Libraries after dark

Heidi Håvan Grosch

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch Some libraries in Scandinavia are staying open for business after the human staff have gone home.

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch
Some libraries in Scandinavia are staying open for business after the human staff have gone home.

Despite ready access for most to the Internet, video games, television, and movies at home, libraries are still a destination for many who don’t have this access, want to find a good book (yes, the art of reading is still out there), or are looking for a place to study or just hang out. Unfortunately, libraries are not always open when you need them to be. The fact is, libraries are staffed by people (extraordinary though they are) who want to spend time at home with their own families or (hard as it is to believe) have a life apart from the book stacks, computer terminals, and library patrons. Staff also needs to be paid, and funding cuts (also an issue here in Norway) affect library hours and therefore the public’s access.

A firm in Denmark has come up with a solution, an electronic watchman of sorts.

“The concept is built on the combination of four main components: access control, theft prevention, self-service, and surveillance,” states TAG Visions’ brochure on their software called Library Manager or TVLM ( Here’s how it works. A patron swipes his or her library card and types in a personal code, and the locked library door opens (in most places, users must be over 18). Exits are equipped with alarms that go off if books are not checked out via the self-service kiosk. Surveillance cameras are installed throughout the library to monitor patrons at all times. Library staff can access all this information remotely. One fear of this automated, non-human system, is that there will be a higher risk of vandalism, but it turns out the opposite is true, perhaps because people KNOW they are being watched. “We have had very little theft,” a librarian in Veberöd, Sweden told the Trønder Avisa.

The first such library system appeared in Jutland (Denmark) in 2004, but it has been since 2010 that their popularity has grown, today there are over 20 libraries in Denmark utilizing this system. Swedes and Norwegians have also begun to explore this type of service in their libraries. Norway’s test market is located in Stavern, where they have noticed that just as many patrons use the library after hours as when the library is staffed. “There are many other libraries that would like to put this system into place,” reports Stavern librarian Mette Gjerdrum to NRK. “I say just do it, but remember that it cost a bit.“ An NRK report states that it can cost over 500,000 kroner (US $90,000).

Is this the wave of the future? Self-checkout systems are fairly universal here in Norway and one can renew and request books on-line, so it is most likely only a matter of time before this system is more widespread as well.

Read more on the web:
Trønder Avisa Article (Feb 7 2010) in Norwegian about non-staffed libraries in Norway:
NRK report: (this site also has a short video demonstrating the system)

This article is a part of Heidi Håvan Grosch’s column Rønningen Ramblings, which appears a couple times a month in the Norwegian American Weekly.

This article originally appeared in the May 2, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.