in: A Survey of Libraries. Ed. by L. R. McColvin. London, 1938, page 204-217
A SURVEY OF
Reports on a Survey made by
the Library Association during
LIONEL R. McCOLVIN, F.L.A.
Honorary Secretary of the library Association
THE LIBRARY ASSOCIATION
CHAUCER HOUSE, MALET PLACE
PART III. - SCANDINAVIA : GENERAL
The library system of Sweden is based upon that of Denmark, and Norway aspires to a similar system, but so far has been prevented, through economic and geographical difficulties, from introducing it. Hence, so far as the general organisation of libraries in Scandinavia is concerned, a brief description of the Danish system will suffice.
Denmark ranks with England as possessing one of the most fully-developed library systems in the world. As in England, the principal developments have taken place since the War. In 1919, the English Public Libraries Act removed the crippling restriction of the penny rate, and gave county libraries their charter. In 1920, the Danish Library Law resuscitated the urban and rural libraries and laid the foundations of a system which has grown to be a model of its kind. There are now 29 central libraries, 48 libraries of incorporated cities, and about 780 small town and rural libraries serving a population of under four million, and all of these libraries are linked to form one system. No town in Denmark, however small, is without a lending library and a reading room containing a quickreference collection.
At the head of this organisation is the State Library Inspectorate at Copenhagen, which supervises all public libraries, distributes state subsidies, directs the Training School for librarians, acts as a centre for inter?library loans, and issues useful publications. Next come the 29 central libraries. Each serves a county of 50,000 to 100,000 population, is situated in the principal town of the county, and acts as (1) the central library for the town, (2) a regional library for the county. In the first capacity it performs much the same functions as those of a similar library in England; in the second, it gives technical assistance and advice to the small libraries of the county, lends books which are not necessary for their actual stocks, and acts as a link between the small libraries and (a) the State Inspectorate, (b) the national and other learned libraries of the whole country.
The largest and most active of these central libraries is that of Aarhus City and County, in Jutland. The county contains about fifty small libraries. A few of these are in buildings of their own, but the majority are very small, resembling the " deposit collections " such as are circulated from village to village under the English county library system. The Central Library is responsible for the classification and cataloguing of these libraries, for a number of routine processes, and general advice and help. An interesting example of the kind of help given was the purchase by Aarhus Central Library of ten " minimum libraries " of standard and recent books for re-sale to the small libraries. Each " minimum library " contains 250 books and costs, including binding, about £75. Small libraries taking them are allowed to spread payment over three or four years.
The law of 1920 was amended, greatly to the advantage of libraries entitled to grants, in 1936. It now provides (subject to the state subsidy not exceeding the amount raised from local sources) that the grants shall be made in accordance with the following scale (1 kronor = approximately 1 /-)
80 per cent of the local grant up to 15,000 kronor;
plus 40 per cent of the next 10,000 kronor;
plus 20 per cent of the amount by witch the local grant exceeds
A library with an income from municipal grants and other local sources totalling 40,000 kr. (c. £2,000 per annum) would therefore receive a state grant of 19,000 kr. (c. ,£950). Special additional grants are made to recognised Central Libraries, and the larger cities are also covered by special legislation. In addition, state grants on the same scale may be made to children's libraries in municipal schools, irrespective of the presence within the same area of other state?subsidised libraries. Provisions are made, however, for all the children's libraries in the same municipality to constitute one administrative unit. At present all grants are subject to a deduction of 21 per cent., which provides the State Inspectorate with a separate fund of about £1,750 annually for special publications and investigations. During the financial year 1935-6 the total state grants to public libraries amounted to 1,056,634 kronor (c. £53,000), made up as follows
(Copenhagen, Frederiksberg, Gjentofte) 189,860 kr. (c. £9,500)
Town libraries (84) 628,570 kr. (c. £31,500)
Other libraries (780) 238,204 kr. (c. £12,000)
In considering these figures, it should be borne in mind that only ten municipalities in Denmark have populations exceeding 20,000.
The provisions of the Swedish library law are very similar to those of the Danish, but Sweden suffered so severely in the slump of 1931 that the programme for regional libraries had to be suspended. It has recently been resumed, and it is hoped to create two new central libraries every year until the organisation is complete. Each central library will serve a population of about 200,000.
Library development in Sweden has been somewhat complicated by the existence of large numbers of libraries under the control of private societies. The first Education Act was passed in 1842, and from that date until comparatively recent times various labour organisations, studycircle associations and temperance associations founded between them over 5,000 small libraries. Most of them are very small indeed, and many are inefficient, but they still exist side by side with the public libraries and thereby perpetuate some disunity in library work. On the other hand they have helped to create that background of genuine culture and intellectual curiosity which is such a notable characteristic of Swedish life. As the provisions of the new library law become more and more effective, it is expected that most of these small libraries will disappear and that their members will satisfy their needs from the public libraries, to the advantage of both.
In Denmark and Norway, as well as in Sweden, social and cultural legislation is very advanced; and nobody, whatever his circumstances or his calling, need suffer from lack of opportunity. Apart from the admirable national systems of education there are such organisations as the People's High Schools and the widespread studycircle and discussion-group movements. The latter are organised on a national scale by workers' associations, the larger trade unions, the temperance associations and similar bodies, and locally by innumerable smaller societies.
Most of the libraries in Scandinavia provide rooms for the meetings of such groups. Even the smallest libraries usually have one or two special rooms, and the larger libraries a proportionately greater number. The new library at Frederiksberg, near Copenhagen, provides no less than six, each well equipped for its purpose and beautifully decorated. This is an aspect of library work which has not yet received the attention it deserves in this country. The liberal provision of small meeting?rooms in the public libraries not only brings discussion into proper relationship with its natural corollary, books ; it also helps to make the library the intellectual centre of the community. The adult education movement here is not so strong as it is in Scandinavia (and in the south of England it is weaker than in the north), yet there can be little doubt that every library has amongst its members a fair proportion of those who do not wish to pursue formal courses of study, but who would welcome the cultural opportunities offered through membership of such groups.
Many of the libraries cater for the special needs of individuals as well as groups, by providing individual study rooms or cubicles. Equipped with a desk, chair, bookshelves and locker or other accommodation for personal belongings, these cubicles can be reserved for long periods by students, research workers and others engaged in advanced study. Sometimes a typewriter is available free of charge or at a nominal fee, and readers use it in these rooms without disturbing readers in the main reference library. Where it is not possible to provide separate small rooms for students, reserved desks in a special room are often provided.; the reader has a key to the desk and can leave his personal books and papers at the library ready for work to be resumed immediately at his next visit. A reader who satisfies the librarian that he is engaged upon prolonged and serious work can retain his room or desk for several months if necessary ; but these facilities are also used, of course, for short periods of research and for individual visits when large numbers of books are required for use simultaneously.
Close co?operation has been established between the Scandinavian countries. Public, university and special libraries in the three countries interlend books and other material freely. Frequently, too, special forms of cooperation and service are arranged between neighbouring libraries in two countries. For example, the public library of Hälsingborg, Sweden, periodically lands to its Danish vis-a-vis Elsinore, just across The Sound, a representative collection of recent Swedish books, in return for a similar collection of Danish books. Would that all neighbours lived so happily at peace one with another, and that all frontier exchanges were as friendly! This is but one small example, taken from a comparatively narrow field, of the co-operation and friendly intercourse which permeates all the relationships between these countries. In economic, social, educational and other activities the principle of mutual co?operation and the liberal interchange of ideas is so firmly established that each country, while preserving its individual tradition and outlook, contributes in a very positive way to the civilisation of the others.
Library committees function in much the same manner as in England, but co-option is more generally practised, and in many towns there are fewer town-council members than co-opted members. Except in the largest cities, the committees are small (often numbering only five or six members), and they meet at irregular intervals. As in England, the committees determine general and financial policies and exercise general jurisdiction over the service, but on the whole they are somewhat less concerned with detail than is the practice in this country. In regard to book?selection, for example, Books Sub?Committees are unknown, except in the large university and special libraries, whose range is so wide and complex that the advice of a panel of specialists is usually necessary. In the public library service, however, committees invariably take the view that book-selection and purchase should be left to the judgment of the librarian and his heads of departments. Librarians and committee members were considerably surprised to hear that in England it is still a fairly common practice for suggested purchases to be submitted in detail to the Libraries Committee.
Some of the best contemporary architecture in the world is to be found in Scandinavia, and its excellence is reflected in the newer library buildings. Apart from the specific purpose for which they were built, many of these are notable examples of modern architecture - simple design, clean lines, and a bold and pleasing use of great windows, which generally give delightful views of the beautiful surroundings in which the buildings are set. Some of the major libraries will be mentioned later in this report ; but of the smaller libraries I visited, the City and County Library of Aarhus, Denmark, was an outstanding example of all that is best in modern design. The building is neither stark nor futuristic, yet the architect has taken the fullest advantage of modern materials and methods of construction and has produced a library which is pleasing to the eye and at the same time eminently practical. The building is exceptionally good in every detail, but the most striking feature of the facade is a great wall of glass which constitutes the principal first?floor window and faces lawns, flower?beds, and a pool with a fountain.
Another notable point in most of the library buildings, old as well as new, is the skilful use of colour to enhance their attractiveness. Instead of the buildings being decorated en suite, each important department is treated as a unit, in accordance with its special purpose, and particular care is always taken to make the children's rooms as gay and colourful as possible. Generally speaking, the average English library is sombre compared with its Scandinavian counterpart ; but there is a growing tendency here to abandon the " institutional " type of layout and decoration in favour of something more warm and human. Our best examples compare favourably with the best in Scandinavia, but such libraries are still the exception and not the rule. It can be said that nearly every library in Scandinavia is characterised by close and thoughtful consideration for the comfort, convenience and æsthetic satisfaction of those who are going to use it. The buildings not only appeal to the keen readers who would use them anyway; they form a standing invitation to all who pass by to come in and explore.
Apart from the general attractiveness of the exteriors, and the colourful interiors, this concern with the user's reaction and with the finer points of design shows itself in such matters as the design of bookcases, staff counters and similar fittings or furniture. Barriers are reduced to a minimum, and staff enclosures are small and unobtrusive. Unfortunately, it is practically impossible to make a staff enclosure look friendly or inviting, but Scandinavian librarians and architects have succeeded in making it much less formidable than is usually the case. High bookshelves are uncommon; in particular, the floor?cases are generally low enough to permit an unobstructed view across the room. This not only simplifies lighting problems, but also imparts a spacious and friendly atmosphere, which it is difficult to secure in a room with high bookcases in the centre. The libraries do not necessarily occupy a proportionately larger floor-area as a result of the reduction in shelf accommodation caused through the use of low cases. It is generally held to be wiser to display a smaller number of books under really good conditions than a larger number under conditions less favourable for easy inspection and handling. Except in relation to very small libraries, this seems sound practice and sound psychology.
Most children remain at school until a later age than they do here, and one result is that young people are regarded as " children " for a longer period. The children's libraries usually cater for boys and girls up to the age of 16 or 18, a special department or special bookcases being set aside for the use of these older readers. This would not work in England, with the long tradition of transferring at the age of 14 to " the grown?up library," but it seems possible that, when the school?leaving age is ultimately raised, the scope of our children's libraries may require extension and modification. Certainly the provision of a special section for older children does stem the tremendous loss of readers which occurs in nearly every library amongst boys and girls leaving school.
Library work with children has been developed to a high pitch of excellence, and is given an equal place with the work of the other departments. In the larger cities such as Oslo, Stockholm, Malmö, Frederiksberg, Bergen, Aarhus and Göteborg the junior libraries are models of their kind; but even in the smallest places young readers are provided for on a particularly generous scale. Authorities and librarians recognise that, once an adequate book-fund has been secured, the first essential for successful work in this field is a specially trained and qualified staff. Hence, very few junior libraries, however modest their size and scale of operations, are without specially qualified children's librarians permanently in charge. This applies in towns of 15,000 population and upwards as well as in the cities of 100,000 to three?quarters of a million people, to the poorer industrial centres as well as the more prosperous places. It is a principle which is making some headway in England, and our best children's libraries compare favourably with the best in Scandinavia, but we have a very long way to go before reaching a general level which they would regard as a minimum standard for work with children.
The larger libraries (" larger " throughout this report refers to libraries serving a population of 80,000 and upwards) usually provide excellent reference collections for the use of older children. One of the best of these is at the special children's branch at Malmö. It includes a selection of the leading encyclopxdias, annuals, atlases and similar material for fact?finding, and dictionaries of the principal European languages. These collections are chiefly designed to help readers in their home-work or holiday tasks, and volumes are occasionally lent for a single evening or a week-end. Not only are these small reference sections of immediate and practical value to the children ; they provide, too, a useful introduction to the wider resources of the adult reference library, and an invaluable training in the use of books.
It may be gathered from the foregoing account of the buildings, service and personnel of the Scandinavian libraries that the countries in general or the individual communities in particular are more prosperous than is the case in England ; but this is not so. It is extraordinarily difficult to make valid comparisons between countries, but, on the whole, the financial resources of the average town in Scandinavia seem to be far weaker than those of an equivalent English town. The library service is so much better supported because of the conviction held by nearly every municipality that it is an indispensable adjunct to the national system of education. The sentiments expressed to me by the Mayor of a certain Swedish town are characteristic of the general outlook. He said, " We pour out money on the education of our children and young people, on technical colleges and universities and People's High Schools ; we spare nothing in our efforts towards spreading education and enlightenment. But the way we look at it is this : if we stint expenditure on the library services we are throwing away much of the effort and money these other things have cost us. For everybody except the very rich the public library is the only means of continuing through life the work that has been begun in the schools. The library service is a vital service. To starve it is folly, folly ! "
Having covered the general organisation of libraries in the Scandinavian countries, I pass on to a brief review of a few special features of the individual countries.
PART IV. - DENMARKl
The Danish library system has already been described in some detail, but a further point of interest is the way in which the needs of specialists and advanced students are catered for. To prevent waste and overlapping, the work of the Royal Library (corresponding to the British Museum) and the University Library, both in Copenhagen, is closely co?ordinated and interlocked. The Royal Library specialises in history, literature and the humanities generally; the University Library in science, medicine and technology. This ensures the best use of the funds of each institution and enables each to provide a far wider range of specialised books than would otherwise be possible. It works so well that a somewhat similar scheme has been established in Sweden, between the Royal Library at Stockholm and the Library of the Royal Academy of Sciences.
To relieve the pressure on the Royal Library at Copenhagen, the Government, some years ago, established a second State Library at Aarhus, in Jutland. This was intended to serve the needs of students outside the capital. Complications ensued when a university was founded at Aarhus and the state library became a university library as well. The co-operative system works very well at Copenhagen because the two libraries are in separate buildings, under distinct administrations ; but at Aarhus the one library combines both functions. It seems that such questions continually arise as, " Is this the university's book or the state's book ? " or " Ought I to work for the state or for the university this morning ? " The position has grown more and more complicated with the continual expansion of the university on the one hand and a continual increase in the demand for books from the State Library on the other. A fierce and amusing pamphlet-war has been raging for some years, but recently the Government stepped in to appoint a special commission to re-examine the whole matter.
The system of professional training and certification in Denmark is somewhat similar to that of Holland. The candidate enters a library as a student-assistant and is required to devote part of his or her time to the general duties of a junior assistant, and part to study of the theory and practice of librarianship. In the capital and in Frederiksberg the student spends three years at the library ; elsewhere, two years. This is followed by a full-time course, lasting six months, at the School of Librarianship controlled by the Central State Office for Public Libraries. Finally there is a comprehensive written and oral examination, and successful candidates either return to the original library as qualified assistants or obtain posts in other libraries. Student-assistants receive a nominal salary during their period of training. This varies from place to place, but the best scales are about £50 for the first year, £65 for the second year, and £85 for the third.
The finest public library building in Denmark-indeed, one of the best and most interesting in Europe - is that of Frederiksberg, opened late in 1935. It is an amalgam of the best current practice of Scandinavia, England and America; and since its opening it has been a place of pilgrimage for librarians and architects from all over Europe, as it undoubtedly deserves to be, for it bristles with new ideas or clever adaptations of old ones.
The lending library is a large, admirably equipped and lighted room, with a broad gallery running round three sides of it, to which readers have access up a wide and very beautiful staircase at the far end of the room facing the entrance. The bookcases are ranged round the walls of the main floor and the gallery, the floor-space being left clear for special low display-fittings, tables and chairs for readers, and similar aids. But what makes this department singularly attractive is the absence of a staff enclosure from the main library. Instead, the whole business of receiving and issuing the books, registration of new members, and all the clerical and semi-mechanical work associated with a busy staff-enclosure, is carried out in a separate hall. The result is that the reader passes into a quiet and peaceful atmosphere which is never disturbed by the noise and bustle inseparable from a staff enclosure at busy periods. Inside the library there is an enquiry desk on each level, at which a senior assistant, specially trained and qualified for such work, is always on duty to give assistance and guidance to readers. This advisory service ranges from the answering of simple enquiries as to the whereabouts of particular books to the compilation of reading lists on specific subjects, the hunting down of information on out-of-the-way topics, and other advanced work. A register is kept of the more intricate enquiries, with a note of the steps that were taken to satisfy them.
Mention has already been made of the six rooms provided in this library for the meetings of study-groups and reading circles ; but a feature which is, so far as I know, unique is the provision of a special lecture-room for lessons to schoolchildren on the use of books and libraries. This room is fitted and equipped on the same lines as a modern classroom of the most attractive kind. All the schoolchildren in Frederiksberg have regular lessons, given by a senior member of the staff, right through their school career from the age of ten or eleven to the time they leave school. The younger children attend periodically for a total of two hours a school year, and the time is increased progressively to a total of six hours for school leavers.
A notable special library, equally remarkable in its own way, is that of the Association of Industries at Copenhagen. This is an industrial and technical library, maintained by the Association as a library and information centre for the whole country. In one way or another it serves about 1,700 firms in Denmark, as well as a large number in other countries. The stock, which is growing rapidly, numbers over 60,000 ; but the outstanding feature of this library is its technical equipment. This includes (1) a printing machine for producing in bulk analytical catalogue cards for all additions to stock and for important articles in technical periodicals : these cards are sold at cost to other libraries, technical research laboratories, etc. ; (2) a photostat apparatus for the rapid copying of formula:, diagrams, pages of books, or other material wanted in a hurry by members; (3) a photomicrographic apparatus, which is used to make miniature films of whole books, sections of books, series of illustrations, large periodicals and newspapers, and similar material too long or bulky for reproduction in the photostat.
These miniature films are read by means of a simple apparatus combining glasses resembling binoculars and a gadget to unwind the film in front of the lenses. Most of the firms contributing to the library have this apparatus, so when a request comes along for information contained in a publication which cannot be lent, or only obtainable from a multiplicity of sources, the library makes a film of the relevant material and posts it to the enquirer. Duplicate films are often made for exchange with other special libraries, especially with a number in America, where photomicrography is used a good deal in such work.