Art. 07 – Vol.23 – No. 4 – 2013

A Trial to Introduce the Theme of Library Directors’ Contribution to the Information Society

Arja Mäntykangas

MA, PhD candidate in management, “Lucian Blaga” University of  Sibiu

The word “library” is usually associated with a public institution and its associated premises, collections and staff. This meaning is in line with the definition given by the Swedish National Encyclopedia (2013). It is also my baseline understanding. Ever since the 1970s and 1980s, professional librarians have been talking about and developing various IT-based solutions to problems related to information access, nowadays through so-called digital libraries. This article introduces the theme of my dissertation – the contribution of library directors to the information society, initially considered from a Nordic perspective.

The image of the library has been the topic of debate and of various types of interventions. One example of this is the debate book Bilden av biblioteket (1982) (“The image of the library”), in which a commissioned government study on public libraries wanted to reproduce various people’s understanding of what a library is. In the introduction, the roles and social functions of the public libraries are described, by Bengt Holmström, as social library operations aimed at underserved groups, as information hubs for the entire community, and as cultural centers. He makes the following evocative conclusion:

So today, the image of the library is one of the permanence of the cloud shadow – a projection of uncertainties, a reflection of benevolent dreams. The image of the library should not be allowed to become as vague as that. (Holmström 1982, p. 16)

A follow-up question to that, in 2013, is: “What then is the image of the library, and what ought it to be; how have libraries positioned themselves in the information society; what are their current roles? IT development has doubtless affected these roles, as it was observed over 20 years ago. Today, we refer to our society as “the information society,” “the postindustrial society,” or “the network society.” These labels are intended to describe a societal transformation, in much of the Western world in any case. The development of technology may sharpen the extremes between different functions – between different parts of the world and between those who have access to information and those who do not. Such a development is sometimes referred to as “polarizing.”

Twenty-five years have passed since the above-mentioned debate book, conceived within the framework of the government study on public libraries in Sweden in the 1980s, was written. The general roles that at the beginning of the twenty-first century were assigned to libraries are both to make information available to consumers with varying needs and to function as a space, a meeting-place, and a place where patrons can obtain personal advice, etc. (Höglund, 2003, p. 310). Marianne Andersson and Dorte Skot-Hansen designed a model for analyzing the image of Denmark’s local public libraries. This analysis model deals with four aspects: the library as a center of knowledge, as a cultural center, as a social hub and as an information center (Andersson & Skot-Hansen, 2000, p. 18).

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These aspects concur with Holmström’s definition from the 1980s, with one exception: The Swedish experience mentioned nothing about knowledge centers, which could indicate that the role has developed alongside the society’s clearer emphasis on retraining and further education as part of “lifelong learning.” The take-away is that the libraries’ various functions in society give rise to different types of perspectives.


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