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UNESCO's third public library Manifesto was adopted in 1994. Can this document today really serve its purpose of promoting the basic ideas behind public library operations in Ljusdal in Sweden, or, one hundred and ten thousand kilometres further south, in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe?
Without a doubt, the previous 1949 and 1972 Manifestos helped increase understanding and insight into the importance of public libraries for democracy and education in many countries, at both central and local levels.
UNESCO's public library Manifesto was in 1949, and is in 1998, a document of ideas. To covert the ideas into practical action, UNESCO in the 1950s started three so-called "model libraries" or "pilot libraries".
The first model library was opened in 1951 in New Delhi. The library was to work in the spirit of the Manifesto and serve as a role model for library developments in other countries, and to inspire similar developments. The project was financed by UNESCO and the Indian government.
Later, model libraries were opened at Columbia University in Medellín and in Enugu in Nigeria.
These three model libraries were a step in UNESCO's efforts to create educational and cultural institutions in the third world. Now, with the adoption of the third Manifesto by UNESCO in 1994, we once again have an international document which expresses what are desirable goals for library developments at large for all member states, even if the road towards the goals appears to be of varying lengths.
Three libraries were model libraries. What effect did they have, and what has happened? Is there a need of further model libraries? UNESCO's public library Manifesto is in the form of a declaration, and is thus not compulsory. It can still serve as an important basis for the library debate and as a standard for the development of public libraries in Sweden and the world.
The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs is of the view that the relatively rich countries have a great responsibility to serve as role models in the spirit of the Manifesto in the continued development of libraries. Sweden should actively participate in and stimulate this work, both nationally and internationally.
The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs therefore took the initiative, on the basis of the Manifesto, of starting a model library in Sweden which is to serve as a good example.
In the autumn of 1995, Barbro Thomas of the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs contacted Ljusdal municipality and asked whether Ljusdal Municipal Library would like to become a model library for Sweden and the world, to serve as a role model both nationally and internationally.
Naturally, we at Ljusdal municipality were very happy about the opportunity. Both civil servants and politicians felt a great sense of joy and responsibility over having been chosen. It was decided that the question should be lifted to the highest political level, and the offer was accepted by the Municipal Council of Ljusdal Municipality.
According to the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, the project is to comprise:
Experience from previous projects is to be utilised. Reporting is to take place on an ongoing basis and the results are to be the basis of discussions, conferences and seminars both within the Swedish and the international library world.
For this work, an existing library was sought in a small or medium-sized municipality in Sweden, which had good premises and other prerequisites. The Board of the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs judged that Ljusdal library had what was needed to function as a Swedish model library. That Ljusdal was chosen is very nice for Ljusdal Municipality, but the one of all the other Swedish municipalities which have very excellent library systems could just as easily have been chosen.
The first practical step was that a person unknown to Ljusdal library evaluated the operations of Ljusdal library for one week against the background of the intentions of the UNESCO public library Manifesto.
The result of the evaluation, not unexpectedly, shows that the public library in Ljusdal in all important aspects lives up to the Manifesto.
There are however a number of points where Ljusdal Library does not really live up to the intentions of the Manifesto, where the library can be better.
The budgets of the school libraries are insufficient, and there is a great risk that they will suffer falling standards. Video films and CDs are a more and more important complement to the book and should be available at the library in order for the library to reach new groups of borrowers.
The UNESCO Manifesto also says that special services should be offered to those who for some reason cannot personally visit the library. Ljusdal library must consider measures to benefit such groups. The library should also highlight literacy in Swedish society. Swedish libraries, and Ljusdal Library, should draw up a strategy for reaching persons with reading and writing difficulties. In 1997, The Arts and Leisure Committee adopted a policy programme for Arts and Leisure. Work teams within the department had the task of breaking the programme down into feasible goals, at the same time as the UNESCO public library Manifesto's tasks for the library were kept in mind.
This resulted for example in that:
The intentions of the Manifesto are thus to function as guidelines for staff when they draw up plans and goals for the operations. It is important to quote from or refer to the Manifesto in many different contexts. This is a task for those of us working in the field - where it is appropriate, to talk about the Manifesto and its contents as often as possible. It is important when we are discussing budgets with the politicians or when we are describing the tasks of the library in various contexts. We cannot expect the Manifesto to be generally known to everyone, either politicians or civil servants. I think that it is we, as managers or leaders, who must take charge of the task of making the Library Manifesto well known, and ensuring that it is practically applied to our operations. It is in fact possible to quote from the Manifesto in many different contexts.
I think that the most important tasks for the future for us in Ljusdal are to:
I also think that our work with the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto has entailed that the work and tasks of the library have become clearer to those in a decision-making capacity.
With the vision of culture policy coming "In from the Margins", into the centre of decision-making, culture was located in the overall area of operations. We in Ljusdal Municipality have been strongly affected by the ideas in "Our Creative Diversity", that culture is to characterise all operations in the municipality.
The libraries were also located in the overall field of operations because our politicians in Ljusdal see the library as a democracy issue, not as a leisure issue or simply an educational issue.
A good library network is of very great importance for democracy and for freedom of expression in large rural municipalities such as Ljusdal.
The library is tax-funded. Those who do not live in cities or towns have the same right to books and information as those who live more centrally.
The library is the living room of our municipality, its information centre, recreation opportunity, meeting place where there is access to both our history and our future.
The intention of the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs is also that Ljusdal Library is to work within an international network. The municipality wished to participate in this development work with its Estonian twin town Vinni, which is in Lääne-Viiruma. The National Council for Cultural Affairs and Ljusdal had earlier had contacts with Portugal and a small municipality in northern Portugal, Vila Verde, near Porto, was chosen .
In the third world, the library chosen was Mzilikazi Memorial Library in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.
These libraries were attached to the Model Library Project in a network which chose to call itself UNET UNESCO Model Library Network.
In 1997, the public library in Badalona, near Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain, was added.
An evaluation like the one which was carried out at the municipal library in Ljusdal has also been carried out at these libraries.
This work has just ended and the idea is that these evaluations are to be compared. They are not to be compared to each other, but rather to the developments and the situation in their respective countries.
The evaluations are very different from each other but we will try to compare the results. We are to try to find the answer to if, and how, libraries in different countries fulfill the intentions of the UNESCO public library Manifesto.
Those of us working in UNET, the model library network, see our work as a collaboration process where we, through an exchange of experiences, and with the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto as the basis, can support, encourage, and stimulate each other in the development of the library operations in our countries.
We find when we meet that our everyday problems, questions and troubles, and thoughts are very similar, in spite of the fact that we come from different cultures and different material circumstances.
Through funds from the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, the Swedish Institute and the EU, staff at the libraries have had the opportunity of visiting each other's libraries, making study visits, but also gaining practical experience. Staff from Ljusdal library have visited all libraries except Badalona. 2 librarians from Vinni in Estonia have worked in Ljusdal for a week, as have librarians from Portugal and Zimbabwe.
In 1997, we participated in the International Book Fair in Harare. During the Indaba (which means Important Meeting) which opens the book fair, SAB (the Swedish Public Libraries Federation) held a seminar with the title "UNESCO Public Library Manifesto - Words or Reality?" The seminar was much appreciated and was attended by about 150 librarians, mostly from Africa.
There was an intensive discussion about the importance of the Manifesto for the countries of Africa and other parts of the world. During this seminar, Bulawayo's participation in UNET and our joint work were also very thoroughly presented.
A seminar, also called "The UNESCO Public Library Manifesto - words or reality" was also held at the big UNESCO conference in Stockholm at the end of March 1998, "The Power of Culture", the Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development.
Through grants from the Swedish Inernational Development Agency, we have enabled Mzilikazi Memorial Library in Bulawayo to purchase a fax. So our chances of communicating are now much better than previously. A discussion has also been initiated about finding means of setting up an Internet connection at the library in Bulawayo.
Librarians from Ljusdal have worked and held seminars in Estonia and Portugal.
We have participated in a political seminar in Estonia to describe the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, its ideas and the work of the network.
Each year, a large meeting is held within UNET where we go through how we are working and what we want to do together in the near future. We have had 2 such meetings so far. The third will be held in Ljusdal at the beginning of December 1998. Something we find practical and rewarding is to hold seminars for staff within UNET in very specific subjects within the library sector.
The first seminar subject was the collaboration between public and school libraries, a very important question in small and medium-sized municipalities. The seminar was held in April 1998 and we then also had the opportunity of looking at the school library Manifesto which IFLA's School Library Committee is working on. We sincerely hope that UNET, which is working with the future of the Public Library Manifesto, will be able to work closely with those who are realising the School Library Manifesto. Public libraries and school libraries are so closely connected, and depend so much on each other for the creation of good library operations at a local level.
We from Ljusdal, for example, have been invited to Portugal to describe our views of, and work with, public library and school library issues.
What I have now described are examples of how experiences can be shared and lead to development. The point is absolutely not that Ljusdal or any other library is to force ideas, methods of working or suchlike upon any other library in any other country. The process which we are working with is the possibility of an exchange of experience - to jointly find, with the aid of the Manifesto, ideas which we can cultivate in our own countries, in these countries' cultures and their own particular situations. We are also to initiate a Swedish debate. This has to some extent taken place through our having participated in a number of seminars and described the work.
The work of stimulating the Swedish debate will start in earnest in September this year, when a series of "Ljusdal Seminars" will begin. At the first seminar, a dialogue about the ideological basis of the public library will be initiated. How well rooted are public libraries in the awareness of municipal politicians today? What library ideology do our civil servants, and other library representatives, have?
The idea behind a seminar like this is that it is important to highlight why public libraries exist, and the whole point of them.
It is very useful, stimulating, educational and extremely important for library staff to work internationally, to gain and keep international contacts. This means that we see or work through other eyes, which is necessary if we are to find the new solutions which are needed to cope with the issues of the future.
The UNESCO public library Manifesto is kept alive through our work. It is not a "desk drawer" product for our municipalities, but can rather be a real tool in the dialogue with decision-makers and others. We can spread this means of working to more municipalities and in this way keep the Manifesto alive.
If the work with UNET is to survive and develop then it is of great importance that the work be taken under UNESCO's wing. UNET started on a very small scale in a few small municipalities in five different countries.
In our vision, this is only the beginning of a much larger network.
We started on a very small scale - now it is perhaps time to increase the number of participating countries in the network. The libraries in the participating countries can perhaps start their own national networks, with themselves as the hub, with the aim of working in the spirit of the UNESCO public library Manifesto.
We must also ensure that special funds are earmarked for the project. It is extremely hard work to find funds and sponsors for every exchange, every conference.
What will the evaluation of the different libraries show? That the development of the library is a question of economics, or is it a question of willingness, priorities and ideology?
Personally, I think that the UNESCO public library Manifesto is a very important document for library work around the world. But I think that we civil servants must realise that it is not a document whose purpose is clear to all. It is entirely up to us who are responsible for library operations at local level if the thoughts of the Manifesto have any impact. We must show that the Manifesto exists, quote from it, use it in meetings with decision-makers, encourage our colleagues to read it, think about and realise the thoughts of the Manifesto.
It is not a bad idea to look at one library which one can examine a little more closely in relation to the Manifesto. How does an average library function in northern Europe, in southern Europe, in Africa, in eastern Europe et cetera et cetera. In once again having adopted a model library - even although it was the National Council for Cultural Affairs and not UNESCO this time - we wanted to see, in a practical way, if the Manifesto can have an important and active role to play in library work around the world. There is power in UNET today - and who knows? In a few years, perhaps we have many more than five libraries which are working actively to become libraries which fulfill the intentions of the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto.
The work of UNET is a means of realising and maintaining the ideas of the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto.