The cooperating library system 1997

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The Cooperating Library System

Rolf Hapel

One of the most important concepts in Danish library terminology is: "The cooperating library system". The concept represents a unique construction in international terms, and is based on historical aspects of Danish culture and the tradition of "public enlightenment" and democracy.

The term "cooperating library system" covers a number of positive values connected with the public libraries' work. They are values like ?cooperation is a rational basis, cooperation means shared resources, cooperation is conducted by equal partners, cooperation reduces the risk of conflict.
In Denmark the cooperating library system is organised on three levels: local, regional (counties) and national. The pivotal points of cooperation are supply of materials and information between libraries, sharing experiences, and further education within the profession.

The local level (public and school libraries) takes care of communication in the broader sense, the regional level (county libraries and county centres) carries out superstructure functions for the local level, and the national level ( The National Library Authority, The State and University Library, The Royal Library (the national library) and other public research libraries) acts as superstructure for the local and regional level.
The very idea of a cooperating library system is closely related to the public library conception of free and equal access to information and knowledge, an intensified awareness of our cultural heritage, and the strengthening of the individual's creative talents and the ability to read. Whereas before this idea was based on the rather obvious advantages of sharing and exploiting information in a society, which was short on that commodity, it now seems as if the underlying concept of caring is the one being sustained in a time very much affected by an information surplus - or flood. Could it possibly be because the cultural banner leaders of the library profession now to a great degree are women?

Danish library concepts have their roots in adult education, dating from the late 1700s when a nobleman by the name of Rewentlov created the basis for the state school. This was followed by the period in the early 1800s, when the national poet, Grundtvig, provided the common people with some wonderful hymns, a belief in the combination of Christianity and national romantic history, as well as the important basis on which to build the folk high school movement ? his "School for life". The public libraries started in the country, not in the town. In the mid 1800s there were book collections in half of the approx. 1700 parishes. By the end of the 1800s some of these folk? libraries had been closed down, but a modest sum had been entered on the state budget for the establishment of parish libraries. The overall feeling was that these ?folk? or parish libraries had been created for the poor - the unenlightened. They were not the peoples' libraries as such. That did not happen until during and immediately after the 1st World War, when the first Danish Public Libraries Act was bom, and the public library idea began to extend to the entire population - to the citizens of the country.

The early coordinating organisations The first
Danish Public Libraries Act in 1920 also inaugurated the first budding coordinating organisations as well as the cooperative structure, which exists to this very day. The coordinating bodies were the county libraries, the first being established in 1914, and the State Inspectorate of Public Libraries, which became a modern version of Statens Bogsamlingskomite (the National Book Collection Committee). It is interesting to note that these organisations were not cooperating organisations as we know them today. The keywords were authority and coordination, and a considerable amount of this was consultative activity ? not a partnership between equals. With sizeable grants from the state, county libraries experienced a veritable boom in their numbers. Their task was to support the smaller libraries by supplying books which they did not hold and besides to offer advice and supervision.
Another very important aspect was to relieve the pressure on the State and University Library, which since 1902 when the collections were made available for lending purposes had experienced an overwhelming increase in demand.
This was also the period in which the ideal organisation the Danish Library Association (Danmarks Biblioteksforening) was born by an amalgamation of the two associations "Danmarks Folkebogsamlinger" and "Dansk Biblioteksforening". This became to a greater extent a cooperative body, as the association's primary aim was to further the library cause and establish public libraries. This was done through lobbying and attracting attention in the broader sense. In 1927 a white paper on the national library system concluded that "the Danish public library system must be said to have reached the stage where one is entitled to regard it as a unit stretching from the small parish library to the Royal Library and the University Library". A myth had been born.
The only important change in this basic structure of cooperation is that more central organisations have emerged.

The new coordinating organisations
The Bibliographic Office of the Public Libraries, which was set up in 1939, was to prepare common catalogues and catalogue cards. In 1963 the name was changed to the Danish Library Bureau, and following bankruptcy in 1991 the Danish Library Centre A/S (DBC) emerged. DBC provides the libraries with a number of bibliographic products and PR material, and DBC Media offers videograms, music materials and multimedia. DBC compiles the National Bibliography and is the general contractor of the DanBib cooperation.
In 1949 the Bibliographic Office of the Public Libraries opened a department for the binding of books for libraries, called "Fællesindbindingen" (Common Binding). In 1957 it became the Danish Library Binding Centre (IBC) I/S, and today the private company IBC acts as wholesaler to the public libraries. IBC also ? like DBC ?offers videograms and multimedia products.
The independent institution the Danish Repository Library for Public Libraries was established in 1968 and holds a large collection of materials weeded from the public libraries.
In 1984 the independent institution the Danish Central Library for Immigrant Literature was established, which acts as superstructure for the public libraries, making available books and other suitable materials to immigrants. In 1990 the existing National Library for the Blind became the main centre for the public libraries' lending of talking books.

Public and school libraries today
In 1993 the law was changed, which meant that the services of the public libraries and school libraries were separated. The public libraries are governed by the Public Libraries Act under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, while school libraries are governed by the Primary Eduation Act and answer to the Ministry of Education. Broadly speaking one might describe the task of the public libraries as public enlightenment and that of the school libraries as educational. Cooperation between public libraries and school libraries is rudimentary in most places, but there are some well?functioning exceptions ? e.g. the municipality of Odense.

County libraries and county centres
Denmark's 14 counties each has a county library. Following the latest amendment to the Act, the state ? not the county ? finances the county libraries. All county libraries are municipal libraries in relation to their own municipality. This mean that by far the major part of the total funding for the library stems from municipal budgets.
The county centres for educational resources are the superstructures for the school libraries and supply educational material for teaching purposes. They are funded by the counties.

Central organisations
The central organisations today may be divided into two main groups, namely those with superstructure function as their primary task, and those for which this function is secondary. The first category includes the Danish Library Centre, the Danish Library Binding Centre, the Danish Repository Library for Public Libraries and the Danish Central Library for Immigrant Literature. The second comprises the State and University Library, the Royal Library and the other research libraries.
Some of the central organisations have changed from being cooperating organisations to increasingly becoming professionally managed suppliers in competition with others. This applies to DBC and the Danish Library Binding Centre. Some areas, like for example the compilation of the national bibliography, are governed by contracts with the state, and at the present time the tasks are defined and agreed upon by the individual supplier and the state, represented by the National Library Authority. This construction is rather problematic for two reasons, partly because the state is a shareholder in DBC, which compiles the national bibliography, and partly because this type of task is directly affected by EU?directives on services and therefore will in all probability be put out to tender in a few years time.

The National Library Authority
The National Library Authority (since 1990 an amalgamation of the State Inspectorate of Public Libraries and the Office of the National Librarian) has since 1983, when the municipalities went from directly earmarked state grants to block grants, had to transform its traditional authoritarian role into a far more advisory capacity. After this change in the system it was no longer possible to threaten the municipalities with a reduction or even withholding of library grants, if certain conditions were not adhered to. Most people in the library profession see the National Library Authority as a safeguard for ensuring that the differences in the Danish library system do not widen, but there is apparently a schism between what is expected from the National Library Authority by the Ministry of Culture and the library profession respectively. The ministry considers SBT's primary functions as preparing legislation, interpreting legal issues and advising the government, carrying out the administration of government grants and public lending right remuneration and coordinating national and interdisciplinary committee work. However, the profession is more aware of SBT's role as mediator in cases of conflicting interests, as a neutral body, who will ensure that justice is done. The question is whether it will be possible for SBT to continue playing this role in the future.

Two angles on the cooperating library system
Apart from the emergence of new "partners", such as the Danish Library Binding Centre, the Danish Library Centre, the Danish Repository Library for Public Libraries and the Danish Library Centre for Immigrant Literature no basic changes have taken place in the cooperative structure, which was defined in the Public Libraries Act of 1920. It means that the public libraries are to carry out public enlightenment in the broader sense, supported by the county libraries, which again should mean relieving the pressure on the State and University Library, the research libraries and the National Library. Apart from the superstructure function those libraries do, of course, perform other tasks, which bring them in direct contact with the users, but the superstructure function is undoubtedly the main one. This most traditional and very hierarchical construction has been relevant for a long time, which is naturally due to a cooperation very much centered around acquisition, registration and distribution of non?machine? readable media. The argument in favour of a cooperative construction such as this has first and foremost been based on the need to be able to use a book, purchased in one part of the country for a specific purpose, for another purpose in another geographic area.
There have been no marked changes in the basic ideals of free and equal access to library books everywhere in the country or the right to order books free?of?charge from other libraries.
However, there might be very good reasons for contemplating the cooperating library system from another angle, namely the one that considers public and school libraries to be the cote of the system ? where contact with the users is at a premium.
One reason is that cooperation on materials supply is in fact quite modest. The public libraries' loan requests from the research libraries only represent a minor part of the total lending from the public libraries (less than 0,2%), whereas the figure for the research libraries' loans to public libraries represents 4% of their total loans (1995 figures). With that in mind one might wonder at the continuous protestations of the blessings of a cooperating library system ? at any rate as far as the vertical lending cooperation is concerned. The enthusiasm is, of course, closely connected with the qualitative aspect of offering a large number of citizens the information they need, which this kind of cooperation guarantees. The hallmark of a democratic society is after all the tree and equal access to information, and without doubt providing the desired material may bring considerable qualitative experiences. But whether these activities in themselves are sufficient to surmount the barriers against free and equal access to information is another matter.
Another reason is that an ever increasing part of the information disseminated by the libraries, is going to be netborn and digitized. As information becomes gradually less dependent on non-machine? readable media like books, some aspects of the "cooperating library system" will become more of an anachronism. New ideas must emerge. The libraries will no longer be cooperating on localization and distribution of non?machine-readable media, but rather on localization, validation and distribution of information via a multiplum of media. It might mean that the marked vertical division into three levels of cooperation may very soon be the'wrong way of regarding cooperative relations. An alternative view might be as illustrated below: It means that the vertical model in fig. 1 would only apply to those of the libraries' activities, which are based on transport of physical media, while other cooperative efforts would depend on knowledge (human resources) and IT resources. By using information technology to its fullest potential it should be possible to differentiate the libraries' superstructure functions in such a way, that some larger libraries or other superstructure organisations carry out different tasks, e.g. work following licitation and contractual negotiations with the state. The concept of a universal library would have to be discarded at county library level, as has happend at public library level, but on the other hand it would mean a revitalisation of the old cooperative library system, turning it into a new virtual library. In a socio?economic sense it would be a great relief, if for example it was no longer necessary for 14 county libraries to deal with exactly the same tasks. One might imagine a smaller number, which could fulfil the old traditional role within the region as before, but furthermore could take on various tasks at national level. Moreover the ? in Danish library circles ? highly controversial concept of "competition" might well become an incentive for some libraries. What it might eventually mean to the number of superstructure organisations at regional and national level nobody knows. What remains is that the cooperating library system will continue to exist in the information society, it might even gain in stature, but it also means that a number of questions regarding the financing of super structure functions have to be solved politically.

Rolf Hapel
Library Director
Århus Kommunes Biblioteker