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Staying relevant in times of crisis
The Same Question on All Minds: What Awaits Libraries?

Libraries managed to maintain their importance during the period of digital transformation. But some has had it easier than others, when tackling new challenges during the pandemic. And one big challenge is still ahead of them.

By Nilay Cevher

Attending three seminars given by six renowned speakers and follow-up discussion groups with colleagues from all around the world was a unique experience for me, enabling me not only to broaden my vision of digital libraries but to expand my international network of information professionals. As an academic working in the field of information and library science, I have had the opportunity to focus on the theoretical part of the subject. However, projects like Emerging International Voices have given me the opportunity to meet librarians working at different sorts of libraries from various countries and witness problems and best practices first-hand. For this reason, participating in such projects means a lot to me in terms of my career as a researcher.

The global pandemic has highlighted and accelerated what libraries and many other institutions had been going through in the new era.

What I understood from the speeches, discussions and the essays of the other project participants is that there are similar approaches to the subject of digital libraries within different kinds of institutions and in different countries. Libraries retain their central mission of bringing patrons and resources together no matter what. They offer services to their patrons either face-to-face or through digital platforms. All kinds of libraries face similar challenges in catching up with emerging technologies. They have to adapt to the changing environment in order to survive and maintain their importance.
The global pandemic has highlighted and accelerated what libraries and many other institutions had been going through in the new era. Social media tools, digital platforms and the internet have already affected every aspect of our lives. As information has become the main actor in every area, libraries as information centres have had to be transformed. Libraries have already expanded and multiplied their resources, services and even physical spaces due to technological factors impacting patrons’ changing needs, expectations and requests. The libraries that had been undergoing this process (in terms of staff, services and collections) were more prepared for the changes that the pandemic brought to our lives. However, the libraries that had resisted the changes were less well-equipped to respond. 

 As a PhD candidate, I have been focusing on change management for my dissertation. The connection I have made between my research area and my experiences from the Emerging International Voices project is that libraries have to consider their positions wisely and strategically in order to maintain their relevance for the communities they serve. They should take the changing environment seriously and brainstorm about it; evaluate their current situation and identify what to keep and what to change. They should then take action and develop their strategies accordingly. Change management can be a solution for libraries so that they face fewer challenges during the change process. Marie Ostergaard from Aarhus Central Library in Denmark highlighted the importance of cooperation and creating a network of libraries in her presentation as a possible solution for libraries. Luke Swarthout from New York Public Library mentioned ‘build/buy/join’ for libraries as a way of serving digitally. And Katie Moffat from the Audience Agency proposed the design thinking method as a way for libraries to adapt to the digital world.
I have realised from my previous research, as well as from the presentations and discussions during the project that libraries need to find their own ways to stay relevant. This process should include the mindset to adapt and be open to change, to advocate for the right and reliable information, to make library services and collections more attractive, to share best practices with colleagues, and to learn from each other.
One of the most frequently mentioned challenges during the project was how to include every individual and provide democratic access to information during the digitalisation period. It was agreed during the discussions that this subject needs more comprehensive consideration. It is not just libraries’ responsibility or mission to solve the problem of access and digital literacy, but all parties (governments, associations, markets and so on) should be included and come together around the subject.
Libraries are able to maintain their importance during this period of digital transformation. Although libraries need to focus more on the subject and try to find solutions for themselves. Such international projects help to bring people together: working to reduce their anxieties and think more creatively, cooperate and make the subject more visible. I am proud to be a part of such an experience.