Preben Kierkegaard: The Public Libraries in Denmark. Copenhagen. 1950. 103 p.

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(Danish information handbooks).
[Translated by Harriet Oppenhejm. Adapted by Carl Thomsen]
 


A historical survey

 
The modern Danish library system includes research technical, and public libraries. The two first groups cater to scientific research and training. The last group distributes instructive and educational literature of all categories besides giving the People access to a store of books which will satisfy the needs of readers on all cultural levels.
The history of the research libraries of this country began with the foundation, in the fifteenth century, of the present University Library. Prior to that time churches and monasteries possessed libraries which may be traced far back into the Middle Ages. The public libraries, on the other hand, with the special task ascribed to them, are a 20th century innovation.
The underlying idea of the Public Library system was first formulated by one man, Professor Andr. Schack Steenberg. Studies in political economy had led him to take a profound interest in social problems. In 1885, while holding a mastership in the State Grammar School at Horsens, he became head of a workers' evening institute and so was plunged headlong into the problems with which the lower classes were struggling. At the same time he was the librarian of the Grammar School, and came to think that the desire for education which he found among the workers could best be met by means of books and libraries. So he opened the Grammar School library to the general public. His example was followed by others. But such isolated efforts did not satisfy Mr. Steenberg, and the reorganization of the library service throughout the country became his goal. In the nineties he established contacts abroad, especially with the British and Americans, collecting information about their public libraries. These studies gave him an impression of the importance attached, especially in AngloSaxon countries, to the general education available through free public libraries. On trips to England, and later to America, he got first?hand impressions of the enormous extent and fine quality of the work done.
In this country he started an intense and tireless propaganda to raise library work to a level far above mere entertainment and to make it a first?class educational factor.
Since 1882, the State had given annual grants amounting to kr. 6000 to the popular libraries. In 1897-98 the grant was increased to kr. 14.000, and the "State Committee for the Support of Popular Libraries" was formed for the administration of this grant. Naturally, Mr. Steenberg became a member of the said Committee, which distributed the funds provided by the State Grant proportionally to the budgets of the various public libraries. Further, he established travelling libraries of about fifty volumes to be lent through the parish libraries. By this time the library movement had got into stride throughout the country. Everywhere new libraries were established and those already in existence were improved. The larger libraries were by this time also beginning to assist the parish libraries and to provide for the needs of the population of their districts.
1902 marked a milestone in Danish library work, as the Aarhus State Library was founded in that year. It was not to function as an ordinary public library. Fiction, for instance, was not lent. On the other hand it was to serve as a kind of Central Library for provincial libraries which might there borrow non?fiction which they did not themselves possess. Further, travelling libraries similar to those of the Library Committee, were set up. And last but not least, the new State Library was to cater to individual borrowers in the provinces, who might send in direct orders for non?fiction. The State Library started with a stock of about 150.000 volumes, largely duplicate copies originating from The Copenhagen Royal Library, or other special collections. This stock was to be increased partly through compulsory contributions from all printers who were under legal obligation to supply one copy of all their printed matter, and partly by purchases of foreign literature for which the Library received a very modest grant.
Gradually the circle of the library?minded had become very wide, representing all classes and strata of the population. But elementary school teachers were the driving force in this work. In the course of time a certain amount of co?operation became desirable, and in 1905 the "Association of Popular Libraries in Denmark" was established. This was to be a combination of libraries for such purposes as holding propaganda meetings, publishing the "Bogsamlingsbladet" (i. e. The Popular Library journal), advising librarians on the manifold problems which might arise, and to be of service to library work generally. In 1909 the first joint meeting of librarians was held at Aarhus. This meeting became another milestone of the movement, for here, Mr. H.O. Lange, Chief Librarian of The Copenhagen Royal Library, read a paper on "The Library Movement outside Copenhagen" - a paper marked by realism and wideness of outlook. In it he laid down the aims and procedure to be realized in later library development. H.O. Lange made proposals for an entirely new system of County Libraries. There was to be a large County Library in the chief town of each county. Together they were to function as connecting links between the small?town and parish libraries, and also between the local libraries and the great research and technical libraries. Their lending stock was to be very large for Dcnmark - up to 50.000 volumes ? a choice collection of Danish and foreign literature. It was to be made possible for the man in the street to borrow such books and also the elementary literature, which was to be sent in suitable consignments to the parish libraries to provide a wider choice of reading matter. From the County Libraries, whose heads were to be trained librarians, was to come the initiative for the solution of the library problems of the whole district. H.O. Lange pointed to American libraries which were to serve as models and showed two lines of advance: organization and legislation. Just as education begins with elementary schools and goes on through secondary schools and universities, so libraries were to be organized as an organic whole consisting of parish libraries and county libraries, with the research libraries on top. In his opinion, county libraries ought not to become state institutions; they should remain the property of, local organizations, and - in contradiction, for instance, to the English County Libraries ? they were to serve as public libraries not only for the home town but also for the surrounding rural district. The necessary funds were to be provided through Government grants.
For the first time a complete scheme for the Public Library System was formulated, providing a valuable basis for further discussion and planning of future work. H.O. Lange's ideas met with great sympathy; but there was also some resistance, especially from some of the representatives of the parish libraries.
In 1909, Steenberg gave up his mastership at the Horsens State Grammar School to take over the newly established office of Government Adviser on Public Library Questions. From now on he would be able to concentrate all his energies on the cause. After a few years it became necessary to give Steenberg an efficient, qualified assistant in his ever?increasing work. The choice fell upon Th. Døssing of the Aarhus State Library, whose work had put him into touch with the Public Libraries. Thus he had become interested in the whole System, for which, later on, he came to mean so much. His work gave immediate results: in 1913 he introduced a slightly modified form of Dewey's American system of decimal classification and cataloguing as well as the Cuttermarks. It was of importance that, at this early stage, library work was standardized throughout the country at a time when numerous new libraries were springing up in both rural and urban communities.
The thorough and important reorganization which took place at the time also proved advantageous to the library system of Copenhagen. This great development was superintended by Mr. J. Aarsbo, the City Librarian, the first librarian in this country to create a modern public library copied on AngloAmerican lines. In 1913, he combined the already existing City District Libraries in one organization, formed round a newly erected Central Library, containing a large collection of the more advanced literature which might be borrowed on request through the branch libraries. The "open shelves" ? principle was introduced as well as the systematic and dictionary card catalogues. The use of the library was made free of charge; to a large extent libraries were kept open all day; trained librarians were employed, etc. This re?organization, carried through with great technical skill and eminent understanding of popular educational and cultural work, provided the rest of the country - regardless of local conditions - with the very best model. No doubt the high standard characteristic of the work of J. Aarsbo and his assistants was of great importance for other urban libraries which were soon to face similar problems.