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The Future of Digital Libraries
One Platform, many motivations

The digital shift around libraries provides an opportunity for information professionals to explore the provision of better services. This enables us to engage in a futuristic vision of how one platform could support many users with diverse motivations.

By Madiareni Sulaiman


The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.

Coco Chanel

The Goethe-Institut and IFLA have a joint programme to support the future of information professionals worldwide to engage with and discuss current issues, especially around digital libraries. It ensures that they have a truly global conversation around contemporary problems and are able to take the messages out to the public (not just in the library community) to raise awareness and create maximum impact. They gathered twenty-two information professionals from various countries to be the representatives of the Emerging International Voices Network. The discussion space was an online seminar held during three consecutive weeks in October 2020.

Good practice in doing digital

Professor Partha Pratim Das delivered the first webinar from the National Digital Library of India (NDLI), alongside Katie Moffat from the Audience Agency. It was opened by Brigitte Doellgast (Goethe-Institut) and moderated by Gerald Leitner (IFLA Secretary-General). The first poll was given by Stephen Wyber (IFLA Manager, Policy and Advocacy), questioning how libraries in each country are taking advantage of digital technologies’ possibilities on a 1-10 scale. This poll was taken as an initial consideration of how optimistic participants were about the delivery of digital libraries in their respective countries. Participants heard how India could be one of the benchmarks in reviewing digital library implementation.
The first presenter, Professor Das, explained how NDLI could perform better during the COVID-19 pandemic situation. Libraries have changed to extend their reach and to act as agents of disruptive innovation; AI places them at the cutting edge of research. NDLI, with its 34 million library items, 400 languages, 300 sources, and 3 million users, could be accessed remotely and had a direct impact on transforming education outcomes during the pandemic. The second speaker, Katie Moffat, discussed building user-centred digital platforms and gave many examples of different approaches, from the UK National Archive to the National Gallery. Three things that could be noted from the seminar are that digital libraries mainly support collaborative principles in sharing data and knowledge, the importance of audience-centred innovation, and the focus on one platform with many different users. Digital libraries face some challenges in reaching users, especially those who lack digital literacy, but may be able to provide remote access facilities for the public.

Wise use of technology

The second webinar was delivered by Kathrin Schuster (Munich City Library) and Luke Swarthout (New York Public Library). They focused on the use of technology in providing library services to library patrons. I agree with the parallel system (online and physical) and the aim to generate more user participation via social media. In Indonesia, we use mobile libraries (cars, bikes, even ships) to reach rural users. So, despite the potential for digital access, physical services will still be needed. The regional public library in Indonesia has provided their own eBooks library that can be accessed via mobile phones (Android/iOS), such as iPusnas and iJakarta. We also use a national open source resource of open access catalogues to support non-budget libraries or reading parks, for instance, SLiMS (Senayan Library Management System). For me the focus should be on developing hybrid library services, rather than aiming for a full conversion to digital.

Business evaluation for libraries that go digital

During the pandemic, however, business processes are changing and we need to rely more on the digital approach. Almost all countries around the world have implemented online learning. The community libraries, groups, and volunteers who are concerned with digital illiteracy have tried their best to make a difference, collecting second-hand books, smartphones, and laptops for those who need them in order to enable people to connect to digital services. Issues arising from digital connectivity also need to be addressed, such as security, privacy, and social interaction. We need to ensure internet users are aware of these issues and try to educate people and embed the concept of digital literacy.

Re-thinking the action and motivation behind the act

The third online seminar was led by Marie Ostergaard (Aarhus Central Library) and Harry Verwayen (Europeana). They posed the provocative question: ‘what is the most important action needed to ensure the future of libraries in a digital world?’ This question made me think deeply and evaluate our approach to using the internet and digital platforms. There are 171 million internet users in Indonesia from a total population of 264 million people[1]. On the one hand, libraries in the digital world are very dynamic and responsive to trends in technology. But we need to reconsider our business model, moving away from thinking about space for collections to considering space for people. We need to design solutions based on Marie’s recommendation, and focus on upgrading digital skills, offering innovative digital services and proposing a better approach for physical services. By focusing on user motivations, digital libraries could act as a one-stop service platform in providing an advanced and disruptive service for library patrons around the world.

[1] Top 20 Countries with Highest Number of Internet Users - 2020 Q1.