A national library strategy

According to the Swedish library law, publically financed libraries shall serve society by offering free access to knowledge and by promoting literature, education, research, enlightenment and culture. Since 2011 the National Library of Sweden has the public function to survey the country’s publically financed libraries and to promote collaboration between them.

Photo: CC0In 2015, the National Library was tasked with developing a proposal for a national library strategy based on a long-term desire to maintain and develop library operations in Sweden.

“Libraries should be meeting-points with literature in focus. Meanwhile they also offer room for dialogue and are thereby central building blocks of our democracy. The recent debate about libraries also highlights the need for a national library strategy,” Alice Bah Kuhnke, Minister for Culture and Democracy, said in a press statement from the Ministry of Culture in June 2015.

The aforementioned debate took place in Sweden in the early summer of last year. It was about the order in libraries, mainly public libraries – or rather – the lack thereof, and about the norm of silence in the library. Is silence desirable or obsolete, and is it ok to run around and play or should you sit quietly and read?

The National Library will suggest long term goals and strategies to promote collaboration and development in the publically financed library community. Among other things, the role and the conditions of the librarian profession will be highlighted as well as the libraries’ role in promoting literature, forming democratic discussions, developing an ability to analyse and evaluate sources and to freely form opinions. The need for development of school libraries will also be analysed.

Clarify libraries’ position in society

“This is a commission for the National Library for developing a plan of how the country’s libraries will work together with Sweden’s best interests at heart” says Gunilla Herdenberg, National Librarian of Sweden.

“The strategy will clarify aspects such as the libraries’ position in society; the needs of the users, new media, technological development and national infrastructure. Through collaboration, libraries can optimize the use of resources to give people access to information, which is one of the founding pillars of a democratic society. Therefore, the strategy also needs to answer questions about national coordination of long term digital preservation of library material, as well as other questions concerning physical and digital collections,” she continues.

Collecting facts and ideas

The National Library has given the task to develop a proposal for the national library strategy to National Coordinator Erik Fichtelius and National Researchers Krister Hansson and Karin Linder.

“We have decided to work as transparently as possible. We want the plan to be so established among the library community that they feel they have influenced the outcome through facts, knowledge, experience and ideas,” Karin Linder says.

The group is collecting the facts, knowledge, experience and ideas in different ways. One way is through Facebook discussions with approximately 1,300 participants in the Nationell biblioteksstrategi (National Library Strategy) Facebook group. Here, the group has asked around one question per week since January.

They have travelled around Sweden to meet library directors, local branches of the Swedish Library Association, county librarians, special librarians, university librarians, college librarians and politicians.

“We have also been using a method that we have borrowed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have invited people to write dispatches – a personal reflection on how things are – what the problem is and how we would like it to be. This far we have received around 40-50 dispatches,” Karin Linder says.

“We have also decided that we will meet as many people as possible to get as good a picture as possible of Sweden and all its particular nature and conditions. We are using existing networks and work groups and will only create new work groups occasionally,” she continues.

Research and reports

The group has ordered two different research mandates, one to map the position and authority of the library director in libraries and one to follow up on the investment in school libraries that the Swedish government will make in the autumn of 2016.

“We will also receive a research and knowledge compilation of Swedish library research,” Karin Linder says.

At the beginning of May, the group submitted a situation report, a feature-like survey of libraries in Sweden.

“Now when the May report is done, we are working with more specifically directed questions, and they will also result in reports. In 2017 we will produce an extended business intelligence report for the Ministry of Culture and in 2019 the strategy itself should be accepted by other public authorities in order to be sent to the government,” Karin Linder explains.

Editor-in-chief National Library of Sweden

Karin Linder

Karin Linder. Photo: Lena Dahlström