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State-of-the-art of Information Technologies
in Nordic Libraries

Updated: 20 MAR 98

Table of Contents

Background of the study
Overall summary on the Nordic level Background
Survey results
Overview of Nordic IT co-operation in libraries The Nordic Council of Ministers



Background of the study

In 1995, the Directorate General DG XIII/E/4 of the European Commission in Luxembourg (the Unit of Libraries, Networking and Services) commissioned a "state-of-the-art study" of Information Technologies in the five Nordic countries. The Nordic countries include the two new EU member countries Finland and Sweden, Denmark, which has been a member of the EU for more than twenty years, and the two non-member countries Iceland and Norway.

The purpose of the study was to provide an overview of the situation in the mid-1990s regarding information technologies in libraries in the five Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. The study in its present form consists of five survey reports, prepared by five authors representing each of the Nordic countries, a summary where some of the survey results are described, and an overview of Nordic co-operation initiatives concerning information technologies in libraries, prepared by NORDINFO, the Nordic Council for Scientific Information. The study was commissioned by the European Commission DG XIII and carried out under contract with the EC by the five countries in collaboration with NORDINFO.

A Nordic working group planned the survey. The group met in 1995 in order to prepare the survey and standardise the survey questionnaire. The questionnaire was then translated into the five languages concerned. The individual country surveys, including data collection and analysis, as well as the preparation of the reports, were carried out separately by five authors in the autumn of 1995. Each country report explains in more detail the procedures for data collection and analysis. The group of authors met again in order to compare notes and streamline their respective reports. Drafts were submitted and commented upon during the spring of 1996, and the final country reports were submitted in May/June of 1996 to NORDINFO, where the summary and the Nordic overview were produced.

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Overall summary on the Nordic level


This summary will provide a brief overview of the results of the Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish surveys of the state-of-the-art of information technologies in libraries. Although the five Nordic countries are similar in may ways, and have a long common history that is reflected in, for instance, many shared political and cultural values, there are also noticeable differences among them. These similarities and differences are reflected on many levels, and the individual country reports that represent the bulk of this report give an indication of the wide range of policies, approaches, and solutions that form the background for the IT development in the libraries in the Nordic countries. The total population of the Nordic countries is about 23 million, but the individual countries vary in size, from Iceland’s 265,000 people to Sweden’s nine million, with Denmark and Finland each representing a population of about five million, and Norway about four and a half million people.

The study and the five individual reports are based on questionnaire surveys carried out in the five Nordic countries in 1995, as well as on a range of additional information sources ranging from official statistics to books, articles, and reports. Although the working group tried to ensure that the same kind of data were collected and used in the survey it did not entirely succeed. The definitions vary somewhat in each country report as to scope and interpretation. The tables in this summary are therefore only indicative and should be treated as such. We refer the reader to the country reports for a more complete picture of the situation in the countries concerned.

The survey covers the whole library sector, that is, research libraries, public libraries and school libraries. The definitions of research libraries vary from country to country, and again, the reader is referred to the individual country reports for further elaboration and explanation of these issues. School libraries represent a special problem when it comes to data collection. Statistics on school libraries are not collected regularly and systematically in all the five countries, and information gathering through questionnaires is not feasible due to the large number of schools. In most cases the information on school libraries is based on earlier surveys, apart from Iceland, where an additional telephone interview was carried out in selected regions.

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Survey results

As indicated by Table 1 , there is some variation among the countries studied as to the sample of libraries that were surveyed, as well as in response rates achieved. In some cases, all libraries in the target group were surveyed, in others again only a select sample. In some cases, additional telephone interviews were carried out with the libraries in order to clarify the replies. In general, the response rates were fairly high, in several cases more than 90 %. Considering the length and complexity of the questionnaire, the response rates can be considered satisfactory.

Libraries and IT

Table 1 also shows the proportion of IT-users among the libraries in the Nordic countries, and we can conclude that the level of information technology utilisation in the research library sector is very high, as only a very small minority of the libraries are not yet IT-users. In the public library sector the numbers are somewhat lower than in the research library sector, but also the public libraries are well on their way to becoming integrated into the world of information technology. Seventy to one hundred percent of the Nordic public libraries use information technology today. As to school libraries, they have yet to become full-fledged members of the information society. Denmark appears to be on the forefront, with almost all school libraries being IT-users, while others are still lagging behind. However, in all Nordic countries information technology in schools has become a matter of high priority, and it is only a question of time when all schools will be part of the communication and information networks.

Table 1 : Survey questionnaire: distribution and responses

Automated library systems

An important part of the survey was to find out what types of automated library systems are being used locally in the Nordic libraries. Table 2 gives an indication of the wide range of systems that have been implemented in the libraries. The table lists the three most popular local library systems in each country and library type. However, due to inconsistent data, the table does not give any information about the number of libraries actually using these systems, b ut only a rank order of the various systems. MikroMARC, a Norwegian PC-based system that was launched in the late 1980s, appears to be one of the most popular systems on the Nordic level, widely used in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. In Finland, the American VTLS system is used in almost all research libraries. In Iceland, several local applications have been developed, and in Sweden, public and school libraries are mostly using Swedish systems such as BTJ 2000 and BIBS.

Table 2 : Local library systems: the three most commonly used, by type of library

National co-ordinated library systems

As to the national co-ordinated library systems, Table 3 gives an overview of the various catalogues and national bibliographies that have been developed on the national level in the five countries. These catalogues are all based on national or system-specific MARC-formats. Denmark and Norway have only one union catalogue/national bibliography, DanBib and UBO: BOK, respectively, while in the other countries the research libraries and the public/school libraries have developed separate catalogues.

Table 3 : National co-ordinated library systems

Document ordering and delivery

Electronic document ordering and delivery systems are an essential aspect of the information technology environment in the libraries. Being able to order and deliver documents electronically greatly improves the speed and efficiency of document handling. However, not all libraries have as yet installed electronic systems. Table 4 gives an indication of the variation among the countries and the libraries surveyed. In general, ordering documents electronically is more common than delivering and receiving documents electronically. For instance, although 80-90 % of document ordering is performed electronically in Norwegian and Swedish research libraries, document delivery is still mostly performed manually and through the mail.

Table 4 : Electronic document ordering and delivery systems

Access to on-line databases

According to the data in Table 5 , access to on-line databases is a widely offered service in the Nordic libraries. Between 60 and 87 percent of all research and public libraries offer access to on-line databases.

Table 5 : Access to on-line databases

On-line databases: charging policies

As to charging policies, it appears that it is more common in Nordic libraries to offer access to on-line databases free of charge than to charge for these services. Especially in the public library sector, free access is widely offered. For instance in Denmark, two thirds of the public libraries and in Sweden nine out of ten public libraries offer access to on-line databases free of charge. See Table 6 for details.

Table 6 : On-line databases - charging policies


The survey shows that CD-ROM technology is quite common in the Nordic libraries ( Table 7 ). Apart from Iceland, where only a third of the research libraries offer access to CD-ROMs, a great majority of the research libraries in the other countries offer CD-ROM access. In public libraries this technology is not as prevalent, but nevertheless, around half of all public libraries do offer their patrons access to CD-ROMs.

Table 7 : Access to CD-ROM

Access to the Internet

Ever since the Internet entered public consciousness on a more serious level at the beginning of the 1990s, the number of Nordic libraries with an Internet connection has been growing steadily. The figures presented in Table 8 show that most of the research libraries are now connected, while the level of connectivity is somewhat lower in the public libraries. However, the number of Internet connections is constantly growing, and the figures reported here will most likely be a great deal higher within a year. Data for the school libraries were not available for all countries.

Table 8 : Access to the Internet

Use of the Internet

The question of what the Internet is used for in the Nordic libraries was also addressed in the survey. However, the data were not complete for all countries concerned, which is why we present only the results from Denmark, Finland and Iceland in Table 9 .

Overall, information retrieval via Gopher and the World Wide Web seems to be the most popular form of Internet use in all three countries and in all types of libraries studied. A majority, or more than 60 %, and up to 95 % of both library staff and users have answered yes to the question of whether they use the Internet for information retrieval. As can be expected, the library patrons use the Internet more for exploration and pleasurable ends than the library staff, who tend to use it more for professional networking, such as e-mail and e-conferences. Interestingly, patrons use the Internet more for downloading of documents than staff in all library types. In all three countries there are still library staff who do not use the Internet regularly, or about one in ten of those surveyed.

Table 9 : Use of the Internet by staff and users in libraries with access

Nordic libraries in the national information policies

In all the Nordic countries information technology policy has been on the agenda during the 1990s. Libraries have not necessarily always been a highly visible part of this discussion, but there seems to be a growing realisation that libraries are an essential part of the information environment.

In Denmark , the government published the report "Info-Society 2000" in 1994. In March the following year the Ministry of Research & Information Technology issued a Statement to Parliament report called " From Vision to Action - Info Society 2000 ". This document outlined a Danish Political Action Plan, which came into force in 1995. A new follow-up to this plan was launched in 1996, " The Info-Society for All - the Danish Model ".

In Finland , the Ministry of Education has presented two scenarios, which are the first ones to contain a satisfactory discussion on the role of libraries in the information society. The ministry also has presented several concrete propositions for action and has also funded library related IT projects, for instance the House of Knowledge project, which aims at co-ordination and development of House of Knowledge . Moreover, the public libraries and the research libraries are jointly creating an IT scenario for the next decade. The main purpose of the document, which is to be completed by the end of October 1996, is to point out the most promising or urgent areas in terms of IT activities in libraries.

There is currently no overall national library policy or strategy in Iceland , nor any generally accepted documents or statements about the place of libraries in Icelandic society. However, under the present government committees have been formed with a mandate to look into the national information policy. One of these committees deals with libraries as part of the national information network. The committees’ reports were presented to the Minister of Education in early 1996.

In January 1996, a report was issued in Norway by the Committee of State Secretaries for IT. The report was called " Den norske IT-veien: bit for bit " [The Norwegian IT Road: Bit by Bit]. It is to form the basis for a coherent Norwegian IT policy. In particular, it offers the public libraries a great challenge in terms of future tasks.

At the beginning of 1996, the government in Sweden presented a national information technology policy, " Regeringens proposition 1995/96:125 : Åtgärder for att bredda och utveckla användningen av informationsteknik" [Government proposition 1995/96:125: actions to broaden and develop the use of information technology]. As to libraries, it proposes that the Royal Library develop an IT-based national library system and that a special development grant for library automation should be considered. In addition, a new library law is under preparation, which is a part of the on-going work to create on a coherent view of libraries and IT.

Second part of the report .
European Commission
DG Information Society
Cultural Heritage Applications Unit

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