The learning center in the Malmö City Library is a unique resource, freely available to all visitors. Here, you can sit down at one of the center’s 30 computers – Mac or PC – equipped with a range of different software programmes. You can get help fixing your resumé, scan and edit pictures, or just print out a text.
“People come here from around the world, with questions and needs from around the world,” says Stefan Wahlstedt, project manager for the Malmö Lärcentrum. The center focuses on free learning, without obligation or judgement, and is open to all. It is a collaboration between Utbildningsförvaltningen (the Malmö educational administration) and the City Library, and has been run in project form since 2010.
What is unique about the center is that the library has employed three pedagogues, who work alongside the 20 or so librarians. The key is an open attitude.
“For learning to feel inspirational and meaningful, the individual must feel he or she is part of the learning environment. We’re therefore working actively to get our visitors to feel like they are coproducers in our operations,” Wahlstedt emphasizes.
The digital gap
It’s easy to believe that most people today have knowledge and access to technology so they can participate digitally, but the staff at the Lärcentrum meet people of all ages on a daily basis who need help managing digital tasks.
“We have visitors of all ages, and it’s easy to think that the older people need the most help in the digital world, but there are also younger people who need help; for them it’s a considerably sensitive issue to admit they don’t know how,” says Catarina Cederholm, who has been a pedagogue at the Lärcentrum since the beginning. It’s also clear that many people in Malmö, for different reasons – primarily socio-economic – don’t have access to a computer either at home or at work.
The Lärcentrum wants to see to it that as many people as possible have access to digital services, since it is viewed as a prerequisite for being part of a democratic society.
“We notice how the digital gap is being constantly filled. After the computer comes a reader, a tablet, new communities on the Net, programme updates. There’s always a need for a guiding person between man and machine,” Cederholm stresses.
Personal identity number
Right from the start, Lärcentrum was visited by many young immigrant men who had come to Sweden without their families.
“On some days there could be 20 young men who would stand and wait unobtrusively and politely for their turn to sit in front of a screen. Many of them came from Afghanistan and spoke neither Swedish nor English, which made it nearly impossible to communicate,” Cederholm tells us.
Since many of them could speak neither Swedish nor English, employee Sara Sarabi, who speaks Farsi, was an important link. All of this has primarily been significant for illiterate people, who started learning to read and write in their native language.
Treating the young men as individuals in their own right was also important. Or, as some of them expressed it: “I think the most beautiful thing I found here is that nobody asks you about your personal number, as I face that everywhere.”
The pedagogical work in the Lärcentrum is based on free, informal learning.
“We’ve chosen to formulate our thoughts from the concepts of ‘sounding board’, ‘potluck’, and ‘We say yes!’ We call it our pedagogical manifesto,” Wahlstedt explains.
Sounding board means not being the one with the answers, but instead being the one who listens and asks questions. It’s a matter of trying to understand the level at which visitors asking for help find themselves; this is best done by sitting down alongside them, actively listening and conversing, the staff argue.
The Lärcentrum also works as a sounding board within the library and has developed into a learning environment nfor the employees. The activities in the Lärcentrum have created a need in the staff to learn more about technology and digital questions through learning from each other and sharing their skills.
Potluck means involving the visitors so they participate in the work on developing the activities and We say yes! means that the Lärcentrum collaborates with different organisations and education providers.
Many SFI students who don’t think they have enough time in school to practise speaking Swedish come to the library and the Lärcentrum. Those who haven’t yet got a place on a Swedish course, and those who don’t have particularly many people to speak Swedish with despite having lived in Sweden a long time, also come here. Collaboration with SFI courses has a long tradition in the libraries around Malmö.
In its first three years, the Lärcentrum has also worked on a concept called “Open Office”. They want to create a dynamic new environment in the library by inviting companies and organizations to work and be seen in this environment for several days. So far, the Lärcentrum has been visited by an advertising agency, a game company, a web company and an e-book publisher for a week each. During the afternoons there have been regular programme items such as lectures, debates, and company presentations.
Company employees have also acted as “living books” and let themselves be loaned out. The library’s visitors thus got the opportunity to talk and discuss with them on an individual basis. Using living books this way works as a kind of vocational guidance.
“We believe our work makes a difference and the Lärcentrum, as a pedagogical learning resource along with the library, will be developed further. We hope it can gradually become a permanent part of the City Library,” says Wahlstedt.