The Global Librarian – IFLA NPSIG Satellite Meeting 2010

I am in Sweden at the moment, having received a grant from BI-International to work on the German team for the IFLA Express, which is the newsletter published during IFLA’s World Library and Information Congress. Beforehand, I attended the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group’s satellite meeting, The Global Librarian, in Boras, Sweden. It was a fantastic and intense opportunity to discuss current issues in a smaller group.

The legendary Shanachies Erik Boekjestein and Jaap van de Geer delivered the opening keynote. If you’re not familiar with their work (why the hell not?), they basically travel the world’s local libraries in search of good practice. They have an internet TV show called This Week in Libraries, where they showcase these adventures and which I consider an invaluable resource when it comes to sharing practice and gaining an insight into how things are done in libraries around the globe. They spoke of libraries as an entrance to the “plugged-in world”: 57% of young people have created content for the web – which means there is a staggering 43% who haven’t. They come from homes where there is no computer, no wifi, no Wii/Xbox. Libraries should offer these kids an entrance to the plugged-in world that many of us have come to just take for granted. One programme they recommended was 23 Things, which is a 15-minute-a-day self-paced learning guide to using and mastering web 2.0 technologies.

Also, in some future meeting, I would like to play their game of “Spin The Library Bottle”, where people sit around and spin a bottle, and whenever it stops that person has to say something about their vision for libraries of the future.

What their keynote boiled down to for me, however, is the message Dare to be different, dare to try new things out, and engage in a dialogue with your users. This is what web 2.0 is about: it’s about two-sided communication, about conversation, about dialogue. It’s not about technologies, it’s about how you use them.

After this inspiring presentation, it was time to choose tracks. I went with Dr Petra Hauke and Michaela Jobb’s presentation on Library associations and new librarians, which was basically an overview of what library associations are doing for students and New Professionals. Result: During the session, I sent an email to one of my lecturers asking him to write me a letter of recommendation so I can join IFLA’s “Adopt-a-student” programme, I now know a number of different organisations that offer grants for conferences, such as IFLA itself, with the grant I just got, BI-International and my regional library association. And I heard about a student-organised conference in Hungary called BOBCATSSS, which sounded very interesting.

After lunch, which I coincidentally spent talking to such illustrious people as Lena Nordholm, the president of Boras University and Claudia Lux, Past President of IFLA, I went for a session called Sparking the career boost: How to internationalise your career. Since I am considering international library and information work, this session was very relevant for me.

Going very web 2.0, Robin Kear delivered the presentation via Skype from her home office. She gave us an overview of how to get into international library and information work. Some resources she mentioned were IFLA-L, the Open Society Institute, Rotary International Student Group Exchange, and the Institute of International Education. She pointed out it’s also worth looking at Special Interest Groups for international work in any organisation that you are a member of (CILIP, for example, has the ILIG Special Interest Group) and even your workplace, which may offer short-term opportunities for international work. Most importantly, she pointed out, you have to know what you want from international work. If you like to have a homebase, then go for short-term, volunteer placements – if you don’t mind a nomadic lifestyle, don’t hesitate to apply for that three-year contract in Mexico.

The next speaker, Hella Klauser of BI-International, then went on to say that being a global librarian is a state of mind – you don’t necessarily have to go abroad to be one. For example, hosting librarians from other countries in your own library is a massive contribution to global exchange within the profession. The most important thing is to be open-minded and have an interest in things outside your own small area of work. This echoed something that Robin Kears also mentioned: it pays to become an expert in something and share that expertise through blogging, tweeting, writing research papers, contributing to the global library conversation in creative ways. Both speakers stressed that the global librarian is not a lone fighter, that you need to create and maintain a network of people you know.

For the last round of presentations, I chose Extremely globalised and incredibly connected: how new librarians’ communities stay organised in today’s world. First, Corinna Sepke and Miriam Hoelscher from Hochschule der Medien in Stuttgart gave us a walkthrough of their MA thesis on mobile libraries. They stressed that mobility is a key factor in today’s society and that mobile libraries need to be mobile as well as support patrons’ mobility. Their research indicates that what people want most is a “train station library”: libraries in railway stations all over Germany, all integrated into one system, as “information gas stations”. Their utopian vision of this fascinating type of library even integrates videoconference facilities into trains so that patrons can talk to the librarians in the train station.

I think as libraries of the future go, this vision definitely picks up on a trend: many people use trains quite a lot to get to work. Also, people’s lives are so busy that they rarely find the time to go to a public library, so taking the library where people are and where it’s needed is definitely a fascinating concept to me. Also, as another participant pointed out, bringing a library to a train station or airport would introduce a non-commercial space into an environment that is, by and large, massively commercialised.

Afterwards, Jenny Emanuel from the University of Illinois spoke briefly on connecting with new librarians and, as Robin Kear before her, gave a lot of pointers and tips for resources on getting and staying connected. One that I particularly liked is @libraryfuture and #followalibrarian as means to find new people. Also, the blog In The Library With The Lead Pipe should get a lot more traffic this next week, I suppose. I found it important to learn that a lot of ALA listservs and websites are actually free to register with and, while US-centric, can provide a lot of valuable discussion and input from and for librarians of all kinds.

The closing keynote from Pernille Drost left me a bit speechless, to be honest. Pernille is the president of the Danish Union of Librarians, so she’s kind of the Danish equivalent of Biddy Fisher. She delivered an amazing keynote on what library associations should do to retain members, meet members’ expectations, and involve their members. To name but a few key points: Do stakeholder analysis – find out what members actually WANT from the organisation. Have a strategy, not just mission statements. What do members gain from being in the organisation? It is the president’s responsibility to be clear in strategy and communications and to make people realise what the organisation can do for them.

She also mentioned generation gaps and how creating “youngsters’ groups” only perpetuates the problem without actually bridging the gap: When do you stop being a “New Professional”? Why should you leave the “youngsters’ group” where you always went to have pizza, drinks and a lot of fun to go somewhere where it’s mind-numbingly dull?

One of the absolute key points of her speech for me personally was the statement that the organisation has to be the driver, not the members. I.e. don’t just tell people to “get involved”. Axe standing committees, axe hierarchies because that is not how people want to work for organisations any more. People want to share their expertise intensively and not have to climb hierarchies slowly over decades, doing grunt work on standing committees for ten years before finally being given some responsibility of their own.

I think CILIP is doing a lot of the right things with the Conversation and with trying to work out what members want and where the organisation and the profession are heading. I do hope that the outcome of the Conversation will be put into good practice and make CILIP as a whole a better organisation!

As a conclusion, I can only say that this has been an immensely successful day for me: I have made a lot of new contacts, received a number of comments for live-tweeting the event (yay for free wifi and me remembering to take my laptop), and genuinely felt involved and a part of something that is bigger than myself and than my little library job. There is a world of inspiration out there, and while I feel slightly overwhelmed by it all, I have the hope that I will be able to bring at least one or two of these new ideas back home and into my own environment.

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