Now that the proposed new Swedish State Budget is published we see some of the first actual results of the ambitions to create a new national library policy. The National Library is to be given a larger mandate as the authority responsible for collusion of all state funded initiatives for libraries in Sweden. This is a major step towards a unification of the Swedish library sector that many actors on the library scene in the country have wanted for a long time, and as a thought it is good. Social and technological development has gone so far that it is now reasonable to make a substantial change in a system of responsibilities and role distribution which basically has been untouched for almost a hundred years. The public inquiries that have been made during the last year have mostly been positive and constructive in their ideas and ambitions to create this new and, what many believe, stronger structure of the library sector.
However, when the budget now arrives we see that the ambition of the government is not wholehearted on this matter. A cultural collusion inquiry suggested the new distribution of responsibility in the library sector specifically requested that the National Library should take full financial responsibility for an increased state involvement within the sector, and that collusion between national, regional, and local levels should be facilitated by this. Now the government does not want this rather simple and transparent solution.
The National Library is not given full confidence in its new mandate in that it is specifically mentioned in the budget that it shall not distribute any funding to the regional library level. This simple fact will become a hindrance in the creation of a national library policy. The parts of the library sector will still be financed through different levels of authorities – exactly what the preceding inquiries wanted to get away from.
When differencing the national and regional level in this new structure, much is lost. It is quite possible that several activities that would have benefitted from a more centralised form of financial support now will suffer – most likely those concerning reading and literacy oriented initiatives.
The financial model now proposed by the government raises questions on how serious their ambition to see a reformed library sector really is. That it is needed is beyond doubt.