IFLA Columbus 2016 and the Trend report

Key takeaways from IFLA 2016
by Boris Zetterlund, Senior Advisor at Axiell

The IFLA Congress is a meeting place more than a conference. There are meetings from early morning to late evening in the vast amount of IFLA Committees. Which is a good thing, pushing the world level of library services further.

The yearly IFLA conference is as always an interesting meeting point, especially if you are interested and want an update from libraries all over the world. If you are more in to listening to frontrunner librarians and experts (with a North American view) it may be worth attending the ALA Summer Conference.

European librarians can look forward to a more comfortable trip next year, 2017,  because it will then be unfolded in Wroclaw, Poland. 2018 in Malaysia. Exciting locale!

Coinciding with the Columbus conference IFLA updated the IFLA trend report at https://trends.ifla.org/

The main points in that report are

  1. New technologies will both expand and limit who has access to information. Limit due to digital content distribution restrictions.
  1. Online education will democratise and disrupt global learning.Think “MOOCs”, Massive Open Online Courses.
  1. The boundaries of privacy and data protection will be redefined.
  2. Hyper connected societies will listen to and empower new voices and groups.

Between the two versions (2013, 2016) of the report the awareness of the negatives of the hyper connection has risen.

  1. The global information economy will be transformed by new technology.

Think “sharing economy” and “blockchain”.

In the session that addressed the points above Gerard Leitner, IFLA Secretary General, referred to Jeff Bezos about the general complaining of Amazon being a dominant in literature sales. “The Internet is disrupting every media industry …. You know, people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy. Amazon is not happening to book selling; the future is happening to book selling” was Bezos´answer.

This kind of put the “tech evolution”, creating the powerful convenience factor (and favouring the dominant player), beyond the democratic processes in each and every country. Do we want and accept that? Do we have a choice?

Mr Leitner stressed that “no library is an island” and the libraries can and should build the “paramount platforms for reading, listening and viewing”.

This to counter act the commercial alternatives that “threatens” the libraries by offering attractive easy and direct accessible media to a cost most people in the developed countries that are employed can afford. People think they are not in a need of a library and buy, because it is convenient, the commercial alternatives.

Many librarians think this as a false dichotomy. The library should not be, is not, only a supplier of media (“competing” with commercial alternatives). It is an enhancer, an enforcer, a facilitator in the local community. Mr Leitner of course knows this and asks for cooperation between libraries to achieve progress.

Library Innovation

Ngian Lek Choi, Director National Library of Singapore, was proud of IFLA supporting the Myanmar development of libraries. She also stressed the necessary readiness to change. “We are creature of habits. Hard to leave our comfort zones.” One interesting development in Singapore was the, maybe controversial, video observation of the habits in the library automatically changing digital service screens.

Maria Carme Torras i Calvo, University Library Bergen, Norway, talked about libraries going from being gatekeepers to working as providers and partners. Libraries, consortiums, should be much tougher in negotiations with vendors she argues. Academic libraries should be inspired by public libraries amount of and innovative program activities. Furthermore they should develop professional plans including a communication of a narrative.

Maria Violeta Bertolini, Library Consultant, was very much in to the new role possibilities of librarians, like Open Science Librarian, focusing on the possibilities for education during the life career. Self learning will be so much stronger in the digital world. According to Google she says, talent and skills trumps degrees.

Involving the community

Rolf Hapel , Library Manager Århus Denmark, says that public libraries are about user involvement and democratic dialogue, going from transactions to relations*. This is a theme that is a statement all over the place, at the sessions and the posters. He also thinks that on national level the Danish example is a good one, facilitating synergy by creating an infrastructure for the good of all libraries. He notes, though, that regarding direct patron facing services at the most 8-10% of the population uses state central options. That is including free movies and music services. There is a certainly a point in what Mr Hapel says. Services with user involvement and dialogue certainly should work best at local level.

Big data and online learning in libraries  

I also attended longer sessions about Preservation in the digital world, Big Data, Online learning and Marketing.

Regarding Big Data there seems to be an urge to change the concept name to “Data Science” or “Open Data Science”.

On the net you can easily find statements that differentiates the two:

“Data Science looks to create models that capture the underlying patterns of complex systems, and codify those models into working applications. Big Data looks to collect and manage large amounts of varied data to serve large-scale web applications and vast sensor networks.” Sean McClure.

The session didn´t make that distinction. A committee has been appointed in IFLA to continue to explore this field.

In the Online learning, e-learning, Sheila Corrall nailed it: “Build your e-learning around what you want the students to learn not what you want them to read.” She thinks that over the years the e-learning evolved in to being a fair competitor to on site learning. Also she said that e-learning methods now can be and are contributing to on site learning. A good thing! https://library.ifla.org/1482/

It is kind of puzzling that the concept of MOOCs still held a totally positive position in this lengthy sessions, in spite of some research saying that ”wrong” (not the most in need) and all too few people finish their courses. There is also research questioning the true learning impact of fully online courses. Not that this research may be the ”truth” but even so it would be refreshing with different views. Did I ever attend any MOOC? you may then ask. Yes! And I loved it! ”Film Noir” at Ball State University, Indiana. **

From the preservation session a recommendation is  https://library.ifla.org/1439/1/164-cassidy-en.pdf. The title is “Dr Perfectionist: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Quantity”.

The title says a lot. The preservation theme at IFLA is about taking care of old physical archive material and the digitisation of it. Next step, not yet acknowledged in public libraries, will be handling the vast amount of born digital media that soon enough every library will produce every day.

In the marketing session Christie Koontz stressed that marketing is way beyond promotion. The most important work is to collect data and information and thereby analyze your customers and potential customers and then segment your promotion to different target groups. There is no show in addressing everyone with everything in direct promotion.

We congratulate The Vancouver library Innovation Lab that won the IFLA Marketing award. https://www.vpl.ca/programs/cat/C1051

We also congratulate Århus Denmark for the recognition by IFLA for the “library of the year” achievement”!

*This has been a librarians warrior call for some years now. Still good, but “transactions” is diminishing the information gatekeeper role libraries traditionally had and “relations” is a rather shallow concept. “Relations” yes, but grounded and built on public library core tasks; developing literacy and its enhancement, lifelong learning, the democratic citizen, the creative human.


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