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

Mobile library services in Denmark

Inger Skamris
Skive Public Library,
Skive, Denmark


If you can´t come to the library, then the library must come to you - that is the thinking behind the mobile library service which has now existed for nearly a century in the Nordic countries.The first one was actually in Helsinki in Finland, in 1913 - a horse and cart carrying a load of books and driving around the city streets!

In Vestre Toten in Norway the mobile librarian was also the baker. He drove around selling bread and lending out books at the same time - we must assume that both were quickly digested.

In both Denmark and Norway the mobile libraries began out in the countryside, whereas in Sweden they started in the town Borås, much later, in 1948.

To begin with they were not mobile libraries as we understand them. They were mobile book transports, carrying books by van from the central libraries to the local branches. The first one in Denmark was in Gentofte in Copenhagen, the years was 1926. Then in 1928 it was suggested that private cars or hired caoches should be used to visit the local parish branches with supplementary books. Still there was no direct lending.

But already within a year the first mobile library with direct lending was in operation. This was in Holbæk on Zealand, where Carl Jacobi hired a large van and started a lending library of 300 books. For 10 years the idea worked well on a limited basis, but then came the German occupation of Denmark in 1940 and the mobile service was closed down.

It did not resume until 1956. When Kirkeskovskolen, a new central school serving 4 parishes in the central of Zealand, started a decentralised service using the schoolbus as a mobile library. After the bus had taken the last the children home in the afternoon, the bus seats were folded down so there was room for 600 books.The staff consisted of two librarians and a driver. Once a fortnight they visited each local community, where they could lend out up to 450 of the 600 books in a single day.

The first actual purpose-built mobile library was introduced in the large rural district of Tikøb in North Zealand in 1963 - a blue Bedford van with room for 2,400 books for the 10,000 people in the area.

These pioneer mobile libraries served what the we Danes think of as sparsely populated rural areas. But compared with many other countries such as Norway and Sweden, the Danish areas where quite heavily populated, with only a few kilometres between villages.

Mobile libraries were also used as a replacement for closed-down parish libraries. Then in 1968, in Gladsaxe in Copenhagen, came the first mobile library that was not a replacement but was actually a supplement to the local branch libraries.

With the local council reform of 1970 many small council districts were merged into larger ones. One district could now contain of several towns, each with a well-developed library service. There were still a number of rural libraries, but they had restricted opening hours and only a handful of old books to choose from.

The mobile libraries were soon recognised as the fastest and cheapest way to improve the rural service, so from 1969 to1977, no fewer than 60 mobile libraries came into being. This number increased to 72 in the 1980`s but as a result of local government cutbacks that have hit local branches and mobile libraries hardest, it has fallen to the present number of 57.

In particular, a number of district councils have chosen to close down the mobile library service rather than purchase new vehicles to replace older models. Even so, nearly a quarter of the current rolling stock is over 21 years old, and only 14 of the 57 are less than 5 years old. Many of those built in the early 1970`s have either only just been replaced or are still in use. However, as we approach the end of the century, a more positive attitude is beginning to prevail, with mobile libraries being put to other uses than traditional ones.

The Nordic Mobile Library Festival

A contributing factor to the new optimism has been the Second Nordic Mobile Library Festival in 1994. This followed the first succesful festival on the island of Øland, Sweden in 1990. Over 500 library staff from 13 European countries met at Skallerup Klit four years later to discuss the future of the mobile library.

67 mobile libraries arrived in Denmark from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Holland, France, England and Scotland. Particularly the last three, France , England and Scotland have provided inspiration for the Danish mobile libraries coming into service during the last 3 years. This is seen most clearly in the 2 built for the Danish minority in Schleswig in North Germany, to which I shall return later.

The Danish Model

In 1996 the 57 Danish mobile libraries accounted for over 3 million loans. Most of the libraries drive round within their own local district, but some of the larger districts collaborate with the surrounding districts for a wider mobile library service.

Each mobile library is staffed by a driver and a librarian. This year for the first time we have an example of one person doing both jobs.

The Danish mobile libraries lend out to individuals and are very seldom used for transporting books to branches, schools and so on. Nor are they used as libraries by schools, for every school already has its own efficient library catering solely for its own pupils.

Most Danish mobile libraries therefore start their active public service at around 1 or 2 pm, when there is a chance that some people will have returned home to the small towns. The last stop is between 7 and 8 pm.

For the past 25 years nearly all the mobile libraries have had a fixed timetable. They visit villages and small towns, particularly in the country, a couple of times a week. 10 years ago they used to stop outside the local school or the grocer`s shop, but now the village school is gone, the grocer has closed down, and the mobile library is the only local service left to the villagers.

The buses stop for between 20 minutes and 2 hours. In towns which are visited several times a week, the library often stops at several different places. In my own area, for example, which is Salling/Fjends near Skive in West Jutland, there is a village called Hald with 600 people where the library stops in two different places with two quite different clientele.

The present trend is to move the mobile library stop from a central position to a housing area. In the city of Århus a number of suburban library branches have actually been replaced by the mobile library. So now we have mobile libraries in the city surburbs too.

Many of the libraries are very similar in appearance and content. They carry the same type of books, and the distribution to children and adults is more or less uniform. All the libraries carry books and magazines for children and adults, and many of them also have a CD and cassette tape library, including audio books. The most recent service to be intriduced is the lending of CD-ROM and videotapes.

Mobile Library experiments

In 1985-86 a series of experiments was carried out in Randers in East Jutland involving a specially targeted service to particular groups. For example there was a mobile children`s library; there was a music library; and then there was a mobile library for senior citizens; and another one for the local factory. The first two in particular, for the children and the music, were a success, but unfortunately the initiative was never followed up, either in Randers or in the rest of Denmark.

This year there is a new experiment taking place. This is for the mobile libraries to link up with specific functions for the police and for the local council information.. I shall return to these later.


Most of the mobile libraries in Denmark ar linked to their own central library via an on-line search-and-lend system. This involves a radio communication system, a mobile telephone or an ISDN-link. Some of the mobile libraries also have access to the Internet, though in most cases the this is reserved for the use of the library staff. Computers with multimedia, as well as fax and video facilities are also finding their way into our mobile libraries. Let us take a look at a few of them as they travel the roads of Denmark.

Brande Mobile Library

In Brande, in Central Jutland, we find Denmark´s smallest mobile library with just 800 items available for borrowing. We call it the Rolling Shelf. It started service in January 1997, when two local branches were shut down, but finances were available for a decentralised library service. So twice a week the librarian sets off on a round tour, stopping 2 hours at a time at various locations.

The Rolling Shelf service has proved to be quite popular, with a considerable increase in the lending rate. At present it has an off-line lending system, but efforts are being made to bring on- line, either via a mobile telephone or by radio link.

Juelsminde Mobile Library

Denmarks´s largest library trailer was also introduced in January 1997, in Juelsminde in East Jutland. Here again lending figures have increased rapidly. The new mobile library replaces no fewer than 5 small branch libraries. The trailer moves to a new location every day and stays open for 3 or 5 hours. It is 12 ½ metres lang and 2 ½ wide, with room for 4.500 volumes. It is furnished like a small library room, with a handicap entrance, a children´s and adult´s departments, offline lending and a multimedia computer available to general public. There is even a sunshine parasol and garden table to set up outside in those warm summerdays.

Flensborg Mobile Library

In South Schleswig, just south of the German border, there is a substantial Danish minority. They too are part of the mobile library service. I mentioned earlier that the two mobile libraries here are in forefront of developments. In fact they represent a new generation. To begin with, the mobile library staff all took part in 1994 Nordic Festival mentioned earlier. They were particularly interessed in the English library from Buckinghamshire and the French one from Haut Rhin.

As a result they now drive around a large area and visit 40 schools and kindergartens as well as 500 private persons, all part off the Danish minority in North Germany. In the border city of Flensborg an on-line link is being set up for search- and -lend system for the 2 libraries. The vehicle, built in Germany and weighing 6 tons, both have distinctive Danish artwork by Danish artist.

Odense Mobile Library

Odense on the island of Funen lost its mobile library in a traffic accident in 1994. Like many other local councils the city decided to place to place an order for a new one with a firm in Kiitekori in Finland. The new library came into service in 1996 with a lot of the latest technology onboard, including an on-line search-and-lend system, CD-ROM, television, video and a musicsystem. The library is on the road 5 days a week, visiting 34 locations for the general public including city areas, as well as 4 locations for senior citizens and 34 for children.

Copenhagen Mobile Library

If Brande has the smallest mobile library, Copenhagen has the largest. In fact there are only two of its type in Denmark. Here we have very much a city mobile library, with lots of floorspace, 10 by 4 metres when fully extended. The children`s department is at the front and measures 2½ metres by 4. The library is on the road 6 days a week, spending in all 29 hours at various locations. It has an on-line link and the staff have access to the Internet.

Special Service Mobile Libraries

In recent years some mobile libraries have also been equipped with special services. In the West Jutland town of Holstebro and on the island of Møn book lending has been combined with local council information and services, with varying methods and varying degrees of success. In Holstebro 2 local council officers accompanied the library staff on their rounds, but the experiment stopped 2 months early through lack of interest among the general public.

On Møn, however, the library route was extended and the library staff themselves have supplied the local council information in close cooperation with the local authorities. The mobile library now offers pamphlets and brochures on local council services, legal information, and a telephone link to the councils offices to arrange appointments. Other minor services on offer include batteries for hearing-aids, while various aids for senior or handicapped citizens can be ordered and collected via the library. There is also onboard access to the Internet.

This particular experiment ends on July 1st this year after 8 months, and the conclusion is that the library route will have to be redrawn, with some locations being visited only every second or third week and others being dropped completely. The local council information service will be continued, and the special hearing-aid batteries have proved a success.

In Frederikshavn in North Jutlandthe local council also wanted their new mobile library to strengthen local council links with rural areas. Since at the same time the local police chief wanted an increased police service in rural areas, the two have been combined. The new mobile library, also built at Kiitekori and taken into service in autumn 1996, is therefore furnished with a special police area, where a local officer can answer questions from members of the general public. The officer is not allowed to carry out any investigations while on library service, nor is there any access to police files. So far in practice he has been answering questions on driving-licences, number plates, passports and suchlike. The library also contains an on-line search-and- lend system, a multimedia computer, fax facilities and a photocopier,as well as a filmscreen for films for child-minders in rural areas.

Finally, let me relate just one more special service, this one provided by the Frederikshavn mobile library mentioned before. The librarian and driver arranged an overnight trip for some of the children from the rural areas. Many of the local children had talked about how exciting it could be to spend a night in a library, and 32 children aged 5 to 12 signed on for the trip. This was actually too many to sleep in the library, so it was agreed that the overnight stop would be near a scout hut. When the great day came near, they drove off into the countryside, found the location, lit a campfire, cooked bread and ate their food, listened to ghost stories and splashed around in the nearby stream. The next morning there was a breakfast of cornflakes and breadrolls before the choldren`s parents came to fetch them. To the greayt surprise of the library staff the children said afterwards that the best thing about the whole trip was: they had a library available for such a long time.