She is a woman. She is creative and a problem-solver, and in spite of inconvenient working hours and few colleagues, she enjoys her work. When 170 chief librarians from all over Nor way gathered recently at Holmenkollen Park Hotel in Oslo, the agenda included some highlights from a doctoral degree pro ject in progress.
Ane Landøy of the University of Bergen Library has reached the final stage of her PhD at the University of Copenhagen’s Royal School of Library and Information Science. At Holmenkollen Park Hotel an attentive audience was served brand-new figures about their own daily work.
In autumn 2011, Ane Landøy sent an electronic questionnaire to all libraries in Norway with the aim of acquiring greater knowledge about library management. In the questionnaire the chief librarians were asked about what challenges they foresaw in the future, decision processes at the workplace, management and management roles in the near future, their relations with ‘external’ actors, and to what extent they experienced job satisfaction, and suchlike.
A total of 244 answers distributed over the entire library field were returned: 12 from county libraries, 153 from public libraries and 79 from academic libraries. In addition to the comprehensive questionnaire, Ane Landøy interviewed eleven chief librarians from different parts of Norway.
Happy at work
The responses showed that chief librarians generally enjoy their work. On a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 was “very satisfied” and 1 was “dissatisfied”, approximately half answered that they were very satisfied with their job. None of those asked were dissatisfied.
How do you interpret this? Is it true that chief librarians are really so satisfied with their job?
Ane Landøy is sitting in a low lounge chair in the reception area. Around us the clink of coffee cups and quiet conversation. She has put down a pile of papers, her mobile phone and her wallet. Soon she will leave behind the foggy surroundings of the hotel and take a flight to Bergen. But first she has taken the time for a quick chat.
“The fact that chief librarians are satisfied with their job tallies with the satisfaction we see generally among managers in Norway. The recently published survey of managers – Livet som leder (Life as a leader, Fagbokforlaget publishing house), which is based on responses from a range of managers in the public and private sectors, shows that managers generally enjoy their jobs. That’s not to say that there are never any difficulties. In many libraries the financial situation is a recurring challenge and source of frustration. One chief librarian I talked to had run an exciting reading competition for several summers. It was a popular competition and it encouraged young people to read more. This year she couldn’t afford to buy the prizes that were needed, and the popular reading campaign had to be cancelled. That was a blow to her. At many of the smaller libraries in particular, money is tight. Around 100 public libraries countrywide ha ve less than one Full Time Equivalent. Then you have no col leagues and you’re your own boss. Many of these work actively in conjunction with their colleagues in nearby municipalities. A number of them work in part-time po sitions – 60 or 80 percent. In reality they actually work 100 percent because the job demands it. They often have inconvenient working hours, and work several evenings a week. None of those I talked to complained about this, but of course you undoubtedly reflect on it.”
Diversity and creativity
In addition to the high satisfaction level, Ane Landøy was also positively surprised by the diversity and creativity shown in libraries everywhere.
“The libraries are skilled at picking up good ideas from others and then employing them in their own library,” she says. “Moreover, it was gratifying that so many reported that the country libraries are perceived as a strong support for the local public libraries. The academic libraries are a bit isolated from this. They collaborate on a national as well as an international basis. Perhaps there is a potential for more cooperation between the academic libraries and the public libraries,” Landøy muses. “I believe that this would enrich both parties.”
Many small libraries
“Even though there are of course a lot of things that chief librarians can’t have an impact on, like opening times and funding, they do have quite a lot of influence on their own working day. It’s seen as positive that you can choose your own focus. And libraries are a ‘protected’ area to a large extent. Most people agree that we must have libraries. This is an anchor that provides security and freedom.”
Ane Landøy tells us that she was surprised that we had so many small libraries in Norway.
“In the last issue of NB21, the National Library’s magazine, there were several articles about open, self-service libraries. Maybe a library offering self-service periods would be a good solution for many of the smaller libraries. The option of extending opening times for smaller libraries is positive, first and foremost for the borrowers but also perhaps for the many employees who could then cut back on their inconvenient working hours?”
Norway has more female chief librarians than Sweden. When asked about this, Ms Landøy answers that part of the reason may be that libraries in Norway are so small. On average, libraries in Denmark and Sweden are larger. And this may also make them more attractive workplaces for men?
One of the questions in the survey was related to professional competence in li brarianship. In answer to the question about how important professional competence in librarianship was for a chief librarian, many answered that they did not think it was essential. The responses also showed that chief librarians throughout the country have very different backgrounds. Some have a background in the education sector and others in the culture sector.
“One of the chief librarians I talked to had a background from the business sector and had worked in finance and marketing. The chief librarian said that these skills were important and provided security and authority in managing the financial side of things. Several chief librarians mentioned that managing the finances was a particular challenge. Perhaps librarianship studies should offer a management development programme including subjects such as finance, statistics, lobbying, marketing and human resources?” Ane Landøy remarks.
Her doctoral thesis will be available in February 2014. She tells us that she is considering linking it to the biblioteknorge AT nb.no (an email list for the entire library sector in Norway).
“I would like to give something back to all those who took the trouble and the time to answer the questionnaire. I hope that the study will prove useful,” she concludes.