In 2011, I was elected as president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the global voice of the library and information profession. With my term having ended at the World Information and Library Congress this past August, I wanted to share some thoughts on why libraries remain as relevant as ever in this age of information overload and 140-character sound bites.
My theme as IFLA president was, “Libraries—A Force for Change,” which incorporated four principles—inclusion, transformation, innovation, and convergence—that can serve as useful signposts in these uncertain times.
First, we must remain inclusive, serving all of our users without judgment, prejudice, or bias. By democratizing access to information, libraries can empower individuals to learn freely, improve their lives, and create new knowledge.
Second, we must promote the idea that libraries have the potential to transform lives, and therefore, society. It often starts with one person, one book, and one helping hand in a library or a drop-in center. And it extends through our ability to encourage dialogue by being community-centered hubs and interactive learning centers, as well as by supporting research and study.
Third, libraries must harness the power and potential of today’s technologies to deliver innovative services. IFLA’s new Trend Report, a broad-based document unveiled at the 2013 World Congress, highlights five key trends that dominate today’s information environment. While these focus on different areas, ranging from privacy issues to digital literacy, they are all connected by the same driver: technology.
In this environment, we must assess and adapt to evolving trends, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are already affecting education around the world. We need to keep providing access to information, irrespective of its format or method of delivery. We need to provide innovative spaces for people to meet, collaborate, and access new technologies. And we need to do all of this while engaging our patrons, wherever they may be: on social media, in their homes, or at the library.
Lastly, libraries must remain proactive and innovative regarding resources and initiatives, especially in an age of uncertainty and limited resources. Through collaboration and convergence, we can reach across disciplines to unite libraries, museums, archives, and other organizations in the field of documentary heritage. Together, we are stronger.
So yes, technology is key. But no amount of dazzling technology can replace what libraries have always done: connect people with information, with one another, and with their communities. Take digitization. One of the reasons we digitize items is to improve access to material for our communities. But digitization requires more than technology experts, as key as they are, to digitize and format content. It also requires collaboration with a variety of stakeholders on a number of fronts: the community, to help us identify what is in demand; other institutions, to avoid duplication of efforts and to pool resources; and other digitization initiatives, to contribute our content to broader collections.
As the former president of an international organization, I have been fortunate to witness how libraries have responded to a myriad of challenges. As we transform, what must endure are our under-lying values: equitable access to information, respect for diversity, the sharing of expertise and resources, and a commitment to literacy and lifelong learning.
INGRID PARENT is university librarian at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada; she also served as president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions from August 2011 to August 2013.