The Information Technology in public libraries »just a tool, but what a powerful tool

Maija Bemdtson
Library Director
Helsinki City Library - Central Library for Public Libraries in Finland

The Information Technology in public libraries »
just a tool, but what a powerful tool!

Books and ICT - too!s for distribution of information

"What will happen to libraries when information is mainly produced, stored and distributed in digital format? Is the idea of the physical library so closely linked to books and printed media that libraries (as places) will disappear? Why do we need the nhysicai library when all information is already, or will soon be, available on the Internet?"

For years, questions like these have topped the agenda in discussion about the library sector. Since the Internet breakthrough in the mid-1990's, such questions have aroused increasing interest in the general political debate and even among library users.

In framing of a question like this we forget, however, a very important aspect, which is: what is the purpose of the public library? If we regard public libraries as institutions tha* support democracy and development in the society t>' "tiering t!ep: access ic these kinds of questions hardly ever corses to 'nine Do we reai:v ne;ieve n-,^- >i. nneele are able to find the most relevant information vvifn help of trie different searc: engines in the growing information rush? Do we really think that the commercial companies t/vould have in their service the same continuity and the same impartiality as public institutions like public libraries?

Should the questions about the future of pub'le libraries be more like: "What kind of changes do we need in public libraries to be able to take care of our main purpose mentioned above? How can we in the best way use all the new tools which information and communication technology offer?"

This brings us to the heart of the problem. The new technology which today is available is just a new tool to produce, store and distribute Information. It aiso makes the communication more effective and rapid. That is why we should call n nowadays ICT, Information and Communication Technology and not only IT, information Technology. As means of communication this new technology is comparable with the book

The invention of printed books has once been at revolutionary as iCT is today. Books could be printed in many copies, the author could thus reach many readers who could use the book at the samo time and very far away from the author. In that way reading a book is distance use of an authors' ideas. Today we know how important this new Innovation has been but it took a long time before books really became an essential part In peoples' everyday life. This development was dependent on some other inventions as well as the change of tne whole society.
Books were property of few, mostly churches, monasteries and upper class, before the invention of new type of paper and the railway. The former invention extended the physical life of the book and made it cheaper and the latter made the mass delivery of books possible. But cf course these inventions would not have lead anywhere if not at the same time the number of literate people had increased. This again was connected with the change from the rural society into industrial society, which needed more educated people. The birth of public libraries took place during this period, too, namely from 1850's onward.

This example shows how many things influence the development. The book does not live in isolation outside the society, nor does ICT. The big difference in the development of use of books and ICT is the speed of change. The first book was printed in 1455 in Mainz, in Germany. The first Finnish book, actually in Latin, was Missale Aboense from 14S8, but the first book printed in Finland is from 1640! This means that it took 200 years before we had a printing machine in Finland! The same kind of slow development is connected with publishing novels. The first novel Don Quijote by Cervantes was printed in Spain 1605, but the first novel in Finnish was printed as late as "87C

Today radical technical changes can happen in a decade. In 1990 or so very few of us had heard anything about Internet and today most of us use it daily. When Helsinki City Library in 1994 opened the special IT library called The Cable Book Library it was one of the first, if not the first public library in the world to offer internet access to customers. Today nine out of ten Finnish public libraries offer Internet access and almost ah of them free of charge.

Trie same has happened with tne mobile phone Ten years, perhaps even five years ago very few of us had a mobile phone 'I odav sever cu a? ten :'~ Spain ?nr eiehf cut of ten in Finland have a mobile phone.

All these technical innovations have very soon become properly of many people and changed something in our personal lives as well m our working lives. The question is how deepgoing these changes are. Are they more on the surface than a real change of attitude and habits? Do we feei thai we have a paradigm shift in our way of living and working?

In this paper I ask the same question from all of us working in libraries. Does ICT offer us more possibilities for changes in the libraries than we are able to make? is it so that our attitudes and our mental ability do not follow the speed of technical development? As much as we wouid like to deploy our activities and services we are no* able to do it properly before a paradigm shift in our thinking.

ICT in the modern public library

Evan if I made some sceptical questions earlier, we all know that ICT has already changed tiie way libraries function. As information and knowledge institutions, public libraries in developed countries are probably among the institutions within the public sector that have been most actively involved in the digital revolution.

Perhaps it is useful to remind us all that the computerization of public libraries began in the late 70's and early 80's. The development from paper-based to on-line cataloguing was one of the first steps towards digitized convergence. Card catalogues were abolished in many countries in the late 80s or early 90s and replaced by on-line catalogues based on commercial library software and a Unix-server run by the library.

Ever since the emergence of the Internet, access to the catalogues is increasingly based on Internet protocol and the search interface has become a browser. For the libraries, changing the catalogue system meant making a number of administrative routines automatic, such as purchasing, circulation control, reservation of materials and recall notices.

in the mid-90's, the first generation of automatic lending machines was introduced, and despite initial difficulties, they proved valuable by relieving the staff of internal manual tasks. In recent years, robot-automated self-service systems with sorting mechanisms are also finding their way into the larger libraries.

From my own experience at Helsinki City Library I can tell that it has taken some five years to get the real benefit out from the automated lending machines, First we had the wrong kind of machines with a lot of technical problems. Due to that, and in fear of loosing their job (which never has been the real threat), personnel disliked the idea of self-service lending automates. This year at last we have gained some good results with self-service and in big libraries up to 30 percent of loans go out through the lending machines.

Parallel to the automation process aimed at facilitating handling of the physical media, an information digitization process has also begun. Sources of information and knowledge, which were hither+o available in analogue printed format (books and magazines), are now available in digital format, either as "hard copy" or on the Internet. ICT for libraries is not only about reengineering and streamlining workflow, it is also about libraries' core business, collection, storage, retrieval, dissemination and value addition of information.

The question of having material in digital format does not concern only the new material but also possibilities to digitize really old material, valuable rarities which can get "a new life". In a country like Spain with rich old collections this could mean a kind of revolution in using that material.

ICT in the modern library can be classified in various categories. Presented below is a typology aimed at classifying the public iibrary sectors in which modern IC1 has already gained footing. This category with explanations is collected from the publication of Maija Berndtson, Henk Das, Rolf Hapel: Virtual impact on the physical library: visions for "intelligent" change, which is published by Bertelsmann Foundation in their International Network of Public Libraries.

As a basic explanation for this typology it can be said that the first wave of technology from the late 70s to mid-80's concentrated on streamlining and reference Databases. Later it was full-text databases, Web-based Internet access for staff and customeis, and value-addea services derived from Internet possibilities. With the help of this typology you can see how far your own library has come in implementing ICT.

Streamlining Improvement Substitution
Full-text on-line databases
Web-based value added library services
On-line catalogue
Automated lending control
Automated purchasing and accession of media and materials
Client/server-based PC's replacing terminals
Intranet, data warehouse and workflow systems

ICT streamlines existing staff-related routines
The SCT-basbd tools aim to achieve smoother and more efficient workflows. They basically streamline routines, thus making personnel available for other work tasks. Automation cc manual processes is stil! very relevant in an environment that is based on physical niedi

ICT improves existing staff-related routines

The tools are very sophisticated creating opportunities to radically change the organization and workflow, and thus impact on organizational development. In order to advance, the concept of ^working smarter - not harder« requires advanced ICT toois in an environment such as the public library. Relatively few public libraries have implemented workflow-systems completely, although semi-workflow systems like Lotus Notes and other Intranet­like systems, often initiated by the municipal authorities, have found their place in many libraries.

ICT as a substitute for existing staff-related services

By introducing patrons to direct access to licensed material and services in the library, the traditional rcle of the librarian as an intermediary between information and users couid dimmish or disappear completely, in the future, 'ibrarsans couid re x circumvented « as much as libraries themselves, which has been the horror vision of lesearcn and university librarians for the last decade

ICT streamlines patron-related routines

Seif-service concepts are widely accepted by library management, especially of those libraries in which a substantial part of the work force is involved in moving physical media. But the self-service concept is also in keeping with one of the basic ideas of public
libraries, i.e., empowering users to make their own choices by providing them with the necessary resources.

ICT improves patron-related services

The library as a meeting place traditionally makes meetings and conference rooms available to the public. By equipping these facilities with state-of-the-art material, communication quality can be significantly improved. The »new« physical media such as CDs and multimedia CD-ROMs represents an enhancement of the library as a lending place. The material still needs to be purchased, processed, presented to the patrons. issued and reclaimed - just like any other physical material in libraries. The workstations connected to local area networks could provide access to multimedia CD-ROM content. The content would be purchased and controlled by the library

ICT as a substitute for existing patron-reiafed services

Internet-based workstations available to the public have probably been the mos; widespread and important of all new initiatives in public libraries in the last ten years Much effort has been dedicated to the creation of Internet infrastructure in the libraries. Time and money has been invested in workstations, local cabling, Internet suppliers and local systems administration. Thus libraries have enabled users to access the collections of the local library and other libraries, as well as the information resources on the Internet. In a sense, libraries have lost »control« of the information avai'able to the user. In some cases, full-text, on-line databases and e-zines have already substituted pnnted analogue information sources and CD-ROM media. This, however, is not the case for e-books, which have not yet taken over any signiucant share of the marke'.

Web-based services are not necessarily a substi+ute tor cthe! services, in most Web-based »Ask-a-question« services, the use of human labour is siii! required, just as in any-other reference service that is accessed directly, via fax, phone or e-maii. But in some cases, traditional services such as advisory ones are becoming interactive. There is little doubt that this development will continue and that we wih experience many sj't, interactive services, based on even more sophisticated procrams, in fhe future.

Networking is power

ICT is a powerful tool within a library or a library system but the spectrum of possioilities increases enormously when different libraries start networking. I am happy to say that one of the most delightful trends during the last few years in the library and information business in Finland has been the continuously intensifying cooperation between the libraries. This has been made possible by the technical development of information networks and by the increasing rolp of the libraries as an information delivery channel. For example, when customers search the Internet catalogues c:, the libraries, they do so because they need the information, and the name of fhe library or its host organization is irrelevant.

According to my colleague, deputy library director Sirkka Elina Svedberg, there are more facilities to practice cooperation within library networks today than ever before.

• Services can be rendered on the net itself, which supports independent library use.
* Networked library services are democratic: on the net it's possible to obtain the neededinformation regardless of the customer's whereabouts
• Collective professional know-how can be quickly reached by the colleagues nationwide.
• Duplication of efforts can be avoided.
The division of functions within the library network must be considered from a new point of view. It is important to organize the library network on the national level and to decide which services are to be rendered centrally, which locally and who are the essential doers in furthering projects concerning the whole library network.

The Finnish Public Library Act of 1998 has been written according to the new conceot. The objectives of public libraries are defined as follows: "This act prescribes the library and information services to be provided by municipal public libraries, and the promotion of these services both nationally and regionally." Public libraries are obligated to cooperation in section 4 of the Public Library Act: "A public library shall operate in cooperation with other public, libraries, with research libraries and with libraries in educational establishments, as a part en the national ard international networks of library and information services.'

Cooperation between public and academic libraries is already important as it is. The best examples of this in established practice are the joint: Repository Library for research and public libraries and smoothly working inter-library loans. It must also not be forgotten that all types of libraries in Finland are open to all. In other words, we have a common Clientele, and the customers do use both public and academic and special libraries, each according to his or her needs.

Here fallows some examples s:.:^i t neiworkin-:1 beiwecr Mbrr:'e:s in Finland

Acquisition of electronic materia!

Purchasing nation-wide union licences for electronic materials was started in 1997, when the National Electronic Library FinELib, was founded. The National Electronic Library acquires Finnish and international resources to support, teaching, learning and research. FinELib negotiates user-rights agreements for electronic resources on a central.zed basis for its member organizations. Helsinki University Library, or, the National Library of Finland, is responsible for FinELib operations and development The National Library cooperates with universities, polytechnics, research institutes and public libraries and is involved in key national projects. In the beginning FinELib was only meant for academic libraries. From the year 2000 also public libraries have had the possibility to use the services of FinELib. Helsinki City Library co-ordinates the taking care of practical matters in acquiring union licenses for the public libraries, for example updating the IF>-addresses of the libraries.

Networked Library Services
Public Libraries are praiseworthy producers of networked library services in Finland, also nation-wide. The public library portal www.libraries.k produced by public libraries and funded by the Ministry of Education, offers information about library services in Finland, ways for information retrieval, knowledge about literature and music and children's materials. The services are meant both for library workers and for general public, and they are funded by a project budget of the Ministry of Education and produced by a unit called the Networked Public Library Services working in connection with Helsinki City Library,
who also own the servers. As can be seen in the name of the domain, the idea is to develop this portal with all different types of libraries in mind. Priority in developing the library portal has been given to the search and information retrieval facilities, both contentually and technically. The ask-a-librarian reference service of the public libraries, in which the Library of Parliament participates, can be mentioned as a sign of the libraries' desire to develop joint services


One form of cooperation are the projects for digitising the national cultural heritage. Digitising Finland's literary heritage is presently being planned under the leadership of the National Library, in cooperation with both the academic and the public libraries.

The digitised cultural heritage belongs to the national information mass, about which we should determine what parts of it must be in free use on the Internet to make sure that all the citizens have an equal access to information, and to make studying easier.

The tasks of Helsinki City Library, as the Central Library for Public Libraries in Finland, should also be taken into thorough consideration. Development and maintenance of tools needed in organizing library and information services of the country become more and mere important among the tasks of the Central Library on the national level. As the Library Decree puts it, one of the tasks of the Central Library is "to develop common methods and instruments necessary for organising library and information services". Former emphasis on inter-library loans has been replaced by such functions as the multi-cultural library, maintenance of in the Networked Library Services -unit, supervising the a-k-a-librarian service, maintenance of the national classification system, development and maintenance of the s'iatis'.icai daiabase, participating in preparing standards as weil ac representing public libraries in various projects and international activities.

Towards the hybrid library

Late in 2000 we in Helsinki City Library created Vision 2010 for cur library system. It is: The whole nations' "hybrid library", serving locally, acting nationally, esteemed internationally. The vision reflects among other things the abovementioned national tasks. The most frequent question concerning this vision is: what do you mean with the hybrid library?

As we know the word "hybrid" means kind of mixture. In biology we have concepts like crossbreeding or hybridization. Nowadays we also have hybrid cars that use both gasolin and electricity. In linguistics there are hybrid words, such as 'television' in which one part comes from Greek ('tele'), one from Latin ('visio').

In our vision what we simpiy mean with the hybrid libra'y is a library in which

To fulfil the idea and concept of the hybrid library is much more complex than just implementing of ICT and new media. Actually later on we have realised that the concept has not only a technical but a human aspect as well Likewise the changes we have undergone have happened little by little and perhaps without any careful overall view or plan what this development real means in our work and in services we offer for our customers

The interesting matter is that like all the other public libraries we in Helsinki have started creating the hybrid library before we talked about it. The concept of hybrid library has been possible to invent first after we have realised that we really are developing something new and different. In this part of my paper I try to go into more depth on the concept of the hybrid library with the help of some concrete examples.

The Cable Book Library

When Helsinki City Library in February 1994 opened The Cable Book Library in Nokia's old cable factory it was the first public library in the world with its own www-server. The Cable Book Library had very few books and it was specialized in all ways to IT. In The Cable Book Library we offered the customers the first workstations with Internet-access and the iibrary was also a producer of information on the internet.

The library became popular not only among the customers but it also became the object of pilgrimage of many librarians from Finland and abroad. Somehow it made the Internet visible and concrete and learned people to understand what IT might mean for libraries. So for ourselves, too. The Cable Book Library was the test pilot, which facilitated the implementing of IT in all of our libraries. Since several years each of the city library's 37 libraries has network stations available for customers to use. At the end of 2001 there were a total of some 300 of them. This means thai there is available one computer per 1800 inhabitants.

But the importance uf the Cable Book Library was more than that. In 2000 Helsinki City Library was the first iibrary in the world to receive the new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Award called Access to Learning. The award was recognition for Helsinki City Library's outstanding practices in providing public access to computers and the Internet Besides the recognition the award also included a $ 1 million grant, which allowed us to develop new initiatives to expand existing public services, such as the information Gas Station.

Information Gas Station - IGS

The Cable Book Library looked and still looks like a normal library except for the focus on computers, which of course influences the image of the premises. In the way of working it still is a normal stationary library, the physical place where people go.

Our next step in the development woik has been a movable Information unit, e r.ew kind o<>

But iGS provides also individualized service for everybody. When iGS >s on tour it offers the possibility to meet a librarian personally at the station. The personal service provided by the iGS is not a traditional counter service where the librarian is a gatekeeper of information and sits behind his/her desk and screen. Instead, information is sought side by side and together with the customer, information seeking is at the same time both education in web literacy and guidance in the use of information sources IGS is run by a team of 10 persons chosen from the staff of City Library's different units. Two people work at the same time at the iGS, rest of the time they work in their own libraries where they can answer virtual questions, too. Thus the experience from the iGS transfers in a natural way to everyday life of library work and enrichens their own libraries.

IGS has been popular among the customers and besides that Helsinki City Liorary 'ias gained a great deal of positive publicity through the iGS. it has been a live commercial for the library, it could be also said that if the Cable Book Library made the Internet visible, the ;GS has made the reference service offered by libraries visible!

It has also been interesting to hear the staff experiences with iGS. A staff query was made in January 2002 and there are opinions like:

- slogan "ask anything" is good, but demanding
- work without books: effective way to learn how to utilize network resources
- often a book is the only source or fastest way to val:d information
- best way: "a hybrid library" with ai! materials - both digital arid rrirv'er;'
- I have fun in working at IGS - but oniy if I can go back to my own library with books after a week

- " book trap": a librarian's conventional solution is to see oniy books and own collections - and forget other resources. It is good training to rind yourself in reversed circumstances
- two-dimensional work (virtual / real) is a good combination: it could De frustrating to work alone with search results only and without real contact to customers
- at first I found SMS to be best service - now I feei that persona! service is most rewarding
- guidance on internet-search is one of the beet things we can do for the customers
- railway station experience proved us that we are needed also 'live - not only through the Net
All these opinions show that among the iGS staff members the idea ot hybrid library is already a reality, they like the two-dimensional work, virtual-real and they see: she benefits of having two kinds of materials, nrinted and cioital.
From intelligent to intellectual
The idea of the "intelligent" or "interactive" building has for some time been one of the buzzwords among ICT developers ana architects. An intelligent building is "a building that maximizes the efficiency of its occupants, while at the same time allowing effective management of resources with minimum lifetime costs". New research literature deals with trie notion of "built-in" computers and software that enhance and facilitate cooperation and learning environments. The vision of the 'intelligent", "interactive" or "cooperative" building represent a great potential for public libraries in different technical terms

That is also the aspect in the abovementioned report Virtua! impact on the Physical Library, Visions for "intelligent" change. To cut a long story short: in the report we mainly concentrate on explaining what kind of technical equipment and actions we need in the future libraries with different profiles, such as the Open Learning Center, the Cultural Cafe, the Community Center and the info Gas Station.

The human aspect of the hybrid library is connected with the concept "from intelligent to intellectual". Library as a building is intelligent, but through its customers and library personnel it turns intellectual. For me intelligent means the hardware, intellectual is the software.

This combination shows that we should not only think about the technical solutions in our libraiies but to take into focus tiie customer and 'he ntaf! and even their relation. This approach emphasizes customer orientation, for example in planning the library premises and buildings.

A good example of this kind of thinking comes from The Royal institute of Technology Library in Stockholm. In this learning institute the starting point in planning the totally new library building was the different learning modes of students and the question on how those modes should be reflected in the library interior. According to library director Gunnar Lager the needs were performance space, team space, reflective space, informal social space and last but not least, the support areas.

In support areas they included everything wnich vve normally use as starling points in planning library premises, namely books magazines, computers, copy machines etc. This case, even if it is not directly transferable into a public library, shows in a nutshell a total change, kind of paradigm shift, in planning of library premises in a very technical surrounding. The real technologists started the planning with the software, not with the hardware!

The other example about "the intellectual aspect" is my personal believe that with one small step, namely moving the customer and the librarian to sit sidp by side to look at the same screen while searching information would mean a real big change, in practice a paradigm shift. We have good experiences with this model in iGS surroundings in Helsinki City Library but do not think that is accepted among the personnel while we are planning information aesks for other premises!

In my opinion by sitting behind the screen the librarian still has the role of a gatekeeper instead of being a guice in trie information search During my more drastic moments I compare the existing situation with the system o- closed bookshelves. If in public libraries today we do not accept the system of closed bcoksiacks, where only the personnel has access to the material, then how can we accept that the librarian is the only one seeing the information on the screen'?
Librarian's role as an information specialist has undergone a change in the digital or virtual reference work, too. It is not only the change in practice from the traditional information service over to ihe digital service hut that we have goi commercial 24/7
in service. Ms Ann Lipow who is director for Library Solutions institute & Press in Berkeley in The United States organizes different kind of courses for reference librarians. One of the questions raised is "Are you ready for digital reference service?"

The purpose of Ann Lipow's courses is not only to train librarians in digital reference service but to also show them strengths of public information search compared with the commercial ones. For example the commercial information services do not always want to tell how the information was found, which makes the customer more dependent on the service. It is not in their interest that the customer becomes self-reliant in information search. It is just the opposite of the way that the librarian, as an information guide, would serve the customer
If we really want to take the new role in our core area, in the information service the librarians shouid be highly educated intellectuals who guide customers not only in the information search, but also in the critical evaluation of the materia! and the information sources. When turning libraries from intelligent buildings 'nto intellectual buildings, we could at the st me lime sweep away the honor vision that libraries and librarians would be "circumvented".

With these few examples I try to emphasize that at the same time when we implement new ICT solutions into libraries we shouid think about what kind of changes it means in our work. We have a lot of tools and even the knowledge about the new situation but it seems to be very hard to make deepgoing 'upside-down' changes. Are we missing the paradigm shift or do we simply fear changing things?


it is time to come back to the questions made in the beginning of this paper. iCT does not demolish libraries: the future of physical libraries is not under threat. Space for books and other "hard copies" will be needed a long time ahead, and even so space for computers for public use. There will be a shift, however, from collection oriented to customer-oriented use of the library premises.

Not even the increasing amount of information on the Internet does threaten the existence of the physical lioraries. On the contrary, the physical space and the possibility of social contact with a librarian is something more than the ordinary web-basea services offer. The public space and the persona! service are strengths, which distinguish libraries from most of the web-based service providers and which give the library user value-added services.

Actually ICT offers libraries the opportunity to go back to the roots to the idea of the Ancient Library of Alexandria. There all the known sources of knowledge were organized for the scholarly study and research, which gave birth to a new Intellectual dynamic. In the ancient library of Alexandria this possibility was given only to few, in the modern public libraries this possibility ■$■ open for all.

Sources and useful links:

Helsinki City Library wyyvvJibJiej J;
information G^s Station
Virtual Impact on the Physical Library^
Finnish Public Library Statistics
National Repository Library
www. n rj f< href=""> htm