A house of literature

In recent years, the dream of houses of literature has featured in Norwegian cultural debate. The House of Literature in Oslo has been a success, and new houses of literature are being built around the country. People want to come together around literature, and the public libraries of Nord-Trøndelag county have envisaged this need to undertake more active dissemination of literature and provide a viable arena for social participation.

Through their three-year project Nord- Trøndelag House of Literature, they have highlighted the public libraries as already existing centers of literature in their local communities. Nine libraries participate, with the County Library as project director and with funding provided by the National Library, the County Administration and the project libraries.

The project has attracted positive attention from several quarters, and it was awarded the title of Library Project of the Year by the Norwegian library magazine Bok og bibliotek.

Experiences as a goal

The main goal of the project is “to provide the inhabitants with a wide-ranging programme of experiences, learning and participation by developing libraries in Nord-Trøndelag county into local houses of literature with active reading promotion, a regionally shared programme of events and a more externally oriented profile. The libraries’ activities related to encouragement of reading and dissemination of literature and knowledge will be strengthened and marketed, and their role as a democratic arena revita lized.”

Social arena

The project has grown from three different springboards that have acted in concert. First, the debate on the houses of literature, second, the research programme PLACE: Public Libraries – Arenas for Citizenship, which ran from 2007 until 2012, have helped develop an understanding of the library and its role as an arena in the local community.

The importance of the library as a social arena has also left an imprint in the re - cently revised Public Libraries Act, which was adopted in June 2013. It now says that “the public libraries should serve as an independent meeting place and arena for public dialogue and debate.”

The third springboard for the project is that the County Library has wanted to turn the public libraries throughout the county into a learning community.

Dissemination of literature

We wish to emphasize that all our activities in the library are related to dissemination, and in this project we have explored how we can facilitate positive experiences and inspiration. The project has therefore included training courses and trials in topics such as library furnishing (How can we make a good first impression?), exhibitions in the library, dissemination on the internet, the library staff ’s skills in oral communication, how we can bring other disseminators into the library, and how we can disseminate literature in arenas other than the library.

Collaboration

There are nine libraries participating in the project: Four city libraries, three combined school and public libraries and two small public libraries. The smallest library has only one employee, whereas the largest has seven. Having such widely differing libraries collaborating together involves some challenges, although this has also proven to be one of the project’s strong points.

We have gained positive experience from having working groups meet to jointly develop specific measures. The groups have been composed on the basis of topics they have wanted to address, or geographical proximity. The groups have completed specific assignments.

One such assignment has consisted in evaluating each other’s libraries on the basis of “Opening the book” principles, which means to provide input and advice concerning the entrance sections, exhibits and interiors in general. Through this collaboration the librarians have become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. We have also learned about the advantages of team-work, the value of involving the entire staff, and that small and large libraries have a lot to learn from each other.

Events

What we have learned most from is arranging authors’ tours with shared marketing and facilitation. As a rule, the project director has arranged the tours, and each library has adapted the event to its local conditions. Through the ex - change of experience generated by this, we have learned from each other about practical implementation and local cooperation partners. By doing things jointly, we have gained more confidence in staging events that are slightly off the beaten track. We have also changed our opinions about “what can be done here”.

It has been important to us that the success of Nord-Trøndelag House of Literature should be measured not only in terms of its number of events and volume of attendance. Small events that hit home with their audience are equally important.

Visibility

Through the project, we have attempted to establish the “Nord-Trøndelag House of Literature” as a service by the libraries – or perhaps as an alias for the library as such? In this respect we have been deliberately ambiguous. We have undertaken shared marketing of tours and developed profiled material that can be used locally: adverts, posters and press releases. We have a logo, the website www.litteraturhus-nt.no and a Facebook page.

The website is intended to provide information to the public about upcoming events, not only in their own municipality, but also in the neighbouring ones. By showing the scope of arrangements that can take place in the library we also want to raise people’s expectations of the library.

We’re willing and able!

What has been most important to us, is that the project has provided us with good experience of collaboration and of joining forces in a learning and developmentoriented process. We have increased our level of activity, become more visible and changed people’s perceptions of the library.

The number of events has increased considerably, the diversity of these events is greater than before, and we are reaching out to people who previously did not come to the library.

Our experience shows that the library works well as an arena for debates, concerts and meetings. We have attracted an actively participating audience. Our libraries have become a forum for positive encounters, shared reflections and unexpected experiences.

The term “house of literature” has proven to provide us with a good tool. It has stimulated and challenged us internally, and it has had a positive effect on cooperation partners and owners, and not least in relation to the public. It has helped engender an increased understanding of how the social remit of the libraries is undergoing change – the libraries should undertake active dissemination.

And finally, the libraries have found and have proven that they are willing to change – and that they have the competence required.

Adviser, Nord-Trøndelag County Library