torsdag den 15. august 2013

The development of ‘open library’ in Denmark #wlic2013

In occasion of my participation in the World Congress for Libraries IFLA, I have made ​​a presentation of the libraries in Denmark and especially the concept we call OPEN LIBRARIES. The theme of WLIC 2013 is "Future Libraries: Infinite Possibilities" and OPEN LIBRARIES is one of the possibilities.

In Denmark, all the libraries is free to use, In the way, that all the basis services are free of charge for the public. In Denmark almost all the Libraries are funded by tax.

The libraries are obligated to make all kinds of materials available, both physical and digital. Not just books.

We have 98 municipalities and all of them are obligated, by legislation, to have a library and to finance it.

Some of the municipalities have more than one library. We have approximately 450 public libraries, to a population of 5,5 mil. people. 

Half of the libraries are closed in the last ten years, but the development has hopefully stopped now.
It seems that development lead to fewer and fewer libraries, but bigger and better libraries, I hope

We have 98 main-libraries and 350 smaller Libraries, some of them we call “open Libraries” it is term for a concept that allows users to access the library space in principle 24/7 and serve them- selves with loans and return materials. And use the computers, read or maybe even set up a meeting or an event, if the space allows it. In the first instance the term ‘open library’ was chosen as the concept was implemented in libraries that had typically been branches with short – and often inconvenient – opening hours. And ‘open library’ is also a term preferable to ‘self service library’, as this concept requires another kind of professional support enabling the users to complete the necessary transactions themselves and to find their way in the library.

In a few years this concept has spread to 150 libraries in Denmark and more are planned.

I will quote the former Director General Danish Agency for Libraries and Media Jens Thorhauge for some of the reason for the dramatic growth of “open libraries”

“The reasons for this fast spread of a new concept are several. First and foremost the concept is simple. All Danes have a medical card with a magnetic stripe and a bar code, and along with a pin code obtained at the library this card gives you access to the library. In the library there is a video camera, and during some of the opening hours there may be staff, but the principle is self-service at the automated loan and return desk. And in by far the most of the many opening hours, there is no staff at all.”

Medical card with a magnetic stripe and a bar code

For example my local library (Vigerslev in Copenhagen) had before an opening hours from 10 am till 5 pm, now with "open library" concept is now open from 8 am to 10 pm. But there is only personnel between 10 am till 5 pm.

Thorhauge have emphasized a few more good reasons for the success of the concept of "Open Libraries". From the first "Open Library" opened in 2004 there was immediate user accept. A typical model is that opening hours are from morning to late evening every day. And due to the log-in procedure there are valid user statistics. Users come and go all through the long opening hours. Forget about branches open a few hours at midday. 

For many years Danish libraries have worked with self-service in loan and return transactions, which means that a majority of users are familiar with selfservice procedures, which by the way are extremely simple.

“What is really striking and astonishing is that the concept has spread from small villages with a high social control to more complex neighbourhoods in cities. And extremely few examples of theft and vandalism such as tagging and aggressive ruining of furniture have been reported. On the contrary, there seems to be a tacit agreement among citizens that this is a good spot for everybody, hard to be against, resulting in a common protection of the library. It seems that the public library has a position comparable to the church that has for centuries been run with open, unguarded houses.

The open library concept demonstrates that it is possible to create institutions that are under the protection of the public and are designed to meet citizens’ needs in a flexible way. It is likewise obvious that there is a potential for further development of the concept. A library director told me, that in their open libraries they often found traces of activities they did not know of. For instance all chairs in the library set up in a half circle revealing that some presentation had happened in front of them. “We actually give the library space back to the users. It is their library”, she said. The perspective in this is also a strengthening of the civil society and we need that badly.”

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