An Erasmus+ TCA Study Visit to Bergen, Norway: Libraries and Inclusion
Hayley Reynolds is a Library Assistant with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Libraries in County Dublin. She is currently studying for a Masters in Library and Information Studies. Hayley recently took part in the Erasmus+ funded Transnational Cooperation Activity ‘Public Libraries and their Roles and Work with Inclusion and Learning‘.
Cataloguing Common Experience in Bergen
Nestled among a cluster of mountains and known as the ‘the gateway to the Norwegian fjords’, Bergen is Norway’s second largest city. It lays half-sprawled down the mountainside with hundreds of wood-paneled homes hovering over one another, linked via a maze of steps and laneways. Electric bikes help locals navigate the steep slopes, and colourful 11th century houses line the harbour below. This is as nice a setting as you could ask for to attend a three-day conference.
Thanks to Léargas and Erasmus+, I was one of the lucky 25 attendees from 18 different countries to take part in the study visit on Public Libraries and their Roles and Work with Inclusion and Learning. The event was co-hosted by Diku (the Norwegian National Agency for Erasmus+), Hordaland County Library, Bergen Public Library and Voss Public library. Meeting with other librarians and community workers at this conference was both inspiring and reassuring. It’s clear that the gradual shift of what a public library stands for and, importantly, the enthusiasm of staff making this happen, is not limited to Ireland but is an international commonality.
Libraries as an Inclusive Space
Our mission statement at Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Libraries includes the words ‘…to connect and empower people, inspire ideas and support community potential’. I have seen a great many changes as we reimagine libraries as not only a place of books and literary education, but as open, inclusive spaces that nurture ideas, and community engagement. Public libraries are one of the last free spaces where you’ll find people from all socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and ages. I’ll mention the word ‘free’ again as it’s a great selling point. Everything in Irish public libraries is free! No fines; free events; and free books including audio and e-books. Not everyone realises this and it’s another reason why librarians have been embracing social media for the purposes of marketing, sharing ideas and building connections and engagement. While modernity and digital progression threaten to isolate individuals and communities from each other, libraries are an essential safe haven. For the marginalised in society, they offer what no other place can.
Erasmus+ Opportunities for Libraries
Marit and Henrik from Diku had a lot planned for our three days in Bergen. Elin Golten, a Senior Advisor from Hordaland County Library, kicked off the presentations by setting the scene and discussing the paradigm shift in Norwegian libraries following the 2014 Libraries Act. Up to €80 million has been invested since then to develop Norwegian libraries as independent meeting spaces and public arenas for conversation. She termed this ‘From Collection to Connection’. She also discussed the different views on the digitalisation of society, and said that while libraries are embracing this on one hand, they can also offer a possible counterbalance to the negative effects of digitalisation.
A tour of Bergen Public Library, the city’s most visited institution, revealed it has a strong focus on adult learning and social inclusion. It also contains incredible facilities including a vast music library, instruments, a woodworkers’ workshop and a games room. In their conference room, our hosts discussed the international opportunities for library staff available through Erasmus+, such as Staff Mobility and Strategic Partnerships. He later talked us through best practice for completing these applications and how to connect with other institutions on joint initiatives. The Bergen Library staff shared the development of their successful Language Buddy programme, a product of an Erasmus+ mobility project. An hour’s train journey north to the town of Voss offered us stolen glimpses of vast Fjords and once there, we discovered the beautiful Voss Library with its stunning lake views of towering, snow-capped mountains.
Throughout the few days we heard from different participants on the course and the initiatives they run in their respective libraries. Language Cafés and programmes to welcome and help refugees integrate were a common theme. We shared our European work practices and discussed digital programming such as podcasting with the aim of creating original content to promote library services and literacy skills. These discussions were particularly interesting to me and are ideas I shared with the team back in Dublin. I have started working on a podcast and we are discussing the language cafés and inclusivity programmes also.
European Book Tour
Wandering around Bergen, I reflected on the book I was currently reading. It’s by one of my favourite writers, Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard, and is on the work of fellow Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. It’s funny how a book can flavour time spent abroad and while strategically chosen for this trip, it had me searching for old haunts of Knausgaard’s (he attended Bergen University), and visiting art galleries to see Edvard Munch and J. C. Dahl’s paintings. At the end of the trip I asked my fellow attendees what is still probably the most-asked question by librarians: “What are you reading?”. I share their international voices and choices in audio form.
The above blog was originally posted on the Léargas blog. To listen to the audio and for more info visit https://www.leargas.ie/blog/erasmusplus_tca_library_inclusion/