Digital exclusion Finland-Swedish libraries’ nightmare

Municipal library service in Swedish in Finland has always been a given fact, but times have changed. In the digital era which is now beginning, it is not nearly as self-evident that comprehensive library service can be provided in Swedish at public municipal libraries. The challenge is only exacerbated by the fact that the Finland-Swedish libraries, as a rule, should provide comprehensive library services also in Finnish. It is natural, it goes with the territory and it is done without any real additional funding.

By acquiring and using an appropriate combination of Swedish and Finnish books, both language groups have been able to experience and appreciate that there are books in their own language. A number of patrons also read both languages. In a similar way, the library has been able to combine the acquisition of recorded music and motion pictures.

Digital threat to language equality

Up until now, it was a question of obtaining individual pieces of information-bearing media for the collections and for borrowing – a book, a disc or other physical item. Copyright laws have been clear and made allowance for libraries’ borrowing service. As we now are moving into the digital age, everything is changing. Nonfiction and, in particular, reference books, are not being printed like before. News-papers and periodicals are leaving physical publication behind and, in many cases, are only available on the internet. Music and film are being used more often over the internet. Even literature has begun to shift over to elec-tronic format. What does this all mean for the library in general and for the Finland-Swedish libraries in particular? And how are library-users affected? Can we still say that we are following the stipulations of library legislation for language equality?

Those of us at Finland-Swedish libraries must see that access to e-books in Swedish in Finland is guaranteed and that we also have access to the most important e-resources which are being used at standard Swedish libraries. Of course we will cooperate to make sure that the corresponding services are also accessible in Finland in Finnish.

What do we do in practice? What joint effort can we make? Can it be done on a national level? Can something eventually be done jointly within all of Scandinavia? Could it be that comprehensive studies and national e-strategies have a tendency to seek out solutions that are too large-scale, which risk being excluded from practical application specifically because they aim to be all-encompassing in theory?

Buying e-books from Sweden

Some Finland-Swedish libraries in Ostrobothnia did like this: the city library in Jakobstad introduced the use of a standard Swedish e-book service in Finland in 2006. In 2009 all Fredrika Libraries in Ostrobothnia followed suit. Directory entries are purchased directly from a supplier in Sweden. Thanks to good cooperation with the supplier of our library system, it was no problem to initiate the service, but everything had to be done on our own initiative, because there were no established channels available. Before our next investment in e-material, an investment which will surely be much more demanding, we would really like to see that there are established struc-tures we can use.

Lacking a Scandinavian strategy

What strategies are being used to bring libraries into the digital age? We note that things have begun changing in Finland now. A work group taken from the Council for Public Libraries is actively working here on these issues. Even other Scandinavian countries are very active, with major studies and visible debates.

For this reason, when considering national e-strategies we hope that each Scandinavian country will choose solutions which cross national borders into account and take a serious look at how the needs for library services of different language minorities can be satisfied in the best possible way. In this way, no language group will suffer digital exclusion as a result of their language. Let the library be a window to the world, for everyone.

Library Director at Jakobstad (Pietarsaari) City Library, a Fredrika Library in Ostrobothnia, Finland