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Planning for the future of libraries

March 20, 2018
Mimi Calter
IFLA Presidents Meeting 2018 - Banner

On March 19th, I attended the annual President’s Meeting for the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).  As chair of IFLA’s standing committee on Academic & Research Libraries, I was asked to participate in this program which examined trends across the global library field and served as the launch platform for IFLA’s Global Voice of Libraries report, which I’ll discuss in a future post.  Approximately 200 librarians and other information specialists from around the globe attended and engaged in active debate about issues facing libraries around and across the globe.

The session was timely for me, as there were several parallels in this session between the global work that IFLA is doing and the local work that Stanford Libraries are doing on long-term planning and on program planning.  SUL’s planning effort was the main topic of discussion at our most recent Asilomar offsite, which I’ll also discus in a future post.  Attending the two sessions in close succession made it clear that Stanford’s efforts at planning for the future track closely with what is going on elsewhere in the world.

A key feature of the IFLA program was a focus on the use of scenario planning as a strategic tool.  The opening keynote, presented by Ravael Ramirez from the Oxford University, looked at scenario planning specifically, and scenario planning was leveraged in discussions in the following days.  Ramirez exhorted us all to remember that “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu“ and urged the use of strategic planning as a tool to ensure that your organization is among the diners.  This tool was one we would leverage in the following two days of work around activating the Global Voice of Libraries report.

Beyond the tool focus, the sessions had two themes for librarians driving change: librarians as activists, and libraries as network nodes.

Isrka Mihaylova, a Member of the European Parliament, cited her own work in advocating for local sewer improvements, which gained support from many local public libraries, as an example of how libraries are taking up advocacy in new and exciting ways.  Glyn Moody, a journalist, exhorted attendees even more strongly to embrace activism and engage aggressively in the protection of internet freedoms, the rapaciousness of commercial scholarly publishers, and the increasing lack of respect for expertise.  And nearly every presenter referenced the need for librarians to take action in support of free access to information.  I know that my colleagues at Stanford embrace this challenge and was pleased to see the concept embraced broadly.

Matthew Finch, who calls himself a “Library Storyteller”, talked extensively about libraries as network nodes that build communities and serve as a connector between disparate constituencies who nonetheless share common goals.  He acknowledged the challenge of developing productive partnerships, noting that humans tend to “look at partnerships in terms of services rather than relationships” but the relationship is the more productive approach.  Toby Green, Head of Publishing at the OECD, similarly talked about the need to build relationships in order to have successful partnerships.  He cited his own work in developing shared platforms for data service being used among public organizations as an example.  In the Stanford context, we’ve talked a lot lately about the libraries as an “unaffiliated space” on campus that brings together disparate research groups.  There are lessons to be learned from our global colleagues.