Editorial: Library and accessibility

The direction taken by libraries over the next decade will shape not only the library itself, but also our perception of the role of the library for the rest of the century.

Public libraries have a strong position in the Nordic region today. They are widely used, well-liked and get a lot out of their resources. The number of loans is high and stable, while the library sector is quickly adapting itself to provide more digital services, infrastructure and digital access. Yet there is a cloud hanging over our libraries.

Our perception of the concept of a library is strongly linked to the lending of paper books, and thus to the twentieth century. This notion, which is not necessarily compatible with libraries in their current form, must be replaced by a modern idea of the library that corresponds to technological and social developments.

The concept of a library is thousands of years older than the notion of lending/ borrowing books. Home loans are a relatively modern invention, linked to the development of public library collections in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The notion of the library as a centre of knowledge can be traced back to the oldest written cultures around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East.

New role and functions 

The library, particularly the public library of the twenty-first century, will continue to be a place where people can borrow books, music, films and other sources of art and knowledge. However, the role of the library will not stop there. The library of the future – and to some extent the library of today – has two other major functions.

The library must be a digital knowledge resource. Through the library, we need to be able to access knowledge and culture for which we would otherwise have to pay or could not access at all. And the librarian must be a guide into this knowledge. Google will not be able to replace a modern librarian. Rather, the librarian will be able to give you the user something Google cannot.

And the library of the future is a meeting place. A cultural institution that designs programmes with the public as its audience, an arena for debate that develops and expands democracy and a learning arena that spreads and shares knowledge. Within this remit, the role of the National Library of Norway will be multi-faceted, but I would like to highlight three things.

The National Library – three priority areas

The National Library will be developing a common physical and digital infrastructure for the country’s public and academic libraries. During 2016, we aim to deliver a public authority register, free unified metadata and a library search tool based on this information. Together with WebDewey, this will both provide the population with better library services and allow Norway’s public libraries to save some major resources – both financial and human. This will enable Norway to free up state resources that can and should be used to increase the focus on communication and content production.

The National Library will strengthen the digital library. With our digitisation project, more and more of the National Library’s collectionsare being made potentially available. Our long-term goal is to make as much of the digital National Library as possible accessible to the general public, whether at home with unrestricted access, or in the country’s public libraries. Through various agreements, licences and schemes, the National Library will work to improve digital access in libraries throughout the country and, along with the country’s libraries and other stakeholders, develop new services based on this data.

Waves of events 

State funds earmarked for libraries will provide the National Library with a strong tool for fostering the development and establishing the direction for the country’s public and academic libraries. These funds are worth little when they are solely used to run the library, but will be all the more valuable when used to finance development and projects that will help to establish the role of the modern library.

With these resources at our disposal, the country’s national and regional public libraries will be able to hold waves of events across the nation, making our libraries into local houses of literature throughout the country. We will be able to enhance the concept of libraries as meeting places and learning arenas for the entire population, and will be able to use libraries to develop digital infrastructure and increase the number of available digital resources.

Through these three priority areas and a number of other major and minor initiatives, over the next four years the National Library will lay the groundwork for the benefits the population will reap in the decades to come.

Director, National Library of Norway