World Libraries

Sámi library services in Norway

The 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 sierrabibliotehka. [1]

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 majority literature

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 local schools.

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. [2]

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 literature.

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. [3]

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.

Further Developments

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 communities.

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. [4]

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 Norggas.

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.

End Notes

1. The website in the Sámi language may be found at with some pictures. You can read in English about the Sámi Parliament building that houses the Sámi special library at

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

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

About the Author

Liv Inger Lindi is head librarian of the Sámi Special Library.
Email liv [dot] lindi [at] samediggi [dot] no

© 2002 Liv Inger Lindi


Top of Page | Table of Contents