Friday, April 22, 2005

Verba volent, scripta manent

Spoken words blow with the wind - but what is written will remain.

Below I give links to texts in English that touch upon the topics we discussed during the visit to Rumania:
  1. Enter the dragon. From print to web in library education. In Festschrift for Wanda Pindel, Jagiellonian University of Cracow, 2004.
  2. Wide enough for libraries? The library function in a web-based world. Paper for the conference Professional Information on the Internet, Cracow, 2004.
  3. Digital reference services. Teaching materials. Cracow 2004.
  4. Why is quality control so hard? Reference studies and reference quality in public libraries : the case of Norway. IFLA, Berlin, 2003.
  5. Why do you ask? Reference statistics for library planning. IFLA, Glasgow, 2002. Loooong ...
  6. A poem lovely as a tree? Virtual reference questions in Norwegian public libraries. Conference paper 2001 - published 2005.
  7. Sink, swim or surf: The future of reference work in Norwegian public libraries. Conference paper 1997.

After the visit2 in 1972-73 I wrote one scientific article (in English), a small essay on Rumanian history and culture (in Norwegian) and a short review of a Rumanian book in one of our national newspapers:

  1. Høivik, Tord. The Development of Romania: A Cohort Study, Journal of Peace Research, nr. 4, 1974.
  2. - . Rumanian essay (Rumensk essay). Samtiden.
  3. - . The year 2000 once again (År 2000 en gang til). Dagbladet, 1972. Review of Mircea Malita. Cronica anului 2000 (Editura Politica, Bucuresti 1969).

The future of digital reference services

Lecture at the Biblioteca Centrala Universitara, Bucharest, Friday April 22, 1000.

Digital reference services are services that use digital tools (e-mail, web forms, chat, SMS) to communicate with users that search for information. In a wider sense the concept also includes digital systems - such as user-oriented web pages, interactive data bases, sites with advanced language technology - that allow users to carry out more advanced information searches on their own.

The lecture covers - briefly - the following topics:

  1. Important trends in the development of digital reference services, illustrated with concrete cases: time line, Finland, Norway.
  2. The growth of reference services beyond the library sector: homework support (Ask Dr. Math), expert services (Ask a philosopher), open market (Google answers).
  3. How to manage and safeguard the quality of digital reference services: communication with customers (Slavic Reference Service), internal organisation (VRD quality points 6-11), resource basis (business models).

The main conclusion is: reference services are developing into a competitive - and complex - information market. Since libraries do not charge for their services, they face a dilemma:

  1. Should they announce their reference services to the world - like Trondheim Public Library
  2. Or should they hide them?

For further exploration

  1. List of topics
  2. Web and print resources
  3. Statistics: Tord Hoivik (2003) Why do you ask? Reference statistics for library planning, Performance measurement and metrics, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 28-37.
  4. Questia ...

The invitation

BCU Bucuresti si CIMEC organizeaza vineri, 22 aprilie 2003, 10:00 in sala Dan Simonescu de la BCU Bucuresti, seminarul cu tema: "The future of digital reference services", in prezenta prof. Tord Hoivik (Universitatea din Oslo) - il puteti vedea la:

Seminarul care se va desfasura in limba engleza, dar - pentru cei mai timizi - intrebarile in romana vor fi traduse in engleza.

Va avea, in mare, urmatorul format:

  • a) circa 30 min. expunerea prof Hoivik;
  • b) circa 15 min. demonstratii pe web;
  • c) circa 15 min. discutii;
  • pauza
  • d) discutii libere.

Sunt invitati nu doar bibliotecarii specializati in referinte! Dar: fiindca numarul de locuri in sala este limitat, cei interesati sunt rugati sa-si anunte intentia de participare la d-na Cristina Stoica (

Pentru a va face - anticipat - o idee despre ceea ce prof. Hoivik va expune, vedeti:

The future of librarianship - and academic libraries

Before the seminar on digital reference services we had a small discussion about the future of librarianship.

We all agreed that librarianship needs a stronger theoretical foundation. The central issue we discussed was: must this basis be scientific in the traditional academic sense (library science) - or can we develop alternative ways of integrating theory and practice?

I have argued for the latter in Why is quality control so hard?. IFLA Library Theory and Research Section, Berlin 2003. Also available in PDF (IFLA web site) . You can read an important analysis of theory-building in practical disciplines in Donald Schon' s book The Reflective Practitioner: Foundation of Teamwork & Leadership - and there is a convenient summary available on the web.

Jan Erik Roed - university librarian at the University of Oslo, says:

The university library now consists of four components:
  1. The teaching library
  2. The electronic library
  3. The publishing library
  4. The traditional, paper-based library
We must have more of the first three. This means we must have less of the traditional, paper-based library.

Tord Hoivik writes:

A universe of texts

The great majority of subjects in higher education are based on written documents and verbal discussion. In the humanities and social sciences, students work in a textual universe. They listen to lectures that expound the canon - and learn the canonical methods of research. They work with textbooks and classical texts. And they contribute texts of their own - for the benefit of their teachers, their fellow students and their final grades. In the sciences, field trips and lab work are added. But science students continue to read and write.

A visible role in learning

This will continue in the digital environment. This means that texts and documents remain relevant for undergraduate learning. But undergraduate libraries are in the same position as school libraries: they must attach themselves firmly to teaching and learning activities in order to survive. A great tradition is not enough. In the future, libraries for students will only be financed if they provide a visible contribution to learning.

Why use the library?

Undergraduate students go to standardized lectures and carry out standardized exercises. Student behavior is largely shaped by the teachers. The average student aims at an acceptable grade. She hopes to achieve it with a modicum of effort. She will only use the library if it pays to use the library. And this is normally decided by the teacher.

Cooperate with teachers

But university teachers are acrobats. They will only cooperate with librarians if they must. Every day they juggle the demands from classes, colleagues and conferences. They are seldom interested in libraries as such. They will only include libraries in their juggling act if the benefit is evident.

Libraries must cooperate with teachers in designing digital learning environments. This is a new and difficult task for both professions. At the moment I suspect teachers are more uncomfortable with digital resources.

Graduate students

Undergraduates can be handled as a group. In graduate and further education, students work in smaller groups and go to fewer lectures than their younger peers. They study the more advanced literature in their professional fields and are expected to write papers and theses based on independent work. Some of their projects will involve original data collection, and some of their reports will include original research.

These students require a great variety of written sources. In a couple of decades, nearly all the relevant documents are likely to be on the web. But they will need good retrieval tools in order to find the documents they require. The lecturer is normally a specialist in the field and will select the curriculum on the basis of her personal knowledge of the literature. But the library can provide useful support by organizing easy web access to all the readings - and by providing correct and updated bibliographical data.

Personal service

At the graduate level, libraries must offer individual service. In 9 cases out of 10 the students will be under pressure to complete their work in time. In contact with the library they will need rapid, competent and highly specific service.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Public libraries in knowledge societies: the Norwegian experience

The Norwegian knowledge manifesto

The full manifesto is about three pages in print. The ten points below is a brief summary.

  1. Norway is moving from a welfare state to a knowledge based society
  2. Broad access to education is necessay for a knowledge based economy
  3. Values are created by people that are competent, knowledgable and culturally aware
  4. The knowledge society must be realized locally
  5. Public libraries need new ideas and new tasks
  6. Local communities need a place that can provide learning, knowledge and culture in a free and open setting
  7. Public libraries support the ties that link people and places
  8. Culture gives meaning to wealth
  9. An investment in public libraries is an investment in future productivity and welfare
  10. Library development is a knowledge policy for local communities.
The campaign

Our national campaign The public library in the knowledge society was launched with a press conference at the Norwegian Parliament on January 19, 2005. Several distinguished members of parliament with a commitment to cultural affairs participated and gave their strong support to the campaign manifesto.

The campaign is associated with the multi-year ALA and IFLA campaign "@t your library".


During the last few years Norwegian public libraries have experienced many new challenges. Regular lending of books is stagnant - even though more and more people have higher education. Competition in the mass market for books is increasing. Books that sell well are now relatively cheap. Bookstores on the web - inside and outside Norway (Amazon!) - provide a wide range of books at decent prices.

Why should we use taxes to pay for books that people can afford to buy?

Digital developments make our users much more self-sufficient with respect to information. Most children use Google as a matter of course.

Why should we finance reference services when people manage reasonably well by themselves?

Our national Law on Public Libraries, which regulates the public library system. is under pressure. The law does oblige every municipality to provide a public library. But it does not specify any minimum level of service. Market thinking is influencing the public sector. The municipalities, which finance public libraries through local taxes, are gradually given more leeway - and some want to reduce services to a minimum. Some politicians are already asking whether we will need public libraries in the future.

At the national level, libraries, museums and archives have been asked to work more closely together. The two government organizations that used to coordinate library activities - for public and professional libraries respectively, have been merged with the corresponding bodies for museums and archives into a "cultural memory" authority.

Many librarians are soft-spoken, careful and somewhat inhibited. Do we have to get involved in politics? These days people from the museum sector are often more outspoken and more innovative. The whole concept of what a museum is and what an exhibition should do is visibly changing.

Public librarians need to learn visibility from museum people. Good exhibitions are created by exhibitionists!

In the National Library Association, public libraries, on the one hand, and academic libraries, on the other, used to work closely together. In the last couple of years, however, all libraries in higher education have been caught up in the Bologna process.

The great reform in European higher education has been very good for libraries involved in teaching. They are becoming active, student oriented teaching institutions ("learning centres") rather than research libraries with (at best) reading rooms for students. But their strategic focus is now Higher Education rather than Cultural Memory.

The "library sector" is dividing into a dynamic learning sector, on the one hand, and a more traditional public library sector, on the other. School libraries can go either way. If they get solid support, they become learning centers. If they are treated as static book collections, students will invade the public libraries instead.

Reinventing public libraries

The general public, by the way, is seldom interested in the difference between library sectors. Many Norwegian students are not aware of the distinction between a university library and a public library. If the "book place" can help them with their reading list, that is all they ask. And the students are right. Libraries are service institutions first of all. Libraries are what libraries do.

You may ask if the Norwegian experiences are relevant for Rumania. The economic and material conditions are, of course, different. In Norway, we envy Denmark and - especially - Finland. In Rumania, you may well envy all the Nordic countries.

Within Europe, there are major inequalities between East and West, and between South and North. It is frustrating to see the possibilities - and not being able to realize them.

But at a deeper level our library systems - and our lives - are caught up in the same massive historical processes:

  • the change from industrial to knowledge based economies;
  • a massive investment in higher education;
  • the move from paper to digital media;
  • the rapid unification of Europe - and the beginning unification of the world.
The world is also becoming a single society - but it will hardly turn into a proper state before 2100 ....

The changes since I last visited Rumania - in the mid-seventies - are overwhelming. And if I come back thirty years from now, Rumania and Norway and Europe will be different places alltogether.

In a thirty year perspective, we will all face the same challenge: how to recreate a traditional 20th century institution for life and growth in a global, digital, mobile, market-oriented knowledge-based society.

Facing change

We do not believe libraries can be reinvented from above. The forceful methods of Peter the Great and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk are not available anymore - I am afraid. Important cultural institutions - schools, universities, churches, newspapers, libraries - depend on the dedicated work of professionals. They will only change deeply if people change deeply.

Most professionals are conservative at work. Professionals are trained to see themselves as inheritors and continuators - and sometimes forget that the traditions they adhere to were created by reformers and innovators.

Library history is full of battles. The very concept of lending - letting books out of the library - was once revolutionary. Dewey was a crank and open shelves a scandal. But that was a long time ago. Public libraries have been technologically stable for a long time.

Today, of course, the quiet river of librarianship is not so quiet anymore. The Nile is approaching a cataract.

All libraries have to take digital technologies seriously. Today, I read, four million Rumanians use the web every month. This means that more or less everybody will be on the web in ten, or even five, years.

Every cultural institution needs to step back and ask itself: what will that mean for us - in a few years?

Cell phones are spreading by themselves. And a cell phone is not really a phone anymore, but a small portable computer. People will basically be on the web all the time. Commercial firms offer a growing range of phone based services.

And every cultural institution needs to step back and ask itself: what will that mean for us?

Digital technology as such develops at a steady pace - as indicated by Moore`s law. We can predict fairly well the basic technological capacities in 2010 and 2015. It is much harder to predict the rates of response in different social sectors.

Some will make a fast and easy transit from paper to screen. Some will struggle and protest. But in the end - thirty years from now - the differences will not matter, I suspect. Every profession - from lawyers to librarians - and every social institution - from museums to municipal governments - will live in a profoundly digital and web-oriented world.

We take electricity, phones and radios - and their social consequences - for granted. Our children will be as digital as we are electrical. Strategic planning means to prepare for the next genneration.

Twelve strategies for change in libraries - and most other places

  1. Involve people from different professions: marketing, design, computers, politics - as well as librarians
  2. Present cases from abroad - using relevant countries: Finland, Portugal, Netherlands, Norway ...
  3. Develop and present cases from your own country
  4. Combine support from above and support from the grassroots (or intermediate level)
  5. Feed the eagles: give the doers with a vision space enough to develop strong wings
  6. Focus on users and their experiences in libraries
  7. Develop and present relevant library statistics
  8. Tell exciting stories about libraries
  9. Combine vision, strategy and tactics
  10. Work inward (towards librararians) and outward (towards users, voters, politicians) at the same time
  11. Walk the talk. That means:: use new media and new models of communications when you discuss new media and new models of communication.
  12. Postpone discussions about money - but not forever ...


In September 2003 a few practising public librarians decided to set up a small working group on public library policy. At the (biannual) national meeting of the Norwegian Library Association in March 2004, the organisation accepted our proposal to create a Special Interest Group on Public Library Policy.

The new SIG is organised as a network and uses the WWW for most of its activities (I am the web editor). We run an active web site and communicate with our members through a mailing list.

In early 2005 the interim board organized a web based election of a regular board with seven members. The candidates presented themselves through web pages. Voting was also carried out on the web. Each member of the group received a PIN code from the NLA, selected candidates from a web form and "signed" with the PIN code.

@your library
The Campaign for the World's Libraries. From IFLA
@your library. Home page for the US campaign.

The Library White Paper

A new Library White Paper is currently being prepared by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority, acting on behalf of The Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs. The main objective is to create a strategy document that will serve as the basis for a fundamental revision of the library sector as a whole.

Scenario thinking is an important part of the process. The Norwegian Library Association is involved on a consultative basis, but the Authority has the final word - and heated debates on basic principles are likely in the autumn.

External links

Norwegian Library Association. For information in English, choose About us
Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority: English

Back in Bucharest

The last time I visited Rumania, in 1977, I went as a peace researcher. At that time, the political climate was growing colder, after the relatively open years around 1970. Europe was in decline.

- À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien
Bergère ô tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bêle ce matin
Tu en as assez de vivre dans l'antiquité grecque et romaine
Ici même les automobiles ont l'air d'être anciennes.

Seventy years after Roosevelt our continent is getting a New Deal. Old man Europe was split by an iron curtain after WW2. Now it is visibly starting to cohere.
This time, I am here as a librarian. And I am not at all tired of l'antiquité grecque et romaine. Two weeks ago, at the central bus station in Florence, I saw the morning bus from Italy to Romania pulling out of its bay. Western businessmen are pouring into Bucharest - a new capitalist frontier. Romanian artists, programmers and ordinary workers are percolating westwards. They will come back - with time. Migrations belong to the longue duree (Braudel).

The making of the modern world-system (Wallerstein) started with guns, colonies and exploitation. Today, it is the flow of people that ties societies together.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pliny the blog

This blog in English is a parallell site to my Norwegian blog Plinius. I started it during a visit to Bucharest in order to publish in English from abroad.

You will also find library comments in English at my regular web site Post scriptum, which is hosted by my home institution, Oslo University College.

The younger Pliny was the nephew of Plinius (the older). He lived in the early Roman Empire, around 100 AD. He is best known for his colletion of literary letters (Epistolae) - which includes a set of letters exchanged with emperor Trajan, while Pliny served as an imperial delegate in Bithynia.

Read more about Pliny the Younger in Wikipedia.