Archive, Library and Museum Authority is also responsible for a survey of all digitised material within these sectors in Norway. The working group behind this survey is due to present its report in June with proposals for initiatives to ensure successful coordination in the work of digitisation and for follow-up procedures. The committee has an ALM-perspective and its findings are based on the situation in archives, libraries and museums. Particular attention has been paid to accessibility and an open, democratic distribution of digital material. Further development of NDB will necessitate resources being set aside to ensure a continuing programme of initiatives in several important areas.

Challenges in the administration of project funding

In her leading article Leikny Haga Indergaard writes about the power of projects. Her argument places upon the Authority a duty to constantly improve the way we administer our financial support for projects. It also demands higher standards in some libraries with regard to initiating and running worthwhile projects.

In this article I have selected examples of a deliberate channelling of financial support to projects which promote our overriding vision of a seamless library. Projects are considered against the background of our national programme NDB and the library survey.

The challenge ahead will be to link the financial support available more closely to the Authority’s areas of initiative and its overall aims.We need many more special initiatives and programmes of limited duration which can contribute to a greater focus on those areas receiving priority during any particular period. Some of the funds can be put aside for commissioned projects, preferably according to a model where the idea behind the project is directly linked to the type of cooperation described in this article.

Information to potential applicants for funding should be more precise and clear about the objectives in mind and the type of project preferred.We must also improve our follow-up procedures where larger projects are concerned. We must actively draw on experience and results by means of conferences, publications and networks.Meeting these challenges will represent a significant contribution to better and more viable projects, leading eventually to improved services to the public.

Translated by Eric Deverill

Adviser, Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority