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World Integration: the #WLIC2021 Experience

By Ramiro Rico

Introduction

The World Library and Information Congress (WLIC), hosted by the International Federation of Libraries and Library Associations (IFLA), is the most important encounter between librarians across the world. Due to the pandemic the WLIC 2021 was very different to other years. But instead of being an obstacle, the pandemic turned out to be an opportunity, giving us a new perspective and allowing us to share ideas with colleagues from all over the world and to think about collaboration between librarians. Some problems in librarianship seem to be universal, varying very little between one country and another, or even between continents.

The sessions

The WLIC 2021 had dozens of sessions and its speakers included some of the best librarians and library scientists in the world. Their investigations and proposals were grouped in a variety of themes and took place in different time zones across the globe in order to make the event available to everyone. Inevitably, some topics of interest took place at times that made it difficult for some to attend. Fortunately, the sessions were recorded and will stay on the platform for a year. Although the discussions and Q&A sessions with the speakers were not recorded, it is likely that some speakers will be open to continuing the dialogue via e-mail, chat, or video call, if requested.

On a personal level

there were two themes that recurred frequently during the Congress that had an impact on me and reaffirmed my journey in the library, librarianship, and information science world.

Advocacy

The first one is advocacy sessions and discussions. Why advocacy? Most colleagues in Bolivia focus their attention on technical processes, which may be considered twentieth-century library science. With some notable exceptions, their knowledge tends to be confined to academic discourse without being shared or applied to society. This tendency leads us to a lack of interaction with the community, allowing a divide to emerge between society and library and information science.

Advocacy is a way of increasing the visibility of our profession in the eyes of our community. The main components of advocacy are:
  • Defence: creating strategies to defend libraries, librarians, and their users.
  • Promotion: making us visible in society.
  • Recommendation: advertising libraries and their services.
  • Association: building collaboration between librarians and stakeholders.

Marketing, Users Studies, and Design Sprint

With the rise of new technologies our competition is not confined to other libraries, but includes the internet, Google, metadata, and others. Libraries need to understand the limitations of these other services, as well as their own, from the perspective of both librarians and service users.
Design Sprint deserves to be highlighted here, because it goes beyond the classical user studies methodologies and may be considered to be more efficient than marketing. This is because it creates a journey that connects librarians with the service users and allows them to create solutions to their problems together.

So libraries need to know their users and satisfy their information needs. This way libraries will remain relevant in society and have a positive impact on their users.

On a community level, I consider other areas that resonate and are relevant not only for my country, but also for the region.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

SDGs were present in several sessions and discussions. The global dialogue has these goals to help people around the globe to understand the value of our planet, with the slogan, ‘Leave no one behind.’ All libraries participate in at least two of these goals (SDGs 4 and 16), but some go further and contribute to achieving the Global Agenda before 2030. Librarians can use these goals to promote their workplaces as agents of change and spread the good practices that go hand in hand with literacy and information work.

Climate change

Climate change is one of the most universally relevant topics within the SDGs and the UN’s Global Agenda, because humans have fewer than ten years to stop global warming. Libraries can be an example of how we can use renewable energy, and raise awareness about contamination, biodiversity and other environmental topics.

Indigenous libraries

Indigenous people face some of the most pressing issues around the world. Here in Bolivia, indigenous peoples living in the rainforest (mostly Guarayos and Chiquitanos) are being displaced by coca farmers, usually associated with cocaine production. By comparing similar situations across the world and the initiatives that libraries offer to help such populations, we can adopt and adapt strategies to support them and work to raise awareness of the problems they face.

Ideas

Many ideas emerged during the Congress, including those that were crystallised with the input of the experts. One idea was inspired by research into the Public Library System of La Paz City, that was presented in the First Encounter of Cultural Research of La Paz City[1]. This study was about how the lack of user studies has a negative impact on the management of this Library System.

Library as social media

Another idea is a visualisation project for libraries. Libraries can create social media pages free of charge and use them to assist with their advocacy, marketing and interaction with their users.

How to make it happen in Bolivia?

Support from different organisations and collaboration between libraries and librarians are key to making this project happen. The Goethe-Institut and IFLA have already provided a grain of sand with the #EmergingInternationalVoices initiative, and can become ongoing partners in achieving our goals.

[1] In Spanish: “Primer encuentro de Investigación Cultural del Municipio de La Paz”. This encounter took place on 17 September 2021 in a virtual format.

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