Library-promoted learning

Learning holds a central position in Danish public libraries and in conceptions of the library of the future. But what kind of competencies are required in libraries in order to deal with learning?

According to the Danish Public Libraries Act, the aim of the public libraries is “to further enlightenment, education and cultural activity by making available (…) suitable materials”. One might imagine that the interest in learning had been focused on educational aids in the libraries’ collection, or on organizing and mediating education resources, but it is to a larger extent concentrated on activities and campaigns.

Some examples will in the following offer an outline of how the Danish libraries tackle the task, and what it requires.

To motivate and guide 

Language is an all-important cultural tool and an obvious focus area for the libraries. The national project, Book Start, mediates literature to toddlers in marginalised residential areas. Seen in a learning perspective, the focus is on the children’s language development, not on actual literary materials.

Via the Book Start libraries, children, who might otherwise not be confronted with literature, get experience of the written language, which i.a. can strengthen their capabilities for ‘learning to read’ at school.

But in a way, the children’s parents are Book Start’s primary target group. They are the ones who have to (learn to) read with the children, while the library’s task is to facilitate reading as a social activity in families with young children. This does happen by making available suitable materials, but particularly by outreaching, motivating and guiding.

Digital citizens and digital culture

As in the case of language, IT is a cultural tool, which you must master. Not least because of the public focus on digitisation and self-service solutions, has it become a societal requirement that citizens learn to use IT. The libraries have supported learning by housing joint public campaigns and IT-cafés and by offering IT courses for beginners.

The offers of team training have challenged professional identity. Pedagogically speaking, the courses are professionalised through a standard concept for IT-instruction; but one might well ask oneself about the wisdom of directing the skills development of staff towards creating volume via reproduction of a teaching model, rather than by developing broader didactic competencies.

Develop technical competencies

The focus on increasing the public’s familiarity with IT is broader than the focus on public digitisation, and it is constantly developing, for example by testing contentrelated boundaries. The project Bibliotech in Horsens in Jutland has experimented with exhibiting and mediating technology and gadgets in the library. Like Book Start, the idea is for the libraries to offer people the chance to get in contact with cultural tools and get to know them better.

The experiences from Horsens tell us amongst other things that the libraries cannot solve the task purely by making available the materials – outreach and relational work is necessary in order to mediate the materials, and for a larger part of the staff to develop their technical competencies, if the library as an institution shall be able to fulfil the role as tech-guide.

The library and learning at school

Over the past few years, a school reform has actualised the state schools’ collaboration with external actors and the question of what the public libraries have to offer. The theme is expanded in inspiration catalogues, county library courses, development projects etc. The state school bases its work on learning targets and is very aware of the effect. That can in itself prove very useful to the libraries.

As was the case with IT, the collaboration with the schools makes it imperative for the libraries to clarify their profile in this collaboration. Which of the school’s learning activities will the library support and how? In connection with the school collaboration, the Silkeborg project New Learning has tried to identify an actual library didactics for substantiating what exactly are the library’s functions, and why reality is what it is, as well as establishing how the functions can be carried out.

Sustainable work with learning

A broad spectrum of professional and didactic competencies is necessary in the public libraries’ work with supporting learning. The category ‘suitable materials’ is extended radically with, for example, Bibliotech’s gadgets, FabLabs and archetypes of ‘The Human Library’. Even so, the switch from materials to campaigns and activities is characteristic and calls for a keener eye for the motivation dimension of learning.

More generally speaking, there is a need for a deeper insight and understanding of the libraries’ learning activities and environments in order to develop the didactic imagination through experiments and evaluation.

The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces Member of the board of the Danish Union of Librarians’ professional group for library-promoted learning, FaBuLær.