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The Role of Libraries
in the Information Society
Sweden - Background Information


Updated: 05 NOV 98


In connection with research on the role of libraries in the information society , we have collected a fair amount of information on how the situation is evolving in different countries. This document provides background information on the Sweden.


Generic data

In 1997, Sweden had 8.8 million inhabitants and an area of 449,964 sq. km., which gives a population density of 20 inhabitants per square kilometre.

Higher education libraries

Higher education libraries in Sweden had 31 administrative units, including 117 service points, in 1996. The number of volumes in book collections was 21 million. The operating costs were 750 million SEK of which 55,9 % was allocated for staff.

Public libraries

Public libraries in Sweden had 1 654 service points in 1996, covering all municipalities. The number of volumes in book collections was 44 million and 1.9 million volumes were added. Current expenditure, in 1996, was 2 800 million SEK, of which 47% was allocated for staff.

Statistical data on publishing and libraries

The total number of titles in UDC classes in 1996 was 13,496 and in 1995 12,700. In comparision, there were 11,866 titles in 1991 and 12,034 in 1990.

A real books-in-print is not available in Sweden, but there is a large wholesale firm (Seelig) in whose catalogue you can find most of the titles you expect to find in bookstores. In 1996, about 35,000 titles were listed.

According to a survey made by The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs in 1996, 26 (9 %) of the public libraries were yet not computerised. 8 (3 %) of them had far-reaching plans for computerisation. In a survey carried out 1997 in 3 of Sweden's (until 1997) 24 counties 22 out of 27 libraries (81 %) were computerised, 4 (15 %) were in the process of being so and only one library (3 %) had no plan for computerisation. The 3 counties are not representative for the whole country, but the survey shows that the number of computerised libraries is increasing rather slowly, but that there are few libraries left with no plans for computerisation at all. These figures regard main libraries. For branch libraries the degree of computerisation is much lower.

On-line searching in external databases is used in all higher education libraries. According to the last survey mentioned above 24 of 27 public libraries (89 %) in the 3 counties did use on-line searching in external databases. Most commonly no fee is required to perform on-line consultations.

For public libraries, mainly Swedish databases are used. Co-operation based on information technology or related to technology use is therefore developing in public libraries but is still more developed in research libraries.

Libraries and Internet

All higher education libraries have Internet access. The use of the Internet in the public libraries is increasing. In 1996, 44 % of the public libraries provided Internet for library visitors. In the 3 counties of the survey 1997, 25 of 27 (92 %) public libraries had Internet access. 15 (56 %) of them offered Internet to the library visitors, almost all of them free of charge. Many of the libraries were planning greater capacity and better access for the public during 1998.

All higher education libraries, the Royal Library with its national library system LIBRIS, and a great number of special libraries, school libraries, library educational and research institutions, library organisations, associations and suppliers have their own web pages. A compilation of a number of web guides shows that in the middle of 1998 at least 176 public libraries (61 %) had created a home page on the Internet. Many of them also provide on-line access to their catalogue. The number of public libraries with home pages in 1996 was 75 (26 %) which means that in two years the number has become twice as high. The take-up of Internet-services is increasing rapidly in Sweden.

The Swedish production of multimedia is still limited, and multimedia products are expensive. Nevertheless, all higher education libraries have access to CD-ROM. The use of CD-ROM in public libraries does not seem to increase very fast. In 1996, 65 % of the public libraries had access to CD-ROM. In 1997, 18 of the 27 public libraries in the survey (67 %) gave their users access to CD-ROM.

Policy issues on libraries

Sweden got its library legislation in December 1996. The bill prescribes that all citizens shall have access to a public library. The bill also specifies that the public libraries shall work to make computerbased information available to all citizens.

Libraries are affected by policy formulated primarily in the Ministry of Education and in the Ministry of Culture, and have two national co-ordinating bodies: BIBSAM (The Royal Library´s Department for National Co-ordination and Development) for research libraries and Statens Kulturråd (The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs) for public libraries.

A large proportion of the state subsidies to public libraries goes to regional library activities, i.e. the country's 24 county libraries, four loan centres and one deposit library, which assist the public libraries with interlibrary lending and book deposits.

In the government bill on research and society, the government sees the library system, with state, municipal and county council libraries as one national resource. There is also a growing co-operation between libraries from different sectors.

In the budget proposals for 1997 (1996/97:1 expenditure area 16. Education and university research) the Swedish Royal Library is given the task of developing the computerised national library network, LIBRIS. In addition, funds are allocated to an upgrade and extension of the university and higher education system's joint computer network, SUNET (Swedish University Computer Network: www.sunet.se).

Thanks to a government decision the public libraries in all Swedish municipalities and the county libraries have been offered an Internet-connection via SUNET with 2 Mbit/s, which is considered to be a rather high capacity by most libraries. The establishment and use of this connection is free of charge for the municipalities during the first two years. The only condition is that they accept to use it for library purposes on their own expense during at least three years subsequently.

One of BIBSAM´s most important tasks the last few years has been the licensing of databases for Swedish universities and university colleges.

The number of interlibrary loans is increasing quickly in Swedish libraries, especially since the LIBRIS database got free accessible on www in 1997. In 1995/96 the government allocated a yearly sum of 10 Million SEK as compensation to the biggest netlending libraries.

In the beginning of 1998 a report on interlibrary lending in both public libraries and research libraries with suggestions for the future was published. The initiative to this report came jointly from BIBSAM ( The Royal Library´s Department for National Co-ordination and Development) and Statens kulturråd (The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs). This report will probably lead to changes in the Swedish interlibrary lending system.

There is traditionally a well established informal co-operation between libraries, museums and archives in Sweden, both on a local and on a national level. In 1992 - on BIBSAM’s initiative - a special group was formed consisting of members from archives, libraries and museums with the purpose to facilitate the co-operation between the different sectors. The group has initiated several co-operative project, for instance to encourage the use of the same descriptive standards within archives, libraries and museums. A series of conferences has also been arranged by this so called ‘ABM-group’.


Report on the situation of libraries, museums and archives prepared in 1998 by the Swedish National Focal Point for the European Commission's Libraries Sector.
European Commission

DG Information Society
Cultural Heritage Applications Unit Contact:Digicult
e-mail: digicult@ec.europa.eu (email removed)


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