Are Public Music Libraries on the Road to Full Democracy?

Article excerpt

There are so many variations in size and circumstances in the Public Libraries sector within the borders of my own country, The Netherlands, as well in other countries and in different parts of the world, that we will focus on some developments that are specific for our sector.

Looking at the larger Public Libraries as we know them in many of the northern European countries, we can see they were usually formed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with the purpose of raising the standards of working class people. The Public Library soon became an instrument in the developing democracy (see also the UNESCO manifests, 1949, 1972, 1994). (2)

For a very long time, until the late 1950s, most Public Libraries and therefore also most music library work stayed very much the same: it was about collecting books, cataloguing, giving information, and lending or circulation. Music libraries have gone through major changes since then. The first change was the start of sound in our collections. Noise was a major new experience in our library world and with that came a new breed of colleagues and library users, too. Some colleagues specialized in the new audio collections and many new audio collections came into existence, many without associated print music collections. Formats never seemed to stop changing: LP to audio cassette and video cassette, CD and DVD, and from physical formats to digital and streaming formats.

A second major and more recent change was the transformation of our catalogues from card catalogues to databases. Many of us will remember this very well: it changed the way we worked and manifested the need to harmonize the way we work.

The development of the internet and digital media influenced not only our daily work at a local level but also opened new possibilities for cooperating with colleagues at a distance on a daily basis.

The last major change involves both new threats and new possibilities, with Google and social technologies, globalization, change of culture, change of user needs, and change of user behavior. We will have to adapt to all that too.

We actually feel that we are now looking at a new phase in our library sector and therefore we know we need to develop new policies, not in the least because every institute has to justify its existence now more than ever. We now need marketers to help us find our user groups. We seem to live in a different world.

But what is really new? Wasn't the role of the Public Library always to enable citizens to take active part in the society? Hasn't the well-known working field for the Public Libraries' enabling efforts been about social inclusion, literacy, and lifelong learning ever since the beginning? The labels may change, but the work we do often doesn't change at all.

Of course we all tend to look at change from only one angle, afraid for loss of work and afraid for the unknown. Why not look at it from a more positive angle and see the opportunities?

Is the way we organize our work not just a reflection of what happens in the rest of our society?

Take, for instance, self-service, a major item in public library policy that has been introduced in our libraries much later than in other sectors of our society. Most library users have now advanced from checking out their own books to helping themselves in search for information through the Internet. In the past couple of years, more and more people are using the Internet to gather and retrieve data. This shift to digital libraries has greatly altered the average person's use of physical libraries, a change provided by new technologies.

What about our goals?

The changes are not so much about the goals of the institution, but about the organization that now needs to change to establish committing partnerships, in learning, educational, leisure and cultural contexts, and to create services clearly defined by user needs. …