Young librarians : a rebellion of the younger generation in the Danish library system

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Young Librarians - a Rebellion of the Younger Generation in the
Danish Library System.

BØRGE SØRENSEN

During the second half of the 1960's, the Danish public libraries and their associations and central institutions were exposed to a veritable revolt among the younger generation not unlike that which has struck at educational institutions and working places in Western Europe as a whole. What follows here is a sporadic review of the history of this rebellion and its first causes, although no effort has been made to establish a complete picture. As the author has been involved in the struggles to a minor extent, the description cannot be said to be characterized by objectivity.
Before going any further the following list of definitions should be studied in order to comprehend the situation better.
The Danish Librarians´ Association (Bibliotekarforeningen): The professional association of Danish public librarians.
The Danish Library Association (Danmarks Biblioteksforening): Professional federation of research and specialized libraries. public libraries, and the professional associations of the respective librarians, with the exception of the Librarians' Association, which left the federation in 1969.
Young Librarians (Yngre bibliotekarer): Independent association consisting of librarians of the public libraries with a critical attitude towards the Establishment in the library world. Created in 1965.
Biblioteksdebat: Perodical of the Young Librarians. Publication ceased 1970.
The Establishment: The State Inspection of Public Libraries. The Danish Library Association. The Danish Librarians´ Association. The Royal Danish School of Librarianship. (the sequence of listing is incidental)

On a Sunday in May 1965, the youth rebellion manifested itself seriously for the first time, at a meeting held at the Danish School of Librarianship in Copenhagen. The instigators of the meeting were a group of more or less opposition?minded librarians and students at the school, who wanted to discuss the possibility either of establishing an independent association of young librarians or a sub?group within the Librarians' Association.
It was soon found that the participants in the meeting were divided by the classical conflict ,within all opposition: is one to be an opponent inside or outside the system? After the inevitable exodus, the opposition was divided into two groups, each seeking its own way. They were, however, later on able to get together up to a certain point in a kind of marriage of convenience. One group became a section of assistant librarians under the Librarians' Association. The other developed into the Young Librarians.
For the first time in the history of the Danish library system, an actual association had thus been created by librarians whose express purpose was an opposition to the Establishment. But the Danish library world had not, before May 1965, been characterized exclusively by peace and quiet. Disturbances and opposition against the Establishment,were not an unknown factor. The difference was that until date the opposition was, generally speaking, a protest of individuals, whereas now an opposition had been raised based on an association which was able to speak with a certain authority.
This development, a drastic one, in the character and strength of the opposition had its origin partly in a series of general psychological and social factors, and partly in a series of concrete points in dispute. Let us take the concrete points in dispute first.
One of the factors which probably contributed most strongly to arousing the opposition! was the establishment of a section for chief librarians within the Librarians' Association. The very existence of this section was the direct cause for raising the question of the establishment of a section for assistant librarians. The bitterness that a young librarian might feel against this section of chief librarians was in part connected with the salary situation, as the draft statutes of the section mentioned expressly as a primary task the protection of the financial interests of the chief librarians. In 1963 as well the difference in salary between chief librarians and assistant librarians was appreciable.
In addition to this aspect of the generation gap dominated by differing organizational and salary points of view, there was, among librarians, a great dissatisfaction with the way in which the preparatory work for the 1965 revision of the Danish Public Libraries Act was to procede. The then Minister of Cultural Affairs desired the revision to be made speedily, and for this purpose he arranged a couple of roundtable conferences, which were attended, among others, by representatives of the municipal organizations, the Danish Librarians' Association, and thus also by the professional association of the librarians. But the preparatory work for this round?table conference, owing to the pressure of time, had to a great extent to be done by the State Inspection of Public Libraries, by and large without the assistance of other librarians. Many librarians were compelled to feel that this epoch?making revision of a law which was of the utmost importance to them, was forced forward far too much, and in spite of a general agreement concerning the professional intentions of the bill, they took a sceptical attitude on account of the paternalistic way that the work of revising the law, in their opinion, was handled.
Another piece of legislation concerning the library profession which was able to the greatest extent to cause agitation was the revision of the Act on Education for Librarianship. Again in the magical year of 1965, a draft was presented for an act concerning the School of Librarianship. The draft represented on decisive points a deviation from the education policy of the past in that it recommended that the practical training in the libraries used until then be suppressed in favour of a more theoretical form of education in the Library School. The opposition against the draft bill was divided. There was on the one hand a desire to preserve the traditional form of training in the libraries, and on the other a desire for an even wider reform such that during an initial phase, at any rate, the library education might be integrated in the university education, possibly by stipulating a bachelor degree as entrance requirement to study at the School. After a refreshing storm of a mildly libellous nature the original bill was, however, adopted by the Danish Folketing and is the current Act on Education for Librarianship. At the time the bill was passed the Young Librarians advocated the idea of an integrated programme of education for librarianship.
But these concrete points of dispute were just the tangible manifestations of the gap existing between the established authorities and the Young Librarians. It is much more difficult to explain the psychological and social factors which inevitably lead to this schism. Part of the reason must be sought in a general chasm existing between generations, and which finds a partial explanation in the development of the Danish library system. In the 1960's there was a relatively great influx of young librarians which made the intimate personal acquaintanceship of former times impossible. The chasm between the two generations was likewise reflected in diverging concepts of the tasks and aims of the librarians and the libraries.
One only has to go back a few years to the time when Danish librarians had to fight for "the library cause" ? both financially and ideologically. The Young Librarians repudiated this pioneering attitude as being obsolete, maintaining that the "library cause" was settled, and it may perhaps be said with some reason that by establishing the public library as a compulsory factor in the municipalities, the 1965 revision of the Library Act made this repudiation understandable. Also the interpretation of the pioneer period of the librarian profession as a vocation, having thus an incorporated pedagogical character, was felt to be out of date. The reaction on this point was a demand for a stronger attitude from the point of view of a professional association ? and thus also with regard to salary ? combined with a view of the libraries as service institutions, where the librarian, not unlike the sales clerk in a department store, just controls a system and by his special knowledge is able to serve those borrowers who, want assistance.
From this wish of a radicalization of the work in the professional association, it was only a short step to a general claim for the right of being consulted, or for all librarians to have a real influence with regard to the dicision?making processes. This claim is entirely in line with the attitude which the left?wing political parties in Denmark ? and in Western Europe as a whole ? held at that time on the question of management principles. This gives at the same time the opposition's source of political and social inspiration and there is no reason to undervalue the importance of this "healthy left-wing attitude to things", as one of the most important causes of the solidarity of the opposition. As an association, the Young Librarians have rarely made a decision on purely political questions, but the group has at all times been attracted by and found an expression in persons with a political standpoint to the left of the centre.
The demand that all librarians were to exercise an influence on the decision?making processes quite naturally resulted in a conflict with the Establishment, and it emphasized the chasm between generations and the split between the Establishment and the ordinary librarians. It is not incorrect to speak of a crisis of confidence in the library system as a precursor to the appearance of the Young Librarians. The information channels between the parties were in the main blocked, and wishes expressed by the librarians for acquiring greater access to the background knowledge and the information on which decisions were based had to be rejected, probably for purely practical reasons. It is likely that a freely flowing information channel might, even if it could not avert the coming conflict, at least have mitigated its character.
It is natural to ask how many librarians actually shared the views of the militant opposition and were interested in supporting it. There were probably relatively many who shared the opinions but considerably fewer who wanted to take part in effecting them. Even at its peak, the Young Librarians did not count much more than about 10 per cent of all librarians in the Danish public libraries as its members. In order to explain this situation, one has to resort to theories of amateur psychology. The librarian with his traditional orientation towards humanism, generally harbours an aversion against any form of activism which attacks individuality. We have here an example of the dilemma of "the impure hands" in miniature, or to say it more roughly: the man is apathetic. Fortunately the American psychiatrist Maurice E. Linden supports this amateur theory. In the September issue 1969 of the Wilson Library Bulletin he is quoted as giving the following characteristic of the librarian as a human being: "… introspective, indolent, self?isolated, not an activist, and ambivalently narcissistic ? a victim of selflove and self?rejection. He lives in a world of fantasy ? a world of words, not the things they represent." (p. 87).
Even if this cannot be said to be the final truth, the fact exists that librarians may be difficult to activate in a nonhumanistic direction. A strongly contributory cause of this must be that the profession is dominated by women. About 75 per cent of all Danish librarians are women, and although this represents an esthetic gain to the profession it has to be admitted that so far the women have not occupied a place in the development that their numerical representation would enable them to hold. This is not an oblique form of anti?feminism but a plain statement of the psychological and social facts which combine to constitute the dilemma of the female sex and which, coupled with the dilemma of the humanist, apparently forms an unsurmountable barrier to most female librarians.
Young Librarians thus was created as a result of the unrest and the contrasts in the Danish library world. Concerning the object of the association the statutes declare that it must "… create a debate on the part to be played by the libraries in the society of the future and on their forms of activity both externally and internally. The Association can cooperate with all political, professional and cultural organization". The cooperation with other, non?librarian, associations has been rather unsatisfactory, but it has in the highest degree been possible to create the intended debate, principally through the periodical which, more than anything else, has become synonymous with the opposition, Biblioteksdebat.
Biblioteksdebat appeared for the first time in 1965, immediately after the establishment of the Young Librarians. Formally, the executive committee of the Young Librarians was identical with the editors of the paper, but in reality the editorial staff was a narrow circle composed of a few members of the executive committee and loosely associated collaborators who were responsible for the paper. In the programme article of the first number, the editors went into details about and explained the intention of Biblioteksdebtl. They called attention to the lack of an overall view of the Danish library system, the failure to set goals and the lack of a qualified debate. The intention was to turn the paper into an intermediary and a starting agent in "… an endeavour to incite all instances inside and outside the system to view in common the libraries from a higher vantage point, to define them in time, and to find the place in which each detail belongs". These aims cannot be described as trifles, and it seems noteworthy that the periodical gives itself the role of intermediary or inspirator, because this constitutes an indirect admission that Biblioteksdebat does not possess what may be described as an actual programme.
On the whole, it is important for understanding the nature of the opposition to remember that, although the disagreentent referred to a series of concrete points, this did not mean that the opposition defined itself in terms of a concrete programme. It represented more a general desire to encourage a self?awareness among librarians and libraries. Thus. the opposition cannot be called an opposition in the current parliamentary sense of the word, partly because action was taken outside the ordinary channels and partly because there was no properly shaped programme apart from the wish of starting and being the medium for a debate. That the association later on, indirectly so to speak formulated a programme, by expressing an opinion on concrete topics is another matter. But Biblioteksdebat started with the main purpose of being a free forum for an independent debate.
The first issues of Biblioteksdebat received on the whole a positive reception. Its appearance, similar to a school magazine, and its anti?authoritarian tone seemed new, fresh and attractive. It is probably an exaggeration to state that librarians pandered to Biblioteksdebat, but in the beginning a certain amount of pleasure was taken in by these nice young people who had with one stroke provided the Danish library system with its only status symbol: a lively youth rebellion. However, the opposition did not drown in friendliness, and it seems to be a positive development that the first expressions of pleasure were gradually replaced by anger and annoyance. Biblioteksdebat had come to stay, and the annoyance may be interpreted as a sign that in its criticism it had found something of importance. On the other hand, it is also to be admitted that the hard and, to say it mildly, undiplomatic, tone precluded in a certain degree the possibility of the desired debate which far too often, as time went on towards the end of the 1960's, degenerated into a monologue.
Since its appearance, Biblioteksdebat has been the Danish library magazine which has been most quoted and mentioned in the daily press. Whether it has thus been possible to bring the debate on the aims and activities of the public libraries to the consciousness of the public, is probably doubtful, and it is likely that the numerous references to it are due to the fact that from a press point of view a "youth rebellion" is good copy. But it is absolutely certain that the public has had an opportunity to develop an image of the librarian which is essentially different from the indifferent and dignified person of culture that the public ordinarily has in mind. And, what is more important, there has been a possibility of uncovering differences in opinion which may frequently be solved where as previously it was, at best, only possible to feel the hint of a conflict.
However, Biblioteksdebat has not had its greatest importance on the outer front. That is much more likely to be found in the slow and strenuous process of creating a selfawareness and thus a change in the mentality of the libranprofession. Biblioteksdebat has certainly proved its value as an inspirator and a catalyst. By their challenge to the Establishment, the Young Librarians and the opposition in general have compelled other librarians to make up their minds, to formulate a point of view, and to enter into a debate.
The relations of the Young Librarians with the Librarians' Association have understandably been rather strained. The Association could not be especially interested in seeing part of its members united in an independent association with the purpose, for one thing, of criticising the official policy of the Association. It might perhaps have been possible in some way, for instance by playing on the dissension among the opposition, to bring the lost sheep back into the fold, but probably the association has been guilty of a ? comprehensible ? error in judging the strength of the Young Librarians.
In the middle of the 60's, the Librarians' Association found itself in midstream, a comfortable, cultured and harmonious meeting place, and a forum for the discussions of a modern professional association. The most important means of communication with the members, the association magazine Bibliotekaren, was not absorbing. It was slow and dusty and delays of as much as twelve months in printing the minutes from the executive committee meetings were not uncommon. According to tradition, the executive committee was elected among chief librarians or among librarians with high seniority, and it was probably only natural that the growing number of librarians on the lowest salary levels reacted and demanded that their interests also be safeguarded.
The oral duels between the opposition and the executive committee took place at the annual general assemblies which gradually changed their character and became very lively meetings with an entirely unpredictable outcome. Every year brought its proposals, its heated debate, and its nerve?racking vote. A proposal concerning new and more up?to?date statutes for the Librarians' Association, presented by a number of members of the Young Librarians with the support of the remaining part of the opposition, was referred to treatment in committee and was subsequently adopted generally speaking in its original state. By nominating their own candidates for the executive committee elections and by simultaneous continuation of their critical activities outside of the Librarians' Association, the Young Librarians established an effective double position, thus indirectly hinting that the natural conclusion of the activities of Young Librarians and of Biblioteksdebat might be their eventual take over of the Association and of the periodical Bibliotekaren.
The struggle for power reached a high point when a proposal for the appointment of a committee to prepare the Librarians' Association's points of view as regards the planned revision of the Danish Library Act in 1969/70 was adopted at the annual general assembly in 1967. It may be added that this was the first time that a proposal set forth by the opposition obtained a majority vote at the general assembly. However, during the discussion the existing executive committee felt itself accused of being undemocratic and resigned in protest. At an extraordinary general assembly the scattered remains were to some extent put together again, but the Librarians' Association never returned to its old self. As from 1.1.70 the opposition has held the majority of the seas in the executive committee, and for the first time in its history the Librarians' Association is headed by an assistant librarian.
A special chapter is represented in this connection by the efforts of the opposition to obtain the withdrawal of the Librarians' Association from the Danish Library Association. This illustrious association absorbs all Danish organizations and associations in Denmark allied to the library system. Thus it also includes the municipalities. These are represented through the municipal library committees, which form two sections within the Danish Library Association.
The solid collective membership of the Librarians' Association in the Danish Library Association had to be in direct conflict with the wish of the opposition concerning a more radical policy in the field of professional association and salary, since via its membership in the Danish Library Association the Librarians' Association was organizationally joined with its employers, the municipalities. It should be added that undoubtedly, from a professional point of view, the Danish Library Association has been of inestimable importance to the development of the Danish library system, and that it has not been possible to point to any definite examples of the municipal sections in the Danish Library Association having exercised pressure on the Librarians' Association as regards salaries. However, a proposition made by the opposition concerning resignation from the Danish Library Association was adopted and carried into effect as from 1.1.69.
The main task of the State Inspection of Public Libraries has been, for many years, to have the supervision of the public libraries, and to give them advice and guidance as required. In practice, the work of supervision retreated gradually towards the background, and the task which today, more than any other, characterizes the State Inspection of Public Libraries is its advisory assistance and role as an inspirator to the public libraries. Concurrently with this alteration of its task, the State Inspection has undergone a reorganization of its staff in the course of the 1960's, and today it possesses a professional expert knowledge and competence which makes it perhaps the most influential force within the Danish library system.
It was natural that the guns of the opposition set its sights on this influential source of power, which to some extent personified the picture of the spider enjoying its own power in the centre of its beautifully spun web. As an example, in one of the first numbers of Biblioteksdebat, with a background of verified information, a list of the numerous positions of trust held by the Library Director was published which gave decisive proof of the central power position of the State Inspection of Public Libraries and which at the same time had something important to say concerning the structure of a thoroughly ? and perhaps overly ? organized library system. Like other institutions in the middle of the 1960's the State Inspection had not shown any aptitude for drawing the consequences of the change within the Danish library system from a relatively peaceful, closed circle where everybody knew everybody, into a more boistrous forum where intimate personal acquaintance had to be a thing of the past. The inadequate information services of the State Inspection generally speaking only reached the chief librarians without any sufficient guarantee that the information would also be passed on to the far greater number of ordinary librarians. Faced with a stream?lined and efficient State Inspection whose processes and grounds of decisions were on the whole unknown to a wider circle, despite the fact that all librarians had to live with and under them, a new librarian, to some extent, could not help feeling like a terrified child in the presence of the fairy?tale giant.
The child had to feel the alientation and react against it. The reaction had to be so much stronger as the formal reservedness of the State Inspection of Public Libraries collided with the wish of the opposition to obtain to a higher degree of background knowledge in order to participate in the decision?making process or to assess the relevance of the decisions that had been made.
The State Inspection chose ? and still chooses to fulfil its role as inspirator by delegating various questions to committee treatment. The opposition also felt the reservedness of the State Inspection of Public Libraries in other fields. It was - and still is to a great extent ? characteristic that membership on these professional committees was filled by persons appointed from among a relatively limited circle of librarians. These librarians had, of course, their own professional concept and expressed it, but by electing the same persons from one time to the next, the State Inspection lost its possibility of finding new impulses and isolated the system even more. The official grounds presented for this policy were considerations of efficiency, that is, the exacting discipline required in committee work, and the fact that committee work gives the best results if carried out with persons accustomed to this particular method of work. The net result, however, was that the State Inspection of Public Libraries forfeited the opportunity of bringing out new and untraditional results, and in addition it missed an excellent possibility of obtaining a fertile surface of contact with the practising librarians.
The State Inspection of Public Libraries has not abandoned its formal reservedness, but in justice it must be admitted that in many cases, at the beginning of the activities of Biblioteksdebat, the officials of the State Inspection sent written replies to the periodical, although no actual dialogue was established. When the tone became harsher and the attacks more direct, this contact possibility was, however, abandoned, and by the end of the 1960's the State Inspection officially ignored Biblioteksdebat.
Thus, there has constantly been a cold atmosphere between the State Inspection and the opposition. At the beginning of the activities of Biblioteksdebat it was in fact possible to detect in the State Inspection a certain delight in the broken crockery that followed in the wake of the opposition attacks, and there might have been a possibility of a fertile contact. It is to be supposed that the State Inspection through a better information service and greater openness in its decision?making processes could have cultivated and absorbed part of the criticism which was felt to have been incorrectly presented. None of this, however, happened, and today, too, the State Inspection is characterized by a formally motivated reservedness, with the result that the possibilities of communication between the State Inspection and the rebellion are very small.

By the end of the 1960´s, Biblioteksdebat was degenerating into a sectarian periodical, in which its opponents very rarely expressed their views, and only with great reluctance. The paper was increasingly influenced by a few people repre-senting the inner circle, and there was no longer any question of a debate in the proper sense of the word. To this was added a certain - comprehensible - slacken-ing in drive among the editors on account of the very great personal sacrifices that had been made in the course of the 5?year period. Moreover, most persons from among the inner circle had, by definition at any rate, reached positions of higher professional authority standing, either as librarians in leading posts or as members of the executive committee of the professional association. It is obvious that in these circum-stances it was difficult to keep the spirit going, and at that time the official policy of the Young Librarians developed into a wish of strengthening the Librarians' Association and of endeavouring to turn the periodical Bibliotekaren into a readable forum for the members of the Association.
Some of the members of the Young Librarians were not in full agreement with this policy, and at an ordinary general assembly in 1969 this section (in daily talk called "the flower children") seized power. Their aim was to ensure the publication of Biblioteksdebat, and by a strong effort on the part of the editors it was possible to revive some of the periodical's former image and drive. The result was a short and colourful period of blossoming for the old periodical. It may be said that the philosophy of the "flower children" as regards library policy did not differ on any decisive points from the more realistic one that was originally presented in Biblioteksdebat, but nevertheless they succeeded in bringing out new facets of the ancient problems, served in a refreshing but unfortunately in some places unintelligible form. Moreover, the necessary reserves were not available in the new circle of editors either, and in the spring of 1970 Biblioteksdebat ceased publication, officially only for a brief period, but unofficially probably for ever.
Speaking candidly, it was probably the right development. The Danish librarian profession is numerically not great enough to be able to carry several debate periodicals if they all have to be good ones, and at that time it seemed to be correct to join forces around the Librarians' Association and the periodical Bibliotekaren.
It is difficult to pin point the concrete results of the youth rebellion at this stage. A highly needed renewal has taken place within the Librarians' Association, but it is still too early to say anything as to what this renewal involves in practice. A liberalization has taken place in the practical interpretation of the objects clause of the Library Act, but it is an open question whether this liberalization would not also have come without any youth rebellion.
On the other hand, on a number of points it is possible to distinguish very slight but unmistakable advances towards what ought to be the decisive goal for all librarians: influence on the decision?making pro-cesses. There is a long way yet before this object is reached, but by its example the youth rebellion has started a series of developments which will in the course of time lead to the desired result.
I believe that the real effect of the rebellion is to be found in the Young Librarians' initiation of this series of developments which gradually will cause a change in mentality among librarians. Further-more, it must be recognized that "the good old days" can never return, and that in the 1970's, too, it will be difficult for any one group to play the role of "the supreme power" in the Danish library system.