For her President’s Program on August 26, “Motors of Change: Changing Ourselves to Change Our World,” 2017–2019 International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) President Glòria Pérez-Salmerón was not content to simply share her goals for year. Instead, she shared the stage with five past IFLA presidents and the current president of the Finnish Library Association to address how libraries can change mindsets and be considered social and economic investments, not costs.
Traditionally libraries have looked to the past: collections, archives, and access to existing information. However, she said, libraries have an obligation to create citizens, not consumers. What do the citizens of the future need?
Touching on themes from her Opening Session address, Pérez-Salmerón urged delegates to resist passivity and maintain optimism despite social, political, and financial upheaval. “Libraries do not need to be the victims of change,” she said. “They can drive the change.” To make that happen, she encouraged reaching out to teams and partners and creating a positive approach, both personally and professionally. “We have so much to do, not least within ourselves, but I know we can.”
Pérez-Salmerón then invited her predecessors—Claudia Lux (who served as president 2007–2009), Ellen Tise (2009–2011), Ingrid Parent (2011–2013), Sinikka Sipilä (2013–2015), and Donna Scheeder (2015–2017)—to reflect on their tenures, what has changed since then, and how libraries should address change in the future.
Parent noted that her term feels like a long time ago in relation to how quickly things have changed economically, technologically, and politically. “We were trying to change mindsets, but then we didn’t call it that. We were just trying to make sure libraries were promoted.” Her efforts involved making IFLA more diverse and inclusive, increasing membership, and translating resources into more languages. She believes it is still important to change mindsets on diversity and that libraries can lead on issues like the global migrant crisis.
Sipilä’s presidential theme was “Strong Libraries, Strong Societies,” and she was IFLA president when the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development began. IFLA’s work on the economic benefits of libraries helped give libraries a place in the agenda and in many national development plans.
Tise, senior director of library and information services at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, said she saw her presidency as representing the global south and the developing world. To her, Agenda 2030 was about access of information as a human right. “This is where we stand and what we have to fight for,” she said. “We are the only public institution in the world that can provide access to information equally.”
Lux discussed learning political and networking skills as president and also the importance of advocating for libraries even on a personal level: “How is your perception in your family? Do they know what you do? Do they really know, or do they think you read books all day?”
Scheeder, whose theme was “Libraries: A Call to Action,” leaned heavily on the IFLA Trend Report during her term to help educate libraries about coming changes in the field. “You either live the change you want, or you do nothing and have to live with the consequences,” she said. Sometimes change can be overwhelming, so she created a framework for change at both personal and institutional levels, including national and global policies like copyright.
Also on the program was Sylvia Modig, current president of the Finnish Library Association, who showed off photos and renderings of the new Helsinki Central Library Oodi, which will open in December. Finns value libraries as part of the welfare state, she said, but this new branch involved a major investment of €100 million. Oodi is situated near Finland’s Parliament House to symbolize the links between knowledge and decision making.
Pérez-Salmerón concluded by explaining how the 2008 financial crisis forced librarians in Spain to quickly change their mindsets and advocate for libraries as investments as funding rapidly slipped away. Every librarian must be an advocate in their own communities and for libraries in general, she said.