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Trade unions and automation: a case study from Denmark

Mai-Britt Nielsen,
Egon Hansen and M.N. Sørensen

Search modules and technology agreements

Biblioteksdata's offer of a search module to libraries is the beginning of a rational and useful application of electronic data processing in public libraries, according to Mai-Britt Nielsen, who is a member of the Librarians' Association's edp committee. That does not mean, however, that all the problems have been solved, and the demand for a technology agreement between the local authority and the staff cannot be dropped either. This is the only way of ensuring that the agreements concluded will be observed.

Following the final collapse of the negotiations for a central technology agreement with the local authorities, the Librarians' Association (Bibliotekarforbundet) (BF) instructed its members not to co-operate in the introduction of edp systems until a (local) technology agreement had been concluded with the authority concerned. We hope that this action to ensure that our members have some influence over the introduction and use of edp in public libraries will be understood both by politicians and by workers in libraries.

Biblioteksdata will be offering a search module to libraries in the very near future. This search module, originally developed as a tool for use in cataloguing and the recording of stock (since the possible requirements of public libraries with regard to edp systems have never been worked out), is now offered as a method of carrying out literature searches, with access to the database of the Danish Library Bureau (Bibliotekscentralen) (BC) (the common database of the public libraries).

It is good to see that Biblioteksdata has at last realized the correctness of the view put forward, inter alia, by BF for many years, namely that what libraries need above all is a better method of carrying out literature searches, and that there is no urgent need to transfer routine administrative procedures to edp - particularly at the prices charged by Kommunedata up to the present.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that the introduction of an edp search system should come up against difficulties over agreements. For BF's instructions to its members also obviously apply to the search module.

But is that necessary now? Why should we continue to demand technology agreements just because on-line searches in the Danish National Bibliography are beginning? Is there any difference in principle between consulting BC's database on microfiche and an on-line search? Isn't the search module nothing more than a new, time-saving reference tool - and isn't it merely hysterical to demand technology agreements just because a microfiche reader has been replaced by a terminal?

No, it isn't!

The work involved in a literature search isn't very different, whether you search hard copy catalogues or on line - apart from the fact that an online catalogue has a large number of entry points and is drawn up only after the search has been completed and the result shown on the screen or printed out, while hard copy catalogues are not changed after they have been bought and put on the shelf.

But the method has certain characteristics such as that an on-line catalogue cannot be regarded as just a new edition of the corresponding hard copy catalogue.

Edp is associated with certain conditions that make it an entirely new technology that must therefore be covered by an agreement on its introduction and use, and whose effects must be evaluated, since they involve decisions on purchasing. Some of these conditions are briefly discussed below.

Changes in working conditions

Even if the task itself - finding a title - remains unchanged, the way in which it is carried out is completely different with the new technology.

Some of the key-words are: physical and mental work environment, division of labour and organization of work, variety of work, boundaries between professions. A terminal Is a major investment, and it is not to be expected that large numbers will be available. And a terminal stays put wherever it has been placed.

Several people can use a card index at the same time. Several copies of the Danish National Bibliography will be available, and people can move about with hard copy catalogues, take them with them to their desks, etc.

A large number of work procedures will therefore have to be changed in order to ensure that search terminals are used sensibly and rationally. But what will the physical characteristics of a terminal work-station be? Are we going to become Involved in the side-effects already familiar from other terminal work-stations: disturbances of vision, headache, back injuries?

How do we avoid a situation in which staff have to queue at terminals at certain times while they remain unused at others? Shall we make lists of searches and operate the terminals only at certain times? What category of staff should then do this? And for how long should anyone use a terminal at any one time?


It can be assumed that Kommunedata will provide an introduction to the operation of the terminals that are installed. But that does not solve the training problem. Anybody who knows the alphabet can search the literature in a hard copy catalogue's alphabetical section, and most library workers have learnt, in varying degrees, to use the classification system for a systematic search.

But the advantage of the on-line technique is precisely the many other possible ways of searching that are available. An on-line search calls for a new search technique, other approaches to searching, and is in part a technique that has to be learned, and in part a question of adequate knowledge of the search possibilities, both technical and from the point of view of content.

We cannot assume that the curriculum of the School of Librarianship can immediately meet the need for the training of the staff of those libraries that take out a subscription to the search system. And there is also the question of who, and how many, are to be trained.


In addition to the economic commitments that result from subscribing to an edp module, and which we shall come back to, there is a marked change as compared with the relationship with the existing catalogues, since the individual library has no influence on the content of the on-line catalogue, or on the changes or corrections made in it. Nothing is easier than to correct a card index, to write another card when a cross-reference or the like is missing. And with a catalogue in book form, you know what is in it - it doesn't change after the book has been printed and purchased.

It is different with an on-line catalogue - you can never have an overall view of it and the general rules for corrections can be adjusted and individual corrections made while it is in use. That can undoubtedly be an advantage, but it also means that you are, so to speak, committed to a product whose precise nature is unknown and which can change while you are using it.

The search module - an incomplete system

It must not be forgotten that, even if the search module is found to be applicable to literature searches of BC's database, it was developed for purposes of cataloguing and stock recording. There is much evidence to show that Biblioteksdata has definitely changed its strategy, but strategy for what? For the rate at which the module is introduced, I would imagine, as libraries' incomprehensible lack of interest in stock recording and control of borrowing are mentioned from time to time in those circles.

That means, in part, that we can expect the conflict that is inherent in the disagreement as to what a library needs in the technical department and in loans will sooner or later be clearly expressed. An example of this may be the retrospective enlargement of the database. Everybody will want to have a large number of titles in the database. If the intention is to use it for literature searches, that requires (at least) the titles in the Danish National Bibliography, but recorded retrospectively; but if the intention is to make stock recording by individual libraries easier, so that they can introduce control of borrowing more quickly, it would make more sense to record the titles actually on the shelves in some public libraries and, for example, begin by recording the complete holdings of some large county library. Ultimately, this conflict is more of a power struggle between BC and Kommunedata, which we are happy to leave to those concerned.

In any case, Biblioteksdata., once it is complete, will be interested in selling its complete product: the fully computerized public library.

And what do the libraries want? If you have taken out a subscription to the search module, you can, even in the tiniest hamlet, discover the most incredibly interesting and relevant titles when a borrower asks for something. And how nice it would be, immediately and in the same operation, to be able to establish whether the library/branch/department itself has the title, or whether it is on loan or due back from the binder.

For this reason, it must be clear to everyone that the 'new, time-saving reference tool' is, with a high degree of probability, the beginning of stock recording which, as is known, is the beginning of the control of borrowing.

We can conclude that that is not what is wanted at this precise moment but, with the material contained in Biblioteksdata's modules and with the background to the development of the search module in mind, we must try and foresee future developments.


You buy the property rights to a hard copy catalogue. You own it, until it is scrapped, and can use it when and how you like.

You subscribe to a search system, i.e., you pay for the right to use it and, moreover, also for how much you use it. That means, in the first place, that we are talking about a recurring annual payment, whose magnitude is unknown until the following year. If you want to continue to use the on-line catalogue, therefore, you cannot decide to skip an edition or stop the subscription and make do with the edition that you already have, if you want to economize. In reality, this means that we are talking about a long-term economic commitment, whose magnitude, moreover, cannot be known with certainty in advance.

Payment for use takes the form of connection charges. This is an item of expenditure that, by its nature, cannot be specified precisely by Kommunedata, since no-one apparently has any idea of how much a search system will be used. Investigations might perhaps be carried out, but it can, of course, be left until the first courageous libraries try it out and see how much it costs.

The connection charges are the only variable costs in the system, and also the only ones on which savings can be made, if that should prove necessary. How savings on connection charges will be made can perhaps be guessed: permission to search will not be given to anybody at any time, searches will have to be as short as possible - which, in part, will have the unexpected effect that the quality of literature searches will become a matter of immediate cash payment, and, in part, can lead to an interest being taken in which staff member takes longest to carry out a search. The possibility of such a check on individual staff members is, in fact, built into the system.


All these unfortunate side-effects and gloomy prospects in connection with the search module do not change our view that we are dealing here with (the beginning of) a rational and useful application of edp in public libraries. And what is more important: the adverse effects do not necessarily have to become a reality. But to avoid this, a series of agreements must be concluded on the introduction and subsequent use of the system. And the only way of ensuring that such agreements are observed is for a technology agreement to be concluded between the local authority and the staff.

We had hoped until recently that such an agreement could be reached centrally, so that all local authorities would be covered. As things have worked out, we must instead wait for local negotiations with the individual authorities. There may, as a result, be a move on the part of the member organizations of the Kommunale Tjenestemaendsudvalg (KTU) (Committee of Local Authority Staff) during February/March - and, in view of the fact that we have now been waiting for a literature search system for over ten years, we cannot very well say that a couple of months one way or the other will make much difference.


Bibliotek 70, 1983(4) 13-14

The attitude of the bibliotekarforbund (BF) (Librarians Association) towards the use of edp in routine administrative is incomprehensible and can have serious consequences for the future of public libraries, abnd therefore for jobs for librarians and office staff, according to chief librarian, Egon Hansen, Egvad, in a comment on the article by Mai-Britt Nielsen on search modules and technology agreements in the last issue of

Bibliotek 70.

An initially slight astonishment at BF's attitude towards the use of edp in public libraries was gradually transformed until, with the provisional conclusion of Mai-Britt Nielsen's otherwise reasonable article in B.70 for March 1983, 'Search modules and technology agreements', one could only say 'That's enough! '.

Expertise in edp sought

BF's uncompromising attitude towards technology agreements and the rejection of edp for routine administration can have serious consequences for the future of public libraries and therefore for jobs for librarians and office staff. We need to have an effective tool for using the materials held by the public libraries, and for maintaining and preferably extending the central role of the librarian as the provider of materials and information. It must be possible, at each stage of the public library system, not only to inform someone that certain material or information exists, but also to see how that material or information can be supplied to the user as quickly as possible.

It is clear that this quite natural and increased access to the use of the librarian's materials makes hitherto unknown demands, not only on the use of the librarian's am stock of materials but also on the interurban loan system. If this system is not to break down under the pressure of that increased access and because of limited resources, the interurban loan system must be converted from the existing vertical system into a combination with a horizontal system. Such a combination implies access to, and better use of, the collected stock of materials. If this possibility existed today, a whole range of serious problems of resources would be, if not solved, then at least reduced, while at the same time there would be a major improvement in the service provided to the libraries' users. Edp must be used to solve this problem, and it is also necessary to see administrative routines as a part of this task.

For this reason, BF must thoroughly revise its edp policy. First and foremost, BF must acquire expertise in edp, and must also be able to see the job possibilities arising from the sensible application of new technology. The areas to be covered by such a revision are technology agreements and the importance of administrative routines in the use of libraries.

Staff increased

First, the technology agreements. There can be no doubt that it will be a good thing to conclude good technology agreements, both centrally and locally. Without making too much fuss about it, there are good grounds for believing that central negotiations will be resumed in the spring with, it is to be hoped, satisfactory results. Local agreements will be possible only if a central agreement is concluded, inter alia in view of the refusal of Kommunernes Landsforening (KL) (the Federation of Local Authorities) to allow local authorities to conclude local agreements in the absence of a central agreement. A technology agreement will include: (1) protection against dismissal as a result of the introduction of new technology; (2) information on, and staff participation in, the introduction of new technology. With regard to the first requirement, it may be said that edp has been introduced into almost all the other areas with which local authorities are concerned without technology agreements and with increases in staff in line with the increased duties. It is simply impossible to perform these duties without edp and without an increase in staff. The same thing will happen in libraries. If there axe redundancies in our area this will be because we refuse to use the tools necessary for carrying out our work. With regard to the demand for information and participation, all that can be said is that they are obviously necessary, even without technology agreements, and it is natural that BF should take action in those few places where they are not thought to be so.

Emphasis on improved services

We should be clear that edp will be introduced in libraries only because there are technical reasons for doing so. Politicians will be quite indifferent if we do not tell them about the possibilities of improved services that edp can offer. We can therefore say that BF's uncompromising attitude is to the detriment of librarians and especially of chief librarians, who can see the possibilities opened up by the use of edp and who have tried to do the work that needs to be done in order to take advantage of this tool. To avoid any misunderstanding, it will be of great benefit to conclude a technology agreement, but the negotiations must not stand in the way of the introduction of edp as a useful and necessary tool in libraries.

Frank and critical co-operation

BF's attitude towards the use of edp in routine administration is incomprehensible, and Mai-Britt Nielsen's article 'Search modules and technology agreements' puts forward the best argument for the taking over of such routine work by edp.

And what about librarians? If you are connected to the search module, you can, even in the tiniest hamlet, discover the most incredibly Interesting and relevant titles when a borrower asks for something. And how nice it would be, immediately and in the same operation, to be able to establish whether the library/branch/department itself has the title, or whether it is on loan or due back from the binder. It must therefore be clear to everyone that, with a high degree of probability, the 'new, time-saving reference tool' is the beginning of stock recording which, as is known, is the beginning of borrowing control (end of quotation).

Yes, quite so. But that does not mean that we can just lean back in our chairs and let Biblioteksdata do it all for us. We must critically examine the content of the modules in the smallest detail and compare the modules so as to define their technical and economic applicability in individual libraries. We must encourage one another and Biblioteksdata to make technical improvements and at the same time to reduce costs in line with the new technological developments. We must take an interest in Biblioteksdata's cost and price policy. We must, in general, acquire influence over, and insight into the developments taking place in the field of edp. We must do this as part of a frank, constructive, but also critical co-operation. Will BF join in?


A comment on BF's policy on edp

This article is a comment on the one by Egon Hansen, Egvad, in the March 1983 issue of B.70, in which he criticised BF's policy on edp, but in particular a comment on the Executive Committee, which has given a higher priority to the negotiations on technology agreements than to other work on edp policy in the edp committees of individual libraries.

As a result of the EC's decision, the problem of implementing the conditions laid down in the agreement is seen as more important than ensuring satisfactory working conditions with edp.

Egon Hansen and the majority of the EC both rely, however different their conclusions may be, on a simplistic understanding of edp, technology. In Egon Hansen's case, it seems that it is all right. In the case of the majority on the EC, it is all right as long as there is an agreement! Just to make the position clear, I am not a member of the majority on the EC in this matter.

In contrast to the above-mentioned parties, I do not believe that edp is either 'good' or 'bad'. It depends entirely on how the technology is developed and how it is used, What is essential, therefore, is the influence that we can exert over its development and application.

Wandering in the desert?

BF's policy on edp, since the protests against FAUST in the mid-1970s, has been a kind of wandering in the desert, while repeatedly calling attention to the fact that the main technical gains and improvements in services would come in bibliographical routines, subject searches, literature searches, etc., and not from the automation of routine administration. This year we were presented with the search module, at the same time as other bases have been made available to public libraries. The problem that will doubtless arise for many is whether we should now be satisfied or whether we should pursue the matter. The General Assembly most recently confirmed in 1980 that what was wanted to edp for literature searches, but at the same time we pointed out that there should be no undesirable consequences, i.e., no staff reductions, no change in economic priorities, no changes in work or organization for individual employees such that status or working conditions were adversely affected.

At the same time, the manufacturer or the library management must provide the fullest possible answers to the following questions. Will the introduction of the product concerned lead to technical advances? How much does the product cost and, if it is purchased, what changes in economic priorities will result? What will be the effect of introducing the product in question on work, organization and jobs. Formally, this should be covered by the technology agreements, since they usually make the employer responsible for providing information and for investigating the effects, etc. But this must not prevent us from ourselves thoroughly and carefully checking the information provided and the contribution made by the employer.

Adverse effects

An investigation of the effects has already been carried out as far as routine administration is concerned; this drew attention, inter alia, to the great danger associated with the use of edp, namely that work will be deskilled, that the job content and the work environment will be adversely affected, that jobs will be fewer, etc. But the investigation also showed, as other investigations have also done, that systems can be constructed and applied in such a way that adverse effects are wholly or partially avoided.

Influencing developments

For us as wage earners, what is of decisive importance, especially since we live in a society in which technology is not subject to social control, evaluation and guidance, is to ensure that we have the greatest possible influence on developments. From experience, we know a great deal about the kind of factors that make it possible for us to be able to do so: the strength of the trade unions, the members' awareness and understanding of technology and of its effects and possibilities, the level of information of the trade union and its members, and a long-term goal for the application of technology. It is clear, at the same time, that only with the greatest care and attention will it be possible to take part in the development of edp systems, since edp personnel need us precisely in order to understand what the work actually consists of and how it is planned, in order to be able to automate it. Edp, among other things, acts by taking over from us the control of all the work processes, a control that we have by virtue of our professional. qualifications.

Critical co-operation

BF's policy has always been to co-operate in the development of edp products for libraries. This policy has meant that BF members have helped to specify requirements, attended the Nyborg Conference, participated in library edp committees, etc. Without this, admittedly at times critical co-operation, it would not have been possible to automate our work. Without the librarians and other library staff and their thorough understanding of work processes, etc., automation, in the 'best' case, would have been a much bigger undertaking and the result would have been much worse. BF and BF members have, inter alia, because of the trade union's inadequate work with edp and instructions as to members' contributions in the committees, etc., participated in the development on the wrong basis from our point of view, with unfortunate consequences.

The local edp committees

Now that the central committees are slowly doing their job, and the introduction of edp is getting under way in the individual libraries, the local edp committees, where the staff are fighting for a reasonable work environment against the employer's interests in this matter, have become more important than ever. In the development of edp plans, job descriptions, work plans, etc., our interests must be taken into account in such a way that adverse effects are as few as possible. At the General Assembly in 1982, an edp working group was set up, which took into account the fact that developments in the edp field were a local matter and that general decisions were no longer of any great value. Confidence in the Kommunale Tjenestemaendsudvalg (KTU) (Committee of Local Authority Staff).

Of course, in the introduction of edp, we shall not be able to get 100 per cent acceptance of our points of view, since many are in direct conflict with the employers' interests. In this kind of struggle for influence there are many tools that we can use: the Law on the work environment, agreements on cooperation committees, etc. In this connection also, technology agreements dealing with the introduction of, and changes in, technology, and safety agreements dealing with the use of technology, can be of use. No technology or safety agreements so far exist in the local authority field. The central negotiations broke down in the autumn, and the KTU organizations have decided to negotiate local agreements. KTU co-operation is the co-operation which, if anyone perhaps remembers, failed in a number of cases of collective bargaining, most recently in this year's negotiations. Why the remainder of the EC should believe that co-operation will give results this time is beyond me, but the reason appears to be a belief in miracles.

The time for influencing developments is past

The EC's tactics for getting technology and safety agreements are not based on a total cessation of BF's participation in central and local committees working on the introduction of edp, but solely on the principle that BF members of local edp committees shall withdraw at precisely that time in the introduction of edp when it is most important to exercise an influence, namely around the time when the edp equipment is installed and work plans are being drawn up. Other times, e.g., the explanatory or the introductory phases, are not so vulnerable and could be better used; they would also be more reasonable, since technology agreements deal, after all, with the introduction of technology. It also means that local edp committees are forced, irrespective of local needs and resources, to give the highest priority to the negotiations on agreements.

Of course we must have technology and safety agreements, but on any realistic assessment the local agreements, in particular are not of any great value, since we are unable to influence the central development of the system. At the same time, any real influence on the local application of technology will come into conflict with the employer's right to manage and allocate work, and anyone can judge for himself bow likely any such influence is at the present time.

Tactical reaction

As everyone knows, empty vessels make the most noise, and the majority on the EC are not far behind the empty vessels. What one would like to know is how long they will go on doing so. The reduction in the status of work, working conditions and the work environment that is the consequence of the tactics adopted can very easily lead to poorer working conditions and a poorer work environment even if a good technology agreement is concluded, because it would be too late. We could easily end up in a situation such that, when we should have been fighting for the work environment and working conditions, we fought for technology agreements and had withdrawn from the edp committees.

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