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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

An Outline on the Policy of Danish Children’s Culture

Bente Buchhave
Royal School of Librarianship,
Aalborg Branch,
Aalborg, Denmark


The Danish concepts of children's culture in 1997 can accommodate children's and young people's competence; but it is still a question of visions that must be followed up and transformed into actions in local communities and in national scale.

It is also about making this competence visible with a view to its natural incorporation in chil-dren's everyday. Whether it is in the family, in the residential area, in the day-care center, in the school, and in the many leisure-time activities

In the 1990s too, children's institutions are undergoing great changes, caused by a changed situation in society, which must necessarily require new choices and priorities. An example is the public libraries, whose democratic basic idea and traditional composition of materials must be adapted to the pressure of time on children's leisure, their family circumstances and their fascination with the new electronic media.

Children and young people are not hampered by a narrow realistic perception. They focus on the possibilities and like to participate actively in testing. Children and young people would like to have direct influence on their everyday. The goal is concrete changes in the form of a more interesting and relevant framework and content.


This outline on Danish children’s culture will mainly be in the shape of a general report with emphasis on children’s active participation in culture in 1997.

My views will be based on the cultural-ministerial work with children, youth and culture. A work that, among others, manifests itself in The Planning Group for Children and Culture: The Ministry of Culture Committee concerning children, young people and culture. I have been the chairman of this committee, which dates back to 1975, since August 1994.

I intend to concretise and put into perspective my views in relation to the actual role of the public library as a public cultural institution. My background for this is 17 years of working within the field as a children’s librarian and as a chief children’s librarian as well as participating in various committees. At present I am the chairman of the Committee, working with children’s libraries in the Danish National Library Authority, and of the evaluating committee on children’s active participation in society within the field of libraries (project period 1995 - 1997).

A report: Children’s culture - children’s library in the 1990-ies

The year is 1995.
The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Children implements the Scheme “New Initiatives to promote the active Participation of Children and Young People in the Life of Society”. The institutional area is the libraries.
A local library in Jutland tries to be an experimental library.
The motivation is that in spite of a larger renovation, the libraries have not succeeded in keeping the young people as head borrowers.
The libraries will now make an experiment with a user-controlled branch in the public library.
A local school launches a cultural line.
A local co-operation between school and public library means that the public library will function as a place for practical training during the school hours and that the cultural line in a trial period takes over the up fitting policy, the activities about arrangements and exhibitions as well as the choice of materials for the 12 to 16 age group.

A local policy of culture. A local library. A local profile in close dialogue with children and young people from idea to action. A project, where the local and ministerial level together search for new methods and strategies within the children’s cultural field.

Children’s culture in 1997 - historic perspective

The conditions for child-cultural work are at any time closely related to the way society regards children and culture as well as the principles for organising culture.

In order to understand children’s culture in 1997 one has to place it in a historic process where the cultural affairs of that time have defined the assumptions for development.

The Danish Ministry of Cultural Affairs is established in 1961. The views on culture at that time are based on education and cultural background, i.e. culture as a whole, which people wish to democratise. The ambition was that everybody, irrespective of their social position and place of residence, should encounter art and culture in their everyday lives. The presentation of culture and the related public institutions became essential elements in this democratic process, where culture became available to children and adults.

In the 1970´ies and 1980´ies the view on culture as a single unique element changes. The central cultural and political principle is cultural democracy which signals respect for all culture patterns. Now focus is being moved from that of distributing the publicly well-established culture to that of culture as an active local process in which amateurs and professionals join together and define new ways of social life. The philosophy was that one’s own experiences in creating culture could be a motivating factor for one’s interest in professional art and culture. In this period culture also became a means of social work (cf. Duelund, Peter: Den danske kulturmodel).

The views on children in the 1970´ies and 1980´ies are partly expressed in cultural and political memorandums and partly in the Governments memorandum on children and in the action plan. For the first time ever in Danish cultural affairs a working committee on children’s culture is established in order to contribute to a new and broader development of ideologies in the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and to implementations in counties and municipalities.

The working committee is established in 1975 as the Working Committee on Children and Culture. In 1994 the name is changed to "Kulturens Børn" (The Planning Group for Children and Culture). This committee defines the concept of children’s culture to consist of 3 elements:

  1. The culture that derives from the child’s need to be actively involved in its surroundings.

  2. The culture that has been handed down from the adult to the child.

  3. The culture that is passed on from one child to another without an adult acting as the go-between.

    (Børn-Kultur-Samfund, p. 29)

In 1993, Nordisk Kulturinstitut (Nordic Institute of Culture) was asked by the Minister of Culture, Jytte Hilden, to illustrate the Danish cultural affairs in the period 1961 - 1993 as well as to state their impressions on what cultural affairs should be about. Peter Duelund, MA in culture and sociology at the University of Copenhagen, was head of the project. The memorandum resulted in 18 books, and in "Den danske kulturmodel. En idepolitisk redegørelse", Peter Duelund accounts for the real challenge in Danish cultural affairs:

In the 1990´ies, the Planning Group for Children and Culture has listed 3 major essential elements in children’s active participation in culture:

These 3 factors are a dynamic whole which is necessary in order to counteract too much organising and controlling children’s lives as well as the narrow perception of culture. The emphasis is on culture and children - where children and adults as equals move from impressions to expressions. The basic viewpoint for this is the child as fully competent as regards culture and democracy.

Art and culture are regarded as elements in a divided day, where the child moves between home, institutions and leisure life. Art and culture thus gain importance far beyond the limits placed by the public cultural institutions and far into children’s own culture with play as the centre of rotation.

Thus, the 1990´ies are characterised by inter-ministerial cultural work in the area of children and young people. The Government Children’s Committee (16 Ministers), the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Children (16 Government officials), the children’s committees in the individual Ministries (e.g. the Planning Group for Children and Culture in the Ministry of Cultural Affairs) are thus employing cross-disciplinary skills on a state level with the ambition to secure a greater unity and quality in the everyday lives of the children. These cross-disciplinary skills are essential in order to correspond to the organising and development of children and culture which take place in the local communities.

From the 1960´ies to the 1990´ies there has been a change from the single government-organised culture to that of a deeply rooted local structure. Locally, the municipalities, counties and regions now define the terms for culture, with all due respect for the legislation of the country.

That is why we experience an interaction between state level and local community initiatives. Generally, a state committee’s work is closely related to community projects. In a time with local multiplicity the state committees, councils, and boards have to select a double presentation-strategy, partly in relation to the Ministries, partly in relation to the municipalities, institutions etc. Responsiveness to the reality in the community combined with a high degree of professionalism and cultural outlook should preferably initiate development.

The community’s cultural work depends on mutual responsibility and commitment on many levels: political, administrative, institutional, occupational groups, and user.

The locally rooted cultural institutions must now apply new alternative methods of thinking. It is inevitable that they will have to work their way towards a new self-knowledge which ultimately can unite past, present, and future.

The institutions must make choices based on quality, choices which benefit the legislation as well as the local profiling. A lurch from publicly defined uniform institutions scattered throughout the country to local selective institutions will be seen.

The interaction will again work both ways so that the local profiling institutions will challenge the central legislation.

Communication and innovation will be major issues in the development of the cultural institutions. Contact to the users must be established and new ways of co-operation must be developed. The ambition for the institution must be to act as a catalyst for the development of ultimate conditions for information on each individual life.

The employee in the institution must act as a navigator in a time where culture is developing. The cultural worker of today and of the future must act as a project manager. According to Finn Thorbjørn Hansen, MA in history of science and learning and aesthetic cultural work, characterises the field like this:

The pilot’s basic qualifications relate to the functions: take off, fly and pilot, touch down. Creativity is needed in order to regard the world and culture. Knowledge on definitions on culture and the role of the project manager must be obtained and dealt with. One needs to select values for one’s job. This can only be done by screening one’s experiences and personal attitudes.

Principles for work with children and culture in the 1990´ies - central values

Many of the basic principles from Danish cultural history are still relevant when we discuss the purposes and strategies of children’s culture in 1997. These are:

The challenge in 1997 is the fact that all Danish children experience art and culture as a quality of life and an element in a versatile personal development.

In the 1990´ies a social polarisation takes place among children and teenagers. This amounts to approx. 10-15 % of the target group aged 0 to 18 years. These children are called risk-children and they don’t thrive. The spectre ranks from children with specific needs to problem children in need of prolonged treatment. There are various degrees of ostracism/isolation but the problems of adapting and thriving often lead to an unsuccessful social and cultural integration.

In the inter-ministerial halls people are prepared to try to counteract the various outcast-mechanisms. It will demand determination and the establishing of cultural meeting places, which will also attract young well-adjusted people. The mixing of different groups of children seems to be important for the personal shaping of identity.

The cultural polarisation has become noted in the 1990´ies. According to Peter Duelund you cannot establish links between social and cultural polarisation because no research has taken place in this field.

The cultural polarisation is clearly seen in the use of cultural possibilities. Studies of 9-12 year old children, carried out by senior lecturer Torben Weinreich, the Royal Danish School of Educational Studies, have shown these classifications:

In 1997 there is a need for developing children’s culture in their everyday lives. Home, day-care centre, cultural institutions, and housing sector become major interactive partners in the child’s meeting with a multitude of cultural offers - as well as in the need for maintaining these offers in everyday life.

The good intentions are presently being tested by the ministerial framework in co-operation with the local communities. An inter-ministerial project "Culture in Child Care Centres" in the period 1997-1999, will let day-care centres, schools, and recreation centres use culture and artists as the centre of rotation. This work should ensure that culture will be a major element in the everyday lives of all children as well as open the local institutions to the surrounding community. Management, employees, children, artists, and parents will all be actively involved in the change and in the visibility of the children’s cultural qualifications. In time, this will automatically lead to an upgrading of the skills of the employees in the institutions.

The notion of quality is a major factor to ensure that art and culture will not just be considered consumer goods. It is imperative that targeting and responsiveness to the user are not seen as contradictions to quality. It would be difficult to inspire confidence without quality in the experience, the presentation, and the conditions. Children and teenagers are aware of the qualities in content and in presentation.

In the 1990´ies, the notions of democracy, closeness and quality can be combined in the work of communicating cultural expressions in a time of many impressions. It is important that qualifications are being developed in order to comprehend the various impressions from media as well as establishing limits and content that enable children to communicate appropriately in various media-languages.

Det Danske Statsministeriums Medieudvalg (The Media Committee of the Danish Government) has published several publications on the media-society, including "A Report on Children’s and Teenagers’ use of mass media". The background is based on the attitude that media can be a resource:

The media committee is of the opinion that children and teenagers should have easy access to a media centre in their leisure time.

Children and Cultural Affairs in 1997 - perspectives for children’s libraries and children’s librarians

A prerequisite for children’s libraries to manage to be central institutions for all children in their everyday lives, is the children’s librarian’s ability to work as a project manager.

My own point of take off for navigating in the universe of children’s culture is:

It is of utmost importance to understand the crossing point between institutions, children’s lives and cultural tendencies. When using the children’s perspective it is also important to understand the nature of libraries as leisure centres. Children regard their leisure time as the period in which they themselves decide what to do. Generally speaking, the leisure time is in focus when children describe their everyday life.

Development and new ideas must be promoted, on a local community as well as on a national scale, in order to put new strategies and methods into perspective. A useful method in this aspect is the user’s influence. In 1994 the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Children implemented the scheme: "New initiatives to promote the active participation of children and young people in the life of society". In the period 1994-1996/97 the democratic joint influence should be made a normal part of everyday life within the areas of day-care centres, schools, athletic associations, and libraries.

In the area of public libraries there have been various participatory democracy-projects in the 1980´ies and 1990´ies. This happens to be the first time ever that a national project is initiated which also holds a shared age group, i.e. 9-16 year old children (children in this group are considered to be children and adults!). The 10 pilot projects in 1995-1997 will further the impact of renewal in the libraries.

The focus on the presentation of children’s libraries will be seen through a multitude of professional art and culture for children, exposed to a large variety of media as well as the processes and products of the media-workshop on culture and children. Current topic events will function as a local square where citizens regardless of sex, age, and cultural preferences, will discover and involve themselves actively in the learning experience. The quality of content and presentation are imperative if the library should obtain a status as the central meeting place in the leisure time - in a time with many offers of services. The children’s library shall challenge and expect the unexpected and not pander to its users. The management of the library must contribute to placing the dialogue between politicians and practicians in the crossing point between visions and actions.


There is a need to take active and creative measures in order to meet the challenges in the field of children’s cultural affairs on state level, community level, as well as by individual institutions. According to Peter Duelund, equal rights are one of the major challenges. Equality with adults is demanded in respect to assignment of resources, legislation, appointments of members to committees and councils. It takes foresight and energy in a continuous process of development -in a time of change - with user groups moving rapidly ahead. Here self-sufficiency is a trap and patriotism in the community is a limitation of the range of vision.

The project manager / chaos pilot must observe the whole world and be inspired by the traps in the wide field of culture - irrespective of nationality - in order to pick a course which holds ample space for local anchoring as well as professional and human visions.


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Betænkning om Børn og Unges brug af massemedier. - Kbh.; Medieudvalget Statsministeriet, 1996 (Betænkning nr. 1311).

Buchhave, Bente: Kultur og kvalitet i børnebiblioteket i 1990´erne. Af Bente Buchhave og Birgit Wanting i "Biblioteksarbejde. Tidsskrift for informations- og kulturformidling", nr.7, 1992, side 16-26.

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