A national association of enthusiasts

In the last 150 years Sweden has developed from the 19th century peasant society to the industrial society of the 20th century until today’s high-technological information society. These changes have affected the way we think, our habits and norms. The living conditions have drastically changed – not least in the working life.

In Sweden today there are about 1 500 local Working Life museums that preserve, use and make the industrial society’s cultural heritage accessible. The focus is on the people and their work. Thousands of enthusiasts are spreading the knowledge – about tools, technology and factories, but also manual work, pride and social conditions.

This is of great importance for our common identity, and for the possibilities to strengthen the vitality and development of local communities – but the perspective is also regional, national and global. The Working Life museums are in that way a manifestation of the democratic potential of our cultural heritage!

The Working Life Museums Co-operation Council (ArbetSam) is a non-profit national organization with the purpose to support and develop their work with our cultural heritage. The overall aim is to deepen the knowledge about the past to get an increased preparedness for the future.

The Working Life museums – a popular movement
“Working Life museum is referring to an activity with the purpose to preserve, interpret and form the cultural heritage values of a workplace. These values can be physical as well as immaterial. The activity can be within the private or public sector and should be, or aim at becoming accessible to the public.“

The reality behind this definition is an impressive popular movement. The activity at the country’s approximately 1 500 Working Life museums is largely based on non-profit efforts. The engagement, great knowledge and willpower of thousands of enthusiasts to make the history of working life accessible are an invaluable resource.

What motivates these enthusiasts? In many cases there is a personal interest in the subject, and probably also the satisfaction to see visitors captivated by history. Karl-Gunnar Karlsson, guide at Iggesunds Factory museum, tells us about a visitor who always returns to the steam-engine in the rolling-mill:

– Every year a grey-headed enthusiast visits us. He stands for two hours, looking at the engine and then says: “It ought to be run!”

Strengthens, supports and co-ordinates
ArbetSam works with supporting and strengthen the activities at Working Life museums. Among other things this means working with co-ordination, influencing of public opinion, information, exchanging knowledge, education and recruiting members.
One forum for this work is www.arbetsam.com. The website publishes current information about Working Life museums, seminars, list of members, new publications, activities and much more which contribute to support and strengthen the museums activities. The website also exposes ArbetSam and Working Life museums to the public.

A major work with initiating new research, spreading knowledge, and creating an opinion for Working Life museums is also done. It’s about getting attention and acceptance but also to fortify the concept Working Life museum.

A wide range of members is a condition for the work and continuing development of ArbetSam. Therefore there is a continuous recruitment of members through personal contacts, staffed chancellery, the website and by mail, along with practical help for individual needs.

Variety and engagement
Amongst the Working Life museums we find laundry museums, ironworks, a flying DC-3, galleasses, schooners, shoe factories, agricultural museums, ropewalks, veteran railways, tow-boats, foundries, mental hospital museums and many many more. There is a great variety and the engagement unites.
Common to many of the museums is their way to pass on their knowledge. Visitors are allowed to forge, taste, wash, bake, smell, listen, feel, ride, drive, remember, and be amazed – using all their senses in learning from the history.

The Ropewalk museum in Älvängen outside Gothenburg gives the visitors opportunity to see rope-making and equipment, hear the rythmical throbing from the old machine driven by belts, smell the natural fibres and tar, feel the raw material and finished products.

“Imagine at my age to grind a few bags of flour, it’s amazing!”, said Sven Melander, third generation miller, at the re-opening of Kvarnviken’s mill. Sven has his own memories – for the younger generation the possibility to try to grind his or her own flour, becomes a new experience to bring into the future.

Learning from the memory
The visions of ArbetSam
The foremost purpose of the memory is to learn. To learn from our experiences, see connections and get a comprehensive view. The visions ArbetSam has for the future is to support the non-profit efforts made by persons, driven by their will to share memories and experiences, from what we call the industrial society’s cultural heritage

New generations of enthusiasts must be attracted to get a connection between the past and the future. ArbetSam will continue to develop its member’s wide range of knowledge. This involves learning more about working life heritage as well as the technical systems and working as a museum.

The dialog between the established institutions and the Working Life museums will be stimulated to get an expanded co-operation and an exchange of experiences. The recently established ArbetSam secretariat in Norrköping will also play an important role as coordinator.

In the vision there is also a demand for more resources. The country’s about 1 500 Working Life museums are given a very small amount of society’s resources to be divided as project contributions. Contributions for the running expenses are almost none. The enthusiasts who despite this make their activities work, needs support to stop them from burning out!