Last Monday the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, IFLA, presented the first results of their ambitious global vision discussion. Over the past year, IFLA has worked with tens of thousands of librarians from all over the world to identify the challenges and opportunities for the library field, its enduring values and purpose, its boldest ideas and most effective local actions. The summary of this process is a highly inspirational document, and not only for libraries.
IFLA’s global vision discussion is a genuinely bottom-up process that has given a voice to all types of librarians and library workers. The discussion started last year in Athens with a workshop with about 150 international participants and continued to involve 9,291 people in 185 workshops and 22,772 people online. The contributions came from 190 UN member states, and all participants together had 469,152 years of library experience. A team of people worked for weeks to analyze the tens of thousands of data points to create the first summary.
What did they find? The key finding is that libraries are united globally in their goals and values, such as equal and free access to information and knowledge. Also, the library world must connect global and local actions effectively so succeed in years to come. The field has shared challenges, but to address them libraries need to acknowledge regional characteristics and requirements.
Underlying this key finding are ten highlights and ten opportunities, which range from updating traditional roles in the digital age to giving young professionals opportunities to learn, develop, and lead. They look inward, challenging the field to be less bureaucratic, inflexible, and resistant to change, and outward at library’s all-important community service.
Although none of the headlines in the document is surprising on its own, the depth of the research and detail that went into it is astonishing. The first results of IFLA’s global vision are not the result of a small focus group looking at the future of libraries, but ideas shared by thousands of librarians young and old, in large academic libraries and tiny public libraries, from all seven continents, with a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
This diversity of ideas and experiences and the trust of IFLA in the global library and that they can create their vision and their future is for me the most impressive result of the discussion so far.
I became involved in the process early last year when I was invited by IFLA HQ to help them design the kick-off workshop in Athens and the overall process. Together, we tried new and different approaches to ensure all voices would be heard in a global discussion. In Athens, we applied ideas of the 21st-century town hall model, which we built upon and adapted to different regions and languages. The IFLA team ran an inclusive communication campaign and went out of their way to encourage their network to invite their networks.
This year, in the next phase of the campaign, IFLA uses similar approaches to turn the first results into a future strategy, together with all librarians. (Earlier this week, in Barcelona, I had the honor of facilitating the first global workshop in this new phase.)
Looking at the results of IFLA’s global discussion, I think other cultural (and social) organizations can benefit from their research.
The most significant value of IFLA’s global vision discussion is not the summary report or any future report, however. The real value is the open and honest conversation amongst thousands about the future and their role in it and how this empowers and transforms the field, not because of the outcomes, but because of the conversation itself.
Find out more about IFLA’s global vision discussion.
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