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65th IFLA Council and General


Bangkok, Thailand, August 20 - August 28, 1999

The Open Media/Open Learning Project

Birgitta Brown
City Library of Gothenburg
Box 5404
402 29 Gothenburg
Tel: 46 31 61 65 00


Ive been asked to talk about the Open Media/Open Learning project that is currently being run by the City Library of Gothenburg. First of all a few words about the library. Until January 1st this year the City Library of Gothenburg has played the role of a major county library in West Sweden. This role implied provision of certain print and other material and consultative services to nearly 1 million people living in Gothenburg and neighbouring county. Today, after a reorganisation of the county, the role of library is more uncertain. Its principal role remains, however, and that is to supply the some 450.000 inhabitants of Gothenburg with literature and information. The library is still today a major public library, second in rank in Sweden, and its stock consists of 410.000 books, 1.250 periodicals, 200 newspapers, 8.000 CDs, CD-ROMS, records and cassettes, 2000 cassette books, 26.000 talking books, 2000 video films. The library issues more than 1 million items every year and is visited by as many persons.

The library, as indeed all public libraries, works within a specific Swedish tradition called "adult education" or "popular education", rooted in different popular movements of the early 20 th century. Adult education is much debated from time to time. There are among leading professionals differences of opinion concerning the meaning of adult education. Some say that nowadays it simply stands for non-professional knowledge. Others maintain that it is a generic term for the educational and cultural work done by educational associations and the so called folk high schools connected to them. In a way, then, it could be seen as the free work of culture and knowledge outside the established institutions and the established powers of structure. In a historical perspective adult education has played a central role in the development of Swedish society in that this kind of education made it possible for many people of poor origin to study. It has existed for more than a hundred years under the auspices of workers, churches, the temperance movements and other movements. In 1991 in order to revitalise the concept the government stated the following in a decree:

Adult education shall promote all those services which make it possible for each citizen to influence his/her situation of life and which create an interest in society. Adult education shall also strengthen and develop democracy promoting cultural issues and experience and individual creativity. Citizens of foreign descent, the disabled and the unemployed constitute special groups of support in this respect.

The history of public libraries, involved with adult education from the start, has evolved hand in hand with it throughout this century. In the 70s adult education contributed to forming a basis for a national cultural policy. Eight overall objectives were established and were passed by Parliament in 1974. One of these objectives wanted to emphasise the needs of unprivileged groups, among others the disabled. Twenty years later they were complemented with goals in separate areas. Specific goals were set for cultural authorities and institutions. On a national level, then, the overall objectives wished to emphasise aspects of cultural development. They included issues of culture to all citizens although all citizens do not use all the possibilities. The objectives also pointed to a basis how responsibility was to be shared on the cultural scene, especially between the government, the counties, and the city councils. Today to a large extent, the overall objectives still form the national cultural policy and it was repassed by Parliament in 1997. The policy also includes a Library Act enforcing library services to the disabled. Public libraries share the responsibility with other agents to implement the policy on a local level. There are public libraries in all 288 city councils.

In the last 20 years the situation of the disabled has been examined and the legal texts have been modified several times. A government report proclaims that disabled persons are to have equal access to culture and information. Special measures must be taken for the benefit of those who are excluded from these activities. 1,5 million Swedes over the age of 16 suffer from reduced sight, hearing and mobility. The largest group is that which include persons with reduced hearing. The visually impaired constitute 1 % of the population and several hundred thousands depend on assistance because of reduced eye-sight. The disabled organise themselves in roughly 40 major associations. Lack of physical access is the major obstacle to participating in cultural life and in the information society. Stairs and lifts are a problem in many buildings, including libraries. There is also a lack of adaptations in most activities. An issue of particular importance is how individuals with a psychic retardation are to participate in society.

What does, then, equal access mean? Is it enough to remove the physical obstacles? Will it suffice to install special toilets and voices in the lifts? To my mind a library supplies equal access when it integrates all it services with awareness of the natural differences and diversities of its individual users and groups of users. In consequence, services include all aspects, from facilities to diversified information retrieval at the information desks and elsewhere.

The OPEN MEDIA/OPEN LEARNING project deals with equal access. It is a labour market project funded by the European Union Social Fund, Goal 3 for the benefit of disabled unemployed people and also of persons with a reading disability. A third of the costs are covered by this fund. The project is located in 7 public libraries throughout the old county including the library in Gothenburg. How did we manage to get there? Our first project, the LIBRARY FOR ALL project, aimed at making the catalogue and the other databases, including the Internet, of the library accessible to the visually impaired public. When that project came to an end in late 1996 visually impaired users could access most library material in both DOS and Windows. One of the results of LIBRARY FOR ALL was that the reading desks were not sufficiently used if not adequately staffed. Therefore, the OPEN MEDIA project idea includes staff. The aim was to create new important jobs for the future, i. e. to create a new profession-the OPEN MEDIA assistant. The second aim was continued access to the information databases of the library and also to offer cultural activities to the disabled. The means to do that was to set up work stations, reading desks as we prefer to call them, with appropriate technical equipment. So the OPEN MEDIA project consists of different actions: Recruitment, education, computerised reading-stations, employments, jobs, training, trainees. It is a partnership between the new county library of west Sweden, the low vision clinic of the university hospital, and a so-called employment institute, i.e. a regional authority of the Ministry of Labour. This institute is responsible for employments of disabled people. 7 libraries and some computer companies are also partners.

Generally, there are three desks. One consists of an ordinary CCTV. The other is a scanner, a reading edge. The third is computer, Pentium 133 MHz with software.

12 persons, recruited by the project, had to take a 6 months course in order to become an OPEN MEDIA assistant. The aim of the course was that the future assistants should

  • learn about how libraries are run in order to be able contribute to the development of the library.
  • master the technical equipment as tools in their work.
  • have detailed knowledge of different disabilities-especially reading disabilities.

People. Why are some people library users and others not? Which are the obstacles to be overcome? These questions formed the theme of this part of the course and emphasis was put on ethics, issues concerning all kinds of disabilities and the attitude of authorities. Life in general, from the cradle to the grave as it were, has been a recurrent theme of the course.

Culture. The book is the most evident manifestation of culture in a library. The course has focused all aspects of the book from publication to its role in professional librarianship. Great emphasis was put on various organisations of education and local education in cultural life.

Technology and Information Retrieval. For the OPEN MEDIA assistant it is important to know the basics of DOS and Windows. It is also important to know well the scanner, the Braille display, the CCTV and the VGA Reader and the software of course. The course has highlighted library networks and the Internet.

Marketing The recurrent theme of this part of the course was the goals and methods used in the outreach services to the disabled public.

Methods of study. Lectures have been combined with group discussions. There have been independent studies and supervised general exercises, independent work on special themes, presentations, and 4 weeks training in the libraries. The participants have at all times been free to express an opinion of the course.

The every day work of the OPEN MEDIA assistant consists of the following tasks.

  • seek out the reading disabled in society.
  • inform individual users and groups of users.
  • teach individual users and groups of users.
  • be responsible for the reading stations.
  • be part of the library work.
  • contribute to the library development.

What kind users frequent the reading desks?

  • 20 % have reading and writing difficulties.
  • 5-10% are dyslectics.
  • 1,5% suffer from a visual impairment.
  • 4 % suffer from an intellectual retardation.
  • 0,5% have speech and language difficulties.
  • 17% of the population are senior citizens.

The OPEN MEDIA/OPEN LEARNING project will go on for a while yet. It will zoom up with 12 "new" libraries. The 7 "old" libraries, including Gothenburg City Library, will continue the project until August 1st 2000. There be new equipments, a new course, new assistants and more trainees.

Changes take time. I have seen a few projects come and come to an end and my conclusion is that one has to be patient when introducing new technology to the disabled. One simply has to keep on working and try to ask the relevant questions and find the right answers.


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