How do the public and school library systems work together?

Based on unwavering support by the municipalities, the Swedish public and school library systems can look back on a long history of fruitful collaboration. The libraries often share premises and cooperate to varying degrees, both with and without formal agreements. Statistics for 2010 indicate that 43 per cent of 1,214 Swedish public libraries were integrated with their counterparts in the schools.

The systems have different purposes. According to blogger and school librarian Leif Oxenmyr, ”The primary purpose of public libraries is not to serve as an educational resource. As a result, their displays, media collection and furnishings are not quite the same as school libraries. The librarian plays a different role as well. At a public library, you work in the back during some shifts and meet the public during others. At a school library, you are always interacting with users and you are more tied up with classroom activities.

The two systems follow different policy documents and usually report to different authorities. The staff of some integrated libraries feel that they have insufficient support from the schools. The education system is not as committed to its libraries they would like to see. The 2010 Swedish Education Act states that ”students at compulsory schools, special needs schools, Sami schools, upper secondary schools, and special upper secondary schools must have access to school libraries. Both the Swedish Schools Inspectorate and Swedish National Agency for Education are working on definitions of the term school library. According to the Inspectorate, a nearby public library is not good enough a school library must provide continual learning support.

Some schools have not been allowed to start up because they had not included a library in their plans. Independent schools have contacted public libraries and schools library service centres for advice. Many use the nearest public library instead of setting up one of their own. Sometimes the arrangement actually works quite well public libraries are anxious to serve everybody. Often, however, resources fall short. Some municipalities coordinate school libraries under the cultural administration.


The Swedish Teachers Union has named Arvidsjaur (approximately 6,500 residents) the Swedish municipality with the best schools over the past few years. The award does not mention school libraries, but the municipality has a library plan that pinpoints collaboration with the education system as part of a Cultural Curriculum. Arvidsjaur has two integrated public and school libraries. Located in small schools, they are staffed one day a week on other days, teachers and students can take out books on their own.

The upper secondary school (approximately 400 students) has its own library, which is staffed three days a week, and all three compulsory schools have libraries. A large preschool also has its own library. The public library is in charge of all purchases, maintains the catalogue and visits the compulsory school libraries once a week. The schools pay for premises, purchases of media, computers, licences and the like. The libraries at the intermediate and lower secondary schools are locked; except for the one day a week that they are staffed, students can borrow books only when a teacher lets them in.

Inger Määkinen divides her time between school and public libraries. The education system pays 50 per cent of her salary as a children’s and school librarian. She feels that the collaborative effort works well but that more commitment on the part of the schools would be helpful, an adds that a meeting was held for all headmasters and teachers. The ball is now squarely in the schools’ court to decide what they want out of their libraries. Everybody is in favour of the libraries, Määkinen says, but there doesn’t seem to be enough energy to get the job done. One item about instruction in how to search information through the Cultural Curriculum was eliminated. The idea now is that teachers will contact the librarian to obtain assistance with various projects.

Classes enjoy showing up at the municipal library. ”They are enthusiastic about nearly all the services we have to offer, Määkinen says. The library stocks many shelves from a depository and makes the books available to the classrooms.

Collaboration with the public library system often provides schools with better access to books in different languages. Arvidsjaur has been a Sami administrative area since 2010 and has a Sami coordinator who helps order books. A small Sami collection is available for borrowing at both the library and the preschool.

Söråker in Timrå Municipality

Söråker (approximately 2,300 residents) is located inTimrå Municipality. Timrå Library collaborates extensively with the education system. For instance, it arranges appearances by authors at all the schools. Söråker Library is the only branch, integrated with both the Söråker Community Centre and the school.

The Söråker Community Centre Association runs the library based on a tender agreement with the municipality. The staff once consisted of municipal employees, but the Community Centre has managed the library on its own since 2006. The main library takes care of media purchases and databases. ”In practice, it functions much like a branch, Director Eva Holmström says. ”As with all other activities at the centre, a group of young people work at the library.

The library is open from 9 am to 9 pm Monday-Friday. According to Holmström, ”You can take out a book whenever the centre is open seven days a week. Students from preschool to year five can go there in their stocking feet. The lower secondary school is less than a kilometre away. All 13 classes at Söråker School have their own specified times and visit the library once a week to talk about, read and take out books. Starting in year six, they don’t come as often but we still see them on a regular basis.


Katrineholm Municipality (approximately 32,500 residents) is a blend of densely and sparsely populated areas. The library plan includes proposals for expanding the school libraries and ensuring that all students have access to the same services.

Library Director Lars Nellde wrote on his blog in 2009 that the school libraries vary greatly in terms of premises, digital offerings, range of media and integration in school activities. The sparsely populated areas have integrated libraries; the inner city libraries, which are run by the education administration, have no professionally trained staff.

Nellde says that the new Education Act spurred many encouraging changes in Katrineholm during 2011. In collaboration with a school director, he put together a school library proposal that was approved in 2012. The goal is to have a trained librarian at every school. The idea is that the public library shall be responsible for providing school librarians and that the school appoint one teacher as a library specialist.

The role of headmasters

Research indicates that headmasters play an important role in ensuring the success of school libraries. Link÷ping’s Child and Adolescent Director Lars Rejdnell, who previously built up Võxj÷’s school library system, has put together a model of focus libraries at a number of schools. He says that the investment in school libraries ended up saving a branch as well.

Around the world

Collaboration between schools and public libraries in developing countries often makes it easier to open branches in disadvantaged areas. These questions have attracted a great deal of interest worldwide. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) will bring up the issue at its 2012 conference and assembly in Helsinki. The theme is Friends or Foes Public and School Libraries a Force for Change for Creating Smart Communities. The School Libraries and Resource Centres & Public Libraries Sections want to ”show how Public Libraries and School Libraries in communities can work together for the benefit of students. There is every reason to look forward to the presentations in Helsinki this August.

Maud Hell,
writer, former librarian in school
and public libraries Lund, Sweden


writer, former librarian in school and public libraries Lund, Sweden