Sámi library services in Norway
Sámi Parliament in Norway
The Sámi are a minority in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.
Norway officially defines the Sámi as an ethnic minority and
a separate people who are at the same time also Norwegian citizens.
This has not always been the case. From the 1850s onwards, the Sámi
people were exposed for a long period to discrimination, and different
kinds of reforms were introduced. The situation improved during the
1960s, and since 1980 the legal status of the Sámi has improved
considerably. The Sámi Rights Committee produced its first provisional
report in 1984, laying the foundation for the Norwegian National
Parliament's decision of 1987 to enact special Sámi legislation
and thereby establish the Sámi Parliament. The Sámi Parliament
was inaugurated on 9 October 1989 in Karasjok, Norway.
The Sámi Parliament is the national elected parliament for the
Sámi in Norway, designed to strengthen the political position of
the Sámi people and contribute to their fairer treatment. The Sámi
Parliament has therefore been given the leading role in the future political
development of the Sámi people.
An important part of the justification for the establishment of the
Sámi Parliament is that, being a minority, the Sámi do not
get a hearing in ordinary democratic bodies based on majority rule.
The Sámi Parliament was established to correct this, and to give
the Sámi a common voice. This does not mean that all representatives
in the Sámi Parliament agree with one another, but that the decisions
taken are based on a democratic political process. In line with this,
the Sámi have been given a certain amount of authority in particular
areas, such as language, culture, industry and education.
In the Sámi Parliament, the parliament, political leadership
and administration are combined in a single organization. This means
that the administration has many roles and must act appropriately in
performing each one. The administration is divided into seven departments
and has more than 100 employees. The departments provide services at
both a political level and to the public.
Every nation has a right to own and manage its own history. The Sámi
people are no exception. Developing Sámi culture depends on a development
on its own premises. It is the Sámi people who have to exercise
and develop their own culture. The Sámi Parliament's overriding
aim is to secure the Sámi people a real possibility to present
the Sámi culture. To make this possible, separate art galleries,
theatres, and libraries are required. The Sámi people of Norway
already have several Sámi national institutions. I will just mention
some of them, like the Sámi theatre, the Sámi art gallery,
Sámi cultural institutions with library and museum functions, and
the Sámi Parliament's library: the Sámi special library, Sámi
The Sámi special library has been a part of the Sámi
Parliament's administration since January 1st, 2000. The library
is a central source in the Sámi Parliament's work in distributing
information, and it has therefore an extended informational and
consultative responsibility for the employees, the representatives
and the public. Apart from this, the library's main tasks are
acquiring, preserving, organizing, and providing access to books
and other materials in the Sámi languages and about the Sámi
situation in any language. It also functions as the administrative
library where the Sámi Parliament's administration and
politicians can find all the information they need in their work.
The library has been in existence since 1954, and has been a fully
government–funded institution since 1983. As a national cultural
institution, the library has the overall responsibility for all Sámi
library services in Norway, and it functions primarily as a libraries' library.
It exists to inform about its own functions and about the Sámi
situation in general to other libraries, and also to lend materials
to the libraries.
Sámi literature in competition with the
Being a minority is in many ways difficult, because a small population
does not have much political or economic power at all in society.
The same is true regarding the production and distribution of Sámi
literature. In libraries and bookstores, Sámi literature is
in competition for visibility and acceptance as good literature among
the majority literature. What is more, there are few books in the
Sámi language (especially fiction), because it is not considered
profitable to publish them. The publishing houses need almost 100
percent government support to publish a single book. This is because
the Sámi population isn't that big, and many Sámi are
unable to speak and read their mother tongue. The publishing houses
can't expect to cover the production costs by the sale of books,
but rather be dependent on financial support to cover marketing,
distribution, and production of Sámi literature.
Historically, the Sámi people have a long oral tradition. The
first book written in a Sámi language by a Sámi was published
in North Sámi in 1910. Two years later, the first fiction book
was published. Words and language are important in every culture, and
the effort to ensure the Sámi languages a status equal to other
Nordic languages has been important. It is for this reason it is important
to encourage Sámi writers to use their own language.
Today it is getting more usual to write Sámi language. There
are municipalities in Finnmark (the northernmost province [fylke]
in Norway) where Sámis form the majority of the inhabitants, and
the Sámi language is an obligatory subject for all pupils in the
The Sámi language has 9 different Sámi dialects. Some of
them are so unlike that it can be difficult for a northern Sámi
to understand one who speaks southern Sámi. There is a concentration
of Sámis in the northern part of the province of Troms and the
province of Finnmark, and it is the northern Sámi dialect that
dominates. Of all the Sámis who speak their own language every
day, over 90 percent speak the northern Sámi dialect.
I am emphasising this in order to show that the lesser–used
Sámi dialects further south also demand attention in connection
with the provision of library services. Today there are libraries at
southern Sámi cultural centres. It is important that these libraries
get help in revitalizing the Sámi culture in general, as well as
specifically promoting the local dialects. This is already happening,
both in the provision of access to books and in the publication of books
in these dialects. 
Development of Sámi library service
There is a great need for more information about Sámi library
service in Norway. Many libraries find it difficult to handle literature
in Sámi language. This is not only due to the fact that many
librarians don't understand the language, but there is also a
general lack of interest and knowledge about the Sámi language,
culture and society.
In fact, however, there have been some positive developments during the
last few years. Several continuing education courses and conferences about
Sámi library service and Sámi literature have been offered. A positive
result of this is that participation in the courses has been increasing, and
many libraries have shown a growing interest in Sámi language, culture
and society. Some libraries have developed their own collections of Sámi
A few years ago a course was offered for librarians where the classes were
located in three different communities in the area of Sámi settlement.
Participants were thus given an opportunity to become acquainted with various
Sámi milieus both inland and on the coast, and received an introduction
to Sámi literature, culture, and history. The course was considered very
useful and those who took part reported that it influenced their work in libraries
in several ways. As a result of desires and needs that were expressed after
the course, a guide to sources in Sámi library services was developed
with information among other things about Sámi institutions and organisations
and where to locate Sámi materials. 
The Norwegian Sámi parliament is responsible together with
its Swedish counterpart for coordination of the Sámi bibliography
project. The goal of this project is to make Sámi literature
registered in Norway, Sweden, Finland, or Russia more easily accessible
through the internet. The project aims to create a common user friendly
search interface to Sámi bibliographic references, so that
different library systems in various countries can communicate with
each other. For the searcher to be able to find relevant references
in the database, a multilingual terminological tool, a thesaurus,
is being developed as part of the project. The tool will function
in such a way that, no matter what language or subject heading list
has been used to index the document, the user will be able to search
in his or her own language and find literature about the subject
being searched for.
A project that was completed according to plan was the books on tape
project of 1992–93 whose goal was to record 9 books by Sámi
authors on cassette. This was a collaborative project between Sámi
library institutions in Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The books on tape
were recorded in several Sámi dialects, and were distributed free
to public libraries and other institutions in 1993. The talking books
were funded from various sources, among them Nordinfo, the Nordic Council
for Academic and Research Libraries.
There is obviously a continued need for further development of Sámi
library services, and there could certainly be initiated many more development
projects. A few could be mentioned here: Library literature in the Sámi
language is still not available, but this would be a significant step
in the work to make the Sámi language visible in libraries. Translation
of subject heading lists into Sámi demands excellent linguistic
abilities, and it is also essential that this be done in cooperation
with people with library background. Another need would be various forms
of information brochures, for example one about Sámi authors.
The area of Sámi settlement covers 4 countries. In an effort
to give Sámi library service to all Sámi people, bookmobiles
serve Sámi municipalities on both sides of the Swedish–Norwegian
and Finnish–Norwegian borders. In Norway, government funding
for bookmobiles in the core areas of Sámi settlement covers
85 percent of the working budget, and 100 percent of investment costs.
The Sámi Parliament has emphasized how important it is to give
financial support to the whole Sámi community, and not only
certain parts. It is important to give this kind of support to preserve
and develop Sámi language, culture and identity in areas where
many of Sámi descent have been assimilated into the Norwegian
culture as a result of the earlier cultural assimilation policies.
Financial support for bookmobiles has transferred to the Sámi
Parliament, as a part of the subsidies the Parliament already administers.
It is especially important to develop good Sámi library services
for the whole Sámi population, also in those communities that
are outside the areas of Sámi jurisdiction. The Sámi Special
Library's responsibility and role do not relieve other libraries
of their responsibility to develop good library services of equal
worth to those of the majority for Sámi people in their local
The Sámi parliament's plan for 2002–2005 states the
following about Sámi library services:
Individual municipalities and public libraries are themselves responsible
for establishing library services of equal worth for both Sámis and Norwegians
in their communities, and have an independent duty to consider the interests
and needs of Sámi users. The Sámi Special Library exists as a resource
for other libraries in their work to develop Sámi library services. Through
active guidance and information the Sámi Special Library will aid public
libraries in the different municipalities around the country to build up their
own local competence in this area, so that they too as time goes on will be
able to provide both Sámi and others who ask for it satisfactory service
in the Sámi language and about Sámi affairs. 
The Sámi parliament has forwarded to the Norwegian Department of Culture
requests for funding which can be used to support the building of collections
of Sámi library materials associated with public and school libraries
throughout the country's municipalities. The intention is not to relieve
the municipalities of their responsibilities, rather to contribute to a strengthening
of service to the Sámi population and motivate local libraries to take
responsibility for their Sámi patrons. Municipal public libraries are
crucial if we are to make Sámi library services available to the greatest
number of Sámi people.
Summary in the North Sámi dialect
Sámediggi Norggas lea politihkalaš gaskaoapmi mainna
galgá váikkuhit ahte sámit meannuduvvojit rievttalaċċat.
Go sámit leat eamiálbmot, de lea sis earálágan
dilli go eará etnalaš unnitlogujoavkkuin Davviriikkain.
Sámit eai leat sisafárrejeaddjit ođđaset historjjálaš áiggis,
muhto ásse ássanguovlluineaset juo mealgat ovdal go riikkat
ja ráját ásahuvvojedje. Sámediggi Norggas rahppui
vuosttas geardde golggotmánu 9. b. 1989.
Sámi sierrabibliotehkka šattai oassin Sámediggi hálddahusas
ođđajagemánus 2000. Girjeráju našuvnnalaš bargun
lea háhkat, rádjat ja gaskkustit girjjiid ja eará ávdnasiid
sámegillii ja sámi diliid birra beroškeahttá gielas.
Girjerádju doaibmá maiddái Sámedikki hálddašangirjejádjun.
Girjeráju mihttomearri lea ovddidit máhtu sámi girjjálašvuođas
ja kultuvrras sápmelaċċaide ja álbmogii muđuige
Olusat jearahit eanet dieđuid sámi girjerádjobálvalusaid
birra Norggas. Máŋga girjerádjui lea váttis gieđahallat
girjjálašvuođa sámegillii. Sivvan ii leat dušše
dat ahte ollu bibliotekárat eai ádde giela, muhto maiddái
ahte váilu beroštupmi sámegielas, sámi kultuvrrasi
ja sámi servodagas. Almmatge lea maŋimuš jagiid leamaš positiiva
ovdáneapmi. Máŋga kurssa ja konferánssa leat lágiduvvon
sámi girjerádjobálvalusa ja sámi girjjálašvuođa
birra. Dat lea dagahan ahte kursaoassálastiid lohku lea lassánan,
ja ollu bibliotekárat leat beroštišgoahtán eanet
sámegielas, sámi kultuvrras ja sámi servodagas.
Sámediggi áigu oċċodit buori girjerádjofálaldaga
olles sámi álbmogii, maiddái sámegiela hálddašanguovllu
olggobeale gielddain. Áigumuš ii leat luvvet gielddain dán
ovddasvástádusa, muhto leat mielde nannemin girjerádjobálvalusa
sámi álbmogii doppe gos sii orrot ja movttiidahttit báikkálaš girjerájuid
váldit ovddasvástádusa iežaset sámi geavaheaddjiin.
1. The website in the Sámi language may be
found at http://www.samediggi.no/default.asp?selNodeID=137&lang=no&docID=589&docLang=nsa with
some pictures. You can read in English about the Sámi Parliament
building that houses the Sámi special library at http://www.samediggi.no/default.asp?selNodeID=195&lang=no&docID=1421.
2. A South Sámi library development plan was
finalized in June 1997—Editor.
3. This guide is available on the internet in Norwegian
and North Sámi at http://troms.kulturnett.no/bibliotek/samisk/.
4. Sametingsplan for perioden 2002–2005.
Vedtatt av Sametinget 29. November 2002. [The Sámi Parliament
Plan for 2002–2005. Enacted by the Sámi Parliament November
29th 2002]. Online at http://samediggi.no/default.asp?selNodeID=214&lang=no&docID=4341.
About the Author
Liv Inger Lindi is head librarian of the Sámi
Email liv [dot] lindi [at] samediggi [dot] no
© 2002 Liv Inger Lindi
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