Iíve just returned from an interesting and productive trip to Sweden. It was great to have a chance to meet librarians from all parts of the country. While I was there primarily to give presentations on trends in various aspects of library technology, I was also able to expand my understanding of libraries in Sweden and see a glimpse of the differences in the ways that they use technology in contrast to other parts of the world. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to visit a number of libraries and have many conversations regarding technology trends and automation strategies.
The academic libraries in Sweden engage in a variety of collaborative automation projects. The research and academic libraries have long participated in a shared union catalog, called Libris. Implemented by the National Library, Libris serves and is governed collectively by all participating libraries. Recent conversations concerning Libris deal with extending its use to serve as the local catalog for each of the libraries, in addition to its longstanding role as the collective union catalog.
Another area of interest involves finding ways to extend the scope of Libris to also include articles, digital collections, and other resources beyond books. Libris is not a shared ILSóeach of the libraries involved operates their own automation system. It was interesting to meet with the personnel at the National Library responsible for the implementation and operation of Libris and to hear about their plans for future developments.
Sweden is a relatively small country and its collaborative models may not necessarily transfer to larger countries or regions, but it demonstrates the many benefits that libraries gain in working together instead of in isolation. Itís clear that the Swedish academic libraries greatly enhance their value to their respective institutions in the way that they have established infrastructure to facilitate streamlined operations and resource sharing. Users can easily search and request materials from any of the academic libraries throughout the country.
Although the impetus for my visit primarily involved academic libraries, Iím also keenly interested in whatís happening in the public library arena. In preparation for my visit, I systematically reviewed all of the public libraries in Sweden for my lib-web-cats directory and noted the ILS used in each. This study of the public libraries in Sweden revealed some striking trends.
First and foremost, all public libraries in Sweden are automated through a reasonably up-to-date integrated library system. Most countries in Europe, including Sweden, have andates for local governments to provide a library service that eets a specified set of standards. Each county or municipality operates an integrated library system which is used by the affiliated community libraries, and often by school libraries as well. This situation unfortunately contrasts with what I see in the public libraries in the United States where no mandates for library service prevail and where hundreds of public librariesóespecially in small towns and rural areasólack basic automation or get by with outdated PC-based systems.
Another reality of public library automation in Sweden involves the dominance of products provided by a single companyó Axiell Bibliotek AB, a division of Axiell Group. While not well known in North America, Axiell ranks as the leading company supplying technology products to libraries in Scandinavia, with operating units in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and the United Kingdom. While Axiell offers different ILS products in each of these countries, it has developed a portal product, called Axiell Arena, which operates with each. Arena is not just an online catalog replacement, but offers a broad suite of functionality that can effectively replace the libraryís entire Web site.
It's interesting to see that Arena ambitiously addresses the full scope of a library Web site in addition to the functionality of the online catalog. This concept differs significantly from that of the next-generation catalogs or discovery interfaces popular in North America that focus on providing new end-user tools for searching library collections but do not replace all the other aspects of the libraryís Web site. As a relatively new product, Arena has been adopted by only a portion of the libraries using Axiellís products, but is seeing increased adoption. Iíll plan to write a more in-depth treatment of Axiell Arena in a future issue.
I was also struck by how much libraries in Sweden make use of self-service equipment for book circulation. Every library that I visited, including both academics and publics, offered self-check stations. Some of the academic libraries based self-check on barcodes, but most of the public libraries had implemented RFID-based equipment. The book returns generally involved an automated sorting system and an interface to the ILS for discharge. I didnít do a systematic survey, but base these observations on the libraries we visited in Stockholm, Uppsala, and Gothenburg.
Iím continually inspired by the accomplishments of libraries in all parts of the world. Every time that I visit a new region, it adds to my understanding of the different options and permutations in which technology can be applied to the challenges faced by libraries. The exchange of ideas has enormous value. I ope those of us in different regions can feed off each otherís ideas and accomplishments in ways that result in positive improvements all around.