Space for learning

Nordic project for a cross-sectoral strengthening of community learning

It is a common belief that public libraries, like adult education institutions, should make a contribution to community learning. It is also widely agreed that such general education should help to develop and enlighten citizens. Both libraries and adult education institutions therefore need space where this process can take place space for learning and enlightenment, both literally and metaphorically. Can public libraries serve as a common space for such learning, or can other similar space be created through cooperation between those involved in community learning?

The aim of the Nordic project Space for learning (2010-2012) has been to encourage a cross-sectoral strengthening of community learning in the Nordic countries, thus contributing to achieving the goal of providing everyone with equal access and equal rights to knowledge. The project has been funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers through the Nordplus framework programme.

The project has involved gathering experience from both ongoing and new sub-projects that have a profile related to cooperation on communitylearning. The point of departure has not only been the library as a physical space, but also cooperation in general terms. Drawing on these projects, the participants have discussed the gains that can be derived from cooperation between libraries, adult learning associations and other adult education institutions.

A platform of local projects

Space for learning came into being through environments that were all engaged in projects related to cooperation between parties involved in community learning. These parties became aware of each other and wanted to raise national discussions to a Nordic level.

In Norway, libraries and adult learning institutions have collaborated since the 1990s on the annual learning campagne: Adult Learners’ Week. The Norwegian Association for Adult Learning (NAAL) organises the campaign and has had the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority as a key partner representing the libraries. These two institutions took the initiative to establish Space for learning. The national library became the Norwegian project partner when it took over the library assignments from the Authority, which now no longer exists. In addition, the county library in Vestfold, the public libraries in Larvik and T°nsberg and the municipal adult education association in T°nsberg were invited to join since they had local projects they could bring to the Nordic cooperation.

In Sweden, the county libraries in Írebro and Dalarna have collaborated with county learning associations on joint supplementary training for staff from libraries and adult learning institutions. This cooperation was partly based on a prestudy of the possibility of cooperation between libraries and the community learning field published by the Regional Association in Írebro. Another project that joined the Nordic cooperation was IKT-lyftet a collaboration between libraries and community learning organisations that formed part of the national initiative to improve digital competence.

The Danish Agency for Libraries and Media had publicised information on project funds with the aim of finding cooperation models between public libraries and educational associations. Aarhus public libraries received funds for The Competent Citizen project, and therefore joined our Nordic cooperation. The educational association Fritid & Samfund (Leisure and Community) from the adult learning field in Denmark also participated.

The public library as a learning arena

Public libraries and adult learning organisations are based on both the common Scandinavian tradition of providing community learning and a joint value base, a fact that is verified in the legislation that governs their activities.

Today’s library likes to present itself as a learning arena. This aspect of libraries is clearly emphasised in national strategies such as the Norwegian white paper on libraries: Report No. 23 to the Storting: Libraries Knowledge Commons, Meeting Place and Cultural Arena in a Digital Age and the Danish report Public Libraries in the Knowledge Society. What kind of implications does this have for the relationship between libraries and adult education? Does this mean that cooperation will be even better facilitated, or will a competitive relationship develop instead?

The competitive relationship between libraries and adult learning associations is most pronounced in Denmark where the libraries are also perhaps the most developed as learning arenas. The 2010 report from the community learning committee on the social importance of community learning pointed out that many library activities are similar to those that take place in learning associations. The committee recommended a value-creating cooperation between the two partly to avoid competition but also to enable each to benefit from the competencies of the other.

The University College of BorÅs has recently published a knowledge overview focusing on libraries and adult learning. Three common perspectives are emphasised in the debate on the library as a learning arena: a lifelong learning perspective, an educational perspective and a community learning and culture dissemination perspective. In this context these three perspectives can express different functions that the library can serve in a cooperation that supports adult learning. The report describes how the library can be a good physical (or virtual) and social learning environment that promotes the knowledge people need to enable them to take part in society.

From national to regional and local

The sub-projects in Space for learning are good examples that show how cooperation between libraries and adult education can enrich both parties. The best examples are perhaps those that have their roots at national level and that are put into operation on a regional or local basis. One such example is the Swedish campaign Digidel 2013 that aims to increase digital participation in Sweden. National players within libraries and community learning have taken the initiative to start the campaign, while efforts to promote digital participation take place through local teaching, often in the form of a collaboration. Denmark has a similar initiative in its network that encourages IT learning Lµr mere IT. In Norway the Adult Learners’ Week, is an example of local cooperation with a national base. The campaign is coordinated by NAAL in collaboration with a council consisting of different parties from adult education, including the library field. The events take place nationwide, many of them in libraries.

Cooperation can also be based in the regions and spread to local communities. The project in Írebro and Dalarna is an example of this. Through a collaboration between county libraries and learning associations, local cooperative projects were initiated in the two counties in the project Folkebibliotek og folkbildning til ömsesidig nytta (The public library and community learning of mutual benefit).

A booklet of examples

The Space for learning project has produced a booklet containing 12 good examples of cooperation between libraries and adult education institutions. The projects that have formed the basis for Space for learning are all part of the 12 examples, and in addition a selection of other examples is also presented. Seen as a whole, the projects cover a wide range. The booklet places particular emphasis on the results of the project in Aarhus, which has identified eight specific motivational factors for cooperation and gives eight pieces of advice on cooperation, four suggestions for cooperation methods and six evident interfaces between the areas in question. Particular emphasis has also been placed on experiences from the project involving the local libraries and learning institutions in Írebro and Dalarna.

However, the booklet of examples is not the only end product. A number of other good examples are described on the project’s website.

Arne Gundersen
Senior Adviser
National Library of Norway
Arne.gundersen AT

Translated by Akasie språktjenester AS


Senior Advisor The National Library of Norway