I am a book lover and undeniably a library lover as well. There is something cosy about the rows of shelves full of stories, the air filled with imagination and the smell of books that co-exist in libraries. I have visited many libraries and I have always wished to live in a place with fantastic libraries. My dream came true. Sweden is my library paradise.
Swedish libraries offer great services, that go way beyond borrowing books. They offer spaces for those who wish to have a little quiet alone time. They function as meeting points and offer good working areas, if you are looking for company. There are specific areas for children and they offer diverse activities for adults, students, children, foreigners, retired people, etc. And all of this for free and accessible to all.
Books, books and more books
Different languages There are of course loads of books to borrow, usually divided by categories and languages. There’s books about pretty much everything, from fiction, fantasy and facts to biographies, hobbies, and school books. Most of the books are in Swedish or in English, but there is also a large section with books in other languages.
For instance, in the Gothenburg library there are books in more than 50 languages! And although in some of the languages the collection might be limited to one or two items, in others there are dozens of them. Portuguese, my native language, has three whole shelves.
The book collection is constantly updated and I have found books that had been released just a few months before. One can also suggest new items to the library, that might be bought later on.
Lättläst Those in the beginning of the learning curve of the Swedish language can easily borrow books written in easy Swedish. These books are usually summaries of the originals, but reduced in size and simplified in language. I read a lot of them and they certainly helped me to improve my language skills.
Audio Another possibility is to borrow books as audio files in CDs. It’s a great option to listen on the run or to practise Swedish pronunciation.
Electronic Many books are also available as epub files, for those who prefer to use electronic versions. All you need is a tablet or a smartphone and you are good to go. I use the app Aldiko, but there are other ones.
Book circles If you and your friends love reading and talking about books, you can create your own book circle. The libraries provide bags containing several copies of the same book and a list of relevant questions. The bags can be borrowed for up to six weeks. All you need to do is distribute the books between your friends and then organise a meeting when everyone has read the book. You collect the books at the end and take them back to the library. Bags with lättläst books are also available.
Magazines and newspapers
Daily newspapers and magazines are also available in Swedish libraries. The choice is broad and it usually includes some foreign items as well. There are magazines about all kinds of themes and the difficulty is to choose which one to read. Besides that, one can also borrow old issues and bring them home.
There is also a large collection of movies to borrow. Among them one can find classics, both in Swedish and in English, and other more recent items as well. Great material to make a fun movie night with friends.
There are activities that happen on a daily/weekly basis and there are other occasional events, like writing courses, book signings or lectures with famous authors. Among the most frequent activities you find things such as book circles in different languages, homework help on different subjects (including SFI and SAS), story reading in different languages, språkträff with movies and discussion afterwards, IT courses for retired people, and so much more. Check your library webpage to see what’s available.
Each library has its own website where one can find all the important information. It is possible to search the catalogue, see if the items you want are available or not, check and renew your loans, and reserve items. The reservation option is great when you know exactly what you want. You reserve your item online and the staff will transfer it to the reservation shelf with your name on it, which spares you the time of actually looking for it among the dozens of shelves in the library. When it’s ready to pick up, you get a notification by email. Another advantage of this option is that you can choose in which library you want to pick up your item, even if the book is located in another library of the same group.
Sometimes the libraries want to get rid of some material and they organise book sales. The books are obviously used, but with a bit of luck it’s possible to find good pieces for really good prices (I saw a piece for 5 kr!).
In some areas itinerant libraries are provided, through a library bus that goes around. If this service is available in your area you can probably find a link with the stop locations and times in the homepage of your library. One can return material or use the online reservation and pick up items on the bus.
The services offered vary of course from library to library, but I have visited several different ones in Sweden and they were all rich in options. Libraries are also great places to meet people and socialize, especially through the different group activities.