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Session 133, IFLA Gothenburg 2010
Paper in English (longer version): http://www.ifla.org/files/hq/papers/ifla76/133-atlestam-en.pdf
Paper in German: http://www.ifla.org/files/hq/papers/ifla76/133-atlestam-de.pdf
15 minutes presentation:
In order to promote reading the library must offer relevant reading materials, not just a haphazard
selection of media in all possible languages. The question that arises is what to purchase, and why, in
order to satisfy the needs of immigrants.
In Gothenburg, one fifth of the population was born outside Sweden. In order to improve library
services for them, Ann-Christin Brunnström, librarian at Gothenburg City Library, carried out a
study on immigrants’ use of the public library. The title of the report is “More for useful purposes
than pleasure” (2006), which points at the results of the study.
Brunnström studied the stocks and statistics on media loans in 12 languages at the public libraries in
Gothenburg and combined this with a focus group study, in which 14 groups, with in all 154
participants, were asked the following question: “What is important to make the library a good
library, for you and your family and friends?”
Here are some of the results and suggestions:
1. The most important thing is easy access to reading materials. The participants state that they do
not use the catalogue, not even if it exists in their language, with non Latin writing. They are not
inclined to order books from other libraries either, nor ask for help at the information desk, mainly
because of language reasons, so what matters is what the visitors find on the shelves. Therefore, it
has to be a priority to establish extensive and updated media stocks in as many languages as possible
in the local libraries.
2. Several focus groups state the importance of having immigrants among the library staff. Staff with
minority background is seen as a symbol, indicating that it is possible for non-natives to be
employed in a profession that demands higher education. There is also a sense of greater security
meeting people with similar background.
3. Purchase of second language learning media is top priority. Learning the Swedish language is
crucial to the participants in the study. The comparison of stocks and statistics on media loans
shows that language learning literature, dictionaries in particular, are frequently used by groups who
are relatively new in the country, and that there is a large demand for Swedish language courses at all
levels, and that the stock is far from sufficient.
Adult students often ask for materials in easy Swedish for their educational assignments. Also
parents ask for easy non-fiction in order to support their children with their homework.
The students in the focus groups also wished for more pedagogical support from the library. A good
practice example is the learning environment One step further which is available at nine city district
libraries here in Gothenburg, offering activities such as language training for adult learners, home
work support and basic computer courses. (VIDARE lärmiljö / Vuxna i Lärande ViL)
4. Newspapers and magazines in different languages are suggested in several groups. The majority of
the users today are elderly men. Many have strong bounds to their home country and many
newcomers want news from their home countries. Sports magazines targeting youth, and women’s
magazines in different languages have also been suggested.
5. It is important to purchase literature in the mother tongue. Finding literature in the mother
tongue and from and about the home country at the library is interpreted as a sign of respect by
It is also important to keep in mind the small publishing houses in countries of exile, for example
Persian, Kurdish and Somali literature published in Sweden and in other countries of immigration.
6. For children, not only fiction in the mother tongue is important, but also primers in multiple
languages for children learning how to read and write, school books and non-fiction in the mother
tongue. Many parents also wish that the library could support children’s mother tongue
development and offer story-telling and other cultural activities for children in the mother tongue.
Good practice examples are found at the website www.librariesforall.eu
7. Non-fiction for adults in different languages is requested:
Non-fiction in the fields of humanities/society is demanded and borrowed to a larger extent than its
share of the stock in several languages. In general, the libraries have been better at providing fiction,
while underestimating and misjudging the need of non-fiction.
“Everyday life handbooks” is a library term created by Brunnström in Gothenburg in the 70s. Under
this heading you find medical literature, books on pregnancy, child-rearing, psychology, cookery,
everyday economy, driver’s license manuals, basic computer books etc. This kind of literature is
considered very important in several of the focus groups. The need of handbooks can be
understood in the light of the fact that many immigrants have lost their usual networks and ways to
everyday knowledge. Titles in these fields show high circulation figures, in particular at the city
Everyday life handbooks include subjects related to home and family and attract above all women,
predominantly from “asylum countries”. Considering that this category constitutes a very small share
of the library stock, it is safe to say that previous purchase policy has disfavored women.
Schoolbooks and textbooks
Many immigrants engage in adult education in Sweden. This has entailed a high demand on adequate
Swedish literature in the various subjects, and adults may ask for books at lower school levels
because of problems understanding the Swedish language.
Many also study subjects such as mathematics, physics or medicine. Since technical terms and
notions have to be contextualized in order to be understood, textbooks in one’s own language are
Information on Swedish society in the mother tongue is very important to newcomers. Easy-to-read
books on Swedish society are demanded by all groups. However, very little information about the
Swedish society is published in other languages than Swedish or English and there seem to be little
ambition in changing this. All are expected to access information in so called “Easy Swedish”.
English language learning media
People who migrate to Sweden also often have to learn English, which is required for higher studies
here. Some also intend to move on to an English-speaking country later on. Therefore, the public
libraries in Gothenburg also purchase English language learning media based on, for example,
Arabic, Persian, Spanish, Finnish, and Chinese, for those who want to learn English without taking a
detour via the Swedish language.
8. Leisure reading in the mother tongue is mostly requested by well established residents.
Fiction is the category best represented in the library stock. Those who borrow fiction are mostly
people who are well established with a long period of residence in Sweden or who have come to
Sweden for work or marriage.
The focus group participants did not talk much about leisure reading. Most were granted residence
in Sweden for reasons of asylum and were likely to have other needs than leisure reading, at least
9. In order to promote reading it is also important that the library offers inviting premises, a calm
and quiet environment, study places, computer access and premises for newspaper reading. Copy,
print, scan, and fax facilities are also important, and frequently used by immigrants.
Conclusions and suggestions
A. One of the objectives of the Brunnström study was to engage in dialogue with library users with
foreign background. One of the expectations was that library users would appreciate being asked for
their views and opinions. This objective was met to a large extent. The study shows that it is
important that all libraries create networks and engage in dialogue with local residents, regardless of
their country of origin or mother tongue. A good practice example is to set up local multicultural
advisory boards where librarians and selected local residents meet regularly in order to discuss and
develop library services, activities and events together and the libraries receive help in reaching
immigrant target groups. Dialogue with users can also be very useful for new purchases and
weeding, as long as the selection principles of the library are clearly communicated. More
information is found at www.librariesforall.eu
B. In the results of the study, Brunnström points out two different patterns of library usage. People
who have a longer period of residence, who come for work or family reasons and are more firmly
settled in Sweden, use the library more as a cultural institution. They borrow above all fiction from
their home countries. In the focus group interviews they also show a great interest in the library
cultural program for both children and adults.
For refugees, and other newcomers, who are not yet as firmly settled in Sweden, the library serves as
a resource for integration. Their most crucial need is to learn Swedish at a level that allows for study
and work. Non-fiction, such as language learning media, everyday life handbooks and study
literature in Swedish and their mother tongue, facilitates their daily life and studies. For them it is
also important that the children retain their mother tongue and have knowledge of their country of
origin. Newspapers and magazines in the mother tongue offer an opportunity to stay updated on the
The libraries should prioritize the latter group, that is, newcomers, primarily refugees and their
families, who need support in creating a new life. All possible support in terms of language learning
materials that libraries are capable of offering must therefore be prioritized purchases.
C. An important pedagogical task is also to show the resources available online, such as dictionaries,
language courses, translation tools, newspapers etc. There is also a great need to both expand and
improve marketing of educational services and activities offered at the libraries, such as basic
computer courses, homework support, language support and conversational groups, often organized
in collaboration with volunteers from different NGOs.
D. For a good collection management the libraries should continuously examine how the stocks in
different languages are used for evidence-based decision making for new media purchases in relation
to the changing demographic situation.
Focus groups and user satisfaction surveys targeting immigrants should also be adopted more
frequently for fine tuning evaluation and planning of the library services. Today most library surveys
in Sweden do not target library users with non-Swedish background.
E. We need to improve the national or supranational support of library services for immigrants:
Libraries need assistance in finding reliable sources and channels for purchase for all the relevant
languages. This work should be organized at the national or supranational level in order to obtain
sufficiently competent and effective management. It is not reasonable that all local libraries should
have to acquire the skills and networks required for a good library service in all the languages now
spoken in the country. Meanwhile, the Internet offers new and more diversified possibilities for any
library to buy books in many languages, an opportunity poorly exploited to date.