Libraries, Archives and Museums as Democratic Spaces in a Digital Age
Current Topics in Library
and Information Practice
Libraries, Archives
and Museums
as Democratic Spaces
in a Digital Age
Edited by
Ragnar Audunson, Herbjørn Andresen, Cicilie Fagerlid,
Erik Henningsen, Hans-Christoph Hobohm,
Henrik Jochumsen, Håkon Larsen, and Tonje Vold
ISBN 978-3-11-062954-5
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Hans-Christoph Hobohm, Henrik Jochumsen, Håkon Larsen, Tonje Vold,
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The research on which the contributionsin this anthology is based would not have
been possible to undertake without the generous research grant our project re-
ceived from the KULMEDIA program of The Research Council of Norway. We take
this opportunity to express our gratitude to the council for their support.
We would also like to express our gratitude to colleagues from the interna-
tional LIS community who volunteered to peer review the chapters in this volume,
thereby contributing in important ways to the quality of the papers presented in
this book.
Our gratitude also goes to the respondents who took the time to fill in ques-
tionnaires and take part in qualitative interviews, all the LAM-organizations who
opened their doors to us and the users who accepted our presence when doing
our observations.
November 20, 2019
The ALMPUB research team
Open Access. © 2020Ragnar Audunson et al. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-No-Derivatives 4.0 License.
Acknowledgments V
Ragnar Audunson, Herbjørn Andresen, Cicilie Fagerlid, Erik Henningsen,
Hans-Christoph Hobohm, Henrik Jochumsen, and Håkon Larsen
Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces:
Libraries, Archives and Museums in a Digital Age
Part I: Policies
Kerstin Rydbeck and Jamie Johnston
LAM institutions: a Cross-country Comparison of Legislation
and Statistics on Services and Use
Erik Henningsen and Håkon Larsen
The Digitalization Imperative: Sacralization of Technology
in LAM Policies
Roger Blomgren
The Institutions Go Digital
Sigrid Stokstad
Norwegian National Policies for Digitalization in the LAM Sector
Imperative and Implementation
Máté Tóth
Organization and Funding of Digitization
in the Visegrád Countries
Andreas Vårheim, Roswitha Skare, and Sigrid Stokstad
Institutional Convergence and Divergence in Norwegian Cultural Policy:
Central Government LAM Organization 1999–2019
Part II: Professions
Ragnar Audunson, Hans-Christoph Hobohm, and Máté Tóth
LAM Professionals and the Public Sphere
VIII Contents
Herbjørn Andresen, Isto Huvila, and Sigrid Stokstad
Perceptions and Implications of User Participation and Engagement
in Libraries, Archives and Museums
Roswitha Skare
 Like, Share and Comment! The Use of Facebook by Public Libraries
and Museums: A Case Study from Tromsø, Norway
Kjell Ivar Skjerdingstad
 Reading Between the Shelves the Library as Perspective in Life
and Profession
Part III: Users
Andreas Vårheim, Henrik Jochumsen, Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen,
and Kerstin Rydbeck
 The Use of LAM Institutions in the Digital Age
Hans-Christoph Hobohm
 Libraries and Democracy in Germany.
As Perceived by the Public in Contrast to the Professionals
Cicilie Fagerlid
 Democratic Coexistence, Tiny Publics and Participatory Emancipation
at the Public Library
Tonje Vold and Sunniva Evjen
 Being, Learning, Doing: A Palace for the Children?
Geir Grenersen
 Libraries and the Sámi population in Norway Assimilation
and Resistance
Erik Henningsen and Håkon Larsen
 The Joys of Wiki Work: Craftsmanship, Flow and Self-externalization
in a Digital Environment
The Authors
Ragnar Audunson, Herbjørn Andresen, Cicilie Fagerlid,
Erik Henningsen, Hans-Christoph Hobohm, Henrik Jochumsen,
and Håkon Larsen
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual
Spaces: Libraries, Archives and Museums
in a Digital Age
The research that will be presented in this book documents a seeming paradox: in spite of
massive digitalization of our everyday lives, libraries, archives, and museums are heavily
used as physical spaces and meeting places. The role of LAM-institutions as physical spa-
ces seems to be increasing. Does the massive digitalization we are experiencing lead to a
growing need for and appreciation of physical spaces and meeting places?
In what direction is our digitalized society steering? Are we heading towards more
democracy and more community, due to the forms of crowdsourcing new tech-
nologies open up for (Landemore 2013)? Will digitalization lead to increased par-
ticipation, collaboration, transparency, and thus a deepening and widening of
democracy and community, or will it rather result in technologically advanced
ways of “talking to ourselves” in increasingly closed circuits of communication
or echo chambers” (Sunstein 2001), i.e. in isolation instead of more community?
Will digitalization create new platforms for public discourse and communication
between citizens and between citizens and government, or will it result in degra-
dation of public discourse, with mockery and harassment taking the place of ra-
tional and respectful arguments? Will it empower citizens or facilitate increased
surveillance and a transfer of power from citizens to the state and giant corpora-
tions like Google, Facebook and Amazon (Braman 2007)?
From these remarks it might appear that we are standing at a crossroad and
that our digitalized society is heading towards the realization of either a dark or a
bright vision of the future. However, the contradictory tendencies we have high-
lighted should not necessarily be treated as dichotomies or mutually excluding
scenarios. The development of our digitalized society can be seen rather as multi-
directional. It might, for example, simultaneously lead to increased state and cor-
porate surveillance power and increased empowerment of citizens. Developments
in the digitalized society might also follow dierent paths related to the dilemmas
and challenges described above. This underscores the scope of opportunities that
exists at this juncture for various kinds of actors to influence the direction of de-
velopment of the digitalized society. To create knowledge and understanding that
can help us realize the positive potentials of digitalization and avoid the threats
is therefore of fundamental importance.
Open Access. © 2020Ragnar Audunson et al. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-No-Derivatives 4.0 License.
2 Ragnar Audunson et al.
In order to shed light on the possible contributions of LAM institutions to the
solving of these challenges, this book will address the following questions:
How is the balance between the digital and analogue roles of LAM institu-
tions, as meeting places and providers of knowledge and information? Is it
useful, or even possible, to distinguish between the digital and the analogue,
or do they constitute one socio-material reality?
To what extent do LAM institutions in their policies and practices open for
forms of digital user participation?
What political visions of LAM-institutions as democratic public spaces are
currently articulated by European governments and how does digitalization
feature in these visions?
How do professionals in the LAM fields perceive their institutions’ roles as
democratic public spaces in a digital age?
What characterizes the public’s uses of libraries, archives, and museums
in the digital age? What roles do these institutions play in the dierent life
spheres of their users? How do modes of usage shape and form for example
libraries and how do new trends in design of libraries change, shape, and
form use?
Our Point of Departure
Libraries, archives and museums have traditionally been institutions empower-
ing their users by providing equal access to knowledge, culture, and information
of vital importance. This holds true even in the present situation, characterized
by the ubiquity of the digital. Today, large sections of the population in European
countries relate to digital platforms and digital communication in their profes-
sional lives, at home, in their social life, and leisure time activities etc. Whereas
other institutions of the public sphere, such as printed newspapers, have expe-
rienced a dramatic decline in use in recent years, this has not been the case for
LAM-institutions. Today, in many European countries, libraries and museums are
still used by approximately 50 percent of the population. Our overriding question,
then, is: how do these institutions function as public spaces in the digitalized so-
ciety? Can these institutions be instrumental in realizing what we in another con-
text called “a civilized information society” (Audunson 2001) and what roles do
they play in ongoing transformations of the public sphere described above? Such
questions are at the base of the studies that are presented in this book.
1 All libraries have traditionally had this role. In this project, however, we will focus upon public
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces 3
As participants of the research project The ALM-Field, Digitalization and the
Public Sphere” (ALMPUB), the contributors to the book have carried out a broad
range of studies of libraries, archives, and museums, in various European coun-
tries. The ALMPUB-project comprises research from the Nordic countries as well
as from Germany, Hungary, and Switzerland.Acommonthreadtothestudiesthat
have been carried out as a part of the project is a probing of the changing roles
of LAM-institutions as public spaces. The book will approach this subject matter
from three principal angles: through inquiries into national policies pertaining
to LAM-institutions, through inquiries into the professions that belong to these
institutions, and through inquiries into the public or users of the institutions.
When engaging with these questions, the contributors to the book depart with
an understanding of LAM-institutions as complex public spaces. On the one hand,
these are governmental institutions and managed in accordance with the admin-
istrative procedures of public bodies. As such, they are instruments for the imple-
mentation of central and local governments’cultural and educationalpolicies. On
the other hand, libraries, archives, and museums are institutions whose roles and
operations to varying degrees are shaped by the interests and needs of their users,
or by “the people”. Put dierently, LAM-institutions are meeting places for the
public where the public have played a vital role in setting the agenda and defining
their purposes as meeting places. One of the major conclusions from our ethno-
graphic studies of public libraries is that these are multifunctional spaces. In li-
braries visitors move smoothly and without friction between dierent roles and
life spheres. During one and the same visit they can act in the roles of students, cit-
izens, friends, next of kin etc. (Aabø and Audunson 2012). Fagerlid’s ethnographic
studies from several local branches of the Oslo public libraries presented in this
book dig deeper into the findings of Aabø and Audunson from 2012.
2 In the project we used the acronym ALM, as this is common in Norway. In this book we will,
however, use the acronym LAM when referring to the three institutions, as this is common in the
international scholarly literature.
3 The selected countries are all undergoing similar processes related to digitalization and glob-
alization but represent dierent contexts which might be fruitful when studying LAM institutions
in relation to the public sphere. Internationally, the Scandinavian countries are regarded to rep-
resent a Nordic model and have taken up the responsibility of laying the infrastructural founda-
tions for the public sphere (See Engelstad, Larsen and Rogstad 2017; Larsen 2018). Hungary has,
in spite of its socialist past, since the 1970s-1980s developed its public library system according
to Scandinavian and Anglo–Saxon ideals (See Audunson 1996; Audunson 1999). Now, Hungar-
ian politics have embarked upon a nationalistic course, which might be relevant for our research
questions. In Germany, running costs per capita for public libraries are much lower than in the
Scandinavian countries; for example only one fifth in Denmark. Switzerland has its particular
public sphere-traditions with frequent referendums.
4 Ragnar Audunson et al.
Another point of departure for the contributors to the book is an under-
standing of LAM-institutions as democratic public spaces. This should hardly
come as a surprise to readers familiar with academic or political debates on
LAM-institutions. Over the last years, the notion that libraries, archives, and mu-
seums contributes to democracy in important ways has been foregrounded in
cultural policy debates and, increasingly, LAM-institutions have come to profile
themselves in this capacity. In the Nordic countries, where many of the studies
featured in this book have been carried out, this line of thinking has been elevated
into an important if not the most important political legitimation for public
finance of institutions of the cultural sector. As far as libraries are concerned,
this is reflected in recent changes in library legislation in Norway, Sweden, and
Finland, focusing upon the libraries’ role as meeting place and arenas for debate
(Norway), institutions promoting the free formation of opinion (Sweden), and
active citizenship and democracy (Finland). We find similar trends within the
museum field and the archives field. The topic of the Norwegian national meet-
ing for museums in 2019 was Democracy, Digitalization and Bildung. But is this
focus on the LAM institutions’ democratic role first and foremost a Nordic phe-
nomenon? In one of the chapters, based on a survey with representative samples
of the adult population in all our countries, Hobohm compares German versus
Scandinavian attitudes to libraries as institutions promoting democracy.
Our aim in the chapters that follow is to develop analytical accounts of LAM-
institutions’ roles as democratic public spaces that go beyond the idealised dis-
courses that are currently in circulation. In doing so, we take as our starting point
the fundamental criticism voiced by Paul Jaeger et al. (2013); namely that dis-
cussions on the relationship between libraries and democracy lack empirical evi-
dence. According to Jaeger, these discourses tend to proclaimthe institutions’ role
as democratic public spaces more than documenting it. More specifically, the con-
tributors will attend to this task through empirical and theoretical specification
of the entailments of LAM-institutions roles as democratic public spaces. Rather
than simply arming that LAM-institutions fulfil important democratic roles, we
seek to explicate whether and in what ways they come to fulfil these roles. As a
part of this endeavor, we seek also to specify ongoing changes to these roles that
are brought on by digitalization, from dierent empirical and theoretical perspec-
Libraries, Archives and Museums as Institutions a Historical Perspective
Libraries, archives, and museums are organizations and they belong to insti-
tutionalized fields. Our study object is the institutions of library, archives, and
museum. We are studying changes within these individual institutions (in the
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces 5
singular), as well as the institutions seen as a cluster (LAM). Our actual empiri-
cal studies are of actors operating within or at the border of the institutions. We
study professionals employed within concrete archives, libraries, and museums
(organizations), we study individual users of the oering of such organizations,
and we study the cultural policies related to libraries, archives, and museums. In
the policy studies, the authors have analyzed concrete policies related to both the
institutions in the abstract, and to concrete organizations, such as the national
library or the national archive. When wielded together, the individual studies
provide an understanding of ongoing changes within the institutions of library,
archives, and museum.
Libraries, archives and museums have developed historically as institutions
from common roots (Given and McTavish 2010). They are all closely linked to the
nation building project of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which needed
museums and libraries to document the national culture and archives to establish
ecient administrative and governmental procedures; they are linked to the age
of enlightenment which needed institutions to spread knowledge also to lay peo-
ple; they are linked to the growth of the bourgeois public sphere, also in the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and they are linked to the development
of modern universities according to the norms of Humboldt. Modern science and
the search for knowledge presupposed institutions where academics could have
access to the works of other academics, thus contributing to establishing a system
of scholarly communication. In some instances, they made up one integrated or-
ganization. The British Museum was the library where Karl Marx in the middle of
the nineteenth century was sitting when writing Capital. The British Library was
singled out as an independent institution as late as 1973.
Libraries, archives, and museums have in common that they have been im-
portant institutions of the public sphere of modern societies. More specifically,
libraries, archives, and museums are similar in that they take on four important
roles: they are memory institutions guarding our collective and public memory,
our cultural heritage. As memory institutions, they provide knowledge and cul-
4 According to American sociologist W. Richard Scott, “Institutions comprise regulative, norma-
tive, and cultural-cognitive elements that, together with associated activities and resources, pro-
vide stability and meaning to social life” (Scott 2014, 56). This definition can be directly applied
to the institutions under analysis in our book: most people know what a library, an archive, or a
museum is and what one usuallydoes when present at one, simply by hearing the word spoken in
a sentence (cultural-cognitive). Most of us think that these institutions should be public and ac-
cessible, as part of our democracy (normative). These institutions are regulated in certain ways
by public bodies though cultural polices (regulative). Due to the cultural-cognitive, normative,
and regulative aspects of our institutions, they tend to be similar across national borders.
6 Ragnar Audunson et al.
tural expressions to large sections of the population. Libraries, archives, and mu-
seums have exerted and continue to exert as agents of popular enlightenment,
and they have a role as local meeting places and arenas of participation in public
Even though there are important commonalities between libraries, archives,
and museums and in spite of them frequently being subsumed under the joint cat-
egory of memory institutions, they are simultaneously constituted as separate in-
stitutional fields via for example institution specific educational programs, insti-
tution specific professional organizations, conferences, journals, institution spe-
cific legislation etc. This institutionalization of a library, and an archival and a
museum field might demarcate the LAM-institutions from each other. Vårheim,
Skare and Stokstad’s analysis of the rise and fall of the Norwegian LAM authority
in this volume illustrates this.
Realizing the public potential in artefacts carrying knowledge and cultural
contentotherwise locked in privatecollections and securing public access tothese
collections is in many ways the basic idea and raison d’être of libraries, archives,
and museums. They have actively strived to reach all segments in society and me-
diate the content of their collections to all social strata. Taking libraries as an
example, the American library historian Wayne Wiegand documents how pub-
lic libraries from the very start served as arenas integrating also groups who did
not have access to other public sphere arenas, e.g. workers, women and teens.
As a corollary of this, libraries, archives, and museums have been public meet-
ing places open to wide sections of the populace. A wide range of meetings and
debates open for all took place in libraries already in the first decades of the twen-
tieth century and Wiegand documents how the public from early on had an influ-
ence over the agenda of their local library. The role of libraries in their communi-
ties, e.g. the balance between popular fiction on one hand and high-quality fiction
and non-fiction on the other, were always a negotiated compromise between the
librarians and the citizens of the community the library in question served (Wie-
gand 2015).
When the modern idea of public librarianship was implemented in European
countries, it was naturally moulded and adapted to dierent national contexts, for
example the impact of the popular movements in Sweden, the broad movement of
popular colleges in Denmark, the struggle for independence from Sweden in Nor-
way, and, in all the Nordic countries, the dominating position of the social demo-
cratic welfare state from 1945 and onwards. In Germany, Hungary, and Switzer-
land, other national trends and traditions had impact on the implementation of
5 The integration of colored people is more doubtful. In the southern states of the US, public
libraries were also segregated.
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces 7
the public library model in particular and the development of LAM institutions in
general. For example, in Germany the dominating party in establishing the Ger-
man welfare state in the first decades after WW2 was CDU, a relatively conserva-
tive Christian–Democratic Party (van Kersberger 1995), as opposed to the social
democratic parties of the Scandinavian countries, which kept socialism as a pro-
grammatic vision well into the latter half of the 1970s.
The modern concept of a public library was in Norway implemented by
Haakon Nyhuus, library director in Oslo from 1898 onwards. In the years imme-
diately preceding the appointment of Nyhuus, annual circulation in Oslo’s public
library varied between 20,000 and 30,000 per year, i.e. from 0.09 to 0.13 volumes
per inhabitant. In 1900, when Nyhuus had been in oce for two years, that figure
had exploded into 310,000, i.e. 1.2 volumes per inhabitant. In 1915 that figure
had more than doubled to 660,000 volumes, i.e. 2 volumes per inhabitant yearly.
These figures illustrate the crucial role of the library in integrating ordinary peo-
ple women as well as men, workers as well as middle class, youngsters as well
as adults in the public and that libraries have been important in establishing a
literary public sphere.
Museums were vital in creating one basis for a unified national discourse
a national and cultural identity by giving citizens access to the national cultural
heritage. Early museum collections were first established for facilitating scientific
enquiry, and not primarily for public access. In the nineteenth century, museums
were also used as instruments for creating one basis for a unified national dis-
course, a national and cultural identity. To this end, museums of cultural heritage
and history of industries and the like have developed collections in order to pre-
serve buildings and other cultural heritage objects which were about to disappear
from the rural scene and modern way of life. Exhibitions open to the public had
partly other origins than the endeavors of creating museum collections, such as
oddities, entertainment events, or the world exhibitions from the mid-nineteenth
century onwards. Museums as places for exhibitions and dissemination of knowl-
edge to the public followed suit. The Norwegian Folk Museum was established in
1894, and Bergen Museum established the first permanent building for exhibi-
tions in Norway in 1897. In modern society, most museums combine a scientific
approach with preservation of heritage and outreach activities. Their mission as
institutions for the public can be taken for granted.
6 In spite of these dierences, there were fundamental similarities. Haakon Nyhuus, the Nor-
wegian public library pioneer, and Szabo Ervin, who implemented the modern public library
concept in Hungary early in the twentieth century, never communicated as far as we know. Nev-
ertheless, they had the same reform ideas and implemented the public library ideas stemming
from the United States at approximately the same time (Audunson 1996).
8 Ragnar Audunson et al.
Archives and the archivist profession deal with what is sometimes called the
secondary value of archival materials. The primary value is to evidence actions
and events. The secondary value is as information and heritage and is often able
to shed light on aspects of past events beyond the intended purpose of the records.
The archivist profession has traditionally been regarded as an auxiliary profes-
sion to the historians. Early dissemination activities have been directed towards
the professional community, such as printededitions of transcribed ancient diplo-
mas. Since the early twentieth century, there has been a modest expansion of the
user communities to include amateur historians and genealogists. However, the
threshold for finding and interpreting old handwritten materials remained too
high for the larger public. Reaching out to the general public is therefore, gen-
erally speaking, a more recent aspiration for archives than for libraries and muse-
ums. Access to archival materials, and outreach as part of the archivists’ profes-
sional repertoire, has predominantly expanded to the general public and gained
momentum through digitalization of much sought sources. Outreach programs
and physical events prepared by archival institutions may not necessarily be a di-
rect result from digitalization as such, but their recent growth have likely been
stimulated by the increased demand and visibility instigated by the archives’ dig-
ital presence.
The development of libraries, archives, and museums has not been a unilat-
eral top-down process structured by governmental and professional authorities.
Popular movements have also been active in establishing and running libraries,
archives, and museums. In the Nordic countries, public libraries in their formative
years were closely associated with democratic popular mass movements such as
the trade union movement, the temperance movement the folk high school move-
ment, and countercultural movements representing the linguistic, cultural, and
religious periphery against the elites of the centre. Voluntary work and the eort
of local enthusiasts have often been important in creating and running local mu-
seums. Although archives at a national level are relatively strictly regulated and
governed via law and governmental authorities, local enthusiasts and local as-
sociations such as local history associations have often been instrumental in es-
tablishing local history archives, as have popular mass movements such as the
labour movement and the temperance movement.
Focusing upon libraries, Söderholm and Nolin identify three historical waves
of community engagement. In the early twentieth century, during the first wave,
the focus was upon literacy and public education, the second wave in the late
1960s and 1970s focused upon “radical” grassroots work for targeted social in-
clusion, while the third wave which took o around 2000, and still lasts, focuses
upon community hubs, open social space, and diversity (Söderholm and Nolin
2015, 253). In an adapted form, these three waves are probably also valid for mu-
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces 9
seums (see for example Simon 2010) and with some hesitations for archives as
well. The upsurge in interest in genealogical research and, not least, the upsurge
in interest in local community research is reflected in the high number of partici-
pants in the local history wiki which Erik Henningsen and Håkon Larsen present
in one of the chapters in this volume. In accordance with Söderholm and Nolin,
these processes should be viewed as cumulative or sedimentary. In the transition
from one historical wave to another, the focus and values of the former wave is
not left behind or replaced by new values but becomes an integrated part of an
extended social role. Literacy and public education, for example, remain impor-
tant elements in the social role of the LAM-institutions even today.
Theoretical Perspectives
From this brief historical account, it should be clear that one reason for describ-
ing libraries, archives, and museums as “democratic” public spaces is that they
contribute to the empowerment of people. To provide broad sections of the popu-
lation access to information, knowledge, and cultural expressions has been and
continues to be a core mission of LAM-institutions. By gaining access to these
resources, people become better equipped to exert citizenship and in other ways
to participate in society. A survey undertaken in our six partner countries (Nor-
way, Sweden, Denmark, Germany Hungary, Switzerland) clearly documents that
libraries as well as museums and archives are used in these ways today. As docu-
mented in another publication from the ALMPUB-project, a high proportion of the
users that responded to the survey reported that libraries, archives, and museums
sometimes or often are important sources for accessing citizenship relevant infor-
mation information regarding their rights and obligations as citizens, keeping
themselves generally updated as citizens, informing themselves in issues they are
particularly interested in as citizens, and making decisions as citizens. Here we
find the highest proportion among the users of archives, where more than 60 per-
cent report that they access such information in archives (Audunson 2019b).
However, when we describe libraries, archives, and museums as democratic pub-
lic spaces in this book, this points beyond the roles these institutions take on as
(publicly accessible) repositories of information, knowledge, and cultural expres-
sions. It points also to the institutions’ role as arenas of public action and interac-
tion. How can this aspect of LAM-institutions’ roles as democratic public spaces
be grasped theoretically?
When dealing with this question it is essential to sort (scientific) explanation
and analysis from political legitimation. Public libraries, archives, and museums
dier when it comesto their legitimating purposes. A national art museum is there
10 Ragnar Audunson et al.
to document the national art heritage and promote knowledge and experience re-
lated to that. A natural history museum is there to document the development
of the natural history and promote knowledge and experiences related to that.
Archives are there to document decision-making processes, administrative proce-
dures, and case handling of public institutions. Public libraries, however, tend to
have more porous legitimations related to a multiplicity of life spheres and policy
areas. The public library, therefore, although a remarkably durable institution,
tends to have its raison dêtre continuously questioned. Documenting its value
is challenging (Huysmans and Oomes 2013). A range of justifications have been
oered seeking to connect libraries with trending topics relating to their respec-
tive social context: they may be “media-lending facilities”, “information facili-
ties”, “agencies for freedom of opinion and information”, “learning centres and
educational institutions”, “cost centres with high return on investment”, analo-
gous places in digital dematerialisation or, more recently, communicativeplaces
for democratic opinion formation”. This results in evolving justifications linked
to current trends which seek to explain why libraries exist, generally while con-
vincing funding bodies of their legitimacy. The most striking aspect of these argu-
ments even as they actually appear in mission statements, strategy papers, and
library laws is their fundamentally normative nature.
Policy often lacks the kind of empirical underpinning that could provide ar-
guments based on current practice or its historical development with facts. Alter-
natively or additionally no theoretical justification has been developed by any
discipline political science, economics, sociology, anthropology etc. capable
of providing the well-argued conceptual framework for analysis and thought re-
quired to explain why the library institution is actually needed, and why it seems
to have continuously endured despite all adversities during all time periods and
in all forms of society and institutions. The normative framing of the library’s role
is particularly noticeable in library laws, which also serve as an excellent barom-
eter for observing social cycles and cultural contexts. Here, social integration
enabling democratic participation” is mentioned with increasing frequency. In
7 This prompted leading representative of the American Library Association (ALA) Michael Gor-
man (2015) to takejustone prominent example to express his astonishmentthat, 15 years after
the first edition of his famous manifesto Our Enduring Values”, the library (be it “public” or
“academic”) has yet to lose its importance despite the emergence of so many technical upheavals
and innovations (from Google to smartphones and social media) in recent years. It continues to
demonstrate its “enduring values”, especially in critical periods which Gorman links explicitly
to the role of libraries in democracy. However, his evidence remains anecdotal and is taken as an
article of faith (cf. Marci-Boehnke 2019).
8 E.g. in one German State Library Law we read: Sie [Bibliotheken] sind Orte der Wissenschaft,
der Begegnung und der Kommunikation. Sie fördern den Erwerb von Wissen und damit die
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces 11
Europe’s Nordic countries, the extent to which culture and library legislation as-
signs libraries a responsible and active role in democracy is striking (see page 3
earlier; see also Audunson et al. 2019b).
Habermas’ Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989[1962]) has had
a strong and lasting impact in the Nordic countries. The book was translated and
reviewed relatively early in the Nordic countries, while Anglo–American discus-
sion around the “public sphere” began much later due to a delayed translation
into English. Perhaps this also explains Habermas’ late, but in recent years all the
more hotly disputed, reception in international library science (e.g. Buschman
2003, 2019; Jaeger and Burnett 2010; Vårheim et al. 2019; Audunson et al. 2019a).
Habermas views the free opinion forming, non-hierarchical discourse and bour-
geois public sphere, which he observed at the beginning of the eighteenth century
in the communities” of the municipal cafés and reading societies, as the pre-
requisite and basis for democracy. In contrast to Michel Foucault (2005[1966]),
he does not focus on libraries as places for the formation of a democratic public
sphere or indeed even as “special places” (Foucault’s heterotopia). It should be
noted that the AngloAmerican discourse of library science has yet to incorpo-
rate many of the other French reactions to the Habermasian theses on democratic
consensus-culture which may cast a dierent light on some current, rather less
consensual (some say democracy-damaging (Helbing 2015)) excesses in the digi-
tal public sphere (see Huzar 2013; Lyotard 1988; Rancière 1999).
Even if theoretical discussion of the political role of libraries was on the in-
crease long before David Lankes (2011), empirical research on libraries and the
public sphere is limited (Widdersheim and Koizumi 2016). So far, only a few stud-
ies have yielded concrete research results in the spirit of evidence-based librari-
anship (Booth and Brice 2004). Alex Byrne has established a clear correlation be-
gesellschaftliche Integration und demokratische Teilhabe.” §1 LBibG des Landes Rheinland–
Pfalz (19.11.2014) (translated quotation: They [libraries] are places of science, interaction and
communication. They promote the acquisition of knowledge, thus enabling social integration
and democratic participation.”)
9 The fact that this idea is actually a well-established claim within library science can be seen
in this quotation of the German librarian Hans P. Schuhböck dating from the 1980s, which con-
tinues to be cited internationally: A yet-to-be-undertaken attempt to derive the function of the
library from the characteristics of a democratic society would have to take the two sides of the
relationship between society and state in modern society as its starting point: welfare state and
popular sovereignty, with the democratic public sphere mediating between state and society”
(Schuhböck 1983, 222 translated from German). rgen Habermas’ habilitation thesis “Struktur-
wandel der Öentlichkeit (“Structural transformation of the public sphere”, 1989[1962]) was
important for making the concept of the public sphere central to democratic theory, with its ideal
of a “domination-free discourse” (for a critic from a digital age perspective, see Han 2013).
12 Ragnar Audunson et al.
tween the democratic maturity of a country and the existence and use of libraries
worldwide. Based on the “Democracy Index” of the Economist Intelligence Unit
(EIU) and the Library Map of the World of the IFLA, he even postulates a “symbi-
otic relationship between libraries and democracy. The correlation coecient is
particularly high when political participation of users is accounted for, and less
when controlling only for the mere existence of a library infrastructure.
Michael Widdersheim (2018) has applied methodically sound case studies
with solid empirical foundations to investigate how public libraries develop into
dierent political cultures over a long period of time. On this basis, he formu-
lates a “political theory of library development” that describes the requisite and
adequate factors for change in public libraries. Like all publicly financed infra-
structure, libraries’ development i.e. their adaptation to the changes in society
and its supporting institutions is governed by a cycle of political decisions. Li-
braries can be said to perform best (and achieve successful development) when
they demonstrate responsiveness by reacting to external developments, even if in
the normative framing of their funding bodies these have yet to be implemented
specifically to libraries. Interesting conceptual analyses from Michael Widders-
heim and Masanori Koizumi have been able to illustrate the recent diversity of
development in the field of research “Libraries and Democracy” (Widdersheim
and Koizumi 2016).
The abovementioned survey from our six partner countries clearly confirms
lic spaces along the lines of Habermas’ theory of the public sphere. Here, a sub-
stantial proportion of the users of libraries, archives, and museums report that
they have attended public meetings, lectures, and debates at these institutions
(Audunson 2019b). Ethnographic studies from public libraries undertaken
as a part of the ALMPUB project also highlight the role public libraries take on
as arenas for respectful discourse, but not necessarily with an aim of reaching a
common opinion. Thus, in Fagerlid’s study of social reading circles at libraries,
similarities appear between these groups (that mainly consist of women) and the
10 According to Habermas (1989[1962]), the public sphere is a sphere in-between and indepen-
dent of the private sphere, the market, and the state. In the public sphere, citizens come together
to discuss issues of common interest and a public opinion can be formed. The public sphere is a
sphere where rationality prevails, and the participants are committed to the value of the better
arguments. It is an open sphere, where participants meet on an equal footing as citizens not
according to rank and status in a hierarchical system.
11 Our research indicates that the Habermasian understanding of the public sphere as an arena
for forming a public opinion rather should be rephrased as an arena for forming public opinions,
i.e. stressing the plural. Through a civilized and respectful public discourse, we refine the opin-
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces 13
literary salons of the early days of the developing bourgeois public sphere. How-
ever, as a framework for understanding what goes on between people at libraries,
archives, and museums, Habermas’ theory on the public sphere has clear limita-
tions. In part, this is due to the theory’s strong dualistic and rationalistic leanings
that give little credence to the emotional, aectual, and sensuous aspects of expe-
rience and communication. Rather than rational minds in minimalist bodies like
the Habermasian subjects (Gardiner 2004, 31), people visit museums and libraries
as gendered, socially situated, experiential, and aective human beings. In daily
life, rational and emotional, individual and social, private and public needs and
concerns often blur. For example, a lonely elderly man reads the newspapers ev-
ery day in the library in order to stay informed or to be among people. In our sur-
vey among professionals in the three fields (Audunson, Hobohm, and Toth, this
volume), respondents in particular from the museum field were of the opinion
that creating emotional involvement and engagement via the museums’ exhibi-
tions was more important than providing a background for a rational discourse
via neutrally curated exhibitions striving for balance.
Furthermore, while the ambition to facilitate a salon public features promi-
nently in policy discourses in the LAM-field, and in the event-programming of li-
braries, archives, and museums, the survey indicates that this is accorded low
priority by users as well as professionals. Here, users rank the libraries’ role as
arenas for public discourse close to the bottom among 12 reasons legitimizing the
use of scarce public resources for upholding a library service. Although an over-
whelmingmajority of librarians, archivists, and museum professionals report that
arranging public meetings and debates areimportant parts of the service portfolio
in their respective institutions, they rank these activities relatively low compared
to other reasons for upholding their service.
The findings referred to above on libraries as democratic meeting places illus-
trate the importance of side eects (Elster 1981). The role of libraries as meeting
places and democratic spaces plays a prominent role in library policies and strate-
gic documents. But the users frequentinga library, an archive, or a museum do not
frequent an abstract “meeting place.” They go for an experience, to find a book,
to work, to relax, to search for a piece of information they need in their everyday
they visit the library to satisfy individual needs and interests. The library’s role
as a democratic community-building meeting place is a side eect. Nevertheless,
in our qualitative observations, as well as our survey, we find that libraries are
important places for a variety of meetings and encounters.
ions we started out with, and we learn to respect and accept the opinions of others, but we do
not maybe we should add hopefully not develop a, in the sense of one, common opinion.
14 Ragnar Audunson et al.
Another theoretical angle we will rely on to grasp LAM-institutions’ roles as
democratic public spaces is to view these as arenas for the formation of a culture
of civility. This directs us to a cluster of theories that are less concerned with the
formation of public opinion than with the multiplex forms of interactions that go
on between people at public places and the skills or competence in dealing with
social and cultural complexity they acquire through these experiences. Thus, ac-
cording to Sennett (1977, 2009), the public realm is to be considered a place where
strangers meet and where they can become part of a culture of civility. To Sen-
nett, the public realm is a forming space where people are developed as tolerant
citizens. Sennett can be read as delivering a defence for re-establishing social con-
ventions, which best can be relearned in the public space, whether in the street,
in the café or in cultural institutions such as libraries, archives, and museums.
The re-establishing of the social conventions is not to be looked upon as a sort
of rigid armour to hide or enclose the subject, but on the contrary as a condi-
tion for people to enjoy the company of each other at the same time as they are
protected against more unfortunate inclinations of others (Rasmussen, Jochum-
sen, and Skot-Hansen, 2013). Strauss (1960), Lofland (1973), and Klinenberg(2018)
make similar arguments regarding the civic skills people acquire from participa-
tion in public places, including libraries and museums. These skills are essential
prerequisitesfor a well-functioningdemocracy in societies characterized by social
divisions and cultural diversity. That LAM-institutions are arenas for the forma-
tion of skills of civility has been well documented in previous research (Audun-
son 2001) and the fruitfulness of this approach is confirmed by qualitative and
quantitative studies undertaken as a part of the ALMPUB-project. In the survey
that was carried out within the framework of the project, we found that among
the users of libraries, 40 per cent of the respondents reported having entered in
contact with strangers, for example via short conversations, and every fourth li-
brary user reported such contact with strangers belonging to a group dierent
from themselves, e.g. a dierent age group, a dierent ethnic group (Audunson et
al. 2019b).
A third theoretical angle we rely on in the chapters that follow is to consider
LAM-institutionsas arenasfor theformationof community. Thisdirectsus totheo-
ries that may overlapconsiderably with Sennett and the other writers listed above,
but that dier in that they give less emphasis to the formation of skills of civility
than to the ways in which people may enter into communities and attach a sense
of home” to public places. In his book The Great Good Places Cafés, Coee
Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Com-
munity, the American sociologist Ray Oldenburg describes, analyzes, and praises
the dierent places where people can gather, put aside the concerns of home and
work, and hang out for the pleasures of good company and lively conversation.
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces 15
Nevertheless, according to Oldenburg these places are not without a more serious
meaning as they actually are the heart of a community’s vitality and the grassroots
of a democracy (Oldenburg 1989). Oldenburg names these places third places”,
contrary to “first” and “second places”, which are respectively home and work.
Unfortunately, according to Oldenburg the third places have been declining in
postwar USA.
The prevailing successful paradigm of the library as a “third place” is, on the
one hand, indicative of the current “state” of society and its search for a commu-
nity in the digital world (Stalder 2018) beyond the intimate private sphere and the
world of work governed by outside forces (Oldenburg’s first and second places). In
view of the issues which clearly extend beyond these two spheres, there is a grow-
ingawareness thatparticipationin theprocesses ofcivilsocietycan nolonger only
take place passively behind (television) screens, and that more than the fourth
estate of journalism is needed (Fichtelius et al. 2018). On the other hand, current
trends speak for themselves: new third places (such as co-working spaces and
maker spaces) are emerging but their eects and even causes are dicult to mea-
sure. In empirical terms, it remains unclear why libraries are now being promoted
by politicians in line with the described current trends of third place development
and the support of a civic public sphere.
Library professionals have widely adopted the concept of “third places”. Our
research, both the quantitative surveys and the observational studies, document
that libraries do function as third places. Thus, Evjen and Vold, who have stud-
ied a dedicated branch for children and youngsters between 10 and 15 years of
age in an Oslo public library, conclude in their chapter in this volume that this
branch first and foremost functions as a third place. This is interesting taking into
consideration that Oldenburg himself does not consider libraries as third places
as they are often too big and too purposive. Nevertheless, the comprehensive ar-
ticulation of “third places” in library circles has undoubtedly helped to create
greater focus on the library as meeting- or community space when rearranging
old libraries or building new. What is particularly interesting in this context is
that we have witnessed, during the last decade, an increased interest from muse-
ums to become “third spaces”, inviting users to stay longer and engage with each
other (Tate 2012). Our studies, however, indicate that the concept of third places,
although important, is too narrow to grasp the complexity of the library’s role in
the same sense as we have argued that the public sphere concept also is too nar-
row. Library use is simultaneously linked to the users’ private lives, i.e. first place,
12 Danish library policy seems to be the exception which proves the rule here: the frequently imi-
tated example of the municipal library of Aarhus DOKK1reveals exactly how successful evidence-
based library development can be (Jochumsen 2018).
16 Ragnar Audunson et al.
need concepts and approaches that can grasp this complexity and should refrain
from perspectives narrowing it down.
Participation, user empowerment, and community orientation are often key
elements of observed paradigm changes in the professional fields of LAM. Let it
be called “New Librarianship (Lankes 2011) new currents of archival thinking
(MacNeil and Eastwood 2017) or “New Museology” (McCall and Gray 2013). Es-
pecially in New Librarianship, the concept refers to the cybernetical (i.e. digital)
foundation of knowledge in society: only via an interaction of information agents,
a “conversation”, may knowledge occur in a community (Lankes 2011). This re-
flects quite well the conception of our digital age by the Swiss media scientist Fe-
lix Stalder (2018), who defines digitality” by its three dimensions: algorithmicity,
referentiality, and community.
Change versus stability is a central issue in the research on which this book
is based. How do technological changes induce change and do the role and so-
cial mission of the LAM institutions change or remain stable when exposed to
digital changes? Institutional approaches are fruitful when discussing such pro-
cesses. When Henningsen and Larsen analyze policy documents on digitalization
of LAM-institutions in Norway (this volume) and coin the term digitalization im-
perative”, they are, among other things, identifying institutional isomorphic pro-
cesses. When Vårheim, Skare, and Stokstad (this volume) use historical institu-
tionalism to analyze the rise and fall of the ALM-authority in Norway between
2003 and 2009, they are identifying encultured and institutionalized norms and
standards promoting or prohibiting convergence.
Libraries, Archives, and Museums in the Digital Age
Technology changesthe way we live and permeates every life sphere. The ubiquity
of online searching is a fundamental characteristic of our way of living (Haider
and Sundin 2019). Digitalization has fundamentally aected the public’s media
use. The proportion reading traditional newspapers and watching traditional
television has fallen dramatically. Many have foreseen that also LAM-institutions
will lose ground due to digitalization. According to Nicholas (2012), digitalization
leads to a situation where people do not need librarians (or archivists or museum
professionals) as intermediaries. Via the Internet, we have all direct access to the
resources, which in the pre-digital era were guarded by librarians, archivists, and
museum professionals.
The omnipresence of digital technologies and their supplanting of traditional
physical meeting places is, however, not unambiguous. In spite of Massive Open
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces 17
Online Courses (MOOCs) and digital learning platforms, universities are very pre-
occupied with physical campus development a seeming paradox in a situation
where it is technologically possible to complete a degree without setting your foot
on campus. Universities, in spite of this, continue to invest billions and billions
in physical campus development, while in their rhetoric being preoccupied with
what they term digital transformation”. A similar trend is in evidence in the LAM-
field in the Nordic countries and other parts of Europe. In parallel with the massive
digitalization, large investments have been made in recent decades in museum
and library buildings, often of a spectacular nature. To take one example, through
ongoing developments of the seaside parts of the city centre of Oslo, this area is
about to become plastered with monumental buildings housing cultural institu-
tions. This and other trends in the cultural sector prompt the question of whether
digitalization and the ubiquity of social media create a newfound appreciation of
our need for physical meeting places. Is there a dialectic at work here, whereby
the increasing digitalization of everyday experience heightens the awareness of
the value of tactile experiences and face-to-face human communication?
This question, which is perhaps one of the most important coming out of our
research, serves as a reminder of the critique of “telepresence” Hubert Dreyfus
formulated in On the Internet (2009[2001]). Here, he argued that digitally medi-
ated experience is not only inferior to face-to-face communication when it comes
to learning and skills acquisition, but more broadly as a vehicle of human en-
gagement with the world. What is lost on the Internet, according to Dreyfus, is
embodied experience and engagement with people and things. With this loss of
bodily involvement, we lose the sense of risk and vulnerability that attaches to our
engagements in the real world, the sensitivity to shared moods that make social
situations matter to us and, ultimately therefore, the sense of being connected to
reality. To live one’s life on the Web, Dreyfus notes, may be attractive to people be-
cause it is a path of least resistance that relieves them from the vulnerability and
commitment of real world involvements with people and things, but at the same
time “this lack of passion necessarily eliminates meaning as well (137). Thus,
on this account, if one is to live a meaningful life, one would have to embrace
our embodied involvement in the risky, moody, real world” (120). If one accepts
this argument, the expectation follows that the massive digitalization of every-
day life that has occurred in recent years would probably engender a widespread
appreciation of, or need for, experiences of face-to-face human interaction and
experiences of real physical places.
The findings of the ALMPUB-project support this assumption. Based on our
research we can conclude that libraries, archives, and museums are heavily used
also in our digital age and that they first and foremost are used as physical spa-
ces, not digital. Contrary to the prophesies of the vanishing of libraries, archives,
18 Ragnar Audunson et al.
and museums, these institutions have not suered the same fate as for example
newspapers. A survey undertaken within the framework of this project in the six
partner countries confirms that particularly libraries and museums are used by a
majority of the population and that physical visits dominate, although physical
use is combined with the use of digital services. The proportion of the population
that report having visited a museum over the last 12 months has not been reduced
since the 1990s and the proportion visiting libraries and using them as meeting
places seemsto be increasing. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Hungary, a clear
majority of the respondents have used libraries one time or more in the preceding
12 months. In Germany and Switzerland, the percentage of users is not very far
from 50 (Audunson et al. 2019b). These figures are in line with most surveys mea-
suring library use. A majority in all the countries have visited a museum one time
or more, whereas the proportion using archives at least one time per year varies
around 20 in all the countries. The most important dierence in use patterns be-
tween libraries and museums, which also our research confirms, is that a signif-
icantly larger proportion of library users visit the library frequently 3–4 times
per year or more often compared to users of museums.
In addition to LAM-institutions’ strong position as physical meeting places,
libraries, archives, and museums have gone digital. They have made their con-
tent accessible via digital platforms, having developed digitally based forms for
user participation and digitally based platforms for communication with the pub-
lic. New arenas for public life have emerged within and across LAM-institutions,
e.g. in the form of crowdsourcing or voluntary digital work. Thus, in one of the
chapters of this book, Henningsen and Larsen show how a local history wiki site
operated by the Norwegian National Library has become a vehicle for public ex-
pressions by local history enthusiasts with a broad following. Skare has done a
case study on the use of social media as a platform for communication between
libraries and museums and their public. Her cases are the public library and two
museums in the city of Tromsø in northern Norway.
Vårheim, Rasmussen, Jochumsen, and Rydbeck document in another chap-
ter in this volume that although a substantial proportion of the users of libraries,
archives, and museums report having used digital services during the last year,
the dominating way of contacting libraries and particularly museums is via phys-
ical visits. Archives deviate from libraries and museums with a much higher
proportion of the users reporting visiting the archive via Internet. Use of digital
services supplement, thus, physical visits and are seldom, with archives as an
exception, related to accessing content. In libraries, the dominating use is related
to administering one’s lending activities and in museums to checking opening
hours and programs. Users of archival digital services more frequently report hav-
1 Introduction Physical Places and Virtual Spaces 19
ing accessed and read content digitally, for example church registers and local
newspaper archives.
The Structure of the Anthology
In the following 16 chapters researchers from the ALMPUB-project will dig deeper
into the problems touched upon in this introductory chapter by discussing the
main findings from ALMPUB’s sub projects. The anthology is organized into three
parts. In the first part we focus upon policies with a main focus on those related to
digitilization of the LAM field. The second part of the book contains contributions
focusing upon the LAM professions. How do librarians, archivists, and museum
professionals perceive their and their institutions’ role as public spaces in a digital
age? The third part of the book has the users as its focus area. With the exception
of two chapters, the contributions in this part analyze the role libraries play in the