Reflecting new approaches
By Geetha M
The COVID-19 pandemic has left people all over the world in fear, confusion and isolation. Individuals and organisations were faced with uncertainty and a lack of direction. At our small community library, we were unsure about how best to move forward. In this difficult time, it was very exciting to be part of the Emerging International Voices network. As we interacted and read about other libraries, we became aware that we are facing similar challenges all over the world. We could relate to and talk to each other as a community. This was necessary and timely for us. We are very thankful to the Goethe-Institut’s Emerging International Voices project for bringing us together as a network.
What I came to realise through the network was how some small libraries are battling with literary rates and with instilling reading habits among people. Community libraries have taken upon the responsibility of guiding the public and of finding ways to keep reading for pleasure alive.
While technology has generally increased people’s access to information, the challenge during the COVID pandemic was to support those individuals without knowledge of technology to use digital platforms. This meant planning to guide them through this process. In addition, many communities from deprived backgrounds did not have access to digital tools. Such questions were raised time and again and we were able to collectively think of ways to work through this.
Another common concern that we were all tackling was to understand how we engage with children on online platforms. Particularly as libraries provide computers and internet access to marginalised communities, we are also working out how to ensure children’s safety and where we draw lines in the decision-making process. For example, while libraries envisage creating open access to learning, how do we determine what links children can access, how much time can be spent online etc. – particularly given that the internet is like a sea of infinite options and requires navigational guidance.
The seminar sessions were particularly useful in learning about the possibilities for making the best use of digital platforms for library use. The concept of design thinking particularly interested me as a way of diagnosing the problem and concerns. We are looking for resources that would help us work through this model to enhance the functioning and usage of the library. Design thinking is effective in ensuring that resources are utilised efficiently in the running of either physical or digital libraries. This process guides the effective delivery of services and informs how we reach out to our users.
The concept of design thinking particularly interested me as a way of diagnosing the problem and concerns. We are looking for resources that would help us work through this model to enhance the functioning and usage of the library.
Presentations by different speakers expanded our idea of libraries. While books and reading are central to the idea of libraries, other possibilities such as access to museum and other archival resources through digital libraries were re-emphasised. At the physical library we are running, we have been organising various activities in addition to reading. Seeing many such activities in libraries across the world gave me the idea of expanding our community of library members. The national Digital Library of India has begun work to expand the possibilities for using digital platforms where users can access many different learning networks, digital tools, courses etc.
Another aspect of library work that needs ongoing discussion was around inclusion in library access and usage. I feel a collective brain-storming on this topic will be a possibility for this network and I would like to make this happen. Small, independent community libraries need a way of collectively thinking about a way forward both in terms of finding and managing resources. A network of this kind would help in taking this forward.
It was very interesting to know that all the participants in this network were thinking through the ways in which libraries can catalyse social justice. I liked Luke Swarthout’s point that ‘libraries are in the business of fixing things in our communities and the lives of our patrons’.
Becoming part of this project has also helped me understand the role that associations like IFLA play in advocating for libraries. This has strengthened our imagination as to how being part of this network can help in becoming a voice in policy and advocacy for public libraries in our country.