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Digital Transformation, Roles, and Skills in Copenhagen Libraries
By ,
Volume 42, Number 2 - March/April 2018

In 2013, Copenhagen Libraries ( started a long process of composing a strategy for the years 2014–19. The process involved not only every library staff member in the city—there are about 330—but also comprehensive desk research to map out the most important societal trends for public libraries today.

Public libraries have a long history of enjoying a privileged position as gatekeepers and information providers, contributing to the flow of knowledge and culture. However, as our research showed, the scarce resource is no longer access to knowledge and culture, but attention . Commercial streaming services are proliferating and are fast becoming ubiquitous—as if the open internet itself was not enough. Public libraries find themselves as accidental market players in an attention economy, and some of us are only adapting slowly. If Copenhageners do not need us nearly as much as they used to for books, music, and movies, then what do they need us for?

Denmark too—a small country, but wealthy on a per capita basis and with a highly educated and specialized workforce—finds itself in new waters. Rapid globalization has leveled the playing field for skilled labor, bringing with it a need for lifelong learning. Report after report shows that children spend less time reading as they grow up. Even the girls, who historically read more than boys, are slipping. Once children reach puberty, they put down the books and pick up their smartphones to chat instead.

Deteriorating reading skills is bad news, because reading is the foundational skill for everything from IT to social in teractions. It is the ticket to inclusion and cultural experiences. The emerging generations are not only showing vastly different media usage patterns—digital, mobile, and very fragmented—they are not expected to adopt older generations’ patterns as they age.

Library numbers bear out these trends as well. Physical loans are down, but digital loans are up, as are physical visits. This trend has been evident for several years now. We may not have changed that much, but Copenhageners are using us differently.

We are bringing about a needed digital transformation of our offers and services, but it is evident that Copenhagen Libraries’ greatest assets are its physical spaces, its staff, and, of course, its users. In the terminology of blue ocean strategy, the physical library space is our blue ocean: a unique and undisputed position in an uncontested market space. No one has anything like it—although we have a suspicion that digital services are catching up. Amazon opening physical stores is one example. Digital content delivery, conversely, is a red ocean: highly contested by gigantic market players. This insight necessitates a new library mission. Our motto used to be “All you can imagine,” but as we’re morphing into more of a cultural area with a strong digital library to support it, we have changed it to “Getting smarter together.” Therefore, our strategy and its implementation program focused on service redesign, competence development, and a new digital library—in that order.

Empower the citizens

The implementation of the strategy took place in Copen hagen Libraries from 2015–2017 through an extensive program called Empower the Citizens. The program included projects that ranged from the integration of citizen service centers into the libraries to new service concepts, extended opening hours, and much more. The motivation for the implementation has, as the name suggests, been to empower citizens both by focusing on outreach initiatives and the co-creation of library activities, but also by directing citizens toward more self-service solutions.

The overall ambition was to instigate a transition from a li brary service largely focused on desk service to more differentiated types of service. This also meant patrons who are capable of serving themselves should do so through self-service options in the library and digital solutions. The time saved from the reduction of on-desk hours has been allocated to other service concepts including outreach initiatives designed to target user groups not already prone to using the library.

Several changes have been made to support this transition, one of which being the establishment of Library Online, a city-wide call center that gives Copenhagen Libraries one access point to all 20 libraries, with one phone number and one email address, as well as chat channels and two-way video screens in all libraries. The call center is staffed by highly skilled pro fessionals, who maintain an answer rate higher than 90%. This takes the strain off the rest of the organization, while at the same time making it easier for citizens to get in touch with the library and get an immediate response to any inquiry.

Although the on-desk hours have been reduced, the opening hours have been extended: Most libraries are now open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. This means that citizens can visit the library at their convenience, even when there’s no librarian staffing the desk. To ensure that patrons can still find the help they need in the library, screens with a video feed to Library Online have been placed in all libraries.

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Rie Bojer Kooistra is a senior advisor, Copenhagen Libraries.

Mikkel Christoffersen is a senior advisor, Copenhagen Libraries.


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