There is quite a vivid discussion on public libraries in Danish news media. You might easily get the impression that libraries are confused. This is not the case, but libraries choose different solutions in different communities. However there are some clear lines: the public libraries are much more focused on interaction with users, on media literacy and facilitating active use of media for lifelong learning, for actively supporting democratic debate and creating good spaces for many different activities in the library space.
For almost two decades a professional discussion on what was once called ‘the shift of paradigm’ has been taking place in journals, books (lots indeed!) and of course on the web and on seminars and in the daily working environment. Everybody knows that the internet broke down the library monopoly ‘to give access to information’. And ‘access to information’ was the essence of the old paradigm linked to the industrial society, that everybody agreed on, and that every librarian could stand up for with an ‘elevator speech’. But what is the new paradigm? For many years I have been looking for the answer and been astonished to find such a confusing variety of answers and in general a huge professional uncertainty on the mission of the public library in the fluid digital society. Certainly there has not been one commonly accepted answer to the question on the new paradigm. And the lack of convincing ‘elevator speeches’ has been painful.
For the last 3-4 years I have been working as a consultant on strategic development projects in a high number of public libraries (mainly in Scandinavia but also in other European countries) and I have been involved in desk studies for the Danish Public Library Model Program. What I learned is in essence: You can no longer talk of a broadly recognized paradigm for the new library. But you can count on a broad mission, which is to further learning and education, enlightenment and cultural activities. That was also the mission for the analogue library, the difference is that as ‘access to information’ in most daily contexts is at your fingertips, and so increasingly the task for libraries is to facilitate the use of the incredibly fast growing information resources. And as that is a goal for many other institutions the basic new conditions for libraries are much more extended partnerships, much clearer segmentation of their public, and much more active and inter-active offers.
Applying this shift of focus is more difficult to handle than you might think, which is also the reason that so many libraries ask for consultancy. You need to rethink and redesign the library offers in each and every library based mainly on an analysis of local environment, user needs and potential partners in order to develop a strategy for building new services that match the digital worlds in your specific community.
You will find new national strategies for public libraries for instance in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands all dealing with these elements – and all of them are so widespread, that the local implementation will call for local partners and local priorities. That is: a unique strategy for each and every library based on local conditions.