The Library Takes Up The Case

    - A Handshake For More Democracy                           Norwegian version

The Public Library is a major supplier of knowledge and information to the public, not only through books but even through the Internet and other electronic media. This task is mostly executed in a ‘passive’ manner, i.e. on requests of individuals or institutions. But by means of the newest tools of the Web libraries may, with a relatively small effort, play a much more active role.

According to The Glasgow Declaration on Libraries, Information Services and Intellectual Freedom, proclaimed by the Council of IFLA in 2002, libraries are committed to offering their clients access to relevant resources and services without restriction and to opposing any form of censorship … preserve and make available the widest variety of materials, reflecting the plurality and diversity of society. The selection and availability of library materials and services shall be governed by professional considerations and not by political, moral and religious views.

But this is not always the case, even in countries with the longest traditions for democracy and public availability of information, particularly not on the local level in smaller communities. Even democratic councils and authorities are not entitled to balance their information, whether in print or on their web sites, and local press and broadcasters are often both partial and uncritical.

In this situation public libraries should take the opportunity to refurbish their ideals of independence and all-round versatility and take on the role of democratic agents of their communities. As follows, the concept here called LTC - The Library Takes Up The Case is one possible vehicle to secure this position. LTC web sites together with the totality of library services, have potential to guarantee for their public the best possible access to information about important issues for the local, regional or national societies.

This text with the following principles and a template for an LTC-site is just a start. The aim must be an increasing number of LTC pages within the coming months.

The concept of LTC and the kind of service it represents are based on the following principles: (these principles, along with the original Norwegian version, are all still provisional and open to discussion; please contact: frilanders (at) gmail (dot) com ):

1.   An LTC-page on a library web site is meant to give more availability and more democracy in debates and issues where the information to the public is insufficient and where it is unbalanced; typically where neither the local authority web site nor the local press offer balanced coverage of a controversial development program with consequences for a community. But even issues with good coverage by web sites both ‘for’ and ‘against’ may need an LTC site to make them accessible from one place. 

2.   The main target groups of an LTC page should be the public as a whole, but also the parts of a conflict, the politicians and the local authorities, and even press and media. 

3.   An LTC page and service should be balanced and impartial, according to the long public library traditions with regard to selection of books, newspaper subscriptions etc. An LTC page should consequently cover both pros and cons and the variety of views. 

4.   On its LTC pages a library should not hesitate to publish documents and information to encourage debate and democracy. 

5.   An LTC page should, according to library principles, present quality in terms of content and links, yet the concerns of balance and plurality may be more important and justify the linking up of a resource of uncertain quality. However, resources with illegal and racist content should not be distributed. 

6.   An LTC page should give priority to freely available web resources, but also present and offer bases and services only available by the library and system of co-operating libraries, as well as library specialities like: 

  • Competence in searching and finding and evaluation of web resources, by means of pedagogic and instructive LTC pages with e.g. help texts and FAQ’s and by personal support in the library or by telephone, e-mail etc.
  • Local, regional and national virtual reference services and their competence on answering questions of all kinds.
  • The use of the newest and most advanced tools of the World Wide Web, e.g. Rollyo, a search engine which allows tailoring to specific topics and limiting to selected sites. Librarians should cooperate and develop a variety of Rollyos for common purposes.
  • Free lending and interlending
  • Free photocopies of articles from printed journals and prints from article databases.  

7.   Depending on capacity and competence a library with an LTC page should: 

  • Scan and digitize and publish relevant documents not yet made available by others, within the limits of copyright regulations or agreements with owners and originators. Documents by public authorities which are not protected by copyright should be downloaded to the library's server and made available in the Web catalogue. 
  • Make available on the library’s premises hard copies and print-outs that are for various reasons not digitized. 
  • Set up blogs related to LTC pages to keep readers informed about new resources and services on the LTC pages. Actively promote subscription to RSS feeds of such LTC related weblogs. 
  • Set up Rollyos with carefully selected sites for LTC topics. 
  • Set up exhibitions or temporary departments or corners or shelves related to current LTC issues. 

8.   LTC pages should be actively promoted within the community and affected groups and organisations. 

9.   The whole library community should take part in the common efforts to develop and improve the LTC concept, all in the spirit of Library 2.0. The same applies to the development of Library Rollyos etc., tools for web publication etc. Weblogs, wikies, Writelyes or other collective platforms and tools should be put up both to promote new LTCs, new Library Rollyos etc. and to invite the library community to take direct part in the development and improvement of such tools. Individuals and groups should have the opportunity to take part at all levels; from the setting up of new LTC pages and Rollyos to the suggesting of improvements of existing tools.

10.  In addition to voluntary work the success of LTC will probably depend on certain limited bodies to ensure innovation, progress and promotion as well as guidance, including technical support. The library communities should seek government funding for such purposes. 

11.  LTC should become a movement – a new potential and fundament for public libraries in particular. However, whole national and regional library systems and communities, and not least academic librarians, should contribute with their advanced knowledge to improve LTC pages.

Moss, Norway, August 2006

Anders Ericson

Librarian and freelance journalist


The first LTC page ever:

Potential LTC pages?:

  • Plans and debate on public transport of the NN region?
  • The future of the heavily polluted Lake XY?
  • Local taxes or not?
  • One big central or many existing small hospitals?
  • Social housing in the future?

Sources of inspiration:

Scandinavian sites:

Literature: (p.t. incomplete)

  • Berrefjord, Ole: "Informasjon og demokrati – brennpunkt bibliotek". In: Bok og bibliotek, s. 363-364 (1983).
  • Birdsall, William F. : "Folkebiblioteket på den politiske arena". I: Audunson: Det Siviliserte informasjonssamfunn
  • Birdsall William F.: A Canadian Right to Communicate?  
  • Brudd - Om det ubehagelige, tabubelagte, marginale, usynlige, kontroversielle. ABM-skrift #26
  • Böök, Mikael: Biblioteksmakt : Om makt och information som om Montesquieu fortfarande hade någon betydelse i informationssamhället.
  • Ericson, Anders: A principle in decline : Information services and the independent public library
  • Fremtidens bibliotekar - Journalist og videnproducent. I: DBC-avisen nr 2/06.
  • Henriksson, Britten: Med biblioteket i samhället : 30 år sedan Adolf Henriksson placerade biblioteket mitt i LKAB-debatten. I: Bibliotek i samhället 1999:3
  • Lindqvist, Sven: "How Public Are Public Libraries". I: Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly 3, 1989. Also see the interview with SL in Bok og bibliotek #5-6/94