Advocating Libraries Using National Strategies and Policies


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To (too?) Public: library Marketing and Public Relations in Public Libraries Today. Presentation by Hannu Sulin, Counsellor for Cultural Affairs, Division for Cultural Policy, Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland.

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Advocating Libraries Using National Strategies and Policies

  1. 1. Twin Cities Conference in Tallinn 4.5.2011ADVOCATING LIBRARIES USING NATIONAL STRATEGIES AND POLICIESHannu Sulin, Counsellor for Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Education and CultureDear friends and colleagues from Estonia, Scotland and Finland. It is a great honor to be here inTallinn and to tell you, how libraries can and should use national strategies and policies inadvocating and promoting public libraries and because of that, I am specially concentrating on themunicipality level and therefore on the municipal decision-makers. In Finland the municipalitieshave the responsibility to organize basic services for instance health and social care, pre- andcomprehensive education and public library services.In my presentation I use arguments from our legislation, strategies and other policies to show thatit is useful and most important to explain and argue to the decision-makers that library services areworth of investing. During my professional years I have noticed that too many library directors aremostly inside the library instead of going out from the library to be there where decisions areprepared. Excuse me, but we have been too inward and thought that all the people love ourlibraries and that is enough, but with love and sympathy you do not get that money. C´est la vie!In our country library services are municipal basic and nearby services. The library servicesactualize the basic cultural rights, as stated in the Constitution of Finland, of each and everycitizen. And now, more than ever, libraries must strive to achieve intellectual equality and reducethe digital information gap between citizens.I shall read a citation from The Constitution of Finland: “Section 16 - Educational rights Everyone has the right to basic education free of charge. Provisions on the duty to receive education are laid down by an Act. The public authorities shall, as provided in more detail by an Act, guarantee for everyone equal opportunity to receive other educational services in accordance with their ability and special needs, as well as the opportunity to develop themselves without being prevented by economic hardship. The freedom of science, the arts and higher education is guaranteed.”When I give reasons to the policymakers concerning the importance of library services, I start veryoften from the basic cultural rights and continue then with our library legislation, because theconnection between both laws represent to me continuity.
  2. 2. The first Library Act came into force in 1929. Citizens´ right to services of quality regardless ofdomicile or financial standing was emphasized from the very beginning. Later amendments of theAct have been signals of societal changes and new paradigm.The Library Act of 1961 came into force when the building of Finnish welfare society started andbrought the idea of the nearby library as well as substantial state subsidies for upkeep of services,for constructing new library buildings and mobile libraries. Provincial libraries were established, anetwork of well-resourced city libraries that support the smaller libraries in the area.The Library Act of 1998 is strongly linked to the knowledge society. Public libraries had beendeveloping virtual services since 1995, heavily supported by the state. Since 1996 state grantshave been allocated annually for developing contents and user friendly services on the web.I shall pick up specially the last paragraph from Library Act 1988 Section 2:“1. The objective of the library and information services provided by public librariesis to promote equal opportunities among citizens for personal cultivation, forliterary and cultural pursuits, for continuous development of knowledge,personal skills and civic skills, for internationalization, and for lifelong learning.2. Library activities also aim at promoting the development of virtual andinteractive network services and their educational and cultural contents.”This paragraph has given to us the legitimacy to allocate the state subsidies to the virtual libraryservices and it has also helped the public libraries explain to the munipal decision-makers, whythey should invest on web-services.According to the Library Act users shall have access to library and information professionals, andto continually renewing library material and equipment. Library services are free of charge. TheLibrary Decree defines the role of the Central library for public libraries and the 18 provinciallibraries, as well as the assignments of the library experts at the State Provincial Offices. TheDecree enacts about qualification requirements for the staff.It is a statutory task to the municipalities in Finland to provide public library services for the citizensand this makes it possible that library directors can give good reasons to the further developmentof library services, but of course this is not enough. Many personal and social skills are needed,but I reckon we can not handle the matter without wider perspective and societal connections. Igive you an example. Last year I was speaking in the meeting in Helsinki (Bill and Melinda GatesFoundation), where were many participants from the developing countries and from EasternEurope outside EU. One participant asked what kinds of words she should use to advocate
  3. 3. libraries on the government level. I suggested “libraries are good for business”. And why? Becausein the countryside of the developing countries the information technology infrastructure is not verygood, so it is reasonable to invest libraries. For instance farmers and other small entrepreneurscan use library premises in their business. And by making some money they can send theirchildren to school, which is important especially for the girls – the future is in their hands in manycountries. And of course good business is good for libraries. You only need to read aboutAmerican and English library history in order to understand that most of the libraries were foundedby rich donators as Andrew Carnegie (born in Scotland 1835 as our Scottish friends know).Dear friends!The libraries are inside the society and they have to change when the society is changing. Thechanges should be procactive. The future is done right now, it does not come by itself. That is whywe need national strategies, policies and priorities to improve, promote and advocate the libraries.After the Library Act 1998 the ministry started to work with Finnish Library Policy Programme. Itwas published in 2001 and it identifies challenges arising in the civil information society andsuggested concrete solutions to them. The programme strongly pointed out that as certainassignments were given to public libraries with the Library Act, there should be correspondingresources. Measures should be taken to gear up library funding, personnel resources andtechnological capacity. Recommendations were given out for material acquisition, number ofpersonnel and Internet terminals, indicating a service level that should be possible to achieve for allmunicipalities.The Library Strategy 2010, a policy for access to knowledge and culture was issued in 2003 as oneof the first European library strategies. The strategy presented visions and objectives to ensureaccess to knowledge and culture, outlining the responsibilities of local authorities and the state.The importance of a skilled staff and the specific role of libraries in the knowledge society wasbrought forth:"A first prerequisite for developing information provision for all is that skilled staff be available; then,an up-to-date standardised technological infrastructure must be in place for all types of libraries.After that, the emphasis falls on developing web-services that correspond to the citizens´ need forinformation."There was parliamentary election the following year and the strategy was referred to in theGovernment platform.
  4. 4. The Library Development Program 2006 - 2010 − the library as an integrated service centre forrural and urban areas from 2006 carried on the action plan of the Library Strategy 2010. It alsoresponded to the proposal made in a national policy paper for developing the regions to transformpublic libraries in rural areas into cultural, information and action centres. The driving forces behindthe program were new user needs and lifestyles, new possibilities created by technologies as wellas the aim to deepen regional cooperation. Many of the rural libraries are small and not very wellresourced. The Program stressed also the importance of a skilled library staff and comprehensivecollections and services.And finally The Finnish Public Library Policy 2015 from 2009, which is a national volition, aiming atpolitical visibility and secured financial support for public libraries. The Policy brings forth the libraryas a basic service implementing along with comprehensive education the basic cultural rights,which the Constitution guarantees for each and every citizen.For the first time, libraries are clearly placed in a situation, where they have to compete with otheractors in the field of information provision and they also have to compete for people´s time.Future success must be earned. To succeed, libraries must produce added value, something thatthe others are not able to offer. Library Policy 2015 emphasizes that libraries can answer to futurechallenges only by focusing on expertise and emphasizing quality.With the drafting of the Library Policy 2015 program, it became clear that the previous qualityrecommendations and goals for public libraries had to be revised. In the spring of 2009 the Ministryof Education and Culture appointed a workgroup to renew the quality recommendations. Theworkgroup consisted of representatives from public libraries and state administration. The basis forthe work was the quality recommendations from the library policy program from 2001. Theserecommendations have since been partially modified and have been used widely as a tool for local,regional and national evaluation.The workgroup drew up a presentation of a national set of criteria for quality for public libraryoperations, which observes local and regional conditions and which generate tools for libraries’self-evaluation. The drafting of a national library services quality recommendation is the agenda ofthe Ministry of Education and Culture, and it clarifies the rights of the library user and theavailability, accessibility and quality of the services. High quality library and information servicesprovide timely and economic benefits and positive, lasting social change. The quality
  5. 5. recommendation is a logical continuation of the previous recommendations and goals and itsupports the implementation of national library policy agendas.So, maybe some of you already wonder, where is the beef of this presentation, because I do notgive any examples or instructions, how to market libraries. Dear participants, we have worked inthe ministry consistent to give to the libraries a clear framework, from which libraries can choosetheir own priorities, when they are marketing and advocating their libraries to the local decision-makers, media and of course users and non-users. In Finland municipalities are very independentand many of them are still rather small. To provide equal library services we need national strategicareas of focus and we should use them constructive and coherentDear friends!I said earlier, the future is done right now and if we work on it together, the result is much better.Our mission is crystal clear: to assure the equal access of information and culture. This socialmission has lasted for centuries and it will last in the future. But we do need global, national,regional and local strategies and priorities, which are based on the main policies of our mission. Iam almost finished, but finally I can give you one proposal when the backgrounds of our existenceare under control, the sky is the limit, when you are marketing your libraries.As some have noticed, I have not used the word “vision”. I googled the word from the Finnish web-sites and I got over one million results and the population in Finland is about 5,3 million inhabitants.I admit to be guilty of populism and exaggeration, but in Finnish dictionary vision meanshallucination. The visions are based on 20 keywords and they are quite similar. I really do notmean that all the visions of the public libraries are useless, but if they are not based on the basiccivic rights and social and cultural values in the society, maybe they are only results of poorconsults. To make a good vision, we should know, why libraries were founded and why people usethem, that is simple, but basic deal – remember the mission, because the public libraries arefinanced by the public funds - taxes. I admit to be in this question a pragmatist, but I remind youthat our theme is how to market libraries and here the decision-maker level is quite important,because from them you can get that money and resources. Once again, sympathy is not enough.Finally, my message is quite simple; in marketing public libraries we have to understand ourmission and see our possibilities to serve our citizens in the future and then something that makeseverything possible – our personal spirit and passion. The future is in our hands.Thank you for listening!