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Library co-operation in Barents Euro-Arctic region benefits all participating countries.

Susanna Parikka
Library Director
Lapland University Consortium Library
Rovaniemi, Arctic Circle

Susanna Parikka, photograph by Rebekka Heino
ranscending boundaries between nations in the northwestern corner of Europe in professional library cooperation has been practiced since 1960’s. The Barents Euro-Arctic region, Europe’s largest region for interregional co-operation extends over the northernmost parts of four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Two of them, Sweden and Finland, belong to the European Union. One of the countries, Norway, belongs to the military alliance NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Three of them are Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Barents region has a low population density: 3,4 inhabitants per km . The vast region of 1,75 million km² has 5,5 million inhabitants; three quarters of the territory and population is Russian. A variety of languages is spoken: Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Russian and also minority languages as Kven language, Torne Valley Finnish and Karelian language. Several indigenous peoples and minority groups live there, e.g. the Nenets, Vepsians, Komi and the only indigenous people in European Union, the Sami.

Crossing borders has traditionally been vivid in the area. In the north everyone has a long way to the capital in the south. In modern days crossing borders has been free of charge between the three Nordic countries.

Co-operation since the 60’s
Co-operation between libraries began between the three Nordic countries in the so called North Calotte area in 1962. The beginning of 1960’s was a time for enthusiasm with great prospects and a strong belief for the future of the north. A cultural plan in Sweden also included libraries. The plan enabled libraries to achieve a North Calotte state-of-mind and in 1962 the North Calotte Week was arranged in Piteå (Sweden). As a result, The North Calotte Council was founded which strongly influenced many co-operation projects, also in library field.

Another important factor in the very beginning was that there were individuals who had a vision of mutual international co-operation and who were deeply devoted to them, e.g. Rovaniemi City Library’s (Finland) director Jorma Etto and his colleague in Luleå (Sweden).

The goals defined for library co-operation in Piteå were, in fact, very far-reaching. The focus was set on improving library services with the help and inspiration of the cross-border co-operation. Concrete forms of co-operation in acquisitions, inter-library lending and PR work were considered important. Also exchanging information, exchanging special collections and even exchanging people were regarded essential. One target was also to acquire literature from the neighbouring countries, both as originals and as translations.

Libraries in different countries had similar conditions, goals and problems. Common library meetings were needed for organising co-operation. The first was held in 1963 in Rovaniemi. There were many meetings during 1960’s and 1970’s under different names. Some contacts with the Russian librarians existed during these years and the Russians began to participate in common meetings from 1971 North Calotte Library Meeting in Kirkkoniemi (Norway). The first Barents Library Conference in Russia was held in Murmansk 1989.

Challenges and results
There have been challenges during the years: overly ambitious plans and lack of resources resulted in quieter periods. But there are successful stories, too. Libraries have had many common projects e.g. building networks, digitising materials, arranging common further education (Barents Library School) or producing a common bibliography of literature on the Sami issue. Study visits to other libraries have been popular as well as staff exchange. Northern information service Lapponica on the internet provides international service. A network of information specialists from all types of libraries from three countries answers questions about Lapland, the North Calotte and Barents region.

Public libraries in Barents region form a good network with even two mutual Nordic mobile libraries. University libraries and other higher education libraries are concentrated in the largest cities. There are some small special libraries too, specialising in e.g. geology, geophysics or law. Libraries in digital age help to overcome long distances.

Barents Library Conference
Barents Library Conference is held every other year in turns in each country. The latest one was held in 2011 in Rovaniemi. Conferences have always been open for all library employees in Barents area. The Barents Library Conferences go across national borders and also across functional borders of academic, public and special libraries. Library staff from all types of libraries may participate. The idea is to share, to encourage, to learn from each other and to have fun together.

The question is how to continuously succeed in cross-border co-operation. Dr. Regis Rouge-Oikarinen provided an answer in his lecture at the 2011 conference: it has to be based on local needs, common challenges and mutual co-operation. And it must have a grass-root connection.

Learn more!
Mikko Hyötyniemi highlights the importance of library partnership in Barents region.