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Libraries for the democratisation of societies
Digital services? Yes, but I’m not going alone

Shared, victory tastes sweeter and defeat is less bitter. Digital services are a challenge, and although not being alone does not diminish the challenge, it does increase the resources with which to face it.

By Pau Banyó Magraner

As expected, after listening to experts in the field and the opinions of twenty fellow librarians around the world, one’s perspective on digital services in libraries changes when presented with new situations and their inherent challenges. But the experience also serves to validate certain theories of one’s own, as you see the shared practices of libraries and librarians that are so far apart.

The universal link between libraries and education, for example, is a constant everywhere from Indian institutes to UK universities. The commitment to open data is not just a matter of principles, but also of efficiency, allowing you to connect and feedback knowledge through an already global user community.

Of course, the road is full of obstacles that need to be overcome gradually. For example, one of the main problems is the digital divide that still affects many groups of the population, and which is exacerbated in those areas which are less economically and technologically developed, as well as in older age groups.

There are other factors which at first glance may seem minor, but which can affect the commitment of libraries to digital services. In order to design successful digital services, it is necessary to have a good knowledge of the users they are intended for and their needs. This seems logical and even simple, but when you discover the many variables that come into play and how hard it is to change today's society, you realise that it is not that easy.

From my own perspective as a librarian in a small town, the library is a space where citizens feel taken care of. Our service goes beyond lending novels, creating a space where you can help to solve people’s problems and where they have someone that listens to them. All this generates a trust in the library staff and in the institution that is not transferable to the digital field. In fact, paradoxically, all the reflections on digital services have led me to value the face-to-face dimension of libraries even more, without underestimating the potential and need for digitalisation.

All the reflections on digital services have led me to value the face-to-face dimension of libraries even more, without underestimating the potential and need for digitalisation.

Face-to-face and digital services should be complementary. Just as an Olympic swimmer has to move both their arms and legs in a coordinated way, working the body as a whole in order to achieve their goal. As in so many areas of life, there are no single solutions, but there are processes that can spare us some mistakes. Librarians specialise in observing, analysing, copying, and adapting. This is the dynamic that we follow in my country and that I see as extendable to digital services, because today’s technology allows us to be closer than ever. Let's take advantage of it.

In short, whether in a city centre building or through 0s and 1s, libraries must be instruments for the democratisation of societies. This is an endless task: so utopian and of such great magnitude that at first glance it overawes you, but the fear disappears once you realise that you are not alone, and that you go hand in hand with professional colleagues, people and institutions that share this same vision.