Traditional and modern in the library world

To contend that libraries are in the midst of a revolutionary phase, with new assignments crowding the librarian’s agenda, is to state the obvious. There is literally a unanimous agreement prevailing among Sweden’s librarians that emphasise the need to follow the evolutionary flow if libraries are to continue playing a decisive role within its spheres of activities.

Alas, beyond this superficial sense of agreement there resides considerable insecurity as to which measures should be taken, to what extent and why.

In my view, part of this insecurity dwells in the uncertainty as to which role the library has in today’s society and which role it is to assume tomorrow. What does it imply to be a contemporaneously adequate institution, to prefer progression rather than retrospection? What kind of organisation, competence, developing strategies, mentality and general characteristics is required today that was not required yesterday?

An analysis of the library system needs as its point of departure to fix the library’s present position seen from a number of parameters and to ask how this position relates to the tendencies and changes advancing on a wide front. It is about new demands of competence within education, trade and industry, the public’s demand for new services, new media and information resources, the range of possibilities offered by the Internet, digital services etc. If we just allow ourselves for a moment to connect onto Weber’s ideal type, not forgetting that ideal types are theoretical constructions, not found in pure form, it might be possible to create the model shown below. We make the differentiation between the traditional library and the modern. The traditional library is in harmony with the industrialised society and the modern library with, what we initially call the information and media society.

A library’s sphere of activity can be divided into five parts. The five parts have an equal number of opposites. All these parts connect to the traditional and modern library respectively. There is no value attached in the opposite pairings as such. The aspect of value lies instead in its ability to interact with contemporary developmental tendencies. The traditional aspects are in the left column.

Most libraries find themselves in a state of motion transporting them from the traditional to the modern. This state of motion is uneven and contradictory. Evolution is not constant or equally fast in all spheres. It is not unusual to see organisational changes adapt libraries to the modern model, whilst a library’s entire mentality and developmental strategies belong to those of the traditional model. Tensions and opposites will invariably rise to the surface and at its worst the organisational changes are nothing more than a product of the drawing board.

The societal relevance of libraries lies in their ability successfully to complete the journey from the traditional position to its modern counterpart. The resources at their disposal, such as county libraries and public institutions, should therefore be utilised to facilitate their own modernisation.

The question is to what extent are the regional and national resources equipped to handle this? How do these institutions act in a traditional versus a modern perspective? This in itself is an interesting question and one, which there will be reasons for returning to.

OrganisationHierarchic
Departmental thinking
Library board
Stable
Professional role
 Flat
Comprehensive view
Wider committee structure
Changeable
Team
CharacteristicsSlow
Obvious assignment
Local access
Visitor
Accurate
 Fast
Redrafts assignments
Global access
Final user
In motion
Development strategyMore resources
From within
Missions
Ready solutions
 Co-operation
Dialogue
Dialogue
Creating solutions
CompetenciesCard
Routine
Tactic
Filer
Silent knowledge
House
 catalogue Web
Development project
Strategy
Information strategist
Pedagogy

Market place

MentalityClosed
Hesitancy
Threat
Playing it safe
Static educational ideal
Arrogance
 Open
Initiative
Possibilities
Risk taking
Learning processes
Humility

Translated by Jonathan Pearman

Consultant education and development at Skåne County Library.