H. Hvenegaard Lassen: The county library system of Denmark. 1929.

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• H. Hvenegaard Lassen.

The county library system of Denmark

Denmark is chiefly a rural community, with many small towns, but only one large city - Copenhagen. In Copenhagen are to be found almost all the higher scientific and educational institutions of the country, and all the research libraries, large and minor, are also located there. One of the problems of Danish educational efforts, therefore, has been to make the cultural privileges of Copenhagen accessible, as far as possible, to the population outside the capital. It is with those efforts in the way of libraries that these notes will chiefly deal. Copenhagen has built up, since 1913, a public library system of its own, much on American and English lines, with a number of branch libraries and delivery stations. The growth in circulation of the Copenhagen Library has been very rapid, and, beginning with no trained assistants at all, it has now a large and well?trained staff. It is the only large public library in Denmark, but it has not had very much direct connection with the library movement in the rest of the country.
Outside Copenhagen there grew up, during the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth century, a number of small and independent public libraries, in towns and villages alike, each of them receiving a minimum of support from the State, but all of them too poor and small to be of any great importance. Since the early 'nineties the gospel of the modern English and American library idea has been preached enthusiastically and untiringly by the pioneer of the Danish library movement, Professor A. S. Steenberg, but for many years with no great visible results. In 1909 the chief librarian of the Royal Library of Copenhagen, H. O. Lange, who has always been, and still is, deeply and actively interested in the public library movement, put forth a far-sighted and convincing plan for the organisation of the libraries outside of Copenhagen. The main point of this plan was the development of a number of the town and city libraries into county libraries with funds sufficient to secure a trained full-time librarian.
It must be noticed that, up to 1914, there did not exist any trained librarians whatsoever in public libraries outside of Copenhagen. But in 1914 the first two county libraries according to Lange's plan came into existence, and at present there are fourteen such county libraries (Central-Biblioteker) at work, and several more are in course of formation. Probably some thirty county libraries will suffice to get the whole country organised in a satisfactory way. It is chiefly due to the librarians of the county libraries and of a few other town libraries that modern library methods and library ideals have come to the country as a whole.
The Danish county library is always the public library of the city or town in which it is situated. The work with the city and the work with the countryside are carried on without any definite division between the two kinds of work or the funds available for each of them. The library is often owned by the city, which always gives it a much larger appropriation than do the county authorities or the townships. But the Danish State, having since 1914 adopted the development of the county library system as its library policy, grants each county library a considerable special appropriation (amounting to Kr.8,000), intended expressly for work in the countryside. In the county library there is no special county librarian, not even an issistant entrusted with the county work, but the city librarian has to act as county librarian as well. For the Danish county libraries are young and undeveloped institutions, with generally only one or two assistants and one or two apprentices comprising the whole of the staff.
The work with the city has been carried on largely on AngloAmerican methods. The county libraries, and all other public libraries of any importance, have adopted a Danish adaptation of Dewey's American Decimal Classification and of Cutter's American Author Marks, worked out some years ago by the Danish State Library Commission. The county libraries all have dictionary catalogues on normal-sized catalogue cards, made according to Anglo-American rules, and accessible to the public. They all have " open shelves " and modern book?card charging systems. Most of them are open to the public all day from morning till night. They all have reading rooms, and much stress has been laid in later years on reference work and co?operation with the schools. Many teachers are now keenly interested in instructing their pupils how to use books and libraries for practical everyday purposes, a thing almost completely unknown in Denmark only ten years ago. Several of the county libraries have a childrenīs department carrying on its work in co?operation with the schools.
The result of all these modern library methods, and of a young enthusiastic trained librarian in each town or city, has been an enormous increase in the use of the public libraries, and a complete revolution in their general position, and in the way they are looked on by the people. Only ten years ago a public library in a Danish town or city was a dark and uncomfortable place with dirty and ragged books, intended only for the poor and lowly in the community, a place which well?to?do or refined people did not dream of visiting. Now it has become a social centre of the city, an inviting and comfortable place, with flowers and smiling faces, a place where really all classes of the population meet and are served each according to his needs. The circulation of the county libraries is now about the same as in English and American cities of corresponding size.
It has been of great importance in the evolution of the county libraries, that methods adopted in the different libraries have been the same. This has made possible co-operation in cataloguing, book lists and the production of forms. It has made easier exchanges of books and inter-library loans, and it has facilitated the transfer of librarians and assistants from one library to another. It has not been difficult to accomplish this uniformity in library methods in all the public libraries, for they were all comparatively small, and they all had to be reorganised completely. Several libraries belonging to societies or in private hands have adopted the same methods. But the large and old scientific libraries have not done so. The traditions of those old institutions, of course, make it extremely difficult to introduce new methods; in some ways the methods are not suitable for them at all, and their cataloguing, classification and lending systems are still the older ones, quite different from those of the public libraries.
The work of the county library in the countryside is carried on in two ways : partly as direct library service to the individual inhabitant of the county, and partly through the village libraries.
The direct library service is much used and is very valuable. The Danish towns and cities possessing county libraries are generally very easily accessible to the population of the surrounding county. The peasants come in with their hogs for slaughtering, or to sell grain and vegetables, and the women come in to make their purchases in the stores. Many of them then visit the library. The county libraries are issuing non?fiction books free to everybody in the county, and these may be sent free of postage to the receiver. Many book parcels are sent out with the motor 'buses, or with different private messengers. For the issue of fiction to borrowers outside the city, the county libraries generally charge a minor fee (1 or 2 Kr. a year), and the receiver has to pay the postage. The direct library service puts the more interested people of the countryside in personal connection with a comparatively large and well?equipped library. It shows them what a public library is, and in how many ways it can serve them, and serve them well. And it is much appreciated. To a librarian it is most gratifying to see a young agricultural labourer from a farm some eight miles away coming in on his bicycle on Saturday nights to get his four books on agriculture and mechanics changed.
But it is evident that the direct library service can only reach comparatively few of a population in the surrounding county of some 50,000 to 100,000. The more elementary library work with the great mass of the population has to be done by local libraries -i.e., in Denmark by the independent village libraries. The village libraries were there before the county libraries came into existence, and the county libraries have had to co-operate with them. The county libraries have not put up branches or delivery stations of their own in the country.
The village libraries are almost always directed by the teacher of the village, and are generally located in the school-house. They are mostly small collections of some 500 to 1,000 volumes. In earlier years they contained little but fiction, and often fiction of a rather worthless type - and the books were frequently ugly in binding and in bad condition. It has been the problem of the county libraries to better those conditions by their example and by every kind of help and advice. And they have succeeded to some extent. The county library is now often consulted by the teachers on the selection of new books. The county libraries issue a yearly list of best books, and they have meetings for book selection with the village librarians. The books of the village libraries are often bound under direction of the county library. A great number of the village libraries have adopted the same methods as the county libraries in classification, cataloguing and charging.
There has gone on, in later years, an energetic agitation for the provision of more adequate funds for the rural libraries from the population itself and from the authorities of the townships, which in many places has met with great success. In several villages, and especially in the townships round the railway junctions, reading rooms with good collections of text-books have been arranged. Of course, it is of the greatest importance that all these rural library activities can be helped and stimulated by the trained library staff of the county libraries.
Besides the technical help, the county libraries send out, for a very moderate payment, travelling libraries to the village libraries wishing it, and to other places where they are needed. And all the books of the county libraries, except the most current fiction, can be demanded by the village library for its borrowers.
This last provision, which could make the village library a real delivery station of the county library with all the county library books at its disposal, is not used nearly as much as it ought to be. It will be one of the problems of the county libraries in the future to make the village teacher use thus privilege, and to make the village borrowers see that they have a right to demand all sorts of books on all sorts of subjects through the village library. The village teachers generally do their library work without getting any salary for it. The quality of the work therefore depends entirely on the personal interest of the teacher. It is often excellently done, and sometimes rather indifferently. In several communities there is no public library at all because there has never been a teacher with the unselfish interest in the matter necessary to start and run it. With a fixed and proper salary for rural library work it will be much easier to get a public library in every township, and it will be easier to have the rural librarians use the privilege of library loans from the county library.
There is another sort of inter?library loan much used in Denmark, and that is loans from the great scientific State libraries to the county libraries and other town libraries. There is nothing extraordinary in the provision that books from one library can be lent to another for scientific use. That is the case in most countries. But it is doubtful whether in any country that provision has had so great and important results as in Denmark. The county libraries use this right whenever they are asked for a definite book which they do not possess themselves, or for books on a subject which they do not cover in a satisfactory way. And that is very often, not only because they are as yet rather new and not very well provided with books, but also because they know what it is to have people asking for all sorts of books and subjects. The types of books demanded by the county libraries from the great State libraries are very different - sometimes scientific, but more often on practical everyday questions, or older Danish historical or periodical literature referred to in some newer book or article.
The State library of Aarhus has been of great importance in this kind of work. It is the only large State library outside Copenhagen, and it is quite a new one, having been founded in 1902. But it contains a good collection of new and old Danish literature, and in foreign literature it has specialised in the subjects and the types of books most in demand by the public libraries. The State Library of Aarhus sends non?fiction free of postage to any place in Denmark outside Copenhagen, and it is much used by many individual borrowers all over the country. It is by far the most used library for inter?library loans, and there is hardly a week in which every county library does not send several demands to Aarhus for definite books or literature on different subjects.
But in many cases, besides Aarhus, the county libraries must rely on the State libraries of Copenhagen : The Royal Library, the University Library, the Library of the Agricultural College, the Library of the Art Academy, the Library of the Technical College, and several others. In this way the library organisation in Denmark has succeeded in making every book in every public library of the country accessible to every citizen, live he in never so remote a corner of the countryside. It will be the problem of the future to make everybody realise this privilege, and use it whenever he needs it. But it may be said that even now it is used in a degree promising very well for the future.
The rapid growth of the public libraries of Denmark during the last ten years would not have been possible without the great and active support which they have had from the Danish State. In 1920, the principles of State support to Public Libraries were laid down in the Danish Library Law, being the first Library Law on the Continent of Europe after that of Bohemia. The law was revised on May ist, 1923, but with no changes of importance. When public libraries fulfil some elementary requirements as to opening hours, books and book?charging, and have a local support of not less than Kr.5o, they can be supported by the State with an amount corresponding to one?half of the local support. If the libraries fulfil some further requirements, such as reference work, salary for the librarian, etc., the State support can be raised to the same amount as that of the local support. It has been especially important that the limit for the State appropriation to a single library has been put as high as Kr.15,000, and that it has been made possible that Copenhagen and some other cities can receive still more. That means that State support, being in most countries of interest only to the small libraries but insignificant to the city libraries, has in Denmark had an invaluable part in the advancement of the libraries of cities and towns. The county libraries getting, besides the Kr.15,000, the special appropriation of Kr.8,000 mentioned above, often have more than half their total income from the State.
The relation of the State to the public libraries is supervised by a State Library Board (Biblioteksraadet), and the State activities are administered by the State Library Commission (Staten) Bibliotekstilsyn) at Copenhagen. The Library Commission, besides supervising the libraries and distributing the State grants, has been active in many ways. It is the natural central point for combined activities in library progress. It has issued text?books and manuals in library methods and done important bibliographical work. Since 1917 it has held a Danish library school every second year, from which have come most of the librarians and assistants at public libraries outside of Copenhagen.