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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

Extending European information access through mobile library services: some first results

Ioannis Trohopoulos
Veria Public Library, Greece

Julie Carpenter
Carpenter Davies Associates, Oxford


This paper will provide an overview of Greek public libraries; it will then focus on the MOBILE project, summarising the designed stages and the anticipated outcomes. There will be particular emphasis on the user surveys and the results; how the surveys were designed and the factors which dictated the choice of user groups to target in the survey; research methodology followed; survey results and the implications of the results for the MOBILE project; finally, the possible outcomes of the project will be mentioned.


Mobile libraries are in use in most countries in Europe. They are widely used to provide a book-based service to meet the needs of small or remote rural communities and as a cost-effective alternative to the provision of permanent service points in urban areas.

Within Europe there is considerable disparity in the number and range of mobile library services: in the UK over 12% of all public library service points are mobile. In 1989 Greece had 23 mobile libraries in operation throughout the country offering mainly educational library services. The mobile library services in Northern Europe are integrated with well-established, national public library networks and infrastructures, including access to national bibliographic and document delivery networks and services. In Southern Europe these relatively well-resourced infrastructures at national and local level are generally lacking.

The picture of librarianship in Greece is very different from that in Western countries. Even though the situation has been improved rapidly, yet it cannot be compared with any other country. While Greece has a history of libraries going back to the ancient world, its modern public library movement dates from just the Second World War. Many other European countries have a much longer tradition of public libraries. As might be expected from its fairly recent origins, the public library situation in Greece is underdeveloped in terms of, for examble, legislation, national planning, finance, and local provision. However, the importance of public libraries as a communitiy facility is being recognized by the Greek government and their development is being influenced and assisted by greater contact with the wider European community.

Public libraries in Greece can be divided into a number of categories, according to their legal status, administrative responsibility, sources of funding and target group.

Public Libraries

The legislation governing public libraries was introduced in 1949 and last revised in 1976. Amongst other things the law defines the composition and responsibility of the library board and the permitted number of employees per library unit. There are at present 41 public libraries (including the National library)in the 52 counties of Greece. Those libraries (18 in number) which have been established in the regional capital cities are Known as "central public libraries" and also provide a mobile library service to the surroundings districts. Veria is such a central public library and it operates two mobile libraries serving a large area in Northern Greece which is not restricted to its own county. It is intended that all the 52 counties in Greece will eventually have a central public library. The size of the public library book collections varies between 20.000 to 80.000 volumes. As the budget gradually increases, especially long established libraries have reached a quantitatively adequate level. Moreover, there is more provided by way of recreational literature in public libraries. Public libraries are financed through, and legally responsible from the Department of Libraries within the Ministry of Education. The legal framework restricts, however, the number of people that can be employed by each public library and this is a major constraint on the development of the public library service in all counties.

Municipal Libraries

There are approximately 400 of these throughout the country. They have no legal basis, come under the responsibility of the local authorities and are financed from the municipal budget and from private funds. The lack of any coordination or central planning agency governing them explain the considerable variation in the quality of the services offered. The level of the services varies according to the interest of local politicians, tradition and the scale of private donations.

Children's libraries

There are 21 libraries for children in rural areas funded partly by the Ministry of Education. These libraries are linked to the Centre for Children's and Adolescents books in Athens which provides a central book purchasing and processing facility.

The Role of the Public Library in Greece

The lack of a single law governing all categories of public library, the differences of funding, standards of services, etc., make it very difficult to define and identify the precise role or purpose of the public library in Greece today.Until recently, its image was in general rather old-fashioned, at the expense of meeting the library and information needs of the population at large. Now there is more in the way of popular reading matter or information service provision. The concept of service to readers is slowly emerging, whereas information provision is in its infancy and there is no national scheme of inter-library loans to overcome local collections deficiencies. On the other hand, there is a serious attempt towards the creation of an infrastructure which will include all kind of libraries in regional level.

Another handicap faced by the Greek public libraries is that they usually occupy converted buildings which are often poorly furnished and equipped, too small, and not efficient nor functional. Moreover, the abscence of standards for public libraries, which are so vital in the establishment and development of a nation's library service, is another difficulty. In other European countries the public library aims to be a focal point of the local community and one that supports its educational, recreational and cultural needs. Increasingly such libraries include non-print formats; target specific community groups (for examble, the elderly, business people, ethnic groups etc.); have developed an outgoing service philosophy and make growing use of information technology. To a greater or lesser extend, and depending on local circumstances, Greek public libraries are moving towards that philosophy.

Mobile Libraries in Greece

Since Unesco presented the Greek Government with the first mobile library in 1956, development has continuned gradually. Around 1965, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, a plan developed for a highly centralized system. Since 1972 a somewhat different approach has been adopted. Around the middle of 1983, 22 mobile libraries were being operated from 14 central public libraries. The Ministry of Education through the Department of Libraries is responsible for these libraries. Few years ago, the Ministry of Interior Affairs also introduced mobile libraries to the municipalities.

The 22 mobile libraries cover approximately 2000 of the 6000 rural communities. Because all the prefectures do not have a central public library, each mobile library is operated over as large an area as possible. This reveals one of the weak sides of the Greek mobile library system. It is not exceptional to find that one hundred and fifty to two hundred villages are served by a single mobile library. A visit by the mobile library once every two months is considered reasonably good frequency. In the period between visits by the mobile library the books are circulated in the village under supervision of a local mediator. Only recently has it been decided to focus the visits on primary and secondary schools. There, the children and students have the chance to select books and afterwards a teacher has the responsibilty of circulating them. The mobile library is immediately accesible to the public, but because of the low visiting rate, it rather functions as a truck which deposits a parcel of books in the village or the school every one or two months. The productivity of the buses is generally quite low. The reasons for this are the area covered by each bus is too large, driving distances are too great and their schedules irregular. This is combined with a low visiting rate in the villages-schools, a lack of minimum standards and a lack of a public relations programme. On the other hand, inadequate overall planning on the part of the Government as regards the financing of the mobile libraries is detrimental to the continuity of the service. Generally, the situation has been improved but there are a lot to be done as far as the quality of the services provided and the whole structure.

Project MOBILE and Libraries in Greece

The Mobile research project under the 2nd Call of the CEC Libraries Programme will, it is hoped, have a role to play in drawing appropriate attention to the importance of mobile library services in Greece, to the current inadequacies of provision and resources, and the potential which exists in mobile service points to provide information, educational and recreational services hitherto unavailable to the majority of the Greek population. Project MOBILE will run from 1994-1997 and has 3 library authority Partners in Veria, Greece, the Borders Region in Scotland and the Central Public Library of Friesland in the Netherlands, one library research organization, the Netherlands Centre for Public Libraries and Literature (NBLC) and a UK Coordinating Partner, Carpenter Davies Associates. It will identify target user groups and their information needs in remote communities, or other regions where public library services are currently unable to stimulate or meet demand for information, and investigate the technical feasibility of introducing a range of information and document delivery services into existing public Library networks, through the full exploitation of information and telecommunications technologies in a mobile library environment.

Three multifunctional mobile library and information point vehicles will be introduced into the three library services and field trials of the fully-equipped mobile library vehicles of up to 12 months duration will be used to provide, and modify as appropriate, an attractive and innovative mix of services in each of these three areas, which will stimulate consideration of the role and nature of the public library of the future.

The MOBILE project will concentrate particularly on recearching the following issues:

Mobile Library Services and Information Provision

The services provided by the mobile libraries have traditionally been restricted to the provision on loan of leisure reading and access to the main library bookstocks through reserve systems. More recently in Western Europe efforts have been made to provide a wider range of library services, more equatable with those provided by small static branch libraries, exploiting the opportunities offered by information technology. These efforts have concentrated on the provision of reference and information services, either on experimental bases or in response to local demand. Experience now indicates demand for information through mobile library access in the following broad areas:

Within this context of European experience, the Partners in Project MOBILE have planned a series of new information services appropriate to user needs in each region, to be trialed, monitored and evaluated under the project.

Technical assessment: User Survey, Service definition

At the time of writing, the interim results of the surveys in all three places were available to the partners. With some differentiation between Borders/Friesland on the one hand and Veria on the other hand, the most salient outcome of the user needs study seems to be a lack of user needs. This appears to be due partly to the regional differences and partly to the chosen survey methodology. By and large, Veria has a very limited experience as far as mobile library services are concerned whereas in the Borders and in Friesland mobile libraries have a relatively long tradition and patrons know what to expect. Overall, the user surveys were considered interesting and useful. Although a precise service definition for the Borders and Friesland has not finalised yet, quite in line with the outcome of the surveys, the intention in both regions is to extend groups of current users by using IT to provide new services and thus stimulate demand from existing non-users through the provision of e.g. one-stop information shops, CD-ROM access to bibliographic databases, fax and on-line access to central service points, distance education links. Particularly in CBD Friesland MOBILE will aim to extend the range of services offered to the existing population groups who are the main users of the mobile library services, by introducing new technology access to sources of information mainly leisure, general interest and social service area. A further aim will be to attract new users of the mobile library services, from among working and professionals, by offering reference and enquiry services. In Borders, the project will extend access to basic online and information services to the regular users of the mobile library services. It will also be investigated possible links with local distance learning providers, and the use of the vehicle’s facilities in school project and exhibition work.

As far as Greece concerned, a comprehensive research survey has been conducted in the two counties, Imathia and Kilkis, to identify the pattern of reading and recreational habits, information needs and information use among adults and secondary school age children. The responders in Greece express their interests mainly in audiovisual materials and access to information sources through CD-ROM’s, CD-I’s and different computer software applications (language learning etc.). A relatively big part of the students and teachers would also like to include reference works in the stock of the mobile library. Plans have been made to provide new services to the following groups:

The services to be rendered in Veria have been clearly defined and will include inter alia :

The feasibility of offering access to online services from the vehicle is still under investigation and will depend on two principle factors:

  1. introduction in 1995/96, by the national telecommunications authority, into Northern Greece of mobile telephone networks which allows data transmission online;
  2. the availability and cost of Greek and European online database and information retrieval services which identified user needs and markets.

Problems and issues in Extending End-user Services

Mobile partners have already begun an intensive research, fact-finding, discussion and liaison with a wide range of organizations and individuals in Greece and elsewhere in Europe in order to deal with a number of important planning issues and potential problems, before commencing the implementation stage of project MOBILE. The problems and issues include:

MOBILE approach to evaluation and monitoring MOBILE library and information services.

Throught the three field trials the approach will be based, as far as possible, on evaluation research techniques, rather than straightforward library and information performance measurement and indi cation, although many elements and techniques of the latter will be used. MOBILE methodologies will be based on the material in the EC Libraries Programme Ground-clearing study on library performance measurement, undertaken by the Montford University in the UK (December 1994).

The evaluation and monitoring exercises in MOBILE will be individually designed for each partner, in order to provide the greatest possible amount of directly useful information, but efforts will be made in the design of the evaluation instruments, to allow comparisons to be drawn between the three Partner services. The evaluation research in MOBILE take the form of “action research”, in order t o generate data which will enable ongoing adaption and change of services and resources as proves necessary.

The MOBILE evaluation strategies will be largely qualitative evaluation employing the techniques used in social science research known as “illuminative evaluation”. This is highly informal and flexib le and is well-adapted for the situation, as in the forthcoming MOBILE field trials, in which the evaluators do not know at the outset of their study exactly what questions are to be asked and what f actors tested during the progress of the evaluation. It is particularly designed for investigating innovations in systems and services, when there is no well-established pattern of comparison.

Finally, the field trial evaluations will need to cover four main areas:

MOBILE: possible outcomes

It is expected that MOBILE will have the following outcomes: