My Library will be Anti-Facist or it will be Bullshit

Translation of my interview with Erling Bergan, editor of Bibliotekaren (The Librarian), the Norwegian Union of Librarians‘ journal. Link to the original interview:    

Are libraries a neutral institution?

Christian Lauersen was to be presenting at the Granitol conference at Gjøvik this winter but injuries after a nasty bike ride prevented him from coming. We still got a chat with him about the role of the library in a society that seems to be increasingly polarized.

You put up for an energetic lecture at the Granitol conference, entitled “My library will be anti-facist or it will be bullshit – why the library is not a neutral institution”. What did you mean by this title?

Yes it was really annoying that I was prevented from coming – I had looked so much forward to debating this highly relevant topic with the Granitol participants. What I mean by the title is simply that the public library should actively consider its role in our society. We should say aloud that we are fighting for a better world and disregarding fascism, nazism, racism, etc. and we must be keen to put act behind the words and convey and promote literature that can enlighten and bridge, create room for debate and dialogue with focus on diversity, inclusion, minorities and the consequences of polarization. And we cannot do that if we take a neutral stand. I believe that the library has a responsibility to make this world a better place to be and live. We only lift that responsibility if we take a clear stand and act. Actually, the question whether the library is neutral or not is close to irrelevant; The library must ensure equal access to information and knowledge for everyone. Is it a neutral point of view? No, it’s a value-laden and political standpoint. The library as a social institution cannot be neutral as I see it.

“I believe that the library has a responsibility to make this world a better place to be and live. We only lift that responsibility if we take a clear stand and act”

You mark opposition to fascism. Are there multiple directions the public library should flag opposition to?

Yes. Fascism is just one of many. It is all directions and currents that suppress, exclude and polarize. Nazism, racism, hate against women, homophobia, etc.

An inclusive room

How can the public library be anti-fascist in practice?

“Anti” puts it a little on the tip. One could also turn it around and use “pro” instead: pro-diversity, pro-democratic, pro-enlightening, pro-inclusive. But practically, most public libraries already do this. By creating an inclusive space with equal access to information and knowledge, the public library is a major pillar in creating a healthy and democratic society. But there is a need to discuss and communicate the library’s role as an active participant in creating a better world, both internally in the sector and towards the citizens and decision-makers. There is also a need to discuss how we put action behind the words in a sensible way. So it’s about formulating the role of the library as a committed and important player in achieving some social goals, moving forward towards inclusion and understanding, and moving away from polarization. Find out and convey literature and resources on minorities, diversity, inclusion, democracy, etc. Support digital education in our post-factual society. Events and debate on the same topics. A New Enlightenment! We should dare to intervene in the public debate and point to the library’s role as a counterpart to polarization and a member of democracy development.

Is anti-fascism meant as a parole for active engagement, or as a delimitation of material and speakers that the library considers to be fascist?

It is meant as a parole for active involvement and for determining the role of the library. Basically, I do not want to exclude anyone from the library, neither people nor books.

“We should dare to intervene in the public debate and point to the library’s role as a counterpart to polarization and a member of democracy development”

No blacklist

So the public library should not have any blacklist of people and organizations that should not be allowed into debates at the library or be represented with books and journals on the shelves?

– It is a good and very central question, which can be difficult to answer. On the one hand, I do not think we should give a voice chair to, for example, racist organizations. On the other hand, it is in the library’s DNA and statutory law to be inclusive and exist for everyone, even for people you are fundamentally disagreeing with. I don’t think one should make any blacklist of people or groups one doesn’t want to get into their library. But one should think about how to create an arena for healthy and democratic dialogue on difficult issues. I can’t imagine a situation where we would give an openly racist organization permission to use the library to promote its message, but I can imagine that a representative of an anti-democratic organization participated in a debate event, creating a room for dialogue on different issues. views. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, it is always good to discover and hear different views on an issue, including those that are radical or extreme. It is often in the encounter with the radical or extreme that it becomes clearer to us what is right and wrong, and what we ourselves believe in.

So actors on the far right, who otherwise escape the public in society, should not be blacklisted by the library?

No, as I said, I don’t think blacklisting is the way forward. It leads the mind to McCarthyism and it will be very dangerous. But we should be clear about how we set the stage for dialogue between different views – both when we promote literature and when we make programs and events.

“It is often in the encounter with the radical or extreme that it becomes clearer to us what is right and wrong, and what we ourselves believe in”

What characterizes a library that is bullshit?

That it does not take a position on the role it has in society. That it is restrained and neutral to the outside world. That it does not have the ambition to make a positive difference in society.

Take an active position

Is opposition to fascism the most important measure public library can do to avoid a bullshit stamp?

No, fascism is in this case meant as an example of everything one can fight as a library. If your public library is not to be bullshit or irrelevant, it must decide what it wants in the world, what it will work for and fight for. We may well have different views on this, but I expect that we will actively take a position on it.

There are probably many librarians who believe that the public library should be neutral to questions in society. Why are they wrong?

If the library is neutral, it risks being indifferent. The library is a 5.000-year-old institution built on amazing values ​​such as enlightenment, education, life-long learning, inclusion, democracy – values ​​that may be more important than ever. If we do not dare to play it actively in order to make a difference in this world, I think we are failing. The library is a large institution, and with it comes a responsibility.

Is there too much bullshit and too little anti-fascism in Danish public libraries?

I think that the Danish public libraries do a lot of good work in this respect. We could probably be better at telling the story of why we do what we do – actively saying what we think is important, what values ​​we emphasize, what we reject, what we are fighting for. But the public library is of course also a politically controlled organization and it sets some framework for what one says and what one does not say.

“If the library is neutral, it risks being indifferent (…) If we do not dare to play it actively in order to make a difference in this world, I think we are failing. The library is a large institution, and with it comes a responsibility”

A democracy-creating institution

In 2014, a new sentence came into the Norwegian law on the purpose of the Norwegian Library Act: “The public libraries shall be an independent meeting place and arena for public conversation and debate”. It has had great significance in this country. Should the Danish Library Act be changed accordingly?

I really like that wording. In Denmark these days, an audit of the Library Act is being discussed and it might be useful to get something similar. It also shows that the library is more than the materials, which takes a lot of space in the Danish library law. It sets the library as a democracy-creating institution in society

.In January this year, the Independence Party – a new party on the outer right wing – borrowed a meeting room in Bergen’s public library to hold a foundation meeting for a local branch in Bergen. An organization calling itself AFA (Anti-fascist Action) has complained to the library manager, who replies that she has “taken an editorial decision based on the law referring to the principle of freedom of speech. Rejecting the unpleasant voices is contrary to this principle. Then we are no longer a library for everyone. ”The case has been big in the newspaper Bergens Tidende. Would you encounter a similar situation in your library with such an argument?

I cannot comment on the specific case without knowing the circumstances, the party and its principles. But in general I would be concerned if I considered that the party’s principles and values ​​were in fundamental contradiction to the values ​​that I think the library and the society in which the library operates are based. But we should be aware that the library also acts in a political arena, and if it is a legal political party, it sets some limits for what we can and what we cannot do. What I would like to do in such a case was to invite representatives of the party in question to come and participate in a debate event on the opportunities and challenges of democratic society in 2019. It would be to use the library in an open, enlightening and democracy-supporting platform where we set different attitudes and perspectives in the scene.



Travel the world of libraries with Library Planet

It all started with a chat with my wonderful and awesome library buddy, Marie, on how traveling and visiting libraries are such a cool combination. We agreed that the world needed af Lonely Planet for libraries and I threw it out in a tweet

Turned out Marie and I was not the only one that thought that was a good idea.

And so Library Planet was born:

Library Planet is like a crowdsourced Lonely Planet for libraries of the world meant to inspire library travelers to open the awesome book that is our world of libraries, cities and countries.

We want to give you a guide to the world of libraries and we want to give you an opportunity to share your experiences with libraries.

Everybody can contribute to Library Planet. See how here:

Libraries are cornerstones in greater and smarter communities. Libraries are about people connecting and growing. Libraries are wonderful and traveling and visiting libraries are one of the best ways to expand your world.

When we got enough of Library Planet stories we want to publish it as a book. Damn right we are!

Library Planet hugs



Let’s dance! Thoughts and cases on academic and public library collaboration

Written in collaboration with awesome public library ninja Marie Engberg Eirikkson from Gladsaxe Public Libraries and with contribuation from great library peeps from around the globe. This blog post in on collaboration between public and academic libraries and is meant to grow with new cases and idea, so if you know of a good case or have a good idea sent it to cula [at] roskilde [dot] dk

Ones there was a small tribe in Siberia. The tribe lived, hunted, ate, slept and died together. And they didn’t want anyone to interfere so they isolated them self from the surrounding world and for many years they actual didn’t see or interacted with other human beings outside the tribe (they lived in a really rural and cold place). After living like this for some generations they become extinct; they simply degenerated physical and mentally.

Point of this story? Collaborate or die…


In Denmark we have a lot of awesome academic libraries and a lot of awesome public libraries and as libraries they are at the same party but they almost never ever dance with each other. They barely even talk. And the mobility of library workers moving between the sectors is very close to zero. So many great folks connected by the core values of libraries that never collaborate, that never learn from each other, challenge each other, develop services together, tell the library story together. It is a shame, it really is. It is a shame because we think academic and public libraries could learn a lot from each other and it is a shame because we think a stronger tie between the sectors would result in actual initiatives and services that would benefit both academia and society.

So it’s easy to say that public and academic cross-sector library collaboration is valuable and important but how to actual do it and how does it actual make a difference? Here is some takes on how we could go about it. We have divided them into overall benefits and actual projects.

Overall benefits  

Communities win

No matter what kind of library we are talking about, libraries are about people. Libraries are a people business and people are what brings libraries together. But often we fail to see the whole life of those people; Public libraries sees different kinds of citizens; Kids, grown-ups, elderly, folks with reading disabilities, refugees etc. Academic libraries see students, teachers and researchers. But all of those people don’t just belong to one category; A student at a university is also a member of a local community and might want to be engaged in cultural or social activities. An engineer working at the local power plant might be in use of some new research results. Dividing library services in public and academic might make sense according to library logic but it often doesn’t to a user logic. As open institution focused on people succeeding public and academic libraries holds a great opportunity to empower people across the public and academic domains. Examples on how to do this later in this post.

Shared values, inspiration and joint-problem solving

We believe that library workers at public and academic libraries share many of the same values. Values as readily, equally, and equitably access to information, diversity and inclusion, education and life-long learning, intellectual freedom, trust and social responsibility seems to be drivers for people in both sectors. Yet we do things differently and difference views are good, so talking about different takes on the library task – both practical and strategical – will be of benefit to all if we are willing to listen and will eventual lead to joint-problem solving and development of services.

Information literacy from cradle to the grave

Almost all libraries, from school to university libraries, deal with supporting of information literacy of their users. While collaboration between school libraries, high school libraries and public libraries are pretty common, and some places even share the same building or staff, the same is not true for public and academic libraries.

In order to make a real impact on society when it comes to digital edification and information literacy we need to stop looking at the user within that silo that is a specific library, and center our forces at supporting and promoting digital skills and a critical sense throughout the whole life of a citizen. This means much closer collaboration and coordination between school, public and academic libraries. An obvious obstacle is that the different libraries belongs to different formal structures in the Danish society and the shutters between those are pretty closed but libraries, as open institutions, should be able to open those shutters. We have an obligation and responsibility to look at the whole life of the individuals in order to make an actual impact supporting digital skills.

A library is a library to most people

We often meet users of libraries who don’t understand that they can’t return books from the public library at the university library and don’t really know – or is interested in knowing – the difference between the types of libraries. To many people a library is library and they like it that way, because they like the library. Is that good or bad? For library professionals it seems really important to distinguish between the types of libraries but if so why aren’t we better at communicating this to our surroundings? Maybe we should focus more on that force of social good that is THE LIBRARY no matter what kind of library that is instead of focusing on where people can return the books. A shared universal story of all libraries might be a better deal for all.

Examples of cross-sector projects and activities  

Shared stacks, shared delivery

ReCAP (The Research Collections And Preservation Consortium) is a HUGE remote stack in New Jersey currently able to holding up to 17 million items facility and is located on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus. ReCAP is a joint-venture between Columbia UniversityThe New York Public Library and Princeton University. More than fifteen million items are currently in ReCAP’s care and they are used to fulfill approximately 250,000 requests for materials each year, from its partners and from libraries around the world. tems housed at ReCAP are requested through the partners’ library catalogs. Requests are processed daily by 3pm, and ship out to Manhattan overnight and twice daily to Princeton. Electronic delivery of articles and chapters is available as well, with requested materials sent directly to members of the partner libraries.


The ’seamless’ library

In Drammen, Norway, they have established a combined library with three library types under one roof. The library opened in 2007 and is a coalition of three separate library organizations working together: The county library, the municipal library and the university college library. To the visitors the library experience is supposed to be seamless, they should meet one library unit, not three. The aim is to meet all library needs in the life of a user: as a kid, grown up, pupil, student, researcher, senior citizen etc. The idea is brilliant but if Drammen has actual succeed on creating a 100% seamless library experience and to link municipality and the university college, helping to remove any barriers between the two worlds we don’t know. Study trip in the making… Link to Drammen Library:
Drammen bibliotek3 libraries in one

The public library is knocking on the door to the university class room

The awesome Amy Walduck pointed us towards an upcoming project between City of Gold Coast Libraries (public) and Bond University Library in Australia. Basically Bond have international students (mostly Chinese) who have low level English skills when they arrive to study. They have to complete an English course but the library just doesn’t have the type of resources that the students need and want outside of course materials. The Gold Coast Libraries have eBooks, eAudiobooks and print books in their first language as well as a lot of English as second language resources. The plan is to go into their class, show students what we have and sign them up on the spot.

When you have a community on the rise but don’t have the opputunity to build a public library

In Roskilde Municipality there is a new area on the rise called Trekroner. Buildings are pupping up and the numbers of citizens are growing each month. Obvious Roskilde Public Libraries want to reach out to this new community but there is no public library in Trekroner. A mobil library bus is offered (and very populare) but it is hard to do book clubs, litterature talks and other kinds of community building programs when you don’t have a physical site. But Trekroner is also home of Roskilde University and Roskilde Universty Library so the obvious move choice was to do a partnership with different kind of programs hosted by the public library but taking place in the university library. The programs are open to both the community of Trekroner and students, researchers and teachers at the university so in that way the library partnership also becomes a platfrom for bringing society and acdemia together.

Letter of intent on music, library systems and data exchange

A new collaboration between University Library of Southern Denmark and Odense Public Libraries are on the rise. A letter of intent on enhanced cooperation between the parties has been written and aims to confirm, document and formalize the collaboration that already exists between the libraries and to form a foundation for new partnerships. According to Jane Jegind, founding partner in the collaboration and politician in Odense Municipality,  the purpose is “to ensure a comprehensive and perspective-based library development between two leading knowledge and dissemination institutions within the research and public libraries area in Denmark.”

“The cooperation will strengthen library offerings for citizens and students in Odense and the rest of the region. It allows for better use of existing resources, as well as making joint investments in technology and new offers to users. I also welcome the fact that the letter of intent has grown on the basis of already good cooperation between the parties. There are big gains to pick up by handing out”, says Jane Jegind.

The letter of intent has defined a number of areas of cooperation in which the University of Southern Denmark and the Odense Libraries will assist each other in the future. These are the following areas:

  • The music service with joint operation of the collection, public service and academic cooperation between the Music Conservatory Library and the Odense Libraries.
  • IT collaboration on joint operation of library systems.
  • Cooperation on the development and exchange of data and data-based service areas for the development of library offerings by both parties.
  • Joint efforts on the library service of upper secondary education in Odense and on Fyn.
  • Collaboration on material stock and use of storage capacity, depot and magazine facilities.
  • Study of joint operation of reading room facilities with study facilities in Odense center.

This collaboration really got a sound platform and a great volume so it will be exciting to follow.

Ideas for future collaboration

Fiction as a window to a broader view on education and learning

In Denmark medical students are required as a part of their course load to read fiction to help them understand the point of views of the people they are diagnosing. To see the person behind the disease.

This approach might also be beneficial to people studying administration, political science, to be social workers or other kinds of vocations that bring you in to contact with people in different difficult situations. As public librarians have vast amounts of experience in book talks and knowledge of genres and titles. It might be relevant to students to have public librarians visiting the academic libraries to do book talks and curating small collections of fiction that fit this theme.

Beside helping the student examine other points of view, reading fiction also reduces stress, helps concentration and sleeping patterns. Thing students could benefit from in stressful periods like during exams.


Know of a good academic/public library collaboration case or just got a good idea? Let’s have ’em so they can be shared, discussed, qualified and maybe inspire others to do the same. Hit us in the commentaries or at cula [at] roskilde [dot] dk


Christian & Marie

A human chain around a true community friend: The library staff

September 15 is The Roskilde Libraries birthday and every year we celebrate by inviting old and new employees for cake and coffee. This year we celebrated on October 22 and at this occasion I did a little birthday speech about The Arab Spring, a human chain in Alexandria and how staff is the single most important asset of any library.

Welcome to The Roskilde Libraries birthday. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a story. It is a story that in its turn is both cruel and poetic. It’s December 17 2010 and we are in the Tunisian city of Sidi-Bouzid. Here we find a man named Mohamed Bouazizi. He makes a living of selling fruit on the street, but since he has no license to sell fruit, the police seize his fruit truck. Bouazizi is a desperate man and when the police seize his fruit truck they deprive him of his livelihood. Bouazizi does something very radical. He sets fire to himself in protest against the police, the system and the regime and this act gives spark to The Arab Spring and the entire Middle Eastern world is hit by series of pro-democracy demonstrations.

The demonstration came to clashes between citizens and police and military, the existing systems collapse and in continuation of the violent demonstrations and increased pressure on the established systems, lawlessness prevails. Robbery and vandalism of public buildings, museums, hospitals and schools are taking place. This is also the case in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Everything is chaos and the city is being completely torn apart. Out of the chaos, a group of people gathers, they take each other by the hand and form a human chain around a particular building. The building is The Library of Alexandria. In the two weeks where the riots are on, the human chain stands tall and when the disturbances drive over, not a single window is broken in the library, not a single book is stolen.

The human chain around The Library of Alexandria

This is a very powerful story to me and I think there are two things in this context that are important. The first must be found in The Arab Spring as a revolution. The Library stands for all the achievements of The Arab Spring: Democracy, Freedom, Transparency, Inclusion, Diversity. For me, the human chain in Alexandria is the ultimate tribute to the library’s function and justification in a society. And then it’s important to remember, that the human chain that formed around the library was a guard of the building, the collection, but very much also a guard for the library’s most important asset; The people who work there. The people who make a positive difference every day to the communities they earn.

So when we celebrate The Roskilde Libraries birthday today, it’s in fact the celebration of former and present employees who all have made and make a difference for the citizens of Roskilde Municipality and made it a better place to live. And if we were ever to be hit by a Zealand Spring I’m confident that a human chain would form around our libraries to protect the institution you have helped created.

Thank you

bib3_0Happy birthday, Roskilde Libraries! You are an magnificent friend to the community 

Linked Open Data in Libraries

– Written by Library Lab Fellow Knut Anton Bøckman, library system consultant at The Royal Library, Copenhagen

Linked Open Data (LOD) is a method for making structured data more useful on the web. I thank Library Lab Blog Boss Christian for the opportunity to use this post to give a few reasons why libraries should care about it. Since I work with The Royal Library’s discovery system, REX, my main focus is on how libraries can use LOD to improve the discoverability of their collections. In a later post at The Library Lab, I’ll get to how this is done in a project at The Royal Library.

The mechanics of LOD

Data get more useful on the web when they are open and interoperable. Open data in this case are not only web accessible, but also reusable, i.e. the data must be Public Domain (CC0), or CC-BY or CC-BY-SA. For library metadata, i.e. the stuff that makes up catalogue records, this is often straightforward (The Royal Library metadata is CC0).

To be web interoperable the data need to be machine readable. This is the trickier part. Humans read texts very well because we infer meaning of words from the context they’re in. So if we search a library database and find this record..


… we know that Pierre Bourdieu is the person that wrote a book called La Distinction, because his name is mentioned as Author on the record for this book. We also know a whole lot of other things just from looking at this record, because we are able to infer from context.

Computers, however, need this spelled out much more clearly – which first of all means breaking the catalogue record document down into simple propositional statements, e.g.: “Pierre Bourdieu has written La Distinction”

This is a simple statement of a relation (“has written”) between a subject (Bourdieu) and an object (La distinction). In order for a machine to infer from this, e.g. in order to find other other books written by the same person, we need to explain this context. This is done by providing links that uniquely identify the data elements and the relation between them. So the sentence above can be restated as a triple of links:

Try it yourself – this triple restates the sentence using unique identifiers (URIs), over the http protocol, it provides useful information and links to further discoverability. Thus, it complies with the principles for linked data set forth by Tim Berners-Lee.

True, this is only one simple statement out of many from the catalogue record document. Having the same for all (or all relevant) data in all catalogue records means a lot of triples for the computer to run through (in REX you search hundreds of millions of records). The great thing with computers is that they’re really good at such repetitive tasks. (Humans are not and make up for it by being really good at contextual understanding). But how about creating these statements from the text-based catalogue records we now have? Since library data is fairly structured and standardized, and since the library world is no stranger to the use of authority files (like the ones used for linking above), this can be automated to a very high degree. Still, there is significant work involved, and in a subsequent post, I’ll describe how we are starting work on this at The Royal Library. For now, I’ll turn to why doing so is important to libraries.

Why LOD in Libraries?

Libraries were information hubs avant le mot. They should be uniquely positioned to prominence in a society whose fabric is increasingly permeated by demands for and production of information. The social transformation has come about through information turning digital, of course, but in fact libraries were pioneers in this process, too. It started long before the last decade’s surge in digitization of special collections and in acquisition of e-books and e-journals. The infrastructure of their knowledge base, the catalogues, by which you can search library holdings and get access to resources that fulfill you information need went digital decades ago, and have been made available through the web since web began. And to boot, use of a library’s resources are free (or more correctly: already paid for) to the community it serves.

In spite of all this, library resources are not easily discoverable on the web. True, you can go to a library’s discovery site, like REX for the Royal Library, and search for your stuff. Notice that you first need to find out where to go before you can start finding out what you want to know. This is suboptimal in a web based society, meaning libraries lose potential patrons and, more importantly, people’s information needs are not met as efficiently as they could. Optimally, doing a web search should provide you with information from your local library. Why is this not happening, even though libraries have web sites and their catalogues and discovery sites are on the web?

One reason is the difference often alluded to between being on the web and being of the web. While this slogan has a range of meanings, suffice it here to note that being of the web means exploiting standard tools of web interoperability to create knowledge in a distributed system. This distributed system is the web, and the distribution is performed by the web’s key element, the link, that connects one piece of information to another. Library catalogues, on the contrary, are isolated knowledge systems available on the web, but they are not web interoperable. They are silos. The last 7-8 years have seen the gradual integration of more databases into one discovery system – like in REX. So these silos are getting bigger and presumably serve their users better with one as opposed to hundreds of user interfaces – but they are still silos.

Hold on, you say, aren’t there lots of links in library catalogues? There are, but have a look and you’ll see these are mostly links to internal functions in the catalogue, such as performing a new search on an author’s name from a record, or making a request for an item. (Additionally, there are links to documents retrieved through search, of course.)

OK, but if we just publish all our catalogue records on the web, they’ll be indexed by web crawlers, and so retrievable by regular search engines, sending users to our catalogue, right? This is one option and many libraries do this, but it is not very efficient. The main reason is that every record will be indexed as a web document, and search engines tend to prefer web documents that other highly rated documents link to – this is not often the case with catalogue records. Moreover, the bare textual content of a typical catalogue record does not give the search engine much other information to determine whether it will be of relevance to its user – and this is the search engine’s main objective. (There is a whole Search Engine Optimization industry built around this, which I’ll not get into.)

What we need instead is for the elements of the library catalogue itself to be linked, so a web search engine would know what the elements are and what role they play, and from this are able to infer their usefulness to search engine users. This kind of inference requires, among other things, that the elements are uniquely identified, and that the links between elements are uniquely identified, and that their meaning is expressed in a shared, machine-readable vocabulary. It means increasing the semantic meaning of the web. It means giving search engines meaningful links to follow, instead of just text strings to index. It also requires that the elements are made openly available on the web – and that the links link data elements (like a person or a place), not whole documents (like a catalogue record) to each other. Improved discoverability is one major promise of linked open data for libraries.

To be continued..

LOD – the graffiti way