Union of Danish librarians : one angle on the Danish story 1994

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Union of Danish Librarians -
one angle on the Danish Story

Elsebeth Tank

The very first organization in Denmark dealing with library matters was the Danish Library Association, which was founded in 1905 by 48 representatives of Danish local book collections. The pioneers were all teachers with the exception of a doctor and an editor.

With a few pioneers in charge the Association grew nationwide during the first 20 years and organized existing public libraries, library employees and those associations and institutions working partly through local book collections.
The book enthusiasts were internationally orientated and to some extent inspired by Anglo?American library trends.
From the very beginning the Library Association was a non?governmental organization. Completely independent of govern-ment and local authorities. Nobody but the members were to decide the policy and the points of view that the organization should provide. The Association was active as an inspiration and in lobbying the government.
As early as 1909 it was proposed by the Library Association that the Ministry of Education should appoint a library commission which were to stipulate and ensure government support for the development of state funded public libraries.
In 1918 the Association again requested the Ministry to appoint a committee to prepare specific library legislation.
The committee was set up in 1919 and the Library Association lobby was allocated 3 seats.
This typically Danish construction with representatives from govern-ment and relevant autonomous associations resulted in the passing of the first library bill in the country in 1920 and with this Act the founding of the Library Board and School for Librarians.
Cooperation among professionals, individual politicians and library enthusiasts became a landmark in the years to follow. It was well?known from the start that trends were moving towards local public libraries and libraries for private enterprize ? but government regulations were called for.
So even though the Danish Library Association organized private libraries it was a well?established fact that in principle all libraries were public and as such under governmental supervision.
It was not up to local government to decide whether to have a library or not and in case of the former which books to stock.
The purpose of public libraries in those days was education and en-lightenment, and the Danish Library Association played a significant part in the further development of the public library system.
My interim conclusion going back in history is that the Danish Library Association formed a basis for the positive democratic and relatively fast development in public libraries in the first third part of this century.
The Danish Library Association was well aware of the division of responsibility between state and association.
There was inspiration, demands and cooperation. In fact the inter-action between the government library authority and the Danish Li-brary Association became almost symbiotic.

New times new ways
We shall now pass swiftly through the following decades merely pointing out the calm evolution of the public libraries in Denmark which were to peak in 1964 when the library bill of the century was passed.
During the period until the nineteen sixties the Danish Library Association maintained the interests of enthusiasts, local government and professionals and conveyed them nationwide, continually keeping the eternal goal of developing and improving its enterprize in mind. By the end of the sixties things were happening in the Danish Library Association that finally brought about an entirely different kind of organization from the library associations in Britain and in the United States.
The Danish Library Association soon grew big and strong, organizing and recruiting widely among local politicians. institutions, library staff and other bordering groups. These different groups of members formed their own units within the Association ? and by the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies these units developed considerably, and opposed the Association.
The group of librarians itself was growing rapidly and the young trendsetters were passionately inspired by the youth revolution, which influenced students and the young in general all over the western world. There was a need to revolt against authority ?and The Danish Library Association. with its all?powerfull chairman in charge, be-came a symbol of the authority against which the librarians had to rebel. The librarians did not wish to be in the same organization as their employers ? the local politicians. In 1968 they resigned and formed the Librarians' Association. Later the research librarians followed suit and finally all librarians united in the Librarians' Union.
Thus the librarians had formed their own independent trade union, in order to secure wage and working conditions and to cultivate their profession.

Union of Danish Librarians
Not only does the Union of Danish Librarians have the dual purpose of union and guild in one ? it is a typical construction of Danish unions, in general.
I think this goes to show that the trade unions in Denmark play a very special part, quite different from that of most other countries.
Practically every trade in Denmark has its own trade union. The trade unions act both as ordinary trade unions, negotiating wage rates, employment and working conditions etc. as well as having a guild function. They cover the profession as such, taking an interest in its development, procuring education and in?service training, trying to minimize unemployment etc.
In Denmark today we have almost 200 different trade unions. Politically and economically independent. Policy is decided by the members only. They are not segmented in political categories, but are practically all non?party, and enlist members with conservative as well as socialdemocratic or socialist attitudes.
It is within the unions that processional pride thrives and is nurtured. The trade unions participate in policy making, being acknowledged as counterparts ? also as regards the matters of professions.
Within the Librarians Union the view is that the social significance of the trade is reflected in the value of the libraries and vice versa. We maintain that wage rates and the prestige of the profession are connected. We have phrased this point of view to provide a develop-ment of the library trade through our wage policy.
We work hard on the training of our librarians and at the moment we are contributing to the upgrading of our graduates to university level, partly by in?service training and partly by supporting the efforts made by the Danish Library School to create vocational training in co-operation with our universities. We fully approve of this development and support it through our wage policy.
The Union of Librarians also tries to be a leading light in cultivating new fields of employment for librarians. We have run projects to investigate the need for professional librarian qualifications in private enterprize. We have started a librarians job exchange to establish contacts between employers in business and out-of?work librarians.
We have plans to extend this job exchange to encourage international labour exchange ? because we think that such a demand exists.
A relatively high and worrying unemployment rate is the reason for our giving such high priority to the development of the librarian labour market.
We do our own in?service training, arrange conferences and work?shops, in order to support all facets of the libray profession. We think that the success of the libraries depends on the talent and competence of the librarians, and that there exists a latent need for innovation, especially due to the recession which we experience these years.
Furthermore we advocate various trade experiments ? like user in-fluence on public library affairs, Sunday opening, reorganizing the libraries ? all the time trying to keep a close watch on the new media and advocating a sharper focus on them in the libraries.
We follow current culture and information policies closely and strive to be trendsetters in these fields.

Danish National Library umbrella
The Danish Library Association and the Librarians' Union are compatible in a positive sense. Of course, after the split in 1968 our relationship was somewhat tense. It takes time to overcome such dramatic occurences and it takes time for two organizations, once again to respect each other and find their places. In Denmark it took 10 to 15 years to heal the wound and allow for the prosperous cooperation we have now.
To some extent we still deal with the same issues and want to be represented on the same boards and councils and influence the development, therefore competition sometimes creeps in. Not always a bad thing ? adding drive and innovation. Experience has shown that one is a supplement to the other.
The value of the Danish Library Association, which cannot be substituted nor assimilated within the Librarians Union, is the popular, folklore element which initially was the trade mark of the Association. Today the consolidation and development of this trait is pursued by inviting local user panels ? sprung up in recent years in connection with Danish public libraries ? to participate in this task. In addition to this the Danish Library Association has quite a job lobbying politicians to participate in marketing library issues, as well as ensuring a local cultural environment by incorporating other lokal folklore.
In Denmark as well as elsewhere, society suffers from lack of funds. Our libraries have suffered severe cut?backs in recent years. Such serious cuts in fact that it sometimes seems impossible to fulfil our obligations and obtain the goals Danish libraries strive for.
Three to four years ago all the Danish library organizations agreed on forming an umbrella?body to voice a common policy with more vigour when opposing official bodies.
With the realization of the growing importance of international communication ? for Danish libraries as well as others ?we seek to employ this body as a national organization when Danish repre-sentation in international affairs is called for.
Finally we may conclude that in a sense we are back where we started ? but at a much higher level, I hope. The associations, each with their own interests and goals and tasks, work separately ? respecting each other ? and at the same time also work together on a larger scale, as far as unity will allow.

Elsebeth Tank, Librarian, Chairman of the Union of Danish Librarians