With new tasks and functions in rural areas

Young peple in the bus. Photo Peter BirkDanish development project successfully demonstrates how to renew and develop library services in an attempt to present rural areas as attractive living areas for all kinds of citizens. New skills, such as selling and facilitating, are needed when in contact with citizens. And new outreach services such as reservations on demand and partnerships with both private and public institutions are necessary in future local library activities.

Seven Danish libraries with mobile libraries have been working on a development project called The Good Life in Rural Areas. The project, funded by the Danish Agency for Culture, covers 167,000 people living in rural areas. The libraries joined forces in an attempt to renew and develop the mobile library to show how it can contribute to development in these areas. The library gains access to individual institutions, local society and the citizens. It is a flexible service, moving from place to place according to the wishes and needs of individuals.

This project demonstrated that libraries are capable of renewing and targeting services by reaching out and contacting new groups of people in the rural areas. The mobile library and its employees can do something that no other public ser - vices can: gathering people together to create companionship, feelings of closeness, and solidarity – values held in high regard by the local population.

“People often live in the rural areas because of the companionship, and we must be a part of this special companionship through creating new services and involving the inhabitants in innovative processes!” (Bente Kristoffersen, Chief librarian Brønderslev Libraries).

Some of the results from the project:

• Reservations on demand
New types of reservation were tried: reservations in institutions at regular intervals to more event-oriented reservations such as visiting a local eatery, a harvest celebration, or a village festival. Discuss among the library staff whether the schedule works well and test reservations for select groups of people.

• Particularly passionate people and partnerships 
The libraries contacted groups of volunteers and new partners to develop joint projects. Results included increased fundraising, more cultural lectures and events, and digital training at local companies. We learned that partnerships are best formed by personal contact, and that it is important to engage the partner early in the project. Focus on digital learning.

• Developing qualifications
We conducted an education course for drivers and other persons dedicated to the work of mobile libraries about the new roles and functions in the mobile library. We must learn to sell ourselves and our mobile library, and we must use our own individual skills and contacts when gathering knowledge about rural areas.

• Developing ideas and innovation
When developing new services in the mobile library, it is important to create win-win situations for the citizens and the library. You should push the envelope of your professional skills and think innovatively. Also think outside the box in your municipality, for example by cooperating with the staff of homes for the elderly.

• Select groups of people
New target groups were tested: Young recruits at an army facility, teenagers and adult men with an interest in hunting. We got better results from selecting a target group and working in-depth with them, by putting together the best team of library staff, and by introducing the library into new contexts. Reading clubs, lectures and book boxes have also been big successes.

• The role of facilitator
As library staff, we have a role in facilitating processes and development projects in rural areas. Think about cooperation across borders and find local ambassadors.

• It begins with the children
The project has also resulted in our new role as facilitator and in new concepts for blearning and cultural experiences among children in rural areas. We have learnt to focus on children’s linguistic development and discovered that the library must come to the children, because children in rural areas are not very mobile.

• Digital learning and self-help
Our advice: Think of the mobile library as an important resource in future digital learning. Over the course of the project we introduced digital learning to different and new target groups: Young recruits in military services, adult men with great interest in hunting, and young people in continuation schools.

The learning sessions were located in workplaces, often during working hours. It has been a great success. In one of the participating municipalities, new digital services on board the bus were also tried: the opportunity of voting by mail in the mobile library for a local election raised the turnout considerably. Voting by mail in mobile libraries will therefore be offered in several municipalities for the coming election in No vember.

The development work continues

See our film in English on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgYisLNNnzw. And follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com /bogbussen. This site connects established mobile library networks. Nordic languages are primarily used, but English is also very welcome. Other mobile libraries and individuals are welcome to contribute news, comments and ideas for future work in rural areas.

Director of Knudsen Syd consultancy firm