Library automation in Danish public libraries 1989

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Head of Division, Directorate for Public Libraries
Copenhagen, Denmark

Historical background
To describe the present is easy enough, but a description that explains our motives and objectives must also include observations of the past, withouth any attempt to write library history.
The Danish public library system ranks according to an EEC survey on libraries in the 12 member states number one in every aspect: holdings, circulation and other services, staffing ? and costs. This is of course our pride ? or the nation's pride, but also its problem in a period of cutting down public expenditure. Looking at the Nordic countries Finland is a very close second and Sweden a third, both ranking higher than the other 11 EEC countries.
This Danish achievement is not a library achievement but a by?product of the Danish society and its education policies, cultural tradition and other factors. It has just been the duty of the libraries to fulfill the expectations by providing more and more service at as low costs as possible.
But among themselves the libraries have tried to keep up with the demands by introducing common methodologies and common initia-tives.
One of the landmarks in common development came in 1915 when common cataloging rules ? and a common classifications sceme (an abbrieviated Dewey ?as Denmark is a small country) were published. This was made by the Copenhagen deputy librarian, H. Rolf, who died only a few month ago. My aunt as sisted him in doing the typing and editing, she died a few years ago.
The next step was the initiative for centralized cataloging and the availability of printed cards. This was started just before the Second World War by Erik Allerslev Jensen, who later became director of the Directorate for Public Libraries. Another result of this initiative was a service institution: The Danish Library Bureau, which today is a very important link in the system of centralized services for libraries.
The breakthrough for centralized services came in the Sixties with an initiative for work simplification in the libraries. The main objectives were: To secure a better work distribution in libraries according to formal staff education, hereby relieving librarians from clerical tasks, they were not educated for and not too efficient in, and to transfer work from the libraries to the central supply institutions where pro-duction methods and economy made this feasible.
This initiative was taken to bring libraries into a better position during the period of heavy development in the Sixties, not to cut library costs.

Start of library automation
Library automation was first contemplated shortly after in the late Six-ties. A quick introduction was hoped for, but in fact a much slower development proved to be the case.
There are two explanations for this. Firstly a very high cost- effectivenes in the already rationalized library procedures gave auto-mation a strong competition, as automation was very costly in those days. Secondly, those involved in the library world are information specialists and could specify useful systems that were too advanced for those days.
The latter problem was observed worldwide. The first was perhaps more local. As an example it can be mentioned, that in 1970 the Directorate for Public Libraries conducted an experiment in online cataloging. One of the obstacles to that succesful experiment was that in those days a VDU terminal had a price equivalent of two years salary for a librarian.
The first concept for automation was very straight?forward for those days again after the American fashion: A national union catalogue, computer produced in book form to superseed the local card catalo-gues. Mind the limited size of the country.
The main problem was not the catalogue itself, even though it posed some very complex problems of those days. The greatest problems were potentially in the handling the holdings information nationwide in an off line environment and in describing the holdings or the locations at least ? in a printed product.
However this catalogue would encompass all available titles thereby giving a survey of the library system's combined resources. This could be a push forward for serious library work. And it would have been a system that would have saved money.

Plan for automation 1970
In 1970 a plan was published which aroused quite a bit of criticism. That is easy to understand today. The general feeling was that the complexity of the idea would not be workable in practise. After a number of changes in the concept, and by adding that before the plan could be realized new technologies would overcome the weak points, the plan was more or less accepted in 1972.

But a plan is not enough. Who should do the job? The Directorate as part of the civil service could not participate in development or production. Eventually a collaboration was set up among The Library Bureau, The Binding Centre and Kommunedata, the local authority common data processing service centre. This was called `Biblioteks-data', the project was then named FAUST, an acronym for Folke-bibliotekernes AUtomationsSystem ? with the hidden joke that `faust' in German means fist.
Biblioteksdata attained rapid succes by launching two products in 1974: The Copenhagen Public Library microfiche catalogue to replace the earlier card catalogue and the public library union catalogue of foreign literature. This could only be achieved by a close cooperation with the British Library from whom the complete suite of MARC? programs from the British National Bibliography were bought.
It was thought that the Library Bureau could also use the programs for the Danish National Bibliography, a cornerstone of centralized cata-loging for public libraries. But new generations of computers were de-veloped, offering new opportunities. Therefore it was decided to de-vise a completely new online cataloging system connected to a database. This system went into production in 1976. In existence for only two years, the BL connection was a very valuable start help for further local developments.
In 1978 Biblioteksdata ran into problems of organization and credi-bility in professional circles. It was proposed that the Association of Local Authorities and the Directorate for Public Libraries should participate directly as sponsors of the project.
This change meant redrawing of specifications. The plans became now an even today modern concept with a common database as platform for a number of applications: a national union catalogue, local Opac's, aquisition systems, circulation systems etc. The redraw-ing was completed in 1980.

Kommunedata, responsible for computers and software, made call for tenders from potential suppliers. None was able to supply a complet system, but from the tenders the Danish RC Computers was chosen for their experience and international succes in telephone directory systems. This gave a first priority to the central database and its search system. This was later enlarged with other library applications. The systems ? as marketed by RC Computers themselves ? are also widely used in Danish academic libraries.
Kommunedata adapted and developed the system for public library use. It was released for the market, but for many reasons introduction was slow. Cuts in public expenditures also hit the libraries, making it difficult to find money for automation. At the same time the trade unions were very uneasy about the unknown consequences of the then coming massintroduction of computerized systems not only in libra-ries, but in public service in general. All these created delays.
The Danish public libraries are operated by the local authorities, that either alone or in coorporation run the libraries. The 275 local authori-ties are covered by 250 library systems consisting of approximately 1,100 main libraries and branches.
The common database, now called `BASIS', is used by 110 library systems that are connected to it via more than 500 terminals. The traffic is very heavy as every terminal is used for general searches, as an opac etc. The database contains more than 600,000 titles embracing the national bibliography from 1970, a large selection of older Danish titles and all foreing titles in the libraries since 1970. Furthermore re-levant titles in audio?visual materials, soun recordings and films are included.

Slow start for conversion of holdings
Statistical surveys have showed, that most public libraries will find more than 90 percent, some even more than 95 percent of their titles in the database the day they want to start their local retrospective con-version of their holdings.
Altogether it would appear to be a moderate success. But the libraries have not started their conversions on a larger scale, although they would like to do so, and even if they can't anticipate extra funds for a local project many are prepared to do it by changing internal priorities.
Once again there is an uncertainty in Biblioteksdata that makes the libraries hesitate. Some of the applications have been expected long, but can still not be described as real production modules. And the libraries do not want to take a chance with unproven solutions.
The costs of bibliographic work seem to rise. The libraries complain about the costs in the Library Bureau, even if that organization now gets 100% financial compensation from the government for the production of the national bibliography. Previously this was more or less paid by the local authorities, by the price tag put on all product from the Library Bureau.
Today only three small library systems have completely converted their holdings. Further 12 are well under way. But where are the rest?

The last two years have seen a new trend: pluralism. The concept until now has been an uniform system with a central part and a decen-tralized part ? both created and maintained by Biblioteksdata. This is an ideal situation as all parts can be controlled and surveyed. Some might be of the opinion that a monopoly could need a little compe-tition in order to stay alive, and that's what we have now got.
Strangely enough the monopoly was broken by Kommunedata, part-ner in Biblioteksdata, as they announced an other line for local sys-tems. This is perhaps easier to understand if one is aware that a num-ber of the larger local authorities run other local systems on IBM mainframes and compatibles. They do not wish to have another brand for the library, even if it is a famous Danish supplier: RC Computers.
A number of local authorities began looking at other systems. One library has awarded the Danish company Dansk Data Elektronik a development contract for a library system. Another library has chosen a Norwegian system. At the moment, a major library is negotiating with the Canadian GEAC. More initiatives are expected.

Models for cooperation
This new situation brings up a number of questions. First of all: Will a plethora of systems destroy the famous Danish library cooperation?
Once a year the Directorate for Public Libraries stages a meeting for all heads of libraries. At the 1988 conference patterns for future co-operation was a major issue. An exhibition was made to highlight the situation. Criteria for invitations to companies were indications of interests to supply to the Danish library market. 13 companies parti-cipated in the exibition.
The Association of Local Authorities and The Directorate for Public Libraries has agreed, that the era of direct involvement in the operations in the individual local authorities has gone. It will still be a mutual responsibility to secure a common database, but otherwise the market is open for competition. It is the intention to set up a number of functional standards for the interconnection of local systems between themselves and between local systems and a common, central supply system.

Library as information broker
The interest in library automation is increasing rapidly. There are a number of experiments in the field, mostly financed in part by the development funds in the Directorate. One of the tendencies is that the public library is an important node for providing information for a local community. The library must also ajust itself to cope with the role as a local information broker.
This can be done by searching external databases, but there is a clear trend that the library itself can be a database host providing local information of interest to the community. This can be a general community service, but it can also be more specialised information.
The background for this is the availability of small minis and supermicros and appropriate software. Even a library serving a community of say 10,000 can serve as a database host. Examples can be found in this country.
Altogether the achievements in library automation have not been satisfactury, but something has been gained. There is a tradition for rather high standards in library work in Denmark. Some could say that we are overdoing our job, but work worth doing is also worth doing well.
We would never fall for the first and easiest solution. We try to pinpoint the problems in everything new and try to elaborate them. We believe that online systems shall be simple and efficient, and in many systems those virtues are not present ? and what user reactions will appear? Therefore we are in a very strong favour of full text searching and have paid attention to search command languages. It has taken some time to do so, but we are seeing the results just now. The Danish libraries, not only the public libraries, some years ago found that the so called `Common Command Language' or `CCL' was a very good query language. In order to achieve a good result in Denmark we have participated in the international development in ISO ? The International Standardization Organization ? in the development of CCL. It is now out for the final international vote as an international standard, although already a Danish standard.

Professional Cooperation
A problem in developing library automation is the fact, that one has to mix expertise of different origin and has to hope for a good result. One has also to rely not only on experts, but also at the daily life pro-fessionals in the libraries.
A programmer pretending to know better in cataloging is a menace, but a cataloger pretending to do systems development is even worse. We have had very good results in overcoming these problems by in-volving library staff in the policy making in collaboration with the experts. The Directorate for Public Libraries cooperate with relevant trade unions in the Library Automation Committee. This committee discusses and tries out automated solutions and proposes how to use the functionality and implement a solution in a library environment. The results of the work in the committee have been published in a number of pamphlets.
Danish public libraries have been en route for quite a number of years. The ultimate solutions have not yet appeared. And the market pene-tration of even modest solutuions has been slow. But a number of rather advanced systems exist, mostly in the bibliographic area, less so in the area of housekeeping e.g. circulation control.
However we now are well prepared for the largescale usage, even though we don't know how far the new pluralism will take us.