A Government Mandate for School Libraries in Sweden

Case study


Module 5


Topic 2: Developing relationships


For many years in Sweden, the school library was ignored by authorities, by principals, and by most teachers. Nevertheless, throughout those years, many people were working to establish the school library as a well-developed and effective resource to support students in their learning. These people wanted a new and enhanced role for school libraries in education. For this to happen, there would need to be a number of changes: further training, development projects of various kinds, attention at different political levels and in the media, and, last but not least, legislation that supported the new role for school libraries. The new Education Act of 2010 made the school library mandatory. Head teachers and policy makers on both school and municipality level were required by law to establish school libraries. This was a new situation in the country, even for school librarians and teachers. The Education Act made it clear that all students--in primary schools, compulsory schools, special schools, Sami schools, secondary schools, upper secondary schools and independent schools--must have access to school libraries. The big difference from the previous inclusion of school libraries in the Library Act is that all students, regardless of type of school, are covered by the Act. Many library associations were involved in lobbying activities to reach this result. Another important contribution to the result was the advocacy created by school library development projects, funded by the Government of Sweden through the National Authority for School Improvement, which helped school libraries to become a more active part of school development. The initiatives that led to the to the school library projects came from enthusiasts from the university world, from school library organizations, and from governmental organizations and municipalities.

Key Ideas

As you read the case study, think about the following issues:

  1. How can different library associations contribute to school library advocacy work?
  2. What perspectives can groups from outside the library world contribute to school library advocacy work?
  3. What results can come from networking with different groups and from lobbying government together?.
  4. The importance of knowledge based in practice and in research.


Many library associations, library networks, and other groups contributed to the advocacy work that resulted in a government mandate for school libraries in Sweden.  

External bodies that provided support to the advocacy work included:

  •  IASL International Association of School Librarianship
  •  IFLA International Federation of Library Association
  • The Danish School Library Association.

Within Sweden, the associations and networks contributing to the advocacy work included:

  • Sweden’s five School Library Associations (North, West, East, South, and Middle) and their umbrella organization, Skolbibliotek. These associations each work in one geographic areas with local issues; they also cooperate in a school library network. www.skolbibliotek.se
  • The National School Library Group. This is a network of many associations with interests in the school library field such as trade unions, governmental institutions, library associations. www.skolbiblioteksgruppen.se
  • The Swedish Library Association, The Practice Group for School Libraries. The association is the main library association in Sweden. www.biblioteksforeningen.se
  • Documentation, information, culture (DIK). Group of experts for school libraries. The trade union for librarians and its practice group for school libraries: www.dik.se

These Swedish associations are all working with information, advocacy, lobbying and research as well as development. In this case, advocating for a change in government legislation, the associations have worked both together and separately, with each other and with actors outside the library world.

Two other networks mentioned in this report are:

  • Mind the Gap. A local network initiated by the National Authority for School Improvement, a government agency coordinating projects for school reform.
  • Network for School Library Centers. A nationwide network for School Library Centers.


Since 1996 the School Library Act was included in the Library Act. The 1996 Act was very vague and committed to nothing. Leaders in the school library field wanted the school library to be part of the Education Act and to be more specific. Although the school library legislation was weak, there was considerable ongoing activity related to enhancing the role of the school library

The National Authority for School Improvement, founded in the new millennium as an agency of the government department for education, started a project with a focus on the school library. The purposes of the Room for Language project were to support the environment for reading and writing in schools and to develop the pedagogical role of the school library. Room for Language focused on two principles:

  • to support a developmental process in the school based on its own needs and conditions, and
  • to support this development through courses and pedagogical dialogue.

The Room for Language project included a school development part, “Time for Learning,” and a research part, “ Learning via School Libraries.” The research, conducted by Dr. Louise Limberg and other members of LinCS, contributed to a deeper understanding of the role of the school library in school development. The LinCS research center (Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society www.lincs.gu.se) is located at the University of Gothenburg and funded by the Research Council of Sweden. School library advocacy work in Sweden and elsewhere has been informed by LinCS research studies focusing on information literacy, on students’ ways of interacting with information systems and personal resources as well as eductors’ perspectives on interacting with and collaborating with others.

The experiences from Room of Language pointed out that school development required more than personal resources, material resources, and time resources. What was lacking was cooperation between teachers and school librarians and also the engagement of the principals. Such were the thoughts that led to three more school library projects funded by the Government of Sweden through the National Authority for School Improvement: SearchingCommunicatingLearning, SMiLE, and Many SMiLE. The purpose of the three projects was that the school library, through the growth of knowledge and through pedagogical discussions, would become a more active part of school development. The initiatives for the projects came a variety of actors: from the university world, from school library organizations, from governmental organizations and municipalities, all represented by many enthusiasts. The library associations played an important role in these projects.

Advocacy Actors

The university actor

One actor working to get resources for school library development was the university world. In southern Sweden there has been a lot of cooperation between the municipal school library field and the university. The University of Malmö had courses for school librarians, called “The School Library.” Initiatives were taken by staff from the university and from the municipality of Malmö to ask the National Authority for School Improvement to develop nationwide courses and other development projects. They talked especially about the need for further education for teachers and librarians. These initiatives resulted in a project with teachers and school librarians working together on school development. Unfortunately, the school library aspect of the project faded away, a fate we have seen many times: when the classroom and the school library meet, the classroom usually wins. That experience showed how hard it is to work with the pedagogical role of the school library: either the discussion ends with the pedagogics in the classroom or with the administration of the school library. Even when the contacts came from the teacher education at the university, there were no real discussions of the pedagogical role of the school library.

IASL had its conference in Malmö in the year 2000 as a cooperative project between the university and the municipality. Sweden’s school library associations (the South School Library Association, The National School Library Group, and The Swedish Library Association’s Practice Group for School Libraries) played a very important role. On the platform offered by the IASL conference, the different actors from within Sweden (national governmental, university, municipality and library associations) could meet and be inspired by international authorities in the school library field.

After the conference, staff from the university asked the National Authority for School Improvement once again to start development projects for school improvement via school libraries. They wrote a plan for the project SearchingCommunicatingLearning where “walking/following a path of learning” was the method. Participants in the project would have one gathering per semester at the university as well as meetings and net-based work with mentors in between the university gatherings, and they would focus on development work in their own school. The goals of SearchingCommunicatingLearning were:

  • to strengthen the cooperation between teachers and librarians
  • to increase their competence in the field of information literacy
  • to support the principals in their responsibility for school improvement and role of the school library in that development.

The project application was grounded in many governmental texts, for example, in the reports from Room for Language.

Two years passed by: a lot of contacts were made, a lot of networking started, and many persons were engaged in the issue. At the University of Malmö, more courses in school librarianship were developed.  Seminars with three gatherings of three hours called “School Library” were offered to teacher students and several offerings from “The Regional Development center” were developed for school librarians. Contacts with the Network for School Library Centers were made, and a plan for the desired project was discussed.

Then, suddenly the dreams were fulfilled.  The National Authority for School Improvement gave the responsibility for SearchingCommunicatingLearning (for senior upper secondary schools) to the University of Malmö, for SMiLE (for comprehensive schools) to the University of Kristianstad, and later on for Many SMiLE (for comprehensive schools in multicultural communities) to the City of Malmö.

The municipal actor

The second actor in Sweden’s school library advocacy was the municipalities, in particular those in southern Sweden. The 2000 IASL conference, held in Malmö, was a very good starting point for developing close and intense cooperation for lobbying for school library development. IASL, IFLA, The Swedish Library Association, Swedish Arts Council, The Danish School Library Association, Malmö University, Sweden’s School Library Association South and the local and regional libraries supported the conference, together with the City of Malmö. The school library was on the agenda! Sweden’s first local School Library Association South had been founded 1997/98, inspired by connections with international associations; also the Network for School Library Centers was very active. Initiatives from these actors and from The National School Library Group led up to submitting a letter to the minister of education outlining three areas of school library development that required governmental action:

  • inclusion of the school library in the Education Act
  • governmental support to school librarians
  • a national school library center.

Soon after this letter had been submitted, the writers were invited to an audience with the minister’s secretary. The minister was hooked!

Over the years, there had been many contacts with representatives for Danish school libraries, both with individuals and with The Danish School Library Association. The Danes could inspire the Swedes: they had an Act making school libraries mandatory; they really focused on the pedagogical role of the school library which they called the learning center;, and they worked intensively with ICT and production facilities.

In 2005 a network called Mind the Gap started with the support of the National Authority for School Improvement. Mind the Gap included participants working with school libraries on different levels; the Network for School Library Centers was the core team.  The focus of Mind the Gap was education in school library programs for teachers and principals. The network worked with plans for school library development projects and created draft models that were later put into practice in three school library development projects: SearchingCommunicatingLearning,  SMiLE, and Many SMiLE.  The draft models were grounded in an earlier project from Room for Language, a project called PlayingCommunicatingLearning for cooperation between pre-schools and public libraries. Mind the Gap ended when the Authority gave the responsibility for Many SMiLE to the City of Malmö. Many SMiLE was part of a larger project on multiculturalism; Malmö is a town with a lot of immigrants and a lot of different languages. In the Many SMiLE project, the focus was on language development and inclusion with the school library as the driving force.

The library associations as actors

All of the Swedish library associations mentioned in this case study have been lobbying for better conditions for school libraries, for research and development in the school library field, for education and support to school librarians, and for mandatory school libraries in the Education Act.  They have been lobbying in parliamentary and governmental organizations, they have invited to conferences and seminars, they have written articles, and they have contacted different media outlets to create a platform for advocacy. The Network for School Library Centers and The National School Library Group have played a most important advocacy role here. They have written letters to the minister of education, they have met with him and his secretary, and they have been very strong lobbyists for the 2010 Act. Once the Act was passed, they followed up on the Act. [Could you give an example or two of how they followed up on the Act?]

The State School Inspection, which has regulatory responsibility over all schools, issued a memorandum outlining the main areas to be inspected:

  • access to school libraries, purely geographical
  • material stocks
  • the library as a tool to help achieve the educational goals of the school.

In connection with the inspections, the Swedish Library Association and the National School Library Group began mailings with the memorandum included to all the principals all over Sweden. This is perhaps the most massive information campaign promoting school libraries ever in Sweden. The effect of diffusion of the memorandum and regulatory inspections remains to be seen.


Different kinds of library associations can play an immense advocacy role, but working together with actors from outside the library world is important when the goal is to achieve changes in regulations and laws. With help, support and inspiration from international library associations, the Swedish associations succeeded in getting the school library included in the Education Act. The actors in the advocacy and lobbying efforts--people from different library organizations, associations and institutions and from non-library groups, working at various levels, in diverse contexts, with different backgrounds—all wanted to put the school library on the agenda. Their different perspectives and experiences helped to make the change possible. Working together is necessary to create change.


  1. How can existing library projects lead to legislation that supports school libraries?
  2. What factors facilitate collaboration between different types of libraries?
  3. How can media outlets be used to garner public support for school libraries?
  4. How can school library associations leverage the diverse expertise and networking opportunities of other organizations, including non-library groups, to support school libraries?
  5. How can associations take advantage of legislation to pursue concrete initiatives that strengthen school libraries?

Case Notes

Resource: Case study

Country: Sweden

Region: Europe

Agency: Multiple agencies

Topic 2: Developing relationships

Keywords: school libraries, partnerships, legislation, research


Barrett, H., Eriksson, B., & Contassot, M. G. (2011). The school library as a tool to empower literacy and improve schools: A Swedish government initiative. In L. Marquardt & D. Oberg, (Eds.), Global perspectives on school libraries: Projects and practices (pp. 245-253). IFLA Publications 148. Berlin: De Gruyter Saur.

LinCS (Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society).  Available at: www.lincs.gu.se

National Agency for Education [Skolverket]. (2000). "Room for language! Language Room, A development project for school libraries and for schools’ creative language settings. ” Available at: www.skolverket.se/om-skolverket/om-oss/in_english/publications.

 "School libraries become statutory in Sweden today" Available at: http://hubinfo.wordpress.com/category/swedish-school-library-law

Associations, Building Strong Library Associations, school libraries, Partnerships, legislation, research

Last update: 2 August 2013