to the end of the story
In 1998 I organised a meeting for the Nordic state authorities for public libraries. It was my first so-called directors’ meeting. On the agenda for the meeting was Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly. The publication’s accounts were reviewed and the content was discussed. The Nordic state authorities for public libraries each paid an equal share of the expenses for SPLQ.
The meetings would come to feel incredibly important. I was certainly no director, but my work was also about strategic linedrawing, project funding, library legislation, the state budget for libraries and collecting national statistics for libraries.
SPLQ’s economy and development was a permanent item on the agenda of the directors’ meetings. The publication was seen as an important part of the Nordic public libraries’ co-operation. There were articles about on-going projects and the development of the library, plus new library buildings were presented there.
We could stay up-to-date on what was happening in our neighbouring countries and get ideas and inspiration for our own respective libraries. Nordic Public Libraries was also a concept in the international library world. Our high level of service, our high patron and book-loan statistics, the functional and new library buildings and modern equipment were admired.
The library as a part of the community and of daily life was also noted. SPLQ was a good way to spread Nordic expertise internationally.
I never regretted it
In 1999, I was recruited as a member of the editorial team which was to be an assignment that would last many years and meant a lot of work on the side, but it also meant joy, friendship and was of great use in the daily work at the Ministry.
It was interesting to see how similar ideas came up in the libraries in neighbouring countries, and it was extremely rewarding to take part in different project and goal descriptions, as the ideas were implemented in different ways in similar environments. The articles helped librarians who presented their projects before an international audience at conferences and library meetings – there was a prepared model for a presentation in English.
Strategies and library legislation were introduced as soon as they became relevant. When Finland’s new library legislation went into effect in 1999, it immediately sparked great international interest. It took a while for the law to be translated into English in its entirety and in the meantime I was able to respond to the demand by sending an SPLQ article about it. Interviews with interesting people were included sporadically.
SPLQ began to be published in 1968. I remember how hard it was to get the documentation regarding decisions about beginning to publish a joint Nordic journal. There were situations where we editors would have needed that kind of documentation to be able to explain and defend the appearance of a sum of joint Nordic money, which, on top of everything else, moved around from one country to another every fifth year when the position of editor-in-chief changed.
The Danish period
In 2002, the publication was transferred to Danish management. During the Danish period, a comprehensive, professional evaluation of the journal’s contents was carried out, as well as an inquiry concerning eventual publication only in an electronic format. It turned out that readers wanted the journal in both formats and, although that was many years ago, I think that the situation for this type of publication is still the same.
It was also nice to be able to distribute a publication with an attractive layout at conferences and meetings. The SPLQ website was launched and was continuously developed. It was obviously important to have a presence on the Internet. Soon people would be able to conveniently find articles and themes from earlier editions.
The economy was good and the budget surplus was used to publish a book about libraries in Scandinavia: Nordic Public Libraries; the Nordic Cultural Sphere and its Public Libraries was published in 2002. The book presented new library buildings with rich visual images interleaved with articles.
Finland in charge
After the Danish period, it was time for Finland to take over the tasks of the editor-in-chief and the responsibility for the economy. The Danish National Library Authority had a large staff to delegate different tasks to; the situation at the Ministry of Education and Culture was completely different.
I managed to gather together a small staff. The members of the editorial team had a lot to do four times a year. Articles had to be ordered, edited and supplemented with images. The editor-in-chief had to take care of his or her share of all of that, but also hold together all aspects of the material as a whole. In my case, I also had to write the editorial that is, change hats again since the editorial was written by the directors and maintain contact with the printing house.
Sometimes, a promised article was not delivered, which was a crisis indeed! Certain correspondence had to be maintained above and beyond the contact with the writers and the printing house. The nicest letter I received came from a librarian in New Zealand. It had been raining so heavily the day that SPLQ came, she said, that the journal was soaking wet and completely illegible and could we possibly send her another one. Subscribers to the journal came from some 50 different countries. The issues were relatively small, but the journal had very good distribution. In 2010, the book Nordic Public Libraries 2.0 was published. The editorial team was SPLQ’s editorial team members.
Director meetings stopped when, first, Norway and then Sweden transferred responsibility for the development of the public libraries to their respective national libraries. Prior to this in Norway, the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority (ABM-utvikling) had worked with archives, libraries and museums on the agenda. The Norwegian national library took over. The Danish National Library Authority had both the public libraries and the research libraries on its agenda, but even in Denmark it was all reorganized.
First it was the Danish National Library Authority, then since 2012, the Danish Agency for Culture, a fusion of the Danish Agency for Culture, the Danish Arts Agency and the Danish National Library Authority (from 2016 Agency for Culture and Palaces).
At a Nordic meeting of the directors of the national libraries, it was decided that Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly would become Scandinavian Library Quarterly, including articles even about research libraries. I thought it was a good idea. There were many research libraries, especially in the US, southern Europe and Asia among the subscribers.
In 2012 Sweden took over and the journal was being published with its new name, Scandinavian Library Quarterly.
Another bond is breaking
It seems important to have a successor who is both well-versed and knowledgeable. Nordic co-operation is especially rewarding, because our societies function similarly. The focus on the rights of the citizens to information and knowledge is the same and libraries are seen as a part of the democratic society.
Ideas and projects are easy to transfer from one country to another, because there is a shared view on society, a similar public education tradition and similar ways of life. There is probably interest in co-operation among the Nordic libraries for the future, but it will require that we invest in the continual development of the partnerships.
Many of the bonds that have been holding it all together have already broken – now one more is breaking.