More than 40 thousand people follow them on Instagram. People travel from far and wide to take selfies. Famous comedians are praised for their posts. The funniest and most famous library assistants in Sweden work in the library in Degerfors municipality.
Stacks of books, magazines and DVDs. Everywhere. On one desk, there is a pile of plastic bags with “Visit your local library – much more than just books” written on one edge. Two professional lighting fixtures stand in one corner. Welcome to Sweden’s most visited library workplace, at least across screens.
In this 1958 brick building, which also houses the Folkets’ home, the staff at the Degerfors Library records their now-widespread clips. Asa Johansson, Robin Karlsson, Harriet Hollande and Birgit Vestergren have involuntarily become social media stars.
Today they record a new one. Preparations are underway in the adjacent kitchen.
-I wrote something yesterday. Are you okay with saying something, Birgitte? Robin Carlson asks and distributes the text around the breakfast table set with various types of bread, butter, cheese, sausage and biscuits.
Library assistant Birgit Westergren theatrically cups her forehead and sighs:
– which answer?
Degerfors’ authentic accent is important
Harriet Allund, library assistant, rolls her eyes and says:
– Sometimes I get a whole A4 sheet of paper with lines on it, which is terrible.
Robin Carlsson from Habo, outside Jönköping. It is a challenge for a screenwriter trying to write in Degerfors’s native dialect.
– We have to help him with local expressions, says children and youth librarian Asa Johansson.
This comes behind the scenes of what many claim is a cross between director Roy Anderson, known for his pale lighting, slow dialogue, and dark humor, and the series The Office, with his mockumentary style.
The clip was a hit online
Regardless, the Degerfors Library has attracted more than 40,000 people on Instagram. This is equivalent to four times the population of the entire municipality. It is, by a large margin, the largest of the Swedish Library accounts on Instagram. Just compare with Stockholm City Library’s 8,100 followers, Gothenburg’s 7,300 followers, and Malmö’s 6,900 followers.
Harriet Ahlund reads her lines aloud. In one scene, she looks out the window and sees that Robin Carlson, on his way to work, encounters a library visitor who upsets him.
“Well, Anna Karen Peterson is coming too! Wasn’t she the one who wanted to borrow the books yesterday? Or he refuses. Now he’s hot on the ear! Now maybe he should lend him his latest book.”
A quarter of an hour of reading the lines, then it is time to record. It’s twenty-nine o’clock, and the employees are returning to their workplaces.
“Checked in an hour earlier than others”
Robin Carlson sets up the camera and hides the microphone on Harriet Hollande’s desk. It is not surprising that he became the driving force in the recordings, given that social media is part of his service. This is where the course in Art Sciences and Education from the Comics and Visual Stories Program at the University of Gävle comes in handy.
– I thought this was the most exciting at first. I ran and clocked in an hour before anyone else. “Maybe now I feel like we have to produce something for social media,” he says.
Although the viral clips look lavish, they only take an hour to record. Professional lighting is no longer used, daylight is sufficient. Robin Carlson urges employees to try to deliver lines as authentically as possible. Then he adjusts his voice.
– Cutting can take a few hours. I do this when I’m not on overseas assignment, but I can work with long-term loans and other things that are done in the office.
President: “They are normal.”
Between takes, Birgit Westergren returns to her computer and answers emails. Harriet Ålund yawns wildly as Robin Karlsson films the details to be cut out.
Sofia Lothmann, cultural director of Degerfors, says she tries to provide the right conditions for employees to be able to record clips as part of their work.
– Many people think that they scratch a lot. But the truth is that they are natural talents and the work takes much less time than many people think, while benefiting so many. She says they are doing the municipality and the Library of Sweden a service by making activities visible in a fun and inspiring way.
Robin Carlson’s script allows the staff to improvise, but his character and that of Harriet Hollande have become increasingly clear over the years since the account began in 2018.
– Harriet and I have become a bit of Helan and Halfan, who will quarrel a little.
Harriet Ahlund – A crowd favorite
The oldest among the involuntary stars is Harriet Ålund, a Degerforsbo native and self-described local patriot.
Slowly, her fictional persona develops: cocky (she introduces herself as “the one and only Harriet”), skeptical of information technology (“That’s mean” – she prefers modems) and mean to Robin Carlson (whom she calls the barn). Everything is in a wide-ranging Degerforce tone.
If Harriet Hollande and her accent play the main role in many clips, her small, authentic, raspy laugh plays an important supporting role.
– It’s fun to record, although if I had known it was going to be this big, I never would have wanted to do it. At the time I mostly thought “well, not a lot of people see this”, but now it does. Heh heh heh
“This is not Babylon here!”
At the same time, she loves the role she has been assigned.
-It’s fun to be something you’re not in reality. Some who come here think I actually saw it. One of them said: “Do you dare to come here?” Heh heh heh
Here’s what a segment might look like where you call a regular library patron:
“Hello Britt-Marie. It’s Harriet in the library! Yes, I picked out some books, so I thought I’d come over…
Do you want to read poems?
Hopes. You’ve chosen what you usually like! Back home, we find alcoholic police officers who are in the middle of a divorce, and these creepy detectives named after children’s songs. I think you should always read what I read! But dear someone! Isn’t this Babylon here!? Have you thought about becoming a writer for DN Kultur, perhaps? “Heh heh heh”
In the background, colleague Asa Johansson can be heard saying: “Fight Britt-Marie!”
“You don’t care. Well… yes, I work in a library, but you don’t need to be willing to listen to poems for that, right? Now, I’ve known you since elementary school. What’s the thing that has wings inside?” How bad can it be? Yes, I don’t want to hear any poetry! Now give it to Britt-Marie! However, I have printed out a recipe for almond flakes. I thought I would send you the books. Yes, add some audio books. It might be nice to listen to the baker. It’s been a long time since we arrived now! Everyone becomes so happy when cakes come from you!
Tributes are pouring in to the library
In comment fields, followers praise both the text and the language:
“I want a T-shirt that says ‘Dear Nun, This Is Not Babylon.’”
“Harriet is my spirit animal!! This is the funniest and best insta account ever!”
“Love this account. I would love to go to Degerforce just to visit this amazing library!”
The account is followed by well-known comedians such as Cecilia Kyle, and in another clip, actress Cecilia Frodi writes: “I’m leaving!!!! This is what I missed about Roy Anderson, very good!”
Selfie lovers come from all over Sweden
The time has reached 10.45. Harriet Ahlund goes to the library to empty the bookcases, put away the newspapers, and turn on the computers fifteen minutes before they open. She has worked as a library assistant at Degerfors Library for 25 years, but she only recently got into the habit of taking selfies with fans.
When the library opens, it won’t be long before the first selfie of the day is taken. Visitor Elizabeth Erickson takes the opportunity to take a card while picking up a book.
Another fan is Harry Bronke.
– I think the account is very interesting. That’s very good, if I may. The slopes do a lot for Degerfors because people now understand that it’s not just football here. My wife and I follow their Instagram account. He says they feel spontaneous and human.
Harriet Ahlund says selfie-hungry people come from everywhere.
– They come to see if we really exist. Many come from other cities. He was from Uppsala and Smoland and all kinds of places. They’re probably on their way somewhere, but take the opportunity to enter. Some take turns, which is actually pretty cool.
She hasn’t had time to get tired of celebrities yet.
– When I was at a football match, many people came and took selfies. It’s just a matter of attendance, he he… It’s okay, we have to hope there won’t be an occasion where I think it’s going to be difficult.
But the question is whether the entire cast may soon have to come to terms with all the handheld cameras. In fact, their posts have become so popular that there may be “something new and bigger” in the near future. Robin Carlson represents the team in discussions with production companies. For the first time during the interview, it was brief.
– There is a danger that it will be completely different from what we do today. But then the question is whether this should be seen as an end point or the beginning of something new. The idea is evolving and in terms of content, it’s good to have other people come too.
Visitors mention the daily work
Despite all the likes, comments and successes, he still believes that everyday working life means the staff at the library don’t become too much of a supermodel.
– It’s nice when people come and say they want their book. “Then you get down to earth and remember what we’re doing in the first place,” says Robin Carlson.
Harriet Ahlund has no dramatic plans ahead of her yet.
-This is a fun workplace and it’s fun to go to work. I’m not retiring. What will I do during the day? A new acting career probably doesn’t pose a risk. Heh heh heh
“Entrepreneur. Freelance introvert. Creator. Passionate reader. Certified beer ninja. Food nerd.”