Innovation and Business Development in Danish Research Libraries

At a time with low growth and recession, both in Denmark and globally, Denmark’s Electronic Research Library (DEFF) has got a new mission. A mission of placing itself as a central player on the Danish growth and innovation agenda. This has at one and the same time become both more difficult and more important. More difficult because public funding is under pressure, and more important because access to knowledge is vital.

DEFF is about to launch a new strategy which covers its main efforts in the years of 2011-2016. The title of the strategy is Libraries as a Catalyst for the Development of Denmark as an Innovative Society and focuses on today’s fundamental challenge of growth via innovation in the Danish knowledge society. A knowledge society in which lifelong learning has become a pivotal focus area in the Danish Government’s education and innovation policies.

Over the past 13 years, DEFF’s initiatives have helped create a good frame-work for better research, a higher quality of teaching and education as well as innovation opportunities. DEFF’s traditional tasks have been to provide services and access to digital, research-based knowledge to research-ers, teachers and students. Now the scope and target groups have been ex-panded. Put simply, the big challenges consist of providing access to research-based knowledge and ensuring the competencies for searching and applying information in private and public enterprises. If these challenges are overcome, DEFF has contributed heavily to laying the groundwork for innovation and growth.

A new strategy – a new focus:

It’s the access, stupid!

With DEFF’s contribution, a significant part of the nucleus in the Danish digital knowledge infrastructure is now in place. The intention of the new strategy is to extend existing DEFF services and take into consideration graduates (alumni) who after graduating lose access to the library databases and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and public institutions’ access to qualified knowledge. DEFF sees an evident potential for promoting innovation by providing improved access to research-based knowledge to SMEs. By entering into cooperation between the research institutions and the business world, the DEFF-libraries can contribute to strengthening the SMEs’ ability to innovate. Additionally it is a strong belief that DEFF can strengthen the level of information literacy among the counsellors of the SMEs in the entrepreneurial greenhouses and other institutions promoting trade.

Also, by providing the new target groups with access, and by supplying them with better competencies to navigate in the morass of knowledge, the DEFF libraries can contribute to an underpinning of Danish competitive power. And not least to accomplish the Danish knowledge strategy including demands of lifelong learning. Danish public libraries already do run several projects on both formal and informal learning getting financial support from the Danish Agency for Culture (for-merly Danish Agency for Libraries and Media). Now, it is the research libraries’ turn.
Today’s demands of innovation as a prerequisite for growth, knowledge being an essential competition parameter, DEFF pursues and supports the known connection between corporate research and innovation activities and increased growth and productivity. That is why a crucial task of the next years is to create the framework for the infrastructure to be applied in a wider context in order to make Denmark a highly innovative society. The great challenge is however that many private and public companies, who are to work increasingly evidence-based, lack both competencies (information literacy) and resources to ensure systematic access to, as well as retrieval and use of, research-based knowledge. Here, DEFF-libraries can indeed make a difference.

The expansion of DEFF’s field of action

Today DEFF-services reach 65 % of the future Danish workforce who shall grow up with the libraries’ digital offers of working with knowledge in collaboration with other people. On this basis DEFF’s vision, mission, main focus areas and target groups – or dare I say market segments – have been revised.


DEFF is a digital meeting place with a research-based knowledge bank, an infrastructure and interactive services that support learning, research, knowledge sharing and innovation at Danish educational institutions as well as public and private companies in every part of the country.


DEFF is to make it possible for young students, researchers and employees in private and public companies to work with digital knowledge in collaboration with others in Denmark and abroad, so that Denmark becomes a highly innovative society.

Focus areas and organisation

The strategy extends DEFF’s field of action with e.g.:

  • A service for all users that makes it possible to join with other users to work on a subject or an idea
  • New user groups, including business academy course participants and teachers, regional growth organisa – tions, research parks as well as SMEs and public institutions
  • Increased digital access to the know- ledge of libraries and research and educational institutions
  • New service offers aimed at research- ers, teachers and young students.

With the main objectives being that the libraries are to make researchers’ work available, that all students should continually use the library services during their studies and that in the long term, graduates (alumni) should maintain access to the library services, the following main focus areas have been defined:

  • A: Access to knowledge for all via an optimum digital infrastructure
  • B: Competences and services to support teaching, learning and de- velopment
  • C: Competences and services to support research and development
  • D: Competences and services to support innovation and promotion of trade.

The tasks in these four areas (A-D) are being carried out by four different working (programme) groups whose structure follows the line of thought in the strategy. The new DEFF-focus (D) presupposes collaboration with the new user groups and with the stakeholders and interest organisations in the field. A number of focus areas have been identified via pilot projects in order to come up with potential business models. Again, information literacy has been a key area and the pilots have shown that assistance from the local public libraries is absolutely key. Also the library services need marketing and making visible in order to prove their added value. In other words the success does not come of its own accord. It will take a massive effort to establish new roles for the research libraries in the innovation system.

A new role for the research library?

DEFF aims at developing its libraries’ services into a tool, which is being used with the same frequency and matter of course as the internet is being used by the researchers, teachers and students in their daily doings. Also graduates (alumni) should maintain access to the DEFF-libraries’ services in order to use the best collections of knowledge in working with innovatory methods in their jobs. This fits perfectly the EU and the governmental ambitions of even lifewide (formal, informal and non-formal) learning from pre-school to retirement age. Altogether the main objective of DEFF is to turn the libraries into a key pillar in making Den-mark a leading growth-, knowledge- and entrepreneurial society.

It might not even suffice to develop the right competencies and skills in order to implement the strategy in a successful way, even if the strategy is in accordance with the political agenda nationally as well as internationally. The question is if institutions, enterprises and political stakeholders are ready for this. Another big question is if the libraries are ready for providing these new services and what future role the research libraries see for themselves. General tendencies in research libraries point towards them focusing on services rather than on the collection. Also learning and education courses seem to change, focusing more and more on network, social media and lifelong learning. At the same time research processes seem to become more digital, collaborative, inter-sectorial (public-private) and coupled to innovation and adding value. By implementing the new strategy, DEFF has shown at least one pro-active way of value creation.

Jakob Nedergaard Mortensen,
Senior adviser
jnm AT
Danish Agency for Culture


Senior adviser Danish Agency for Culture
About DEFF Denmark’s Electronic Research Library (DEFF) is an inter-ministerial collaborative organisation for Danish academic educational, special and research libraries. DEFF is co-funded by the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education and the Ministry of Children and Education, and its secretariat is placed in the Danish Agency for Culture. Since 1998 DEFF has contributed to creating an infrastructure in the educational, special and research libraries, which via user friendly systems provides researchers, teachers and students with considerable amounts of digitally accessible research-based knowledge. In other words, DEFF generally promotes Denmark as a knowledge society by supporting improved research and by contributing to qualifying students. This also happens by common initiatives and cooperation on both a Nordic and a European level.