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Image: Libraries: Not only books...

The main focus for public libraries today is often the development of digital collections and services in line with advances in technology. But sometimes it can be easy to overlook the importance of other services public libraries can offer to the local community in the form of non-traditional, physical collections, and the role they fulfil.

Research from "Non-traditional library collections – in digital and other worlds" from Interlending & Document Supply, asks why public libraries sometimes choose to offer physical objects that are not part of their traditional collections, from electricity monitors to DIY tools, and how the inclusion of these items is justified in terms of the wider objectives and goals of the library.

For the study, a Web survey was sent to public library managers in all Swedish municipalities to establish which non-traditional items were available for loan and their reasons for inclusion.

The research comes from Katarina Michnik and Catarina Eriksson from The Swedish School of Library and Information Science, University of Borås, Sweden.

In a summary of the research findings, read below to discover the variety of items Swedish libraries have available for loan and how this is benefitting their local communities.

Electricity monitors

Electricity monitors are loaned out by some libraries to raise the public's consciousness of the human impact on the environment. These are promoted to "make people aware of their energy consumption" and to contribute to a "climate friendly way of life".

Library goal: Promoting a sustainable society.


Health can be promoted through the provision of fitness equipment, or tools that facilitate active pastimes and can support the literary materials they have on the shelves. One library commented: "Lending out bikes is in cooperation with the municipality. As we have generous opening hours, the library is a suitable place. We also provide cycle helmets."

Library goal: Improving the population's health and fitness.

Activities to promote local participation

Libraries can provide opportunities for members of the community to join in with sessions taking place in the library with the use of non-traditional collections. For example, workshops to learn languages, be creative, culturally active or to simply enjoy oneself are also used as motivations for non-traditional collections.

Library goal: Improving the population's learning and development.

Fun and games for children

The internal and external image of the library can be improved through non-traditional collections, which also help to increase the sense of well-being and comfort. For example, one library said: "We have games and puzzles in the children's library as a strategy for attracting children to the library".

Library goal: Improving the library and investing in future generations.

ICT tools

Portable ICT tools, such as iPads are used to facilitate and enhance the library staff's activities. One library commented: "iPads are needed to fulfil our mission with regard to contemporary media and information structures", while another said: "iPads are needed for managing our activities".

Library goal: Facilitating different library activities which are part of the wider goals.

DIY tools

Some libraries in the study claimed that certain non-traditional collections were a consequence of external requirements rather than fulfilling a library goal. The loaning out of DIY tools, for example.

One library revealed that it lends out tools such as drills and saws by arguing that these tools are seldom used and therefore on loan for the few occasions they are needed by members of the public.

Interlending & Document Supply is available as part of an online subscription to the Emerald Library Studies eJournals Collection. For more information, please email or visit the Emerald Library Studies eJournals Collection page.

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