Dieselverkstaden AB is a private company that runs three public libraries in Sweden. It believes in diversity and operates without directors, because hierarchies are seen as obstacles and employees as a source of knowledge. Its libraries are governed by the same laws and rules as every other library – it has to be a democratic meeting place and it must be free to use.
In 2005 the employees in a municipal library in Nacka, just outside the city of Stockholm, wrote to their local politicians and asked if they could separate and manage the public library on their own. In April 2006 they formed an economic association and ran the library as a cooperative; they still do today, but now they have formed a private limited corporation.
The library is one of six public libraries in the municipality and the demands on it are the same as on other public libraries. Since January 1, 2013, the corporation, Dieselverkstaden AB, also runs two other public libraries in Nacka. Younger than average
“For the visitors it is not important how we are managed, although municipal libraries often like to think so; but we have never noticed that. We don’t own anything, only the operation, the facility and the media collection belong to the municipality. We just own the how – how we do things – and we are the ones who hire staff. There is no capitalization in a company like ours,” says Margareta Swanelid at Dieselverkstaden.
Dieselverkstaden AB has 17 fulltime employees and a large number of extra staff who work by the hour; half of the employees are men and all of them are younger than the average age of staff in Swedish libraries.
“Most of them are between 30 and 40; initially, we had a political mission to build a library for young people, not children and teenagers but young adults. Our media collection had to be interesting for this target group and therefore we recruited people who had knowledge about and lived in youth culture.”
Long waiting list
After the initial job advertisement in 2002, when the municipal library opened, Dieselverkstaden’s library has not needed to advertise for staff; they have a long waiting list of people who want to come and work for them. The majority are men and many of them have backgrounds in media, or other cultural fields such as literature, film, art or music; many are practicing musicians, some are librarians.
“It is common in libraries to complain about not having enough resources, meanwhile the available resources – namely the knowledge of the staff – are often not used to their full potential. I find it strange that those without the conventional librarian’s education, but who have other knowledge and skills, do not count,” Margareta Swanelid says.
There is a great diversity of people from different academic fields working in Dieselverkstaden’s public library.
“You don’t formally have to be a librarian to work here. Librarian is not an academic title; it’s a job title. Most of our employees have academic degrees; several are teachers because we work with activities that are aimed towards children and young people. About half of our employees have a conventional education in information science, but everyone that works here has the job title librarian.”
No constructed hierachies
Dieselverkstaden’s libraries operate without directors; everyone takes part and there are no constructed hierarchies, but Margareta Swanelid is responsible for economy and HR, and she is the chairman of the company board.
“We haven’t hired anyone under anyone else. I think this is very important and I notice that the staff is more productive today because of this. This is possible if you encourage the staff to take part and give them space,” she says.
In 2002, when the Dieselverkstaden public library first opened, they had to start from scratch and buy a whole new media collection. Since then they have been adding and also tried to buy ‘backwards’.
“But it isn’t easy to buy older literature, we buy from antiquarians within the fields where we have cutting edge competence, such as film, music, fantasy and science fiction. In these areas we have very exclusive literature, but we are a small library so we don’t have course books within medicine, for example, but rather a lot within the humanities like art and architecture.”
Many young men
Dieselverkstaden’s library is not comparable to a large library, however; the public space here is 450 square meters. They have a lot of music and film on CD and DVD, also more exclusive material that people come from other parts of town to borrow.
When it started, the mission was to meditarget young people, which is why the group of staff is relatively young. Today, the average visitor to the library is a young man between 20 and 40 and he does not only come to borrow books or study, but also to borrow from the other media collection because it is targeted at him.
“We call them a new group within the library world,” Ms Swanelid says and continues: “People’s level of knowledge has risen and today there is no one knowledge 24 or one source, and it is very important that those who meet the borrowers have different perspectives and can meet the demands that are put on libraries today.”
A lving room feeling
The library space is not divided into different sections, except for the children’s section. The idea is not to divide people into groups based on age, gender, interest, ethnicity or anything else. “We want the library to have the feeling of a living room.”
Dieselverkstaden’s library has a lot of computer games that people can come and play or borrow.
“Before this, we had four screens and all three game consoles that existed in 2002. When we started back then, it wasn’t that common for people to have game consoles at home and it was a democratic idea that everyone should be able to play and try out new games. Now we only have two screens.”
No distinction between media
Margareta Swanelid thinks that there generally is a lot of old media in libraries, and that film, music, computer games, ereaders and iPads often are seen as new for a long time in many libraries, and therefore treated differently than the books.
“We have never made any distinction between different media here; if someone wants to watch a film instead of reading a book we do not judge. They are different manifestations, everything doesn’t need to be printed in ink with a cover and called a book. Nowadays, when most people download e-books and other media, you need to accept that the content, whether it is film or music, has the same value,” she says.
She points out, however, that the book is traditionally valued more highly in libraries, and the book is outstanding.
“People talk about the book being threatened, but that is nothing we have noticed here. The big revolution took place when the paperback came; it signalled that the content is important, not the form,” Margareta Swanelid says.