The local library : its profile and anchorage 1996

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The Local Library
-its profile and anchorage

Dorte Skot-Hansen

The local public library in Denmark-like in the other Nordic countries?is facing a number of choices. To what extent does it have to study the local community? What kind of profile is it looking for? How best to attract the attention of politicians, co-operating partners and the public in general?

These choices must be made at the local level: Through the introduction of block grants in 1984 the public library in Denmark became dependent on municipal economy, and when the State Inspectorate of Public Libraries, which for almost 70 years had been implementing the law on behalf of the government, was abolished, the public library really became a municipal responsibility. The dream of equality, homogeneity and universality in the library system made way for more differentiated and varied solutions.
This cultural liberation has been unnerving for many library people. and there has been an uneasy feeling about the future of the public library in open competition and-moreover-without the state involvement, which had been sustained ever since the first government grant to parish libraries in 1882. But cultural liberation should not be regarded as an entirely negative situation, as it has also given the public library the opportunity to review its activities and to build up a new, local identity.
The report Det lokale bibliotek-afvikling eller udvikling (The Local Library - the End or a new Beginning) should be seen as an intro-duction to a debate on the library's role in the local community. It is based on a questionnaire sent to all local libraries in Denmark (460) with 10 hours opening or more and on a qualitative analysis of three cases: The local library in a rural municipality. a provincial town and an urban area.

The public library in competition
The report shows that the public library has been trapped in local cultural policy since the introduction of block grants. The local authorities have been reducing the amounts spent on the public library system by on average at least 5 % from 1984?91, and the trend is continuing. During the same period the local authorities increased the amounts spent on music, theatre and museums to the detriment of the libraries. The new arts centres which have emerged during the 1980s may also be regarded as competitors or at least as a challenge within the cultural area. The local authorities have chosen to give priority to such cultural offers, which may attract tourists and newcomers, and to those which stimulate local identity and artistic activities according to the main strategies of the cultural policy. Here the public libraries seem to be less interesting: They have been preoccupied with com-puterization, further development of information functions and the service to students in further education?all very important tasks seen in a library context, but perhaps not of a primary order from a culture politician's point of view.
During the past few years the libraries have moreover faced problems about their image and influence on the municipal power structure. Nearly a quarter of the library directors say that their formal status in the municipal hierarchy has been diminishing during the past three years. As a result of a great number of changes in local government structure the library directors in a number of local authorities have been placed at a lower level, thereby losing influence. At the same time library directors notice a fading interest from local politicians. Only 16 % of the librarians estimated that the politicians show " a high degree" of interest. The politicians' interests are being captured by other more conspicuous cultural initiatives, and the politician as "spokesman" for the library is a concept, which is missing at the moment.
Over the past few years the libraries have had to take on many new tasks, and the pressure from borrowers and politicians together with professional demands have often been of a conflicting nature and presented them with impossible decisions. The library's profile and aims on the other hand have seemed a bit indistinct. The report suggests the following model as the basis for an analysis of the local library profile:

Cultural Centre
The library as the framework for cultural and artistic experience and activity, e.g. events, exhibitions, workshops, conference rooms, practice rooms, etc.

Knowledge Centre
"The library as the framework for education and information, including study facilities. targeted library information and searches

Information Centre
The library as the framework for information to the public and the dedicated user, including reference service, public affairs, social register, business information service. tourist service etc.

Social Centre
The library as the framework for social life my general, including meeting place, counselling, outreach activity in relation to vulnerable groups, recorded newspaper, offers to institutions etc.

The library as cultural centre
In the 1960s the library manifested itself as the local cultural centre, but to?day many competitors have arrived on the scene. The local civic centre, the schoolas?local?cultural centre, the cinema and the new community centre are making their presence felt through their activities and exhibitions. It is therefore not easy for the library to determine its special niche within the local area. Even so about 80 % of the libraries arrange events for children and more than 50 % do so for adults. Generally speaking the budget for these activities has kept status quo over the past few years, and the majority of library directors find that cultural activities are valuable in their own right. The driving force then is not only the PR value or the possibility of stimulating the use of the library's materials. In many cases solutions have been found through closer co?operation with local societies and institutions, both as regards inspiration and financing. Many libraries are also able to offer meeting facilities and a few have got rooms available for music practice.

The library as local knowledge centre
The libraries obviously fulfil an important role as centres of knowledge, and in Denmark there is extensive co?operation between the school library and the public library. The main problem at present is how to define the public library's obligations to pupils at secondary level and further education students. The limited capacity of the libraries in the educational institutions and the increasing use of project orientated studies make considerable demands on the local libraries' materials and service. The students are queuing up and voicing their specific demands. Such determined users will easily become more dominating than your ordinary, more experience seeking user. The solutions to these problems are not within the domain of the local library, but it is nevertheless here that the problems are most clearly felt.

The library as information centre
There is still a long way to go before the library will be able to live up to the visionary idea behind "the electronic library": For the library to be the local community's information and communication centre. Most Danish libraries have computerized their bibliographic and administrative work processes, and many libraries have access to databases and CD-ROM, but the electronic technology has not really won through as a service to the users. Less than 20 % of the libraries are able to offer the use of a computer and just a few have got work-shops for the local societies to produce materials, or a video?, music? or recording workshop.
The libraries are therefore not to any great extent able to spread the knowledge about the new information technology or to democratize access to the media. These functions have been taken over either by more specialized workshops or by other institutions, like for instance civic centres.
Some libraries produce their own information, e.g. features for the local radio or TV, or a local activities calendar, and about 1/5 of the libraries indicate that they offer services to trade and industry.

The library as social centre
Only about 1/10 of the libraries state that they offer councelling by lawyer, education officer, welfare officer etc. while almost 1/5 produce a local recorded newspaper. On the other hand the library very much acts as meeting place for children and as the local community's drawing room for adults: reading newspapers, drinking coffee, playing games, and for someone lacking the daily social contact at work the library may well become a firm anchorage.

The library directors' view of the profile
In answer to the question on the library's profile now and in the future the directors of the local libraries award an almost equal amount of points as regards the "present profile" to the Cultural Centre and the Knowledge Centre by about 113 each, while the Information Centre gets 1/4.
There is a slight change when looking at the "future profile" where the Cultural Centre is given a higher priority at the expense of the Knowledge and Information Centres, while the Social Centre both now and in the future makes up 15 %. Accepting this as an indication of the public library development over the coming years, we are going to see a library system cautiously giving priority to cultural activities, while knowledge centre, information centre and social centre will be weigh-ted in that order of priority.
Giving a lower priority to the library as knowledge centre is probably a reflection of a certain "tiredness", which is noticeable in the librarians' attitude towards the great demands on the library's resources by students etc. In the eighties' debate on culture versus information the tendency was to overlook the problems attached to the concept of the library as knowledge centre.
It is thought?provoking that in a time of ever increasing information streams and ever extending access to mass information via databases. CD?ROM and other media, the library directors predict a certain toning down of the library's role as information centre. It is too early to judge whether the public libraries will be left behind in this development, but it is quite obvious that the library directors do not wish to stake too much on this area, but rather more on culture. Should they be proved right, the public library will also for years to come manifest itself as a cultural institution whose main offers to the public are experience and enlightenment in the broadest sense. This is the pre-dominant cultural paradigm in the public library.

Local anchorage and profile
The three local community analyses show three different models of local anchorage and profilation of the library: In the rural district the library's particular attachment to the cultural area is via a deep involvement in local history and altogether the co-operation with artistic and musical activities in the area. It acts very much as a cultural dynamo in the local community. The large provincial library has many obligations, and is part of a network orientated co?operation with the town's culture, information and business life. The library arranges various activites in conjunction with the local civic centre and local associations, co?operates with libraries of upper secondary and higher education institutions, and operates an independent business information service. On the other hand as far as the adults' library is con-cerned the co?operative efforts involving social activities are compara-tively less extensive.
The city library is faced with an entirely different set of problems and it is very important to find some kind of modus vivendi to enable one to deal with the harsh reality of stabbing episodes and immigrant problems. The library, therefore, participates to a great extent in the social network and acts as special library for the immigrants. The three libraries have each found their own model of co-operation and their own profile in relation to the needs of the local community. but they are all in their different ways both "visible" and locally rooted. The librarians themselves also act as consultants on matters of culture and information and show initiative and inspiration to the benefit of local cultural activities. These three examples show that it is worth-while to venture outside the walls and put down local roots.
The local library is a local dynamo - and could become even more so, given the economic resources and local backing. When the library shows itself capable of strengthening its image in relation to the poli-ticians, the local community and the users, the "good" spiral will be set in motion. The library must make its presence felt on the municipal stage in order to obtain its share of the general growth as regards cultural activities in the local authorities.

Dorte Skot-Hansen, Cultural anthropologist. Head of the Department for Cultural Communication and Library Sociology, The Royal School of Librarianship, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Reference:
Andersson, Marianne & Skot?Hansen Dorte. Det lokale bibliotek ? afvikling eller udvikling.