24 August 2014

Report back from the IFLA President-Elect session! How libraries are responding to information changes

Bright and early on the last day of the 80th World Library & Information Congress (WLIC) Salle Gratte Ciel filled with library and information professionals to discuss the information trends influencing libraries in their region, as part of the IFLA President-Elect’s planning session, The IFLA Trend Report: a Catalyst for Change.

Before the packed room, six speakers from the Netherlands, Singapore, Mexico, Australia, the United States and South Africa spoke about the information trends shaping their region, and ways in which their associations and institutions have taken up the Trend Report.

While the lightning talks spanned several regions of the world, common threads emerged in how libraries need to evolve to meet the changing needs of communities in the digital information environment: there’ll be greater collaboration between libraries and with other sectors; more sophisticated library advocacy; and more focus on libraries as agents for development.

Following the talks, participants divided themselves into geographical regions to begin discussing four questions regarding information trends and the future for libraries in their region. The questions where:

  1. Give an update on the information trends in your region – you’ve listened to the talks this morning, are they familiar to you? Do you see similar trends emerging in your library and region?
  2. What role do you see libraries occupying your region in 5 years’ time?
  3. What do you see as the most important problems and opportunities for libraries in your region?
  4. Where do those problems and opportunities fit for:
    1. IFLA to work on
    2. Your national or other association to work on
    3. You to work on in your library or personally

With every table in the room occupied, not all groups had an opportunity to report back on their discussions before the end of the session. We’ve summarized key themes emerging from each region below:

North America

Nothing in the trends felt new or unusual to a number of tables. However, while it’s assumed a lot of the time that all people in North America have equal access to information, there’s regions where there isn’t the IT infrastructure yet, there’s people who don’t have access to the internet, and there’s not the economic drive to boost IT infrastructure within some communities.

Some participants where concerned there are problems with a lack of vision regarding the future for libraries in North America. “We’re stuck in a mindset, and too comfortable.”

Looking to the future, several tables felt libraries were a natural place to bring people around learning – lots of libraries are looking for ways to encourage online education, and provide access to online learning opportunities.

There’ll also be increased focus on offering services where they’re needed, sometimes 24/7. In the future, library staff will have diverse credentials and there’ll be increased merging of internal services between institutions that could be shared, like cataloguing. There’s also a need to be more politically savvy, to increase our advocacy capacity and preserve our future. Libraries need to be embedded in the community, and pursue opportunities for collaboration.

Africa and the Middle East

There was huge diversity across the tables discussing information trends in Africa and the Middle East. Several participants highlighted “super-empowered” user communities that are emerging across the region, who have access to the internet already and are skilled with mobile technologies.

Libraries in the region should see these connected users as partners: “what can we learn from them and what can they learn from us?” However, libraries cannot forget the parts of their communities with limited to no access to information.

For other countries, it’s a challenge just to survive. Instability in the region means the main challenge in some countries isn’t ensuring libraries survive but that the people survive – the government and the rebels don’t care about libraries. Connecting rural and remote communities will also continue to be a challenge, with physical infrastructure in some places just not sufficient to support online use.  Librarians will need to be upskilled to meet the changing needs of their communities.

Turning to the future, all tables saw great opportunities for libraries in open access content, and online learning experiences. A lot of people work and are unable to go to school full time, so there’s a lot of interest in online education, distance learning – they look to libraries to help with this. There’s new methods of learning too – video conferencing, MOOCs, online content – and libraries need to respond to that.

One table commented that in their region, there’s a shift from finding information for users (“fishing for them”) to teaching them how to look for information themselves (“teach them how to fish”).

What are the needs for libraries in the region? Professional development and up-skilling came up several times, as did increased opportunities for cross-border collaboration. There’s also a need to integrate more with modern services, and anticipate changing information trends.

Latin America

Another table reflecting great diversity in the region  -no two countries have the same experiences of information trends. Sharing experiences across borders, and communicating with the LAC library associations remains a challenge.

To influence positive policy frameworks for libraries in LAC, they need more policy, more data, to illustrate how libraries can improve and impact on societal values. The Building Strong Library Associations (BSLA) program offers a great model for advocacy capacity building. The libraries need a training module to assist with this policy generation.

Participants also highlighted the need to work with other stakeholders outside the library profession, and to become better advocates: “there’s poor knowledge of the wealth of information contained in libraries - we need to be better at expressing this.” To effect positive policy change for libraries in the region, a number of participants agreed that first, “we need a seat at the table.”


A number of libraries and library associations are facing budget cuts in Europe, and there’s still a great distance between developed and under-developed areas in the region. Some demographics are excluded from the internet environment: the elderly, disabled, migrant populations, unemployed youths. Some minority languages are poorly represented, and there’s a need to promote more diversified local content (i.e. e-Books in the many European languages).

Libraries have a role to play bridging the digital divide – empowering the unemployed, the aging, the young. They’ll also play an increasing role as a public space for communities and individuals to create their own content, learn and socialize.

Open access is evolving rapidly, and libraries are increasingly offering open access presses. There’s so much content being produced, however, the question is how to manage it and how to ensure people can find what they need.  There continues to be concerns about Google as the first place people go to to find information.  Google has so much information, from everywhere, but some participants thought libraries can create a niche for themselves in focusing on locally sourced information.  More focus should be given to local culture and local content development.

Some tables also discussed regulatory concerns for libraries in the region, including copyright, licensing and privacy. How can libraries properly protect the data of their users?

All tables highlighted the need for greater collaboration, to act with one coordinated voice, and to develop broader partnerships.

The importance of national associations was also recognized, to promote the Trend Report more, and to be the link between individual institutions and national governments.

Asia and Oceania

Across the region there’s still great disparity between access to ICTS between countries, and within countries. Cell phone and internet penetration is low in some areas, but the trend is towards growth.

In the next five years, more institutions in Asia & Oceania will embrace crowd-sourcing to assist library planning. University and special libraries in Australia are currently working through closures and consolidation. While there are funding issues for many Australian libraries, there are still positive signs of investment in others. In Singapore, libraries are trying to figure out where they’re best placed to serve the community – some branches have been placed in shopping centres. In New Zealand, the trend is towards electronic lending and supply (streaming, downloading), but there are questions regarding variety and quality of content. In Myanmar, the government is currently building a learning centre.

Commercialisation of information is a real issue for libraries in the region – through trade agreements, WIPO, etc – and this is a real challenge for libraries to confront. How do we establish our value outside of an increasingly commercialized information sphere?

Collaboration is key: “it’s not just about getting other stakeholders to speak at our conferences, we have to go out to speak to other stakeholders.” All participants agreed there’s a need to improve collaboration between libraries, and not rely on government to resolve library issues.  

What can IFLA do?

A shared vision of IFLA’s role in supporting the evolution of libraries in the information environment was reflected across all regions.

One key value for IFLA is in providing a global network for libraries. IFLA can help expose and share stories of success from various regions, and provide a space for people to come together [like this session] to share experiences and learn from each other.

A number of participants also highlighted IFLA’s role in policy development, with IFLA sections providing guidelines and draft instruments across a number of areas relevant to the profession.  Some regions highlighted particularly the role IFLA is playing in preservation of cultural heritage in areas of conflict.

IFLA could also work on expanding the definition of libraries, and facilitate exchanges of staff between countries. IFLA should facilitate greater collaboration in the community and recognize innovators. IFLA Congresses should engage more external participants. Both IFLA and the national associations can play a lead role bringing other stakeholders to these discussions, to solve these problems together.