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The municipality is the core of our democratic constitutional state in many respects. Particularly in the last decade there was a strong movement of administrative decentralization, from national government to municipalities. This also applies to public library work. The municipality is financially responsible for the local library. About 80% of the finances of the library comes from municipal grants. The other 20% comes from subscription fees and other contributions from the library users or what I call "sponsors" in general. Consequently, the municipality decides for the main part on distribution, quality of the library service, buildings and collection.
The province constitutes the middle administrative layer between municipality and government. Approximately every decade the meaning of the province in the Dutch administrative system is a subject for discussion. For the public library service provincial responsibility is also a subject of study at present. The province is financially responsible for the provincial library centre, a significant supporting and facilitary service for the smaller libraries in the province in particular. I shall come back to this later. Furthermore, the province provides a financial contribution for the collection and the staff of the so-called WSF library (research support library), the central libraryof the provincial (library) network. There are 13 of such provincial central libraries with the assignment to provide for research literature in their region.
Finally, national government. Ten years ago we had a separate Library Law, say from 1975 - 1985. Organization, financing, conditions concerning buildings, staff, opening hours, etc. were centrally organized. Municipalities and provinces played a supplementary role. Since the decentralization in the second half of the eighties the role of the central government strongly decreased. As to public library work it is restricted to financial support of the NBLC Association of Public Libraries and a number of special projects. Important is the financial role of the national governmnt for the libraries for the blind, which are organized independently from the public libraries. Nowadays public libraries form a part of the Law on the specific Culture Policy, but the law means nothing to the library sector as to its content. The 1987 decentralization was for many a librarian something like the Last Judgement. And, of course, it was a big intervention, the consequences of which were hardly calculable. On the one hand it was not so bad. A library is a local service. Municipalities are prepared to spend money on that.
From a point of view of cohesion and quality control at the national level, however, something can be said about the decentralization indeed.
It is notable that in the past two years we have been able to establish that the national government itself has also been looking for possibilities to offer counterbalance. During the past year the information technology and all its social implications have proved the crowbar to regain some of that central direction. Not only our "own" Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has been notably active in this. Other ministries - Foreign Affairs and Economic Affairs - unable to pronounce the word "library" before, are interested in the possibilities of libraries. I shall come back to this.
You will appreciate that, as a national Association, we like to speak about a national system of public libraries. Notwithstanding that, the local library is independent, has its own policy and is only accountable to its municipal board.
Most libraries are private law institutions with their own boards. The library is part of a municipal organization only in a number of cities.
We know approximately as many library authorities as municipalities, so c. 600. A local library network consists of a central library and one or more branch libraries. On a population of 15,500,000 inhabitants our country counts about 1,150 library buildings. Apart from these some 90 mobile libraries with approximately 2,000 stops provide library service in rural areas and city districts.
With approximately 3,000 service points in total each Dutch citizen has access to the public library network within a distance of 5 to 10 kilometres from his residence.
30% of the Dutch population, c. 4.5 million, is registered as a user, as a borrower from a library. Including incidental use of library services, approximately half the population uses a library now and then. About 175 million loans are processed annually.
Each province has a provincial library centre in one way or another. These centres have a private law type of administration, are not linked to a larger library like in other countries, so they do not serve a public but act as independent support institutions for the libraries in the province.
These institutions were founded around 1960 for the purpose of stimulating and enabling public library service in the country. By concentration of management, professional librarians, acquisition and bibliographical service and logistic support advantages of effectiveness and efficiency could be obtained which also enabled professional library service in smaller municipalities.
Local libraries buy various services from the provincial library centre. The centres in their turn are enabled by the provincial authority to make certain services available free of charge or at low cost.
It can be said that thanks to the provincial library centres and the small size of the country and the large population density the Netherlands has built up a very dense library network.
At a national level two organizations are especially important for the facilitary support of the public libraries.
The NBLC Foundation - not to be confused with the NBLC Association - offers a varied assortment of services to libraries. Central media information, a central review service for the libraries of the entire Dutch annual book production, bibliographical services, an exchange collection service for immigrants, services in the field of reading and book promotion, professional publications and digital services such as the publication of CD ROMs, etc. are the most important services.
We also know the Dutch Library Service (NBD), an organization mainly aimed at the central purchase, binding and supply of books and audiovisual media ready for loan to libraries.
The NBLC Association of Dutch Public Libraries is of course active at a national level. NBLC is an Association of libraries and stands for promotion of interest of its members, for instance in the field of copyright, lending right, contacts with the Association of Dutch Municipalities, and, of course, with the national government, particularly the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. NBLC receives its annual membership fees, but is financially mainly dependent on the Ministry. By order of the department the Association executes an annual programme which is aimed at the promotion of the cohesion, quality and pluriformity of the Dutch public library system. This means that we have a programme in the field of library and education, a programme for the promotion of reading, for the information policy, for immigrants, and for education and additional schooling. We provide a professional biweekly, and have a professional library and information centre available for our members. The Association has an office with 25 full-time staff members, but could not possibly perform its activities without the support of a dozen committees and working groups composed of directors or librarians from the daily work practice.
Contrary to many other countries NBLC is an Association of libraries. Conflict of interests of libraries and library staff in an Association was the reason for splitting up more than twenty years ago. Then it was again decided to establish a separate organization of librarians. The Dutch Association of Librarians is mainly aimed at the discussion and forming of opinion of the professional, and, for that matter, is an association representing all disciplines in the library profession.
In the first few years after the decentralization of library work things were as they used to be. After 1990 slow changes occurred, under the influence of the worsening economic circumstances, the international backlog in technological development, the ongoing influx of immigrants, the unemployment percentage, an overheated system of social security, changes in national government financing of municipalities, etc. In bad times administrators know how to find new philosophies about responsibilities of administrations and citizens, about profit and non-profit, and about market mechanisms, also in the field of culture and education. And how profitable they are for all of us.
The same goes for libraries.
They were faced with questions about the spread of branches, the low charge, those ridiculously low charges for people using the local library. And could not children pay anyway for lending books? They also eat chips and sweets and play video games all day long, don't they? And all those fiction books, $reverend Mayor, and pop-music compact discs, should they be subsidized by the community?
Questions like that in councils are not easy to be answered. While they are full of doubt and uncertainty of $local politicians about the library. And the library had to realize that $it is in fact invisible for local administrators.
What are those questions about after all?
They face the library with their role in the community, in education, in cultural participation of citizens. Government, municipalities require something in return for yearly subsidies. It is a question of legitimation and awareness of the rule they have to play in society. It became clear that decentralization had its backside and could lead to disparity.
Libraries constitute a dynamic public service which is constantly required to provide answers to questions from society. It should anticipate constantly changing information needs and changing behavioural patterns of people as to finding a solution to their everyday problems.
A library is a library, whether it is located in Amsterdam or in a small village somewhere in the north of the country. The public asks a question and is entitled to an answer. Decentralization, local autonomy? They are questions in the background and no concern of the public. It should simply be there.
Those common problems and common goals brought Dutch librarians together in 1995, and resulted in a common strategy entitled: "On the way to 2005: strategy of the public libraries in the Netherlands". The plan was endorsed by the members of the Association. It was a plan on national level, on common interests. It intends to support individual local developments, but it will not be the responsibility of any autonomous local public library.
Three main strategic goals were pointed out:
In a number of test areas we have so far come to the insight that we shall probably arrive at a classification of three levels: primary service to the public in all libraries, a back-office function at a regional level for school library services, etc., and the central library acting as a back office for the entire province.
The various provincial networks are supported by the national level. Provincial central libraries can also be charged with national support tasks under the authorization of the Association.
Agreements in the national network include agreements on harmonization of user conditions for citizens: for what services an amount is charged, what services are free. Can we achieve the introduction of a national library smart card? In such a plan belong also concepts like search and audit which should lead to the possibility of classification and declassification by the Association of its members. The task division in the system is not based on non-engagement but on contractual agreements.
After two years of experimenting in four regions it must be said that it is a long way to achieve these goals. Yet in a number of test areas initial results of provincial cooperation have been obtained. We shall need the time until 2005 indeed to realize the idea of a national network.
We do realize that such a plan has only a chance for success if the government is behind it. We are in constant consultation with the Association of Dutch Municipalities on this.
The authorities - both national government and provinces and municipalities - have also the feeling that decentralization has its drawbacks and that the various authorities should cooperate more in order to safegard the cohesion and quality of a public service like the library. A request from the Ministry to the Council for Culture, an independent governmental advisory body, to advise on the most desirable administrative structure of public library work is of a very recent date.
Therefore, the governments support the aim of the library sector itself to achieve more mutual attuning, effectiveness and quality. And that is an advantage.
In November this year we shall organize a national conference on the future structure of library work - that is to say the three government levels and we as an Association of libraries.
Last year, with the assistance of a university and a consulting agency, we developed a guide enabling the librarian to better define and design his local market policy.
Simultaneously we started an additional schooling programme on library marketing in which great interest is shown everywhere in the country.
For a number of years the Dutch libraries have twice a year jointly organized a promotion campaign around specific themes, such as: nature, travelling, living, the turn of the century. By means of these themes the attention is drawn in all libraries for a week, and the possibilities of the library are highlighted. Often a series of lectures is then organized together with external organizations. Posters and other promotion material is produced centrally and supplied to all libraries.
This year, for the first time we have been able to find sufficient funds to make and broadcast a TV commercial. Last May we have been able to have it broadcasted nearly daily on one of the three public TV channels. In October we hope to repeat that commercial. The message is in so many words: Curious people go to the library. We have found our members of the Association prepared to pay a certain surcharge on the annual contribution. And furthermore we have been able to find sponsors. You must be able to see the commercial here somewhere this week.
These collective campaign activities aim to point out the fantastic possibilities of the libraries to the public in their personal interest and circumstances. Finally, what we're after, to quote the PHILIPS slogan, is: "Let's make things better".
In the coming autumn we shall start a retrieval system for all libraries on the most interesting Internet sites in various fields of interest. With a short content description about 1,500 sites will be retrieved as a resource in the information service for libraries, but in the library also directly accessible to the public.
For the maintenance and updating of the databank we shall form a decentralized editorial board in which a dozen of large library institutions will be participating for the time being. They will maintain the information area which has been assigned to them. The descriptions and submitted sites will be judged by the editorial board and admitted to the system after authorization. The Dutch libraries have also made cooperative agreements with the libraries in Flanders/Belgium about this. We speak the same Dutch language as you know.
Currently we are active in setting up a databank of so-called abstract books. Secondary school pupils have an enormous need for abstracts from literary books for their final exams. At the end of this year or in the beginning of next year we hope to have the database operational first on CD ROM, later also via Internet. Of course, the big problem in the progress of the initiative is the copyright.
The third joint innovative project is the most radical one, and really a national project. It is a cooperation between national government, in casu the Ministry of the Interior and the NBLC Association of Dutch libraries. For a period of more than two years the public library is mentioned as one of the primary points of public access in all kinds of government memorandums about the electronic highway and its social implications. Libraries have to offer accomodating access to government information via Internet.
After half a year of discussions all Dutch public libraries will be supplied with Internet equipment in a two-year project. An intensive training plan will be set up covering both media skills, area knowledge and didactic skills for librarians. For a national programme of media education expects from the libraries that they show the citizen the ropes on Internet in the form of short courses, and that they instruct them in the use of government information.
The preparatory phase of the project started in June. In the coming half year the national organization of the project will be further worked out, additional schooling programmes will be developed. In the beginning of next year all libraries (to a modest degree) will be supplied with Internet equipment.
The entire project involves the still modest amount of 1 5 million guilders.
Meanwhile for the new period of government (1998-2002) we have submitted, with the support of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, a follow-up plan to obtain funds from the National Action Programme for Electronic Highways (NAP-2).