Whilst the library of the past was defined by transactional services – lending and returning of books – nowadays the dynamics of the library has changed by adding a relational side to all its processes. This way, modern libraries are shifting from focusing on transactional services, and have become relational which creates more value for the users.
To learn more about the ways this transition is made, we have had a brief discussion with Mogens Vestergaard, Manager of Library and Citizen Service at Roskilde Libraries in Denmark.
Traditional library: a transactional library
Like most countries, all citizens in Denmark need to have free and equal access to knowledge because, as Mogens Vestergaard points out, “the first Danish public library act established in 1964 (and updated in 2000) stipulated that each municipality had the obligation to run a public library either run by itself or in cooperation with other institutions”.
Traditionally, libraries were defined by transactional procedures such as lending and returning of books and other materials, or helping users with their questions about the collection. As this was the case, the main purpose was to fulfill the need for knowledge and education. Mogens Vestergaard highlights that “in the old days you just came in as a user with a certain need, books or a specific question. Librarians didn’t have to create a relationship in that case, they just had to create a transaction to make sure that the users got what they needed”.#Libraries were defined by transactional procedures such as #lending and returning of #books and other materials, or helping users with their questions about the collection. Click To Tweet
Accordingly, in the beginning, the means to fulfill the libraries purpose was books, which extended to music, periodicals and now, to multimedia and electronical materials. When asked which one is more important, the purpose or the means, Mogens adds that “it is the purpose that is the most fundamental thing and the means becomes the secondary choice that can be adapted. Libraries are inclined to use any means they can think of in order to promote the purpose. There are of course limitations, but it really gives a lot of freedom to run a public library.”It is the #library 's purpose that is the most fundamental thing and the means becomes the secondary choice that can be adapted. #librarylife Click To Tweet
While the number of book loans has gone down, the library usage has increased over the last few years (usage – measured in the number of visitors to the physical libraries). The library’s physical location has gained more purposes, than just ensuring the place for a transaction and people are using it for a lot more activities: “they are using in huge numbers the physical location (the computers, the makerspaces, the areas), they use it for gatherings, study groups, small courses on different subject, especially technology and a lot of other things. So, the purpose of the library is not fulfilled only by the medium but also by the spaces, by having these libraries locations around.”
Students present their culture projects in the library for 7th grade Social Studies with Coach Chambers. Students researched their heritage, presented the results and sampled traditional dishes from various cultures. Way to go! pic.twitter.com/tHxQ5Vcbab
— Bowie Middle School (@BowieMSOdessa) December 19, 2017
The shift to a relational library
The library is no longer defined by the number of books it has on its shelves, but rather it is now about being a living space for the users. When asked why there has been this shift, Mogens adds that “the libraries have always been good at being aligned with what people want. That is a very important thing. Regarding the technology, libraries were the first movers around ’96 – they were the first ones to get computers to the library and to try to educate people on how to use computers. It is the library’s obligation to be at the edge of different uses of culture and uses of technologies.“It is the #library’s obligation to be at the edge of different uses of #culture and uses of #technologies. Click To Tweet
Today, people are more focused on learning activities and they want social interaction together with the possibility to share their knowledge with others. Therefore, the “relational library” is a new development where libraries become a meeting and interaction place for people. Mogens adds that “the transactional library is where people are getting in the library, they ask for a book and the librarian gives it to them. As opposed to the relational library, where people enter the library and they are working together with the librarian. For this to happen, you have to establish a relation with the patron. The library transforms into a meeting place, and you have to facilitate that meeting. This is another way to establish relations. That means you are in need of new competencies.The #library transforms into a #meeting place, and you have to facilitate that meeting. #modernlibraries #librarians Click To Tweet
Therefore, the library’s physical spaces and the needs of the different target groups of the library must be highly considered when defining the library’s structure.
Also, did you know that you can research your family history for free in our traditional local studies library, also based at the museum? We also have this service available in Leigh #OurDay pic.twitter.com/40bAS9tFie
— Wigan Council (@WiganCouncil) November 21, 2017
What is next?
When thinking about what other developments might appear at the library, Mogens explains that:
1. One thing that we started using now in libraries is design thinking. It is a common thing and what it implies is that we are going out and talking with the users. We are actively interacting with them, not just thinking about what new services we could add at the library. We had to create a whole new strategy because of the new dynamics at the library.
To rethink our activity, we went and talked with the citizens in their own homes, in their environment, we listened to their needs and wishes. We wanted to know how their interest in a specific topic would manifest. By doing that, we learned a lot of things about the users. It was also interesting to find out more about the library user groups. There are many different groups that come to the library constantly; students, families with children, etc. But another thing that we noticed is that there are some traditional groups that are not using the library constantly. They are using it in a transitional way, that means when people hit a transition to a new stage of their lives (ex: retiring from work), the library is coming up into their mind.
Design Thinking for Libraries: strategies, tools and a case study @ARLIS_NA @sched – 3 phases: inspiration, ideation, implementation pic.twitter.com/KLaqcukm6u
— Katie Pierce Meyer (@kpiercemeyer) February 26, 2018
2. One future that might be plausible for the libraries is the library as the Fifth Branch Of Power. The media are defining themselves as the fourth power of state because they see themselves as controlling the three main powers in the state. What I think is that they have that problem, they are not looked upon as credible, and they are sometimes very close to the political system.
What the libraries are representing is people, ordinary people in huge numbers. In that way, the library can establish a new way of control. Libraries offer what people need; a wide range of information, and we are helping people have access to that information. So, in that perspective, we are the fifth power in the state.#Libraries offer what people need; a wide range of #information, and we are helping people have access to it. So, in that perspective, we are the fifth power in the state. Click To Tweet
How can you describe your library? Let us know in the comments!
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I would be interested to see your sources. How many people were involved in the “design thinking” phase? How many interviewers, how many residents? What was the budget?
Also – it looks like the media in Denmark are markedly different than in the US. What evidence backs up your assertion that “The media …see themselves as controlling the three main powers” ? Perhaps a few in the media would like to control others, but I don’t think that most of them would claim that as a motivation. Again, evidence?
Arthur LaRue, Maryland, US
Modern libraries: Moving from a transactional to a relational library
Interesting and well articulated paper that you need to read and abreast your knowledge with the paradigm-shift in librarianship
As someone who has worked in the U.S. and Ireland at university levels, I think that in the “old school” reference interview, we by necessity, entered into the transactional mode. My best memory of the process is a graduate student from Mozambique researching Cuba’s role in the Angolan War. True enough, she had a specific request for the letters of a Cuban doctor involved in the war but it took the collaboration of student and institutions to achieve a reasonable end. Cuba did not want me involved since I was American but they would deal directly with the student which they did. Thus, the student became a first party to a transaction that required more than an ILL request.
A good one
A useful way of thinking about libraries — transactional/ relational. I am not sure, however, that one excludes the other, or has taken over the other one. People still come to the libraries looking for a decent collection (be it in print or digital) AND learning and many also come for the social aspect.
Regarding the power of the state, public libraries could have that power. In the UK, for example, they could have had it. For a decade (and perhaps longer) a massive destruction of the public library systems has been taking place. The attack has come from “above” as in less funding for the councils, but also from “within”, as in councils accepting cookie-cutter solutions and deprofessionalisation.
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Good movement, let it be generally accepted
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Useful insight in librarianship as a profession
The traditional public library has always been relational, as librarians in general want to help people to find things, and want to help them in a pleasant way.
Traditionally, libraries provided materials for information, education and recreation.
The problem for libraries that is not clearly addressed in this article, is that the internet stores and retrieves data, information, and knowledge more effectively than librarians do.
The internet has wider coverage, deeper coverage and more convenience than traditional libraries.
In other words, the library’s 3 basic functions have disappeared.
I think it is important to retain a library space, as people need a designated area they can access, and because many people want a physical collection.
The idea of using the space for providing computers is useful, as not everybody has access to a computer. However, this could be provided more cheaply and more efficiently by public internet cafés — with lower staff costs.
The idea of using the space for educational purposes is interesting, but space is routinely provided in other public settings (schools, colleges, church halls, theatres, town halls, clubs, etc), and does not require library staff or expertise.
The same could be said for community meeting places – this is not central to library work, and is better provided by community centres.
My solution would be to integrate cultural centres such as galleries, museums and libraries would have a space within the centres. The uniqueness of the local area should be reflected in a specialised artefact and document collection, and a general collection should be provided.
Librarians’ expertise is still needed to manage electronic access to commercial resources that the public needs.
This is precisely what State and National Libraries are doing throughout the world: exhibiting their treasures (artefacts and bibliographic items), both digitally and in real-time exhibitions.
The situation for special libraries, government libraries, school libraries and tertiary educational libraries is different.
“the internet stores and retrieves data, information, and knowledge more effectively than librarians do” – really? The Internet is full of junk, and some of it is quite costly. What if people can’t afford access fees? What if people can’t afford either a computer or the internet service? And as for librarians only needing to “manage electronic access to commercial resources” – which is a transactional function – this misses the entire essential function of readers’ advisory. How about library-sponsored programs? Book clubs? Book talks? Displays? How about the expertise to choose resources based on community needs and interests? Come to my library – you will find the most active, popular, and relational place in town.