Close this search box.
Close this search box.

The Personal Library: Integrating the Library in the Networking Society

Jens Thorhauge

The topic of this symposium, visions for access in the twenty-first century library, embraces a broad range of problems that are primarily technological and organizational. Some of these problems can be discussed in terms of new roles for the library in civic society. I will focus on presenting an organizational model for developing library services based on a strategy for seeing all libraries as cooperating partners in a coherent system rather than as single institutions.

A Shortage of Means for True Access

The basic vision for access that I probably share with most of my colleagues is not new. It can be expressed most concisely as access for everybody to all published material, no matter how it is stored. At least for print, this vision has been behind the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA) core program, Universal Availability of Publications (UAP), for decades. The vision further proposes that the material be presented and organized in a way that makes it easily accessible for as many groups as possible. Access should be integrated into daily life, with the ultimate goal being what I perceive as “the personal library,” which generates information resources from a specific individual profile that is then linked with a library service. A third element in the vision deals with learning facilities, such as easy access to library-organized computer and information literacy programs. The fact that these basic visions are not very new underlines the fact that they are not yet realized, and how to achieve them remains an open question. Hence I welcome this symposium and the opportunity to present what I call “the Danish Model,” a framework in which libraries change their organizational nature to come into line with the information society. Technologies can then become networking partners in a coherent system, even in traditional fields such as collection building. My basic point of view is this: We do not lack visions for access in the twenty-first century. What we do lack are efficient means to realize them.

This concept of one coherent library system is simple to understand, but not easy to achieve. The concept was developed in a small country where we are forced to merge resources to find the most efficient solutions, but I see no reason not to think along the same lines in large countries as well. The one-system concept is based on the conviction that today’s and tomorrow’s demands for easy access to information can be met only by very large libraries or groups of libraries, and the more they cooperate to create these services, the more user-friendly they will be. Letting all libraries work together, then, is necessary to enable effective access to information, but it is also a question of cost-effectiveness. In a small country such as Denmark, “all libraries” should be taken literally. In large countries, a federal approach in some areas seems to be relevant, while in others a state or regional approach might be more appropriate. Regardless, this one-system vision is a major challenge to traditional institutional thinking and cultural behavior. Obviously it is not possible to establish such a new organizational platform overnight; it needs time and strategic planning.

New Roles from Traditional Skills

Before I move further into presenting the Danish model, let me offer a few general remarks about emerging roles for the library, also illustrated by the Danish example. The first clause in the Act Regarding Library Services,1 passed by the Danish Parliament in 2000, states:

The objective of the public libraries is to promote information, education, and cultural activity by making available books, periodicals, talking books and other suitable material, such as recorded music and electronic information resources, including Internet and multimedia (Part I, sec. 1).

The mission of promoting information, education, and cultural activity has been integrated in the first paragraph of the Danish library laws for nearly half a century, and it can be found in library statements and legislation from many countries. My point is that the basic mission for libraries has not changed for a very long time. Libraries give access to information, the raw material for knowledge that the World Bank considers to be the most important factor in creating and maintaining welfare states. Libraries are cornerstones in building democratic, enlightened populations; they are linked to research and education at all levels; and they promote culture and support the building and maintaining of cultural identities. Basically, the mission of libraries in the civic society is to help people manage and improve their lives, the key words here being learning, understanding, insight, and inspiration. This is traditional knowledge, but it has to be reinterpreted too often to be understood properly.

The really new element in the quoted clause above is, of course, new media and technology. It indicates that a library is no longer defined as a collection of books but as an institution giving access to information, regardless of the format or medium in which that information is stored. This shift in the definition implies a major change in how the library’s mission is fulfilled. The new methods can also be expressed in terms of defining new roles for the library. The Public Libraries Mobilising Advanced Networks (PULMAN), a European Commission-funded project, is made up of leading public libraries from nearly all European countries. In a manifesto issued in March 2003, PULMAN defined the following four supporting roles for public libraries:

  • democracy and citizenship
  • lifelong learning
  • economic and social development
  • cultural diversity2

How these roles are defined and discussed has evolved in the last 10 years, but the idea that libraries support democracy and active citizenship by supporting the education of people on all levels dates back to the period of Enlightenment in the second half of the eighteenth century in Europe and the United States. And while the impact of information and knowledge on social and economic development has likewise been broadly recognized at least since the dawn of industrialism, the idea of lifelong learning is probably the newest concept for libraries’ role, even if activities in libraries have in practice long supported what is today understood as lifelong learning. For instance, you will find in many countries a popular concept of the public library as the people’s university.

Does this notion indicate that new roles are not emerging? I don’t think so; rather, the idea is that we develop new roles from traditional skills. Let me give some examples of how this development can work. The most revolutionary way comes when we try to integrate access to information in everyday life through Web-based services such as Web-based catalogs, linked collections, Internet guides, subject gateways, and, of course, full-text access to as many records as possible. We produce and add value to information, making the proper information more easily accessible. We also establish and run programs on computer and information literacy, and we likewise support informal learning and self-help in all areas. Most libraries try to integrate traditional activities such as the promotion of reading and culture into their programs, and through this integration, they often find new ways to explore possibilities.

A Danish scholar defined the roles of the public library in terms of four different centers: information, learning, cultural, and social centers (Andersson and Skot-Hansen 1994). All of these roles may be subdivided by organizing access in the most convenient way for more specific purposes. A fine example of that organization can be seen in San Francisco, at the main public library, where you will find centers on jobs and careers, business and technology, Afro-American culture, and gay and lesbian studies.

The Danish Model3: Libraries and Government Agencies Cooperate under the Law

The Danish model’s philosophy and library concept do not vary fundamentally from those in other democratic welfare states with developed library systems. The difference lies in the organization and its effect in producing results more quickly and more extensively than in many other countries working with the same objective in mind. The basis for the model is updated legislation in the form of a framework law, combined with the presence of a government agency that regulates activities that encourage development and cooperation. The number of programs offered has led to a paradigm shift, as the library offers ever more specific virtual services.

Denmark is an old, wealthy but small country with only 5.2 million inhabitants. Because Denmark has been a kingdom for more than 1,000 years, surrounded by the sea on all sides except for some 40 miles bordering on the north of Germany, the culture is extremely homogeneous. The language spoken is Danish, a language in which some 16,000 records are registered every year in our national bibliography. Sixty-four percent of the population are public library users, half of them on a monthly basis. Eighty-one percent of all children are public library users, and all schoolchildren are users of school libraries. Eighty percent of the population have Internet access. More than 100 research libraries network on virtual services primarily for campuses, as displayed in Denmark’s Electronic Research Library.

The primary responsibility for public libraries is placed at the municipal level, while government research libraries as a rule are integrated in the university or other institution that they serve. Only the county library function, which is government funded, is subject to regulations by way of performance contracts between the Danish National Library Authority and the municipalities that run the county libraries, which support public libraries throughout the county by means of interlending, advice, and continuing education. All primary schools have school libraries, which are obliged by law to cooperate with the local public library.

Danish libraries are moving toward the vision of one coherent library system, but progress is incremental, and the conflict between the traditional library concept and its working culture and the networked library of the information society is openly acknowledged.

I will briefly present some of the elements in the Danish model, with the Act Regarding Library Services being the most important one. Since 1920, Danish public library activities have been regulated by national legislation, up to this latest act, passed in 2000. The act is based on the hybrid library concept and is meant to create the framework for meeting users’ needs in a networked information society. It explicitly states that libraries will work together on interlibrary loan (ILL), as state and county libraries must share their collections through ILL free of charge, even for the requesting institutions. Likewise, public libraries and school libraries are obliged to cooperate. All core services are free of charge, which means that all kinds of access to library materials are free for everybody, and all libraries should maintain their collections. All municipalities, even small ones with less than 5,000 inhabitants, run a professional library service.

The act also states that all libraries should give Internet access and e-access to their services, while the state should require Web-based access to the union catalog. This access could be seen as another cornerstone in the Danish model. For the last 10 years, the union catalogs for public, university, and other research libraries have been merged into one database, the DanBib-base, containing bibliographic records on all holdings in Danish libraries, amounting to 17 million records. This database is the platform for the new national Web portal to Danish libraries, ( Through this portal, you can search and request any title in Danish libraries bought for lending. You can choose any library to pick it up from, and if the book is in print, you may even buy it through this Web site. In some areas, you may also order a delivery service for a fee. In the field of lending cooperation, the service realizes the vision of a coherent library system. Under this Web service lies a well-functioning distribution system that efficiently delivers the titles requested to the library selected; the database is organized so that requests are routed to the nearest library. And for the user, is a coherent system, requiring only that one pick up a virtual basket and choose books, articles, CDs and videos, then request or order them.

The portal also contains a growing number of full-text records, and the vision is that more and more bibliographic records will give immediate access to full-text versions with a single click. The portal is more than a search-and-request database; it also gives access to some 20 Web-based services. A good example of networking among different libraries can be seen in the way the e-reference is organized. Forty libraries participate, and while most participants are public libraries, a growing number of university libraries have also joined. Questions can be asked by chat, mail, or phone 84 hours a week. While the number of users and the number of participating libraries is increasing, the number of local reference desks is decreasing. An e-reference service for children is also a success. Other services include subject portals and gateways that lead to a variety of resources, from links to licensed material, such as encyclopedias and other kinds of digitized content. Music, art, food, medicine, and transportation are all subject examples. You will also find a virtual children’s library, called DotBot, on the site. A number of special information services are provided here, including resources for immigrants and ethnic minorities; a fiction e-zine; and an e-encyclopedia on living Danish fiction writers, produced by a network of libraries that contains portraits, updated bibliographies, and text examples.

A third element in the model is the role of the government agency-the Danish National Library Authority (DNLA) (not to be confused with the national library)-which is significant in developing libraries, public as well as academic. The agency is the government’s central advisory body in the field. It handles a number of administrative tasks; responsibilities include running the public-lending right scheme (which distributes $20 million to Danish authors each year, thus being an important factor in securing a literary production in Danish); compiling library statistics; and maintaining standards, including classification and cataloging rules.

Developing People and Systems Together

The most important of the agency’s emerging roles is its responsibility for developing the library system. This duty is fulfilled in several ways, all the while building on a vision to enhance the hybrid library and more effectively integrate services into the everyday life of a growing number of users. The agency has run strategic development programs in four fields: support to technological development, development of new services, competence development of library staff, and a change of the library system structure itself. Along with the new Act Regarding Library Services, the DNLA received a three-year grant to implement the new library concept. The money was spent according to the four strategic cornerstones.

Let me briefly run through the programs. The technological development program, the first cornerstone, was intended to make all libraries capable of networking with their users and with one another. Next, creating new services is crucial to changing the roles of libraries. The national portal,, described above, is the essential new service, being initiated and constantly developed by the DNLA. The portal also gives access to a number of services such as e-reference and Internet guides. These services are produced and run by networked libraries. New services in general are developed as projects, supported by the DNLA.

Building new competencies is the third strategic cornerstone. The aim of this effort is to ensure that staff members educated decades ago are qualified for delivering and developing adequate services in the networked library. The real challenge was to spend the money in such a way as to produce permanent change. As I believe that the challenge of developing competence is global, I will outline our program. We did four things: focused on new leadership, trained trainers, trained project managers, and started to build an information literacy program.

In general, Denmark offers some very good courses and seminars in the field of continuing education. The Royal School of Library and Information Science is the main provider, with some 300-400 yearly courses offered throughout the country.5 We decided to initiate a number of activities with a different scope. First, we focused on the need for new leadership, the need to change institutions into learning organizations, introducing networking and team building, developing new professional roles for the staff, and changing attitudes to traditional priorities in the library. A one-and-a-half year diploma-level course was organized, and nearly half of all Danish public library directors participated. We will continue this effort, but future courses will cater to directors of both research and public libraries.

The second idea, training the trainers, was based on the desire to give each person working in libraries an opportunity for annual training. Since county libraries are responsible for identifying and meeting needs for competence development in their service area, they were asked to organize training for experienced staff to help colleagues setting up new services, such as Internet classes or a music department, or to help them contribute to networked, Web-based services. Trainers should run simple courses on the spot and work for a couple of days with colleagues in their library. Since the program began, some 100 trainers have been trained.

A third idea was training project managers. This program was based on the experience that project work seemed to be one of the best means to develop competencies and that nearly all new services start out as projects. Eighty project managers are now available as a result of our training.

The discussion on information literacy and library programs emerged with these initiatives, and a first step was taken to offer courses aimed at giving all libraries a professional background to provide civic society with an information literacy program.

The fourth strategic effort relates to a change in the structure of the library system that is crucial to achieving the goal, as presented in my initial remarks, of creating one coherent library system. Four major activities have been going on here. We supported municipalities financially if they agreed to merge their library systems with those of other municipalities, creating larger units that could cope with networking on national services better than small libraries. These municipalities could then develop staff and establish new services in the hybrid library.

We also changed the county library structure, keeping the existing 16 libraries but changing their tasks and roles to match the demands of Web-based services. New tasks were related to develop new competencies in the libraries in the county and play an advisory role in creating new services.

We supported financially the building of new networks, producing new services in cooperation not only with libraries but also with other kinds of institutions. And last, but not least, we managed to create a networking cooperation between university and other research libraries to deliver virtual services. This cooperation is expanding into areas besides the virtual, and the first steps to cooperation on the virtual library between research and public libraries have been taken.

A last, very important element for DNLA is the running of Denmark’s Electronic Research Library, which is a full, working virtual library built on the cooperation of more than 100 research libraries and coordinated by DNLA. The virtual library gives password-based access to 9,000 e-journals, subject gateways and link collections, and library catalogs (a virtual catalog working closely with Retroconversion of catalog cards is nearly completed, and digitization programs are currently running.6 As my subject here relates to the civic society, I will not venture further into this area except to mention it as part of the Danish model and state that a huge challenge exists in fostering closer cooperation between research and public libraries.

Creating New Libraries and New Librarians

I hope that the model I have outlined suggests some solutions to the challenges of organizing more integrated access to information resources. Focusing mainly on the organizational aspect, I have not discussed at all, for instance, the problems libraries have with copyright, which is an important issue in relation to future access. Let me just mention that we focus on the same problems with aggressively rising prices of e-journals as do libraries in the United States. We have worked with alternative open-source models such as the Public Library of Science, but we have also had very positive experiences with license-based access.

I would like to conclude by pointing out what I see as three major challenges to libraries in the coming years.

The first is the challenge for the library to be the e-information provider. To provide total access to electronic information, on various conditions, is the ultimate goal. Because this aim is very difficult to achieve at the moment, what we can do-just to mention a few activities-is to work with ongoing digitization programs to provide more flexible licensed, password-based access to e-content and to establish systematic access to material of a public nature, for such material where rights holders are positive toward open-source approaches. In Denmark we offer this increased accessibility by providing more and more full-text material through the catalog. Library-organized Web distribution of films and music is another new challenge still on an experimental level but that will be a task for the coming decade. Offering e-reference and hotline services on a 24/7 basis is only a question of obtaining the resources.

The second major challenge is to create the library as a place that really embraces local needs. As virtual services have changed the behavior of library users, we have to develop the library as a place to meet the needs of our users in a way that differs from the book-oriented library of the twentieth century. We must provide excellent space for information centers and for various types of learning activities as well as for cultural center activities. We shall go on developing programs to meet needs of lifelong learners, but we should also be aware of the need for informal meeting spots and inspiring nonprogram areas.

The third major challenge is to create the new librarian. The most important step here is to transform the librarian from an information provider into a knowledge provider; that is, from someone who merely gives access to information to someone who more actively supports the user in acquiring the needed knowledge. This change will be manifest in a variety of new roles for librarians: information producers, portal editors, community information specialists, information literacy trainers, trainers in the learning library, coordinators and advisors for children’s culture, consumers’ rights advocates, and still as subject specialists in all fields.

All these challenges could be summed up in the ultimate vision of creating the personal library, updated according to a chosen profile and giving immediate access to the references. We will achieve such a level of access, but only step by step and by networking on new organizational premises.


Andersson, Marianne, and Dorte Skot-Hansen. 1994. Det lokale bibliotek: afvikling eller udvikling. København: Danmarks Biblioteksskole.

Andresen, Leif. 2001. A New Route to Danish Libraries. Cultivate Interactive 5 (1 October). Also available at

_______. 2002. Visit Your Library from Home. Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly 1: 4-5.

Hansen, Lone. 2003. Immediate Access to Danish Libraries. IFLA Newsletter to the Sections on Interlending and Document Supply 31 (1): 31-34.

Larsen, Gitte. 2001. Developing Skills for New Electronic Services in Libraries. Scandinavian Public Library Journal 34 (4).

Thorhauge, Jens. 2002a. Danish Library Policy: A Selection of Recent Articles and Papers. Copenhagen: Danish National Library Authority. Available at

Thorhauge, Jens, ed. 2002b. Nordic Public Libraries: The Nordic Cultural Sphere and its Public Libraries. Copenhagen: Danish National Library Authority. Available at


1English translation of the act can be found at

2 Full text of the manifesto can be found at

3 Further elaborated in Thorhauge 2002a. A shorter introduction to the Danish library system can be found in Thorhauge 2002b. Ongoing development can be followed in the journal Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly, edited by the Danish National Library Authority. The electronic version is available at

4 Further information in English is available from and in Andresen 2001, Andresen 2002, and Hansen 2003 at

5 For more information on the interaction between the Danish library development project and the continuing education program at The Royal School of Library and Information Science, see Larsen 2001.

6 More information on Denmark’s Electronic Research Library can be found on its site,, and on the information site,

Skip to content