Learning by doing

“The combination of professional competence enhancement gained from the courses and the financial resources to put into practice what we learned, was a crucial criterion for the success of the project,” says project participant Nina Stenbro about her experience of the development project It happens in the library.

The project, which was allocated NOK1.2 million (approx. 130,000 Euro) in funding from the National Library of Norway, was implemented in the Agder counties of Southern Norway in the period 2014- 2016. Its main purpose was to develop the libraries of Aust-Agder and Vest-Agder counties into attractive meeting places offering the general public a wide range of culture and activities.

Before the start of the project, libraries’ experience of arranging events and activities varied. One of the mantras throughout the project was that the libraries should do something they had never done before, and based on this perspective, the libraries took their own starting point as a basis and developed further from there.

Competence in events management

One of the main components of the development project was to provide the libraries with competence in events management in order to develop them into competent, professional and mindful events managers. The type of experience of events that the libraries had, and the level of competence that the employees felt they had in holding events, were mapped in advance of the project.

In the first year of the project, the focus was therefore on competence enhancement. A three-day course was held to provide specialist updating. The first meeting was an inspiration day, when we invited librarians in Asker and Stavanger to tell us how they worked to develop the libraries into cultural arenas. We also conducted a brainstorming session to provide the libraries in Agder with input on what they could implement themselves.

The topic of the next course was the A–Z of events management competence and marketing. This course also included a practical course day with training in sound engineering, lighting and stagerigging. The final course in the first project year dealt with the role of host, master of ceremonies, dialogue partner for authors, and chair of debates.

Immediate experiential learning

It was essential for the project to forge a close link between learning and practical experience. Each participating library received up to NOK25,000 (approx. 2,700 Euro) to hold one or more events at that library. The theoretical knowledge was thereby transformed into skills immediately after the acquisition of new competence on the courses. Several of the project participants have expressed that this was crucial to preventing the new knowledge from the courses being parked when they returned to their normal workday.

The distinctive character of each library

One of the ideas behind the project was that we should work to extend the library’s normal parameters and help to think innovatively and non-traditionally about how libraries are to develop. We wanted the libraries to surprise, but were eager for the individual libraries to take their own starting point as a basis for development. Following several previous joint projects which have included more than 50 libraries in both counties of Agder, we found that the libraries still wanted a joint project, but with a greater latitude to develop each library’s distinctive character.

The development work was refocused on enabling the libraries to identify their own distinctive features and develop their programme profile based on these features. This resulted in a new prioritization of particular target groups, artistic production in the library, libraries that assumed the role of producer to develop exhibitions, as well as some traditional events.

Long-term programme planning

In the second project year, the libraries focused on learning long-term, holistic programme planning, and they were given the task of developing a spring programme for 2016, for which they received NOK 40 000 (approx. 4,300 Euro) to carry out the events. Each library received individual guidance from the county libraries in Aust-Agder and Vest-Agder as they designed their programmes.

In connection with a knowledge exchange conference for the project in May 2016, many of the participants stated that long-term planning and collaboration with other actors were aspects that they would continue to work on after conclusion of the project.

Tangential priority areas

The development project has led to se veral competence-enhancement courses that form part of the regular courses offered by the county libraries being tangential to the project’s priority areas. Examples of this are the debate-chairing course and the advanced course in rigging of premises. The latter is based on the kinds of opportunities offered by the site-specific premises to make the event unique and feasible.

A small library that previously thought it only had space for 20 listeners was helped to see how the simple moving of shelves and relocation of the stage could extend the space to accommodate 60 children at children’s performances. When the National Library of Norway announced its arena development funds, including for procurement of light and sound equipment, many libraries in the Agder counties were able to purchase technical equipment, which contributes to the professionalism of events in the libraries.

Some of the project participants have clearly stated that the link between project funds and arena development funds has been crucial in making it both easier and enjoyable to hold events in the library.

The road ahead

The fact that the local population has expressed a wish for more events has constituted an important learning experience from the project. The importance of applying for external funding for events, establishing sound, long-term partnerships with other actors in the local community, as well as the importance of longterm planning, are highlighted when the chief librarians are asked about how they will work to develop the libraries as cultural arenas after conclusion of the project.

According to the project group’s evaluation of the development project, it was precisely this link between professional competence enhancement and financial resources that enabled the libraries to test out what they learned on the courses, and this contributed to the success of the project for the libraries in the Agder counties.

Director of Culture Aust-Agder County Authority