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185 1 7 DIGITAL LIBRARY DEVELOPMENT IN THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SECTOR IN DENMARK Rolf Hapel The digital library in a public library context Definitions The lack of a precise definition of digital libraries has been a constant factor for practitioners and researchers in the information field in Denmark. A relatively comprehensive effort towards reaching a framework and a definition has been carried out in the European DELOS network of reference, where a reference model identifies the basic concepts and relationships characterizing the field. Basically the model operates with six main parameters: Content, User, Architecture, Functionality, Quality and Policy.1 In this chapter, these basic elements will be interpreted in the perspective of the broader political and cultural rationality of the existence of public libraries. An embryonic typology of Internet-based services in public libraries was presented in a study from the Bertelsmann Foundation (Hapel et al. 2001). This typology creates a basic understanding which is used in this chapter to group the examples of digital library practice in Danish public libraries presented later. For public libraries, like other libraries, the challenges are of financial as well as technological character. The rapid substituting of traditional information production and retrieval from analogue to digital has put enormous pressure on the libraries’ ability to change according to society’s needs and political will. The political acknowledgement of the idea and purpose of the traditional public library are increasingly challenged by the fact that access to ever more digital content is available for ever more users at ever lower costs. So in Denmark the public library sector has for more than a decade been working on realizing a strategy of the hybrid library deriving from an EU Commission study (Thorhauge et al. 1997). The understanding of the hybrid library is composed mainly of four elements: 1) physical place, 2) access to physical digital media (CDs, DVDs) and analogue printed media, 3) access to licensed Internet-based media in the library as well as off the library’s premises, e.g. in the home/workspace of the users, and 4) help, guidance and value-added services for users. Rationale for Public Libraries In Denmark and elsewhere in Western Europe and the USA, the existence of public libraries is based upon an ideological foundation and rationale which derive from the historical period of the Enlightenment, and have been refined and developed throughout the industrialised age. In Denmark, the first legislation on public libraries was adopted in 1920 and the public libraries of the industrial society have been a tremendous success. 1 DELOS Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries, BPDG_opmaak_12072010.indd 185 13/07/10 11:51 Rolf Hapel 186 They supported democracy and development by supplying information and knowledge in book format to a broad section of citizens; about two thirds of the Danish population were library users at the end of the 20th century. The circulation of books strongly supported the capacity to read, the formal education system, and the understanding of the importance of cultural heritage. Today, as most western societies have moved into information and knowledge-based mode and going digital has been on the agenda for almost two decades, the role and practice of public libraries have changed. One of the challenges for the emerging knowledge-based society is the social divide which, to a certain extent, has turned into a digital divide. Denmark still has a relatively high ratio of socially excluded people. A large segment of the population is still not able to read – estimated at up to 15-20 per cent. Recent studies in Denmark have shown that although Internet penetration is very high,2 very many people are not actually able to make use of what this access provides. In Europe in general it is estimated that more than one third of the population lacks basic digital competences. Organizational framework for developing digital library services The Danish Agency for Libraries and Media, a state body for libraries originally established as a result of the first Danish Library Act of 1920, now under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, has played an important role in the emergence of the collaborative initiatives on developing digital library activities in the public library sector. The most importanttoolhasbeenanannualfundforthepurposeofsupportingdevelopmentprojects (Thorhauge 2004). There is an annual call for proposals from the public libraries under predefined action lines. Examples of such action lines are inter-municipal cooperation, cooperation between school libraries and public libraries, and skills and competence development regarding web...


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