Do not be silenced. How opinion formers gives the library debate diversity and more voices

The Danish Union of Librarians has made a bold and important move, which I want to share with you. But first, let me tell you a story some of you might already know:

President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time, in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”

I like this little story because it reminds me that we are all ambassadors for telling the purpose and value of our institutions, from top management to the janitor who mops the floor. However, it is not enough to know the vision and the value of libraries or whatever institutions you are a part of – it is crucial that we also got the skills and the tools to communicate it to the surrounding world. In the daily tsunami of information and a jungle of communication channels, that does not necessary come easy. It takes courage, awareness and a certain skill-set to stand up and communicate a case so people listen and understands your message.

The Danish Union of Librarians has taken responsibility for trying to bridge their members with methods and skills to influence the public debate by establishing an “Education for Opinion Formers” (sorry, no English version of the program available at this time that I can link to).

The Education for Opinion Formers is a three-day course aiming at giving librarians and library workers the skills, tools, insight and courage to participate and interact in the public debate on behalf of libraries. The Opinion Formers will learn to:

  • Write piece of debate to newspapers and other medias with clear points and language
  • Get tools to communicate to others from the standpoint at one’s own profession and values
  • Tell stories so people listen
  • Grow a network of peers who want to join the voice for libraries

The education is developed in collaboration with the Think Tank Cevea that also facilitates the program.

Being an Opinion Former: “… the discussions about where the library is heading needs more diversity and more voices”

The first Education for Opinion Formers launched by end of January 2018 and the first 11 Opinion Formers is ready to raise their voices and have already done so. I have talked to one of the new Opinion Formers, Marie Engberg Eiriksson, librarian at Gladsaxe Libraries, Denmark:

Why did you join the opinion formers?

I think that the discussions about where the library is heading needs more diversity and more voices.

I feel like the public debate over the last few months has painted a picture of crisis in the public libraries, and working in a public library, I do not recognize that picture at all. The library is changing with society and is more relevant than ever. I want to contribute to a more diverse picture of what libraries do by being an active voice in the public debate.

What tools did you get from the education and have you used them yet?

The education so far has contained three parts. Inspiration and brainstorming, writing and feedback, and knowing the different publications or types of media.

I think some of what I took away from this part, was that you do not always get to the same conclusion because you have the same facts. In this genre it’s ok to say, this is my opinion and it is formed by my experiences as a librarian. I also took away tools to build a good piece and a compelling argument, based on personal experiences from my work life and how to angle a piece to hook on to a current event, debate or existing discussion.

It was helpful to get an idea of what formats are available in the relevant publications and how to adjust your piece if it get’s rejected and send it to another publication. It seems trivial when I am writing it, but I don’t think I would have thought about doing that.

Finally, there were different presentations about challenges that libraries face in 2018.

The goal after the first weekend workshop was that everybody had a piece ready to send before we left.

The workshop was a month ago. About 60% of the first pieces, including mine, were accepted by a publication and most of them to national newspapers.

One participant got invited to do a radio show and another to be part of a panel at a conference, based on the pieces they wrote. So, I think we are off to a really good start.

Any advice to peers who want to engage in public debates about libraries?

First of all, I was amazed that so many of us got our first piece accepted. And it certainly made it less daunting to write the next one. I want to say it’s because we are all brilliant, but maybe it’s just not as hard to get a piece accepted as I thought.

The training was good, but the essential part for me, was having the conversations and the feedback with the rest of the group while I was writing.

My best advice would be to try to find someone to work with. It doesn’t have to be somebody you agree with or somebody with the same interests, just somebody who would be willing to read your things and give you their opinion.

We live far apart, so we started a Facebook group and are talking about starting a blog to try and keep each other engaged and productive. The feedback and inspiration and the encouragement from the rest of the group is really a motivator for me.

MarieNy
An Opinion Former. Marie Engberg Eiriksson

Impact and perspectives

7 pieces has been published in the first two months after the 11 Opinion Formers ended there education. 5 of them in national newspapers. The subject being covered has been on the value and purpose of the public library, the danish law of libraries, the library as catalyst for social balance, the importance of well-staffed libraries, librarians in the literary debate and libraries importance in helping citizens with reading difficulties. Following the pieces some of the Opinion Formers has been invited to participate in radio and conferences.

The impact has been significant in the first few months. The range of subject covered has been diverse and the quality of pieces has been high. The voice of libraries in Denmark has grown stronger.

Some people are born to be an opinion former but many are not. It takes courage and specific skills to engage in a debate and communicate your views so people understand them. It’s not about winning the debate by proving you are right – it’s about making sure your viewpoints are understood. In general and in times where libraries are under pressure (at least in Denmark) we need voices who can engage in the debate of the value and purpose of libraries. Who has viewpoints and opinions and are able to communicate them in a public forum. The Education for Opinion Formers give people those tools and methods and not least, it gives the courage and belief that it is possible to engage and affect the public debate.

I hope many unions, organisations and library advocates across the world will get inspired by the concept of The Opinion Formers and will do something on their own. The library needs voices to raise a sound and constructive debate on libraries now and in the future. And remember, we all have a voice and we all have an obligation of being an ambassador and opinion maker for libraries, anywhere, all the time.

Cheers

Christian

Meningsdanner07The 11 opinion formers. Photo by Heidi Lundsgaard

The Library is everywhere! How Linkoping University Library went pop-up

This blog post is written by Library Lab friends and fellows Anneli Friberg and Maria Svenningsson from Linkoping University Library, Sweden.

Linkoping University Library is working with communication and outreach in diverse ways. One way to interact with users can be the pop-up library. The pop-up concept is nothing new, it has been used for quite a while, by stores, coffee shops and libraries (mostly public libraries, though). At Linkoping University Library we’ve been talking about pop-up for a while and during 2017 we finally realized it.

The main reason for starting with pop-up was that we wanted to be present where our users are, to offer new touch points for them to interact with us at places where they didn’t really expect to find the library. Furthermore, we wanted to be more visible and relevant for new students, employees and for non-users who don’t actively use the library. The closing of one of our libraries at the University’s main campus may have influenced us to start the project, since many students feel that the remaining library is too far away from their natural study areas.

The planning phase – spring 2017

In spring 2017, after we were given a go-ahead and resources from library management, a project group started. We were five colleagues from different working areas, with different skills and perspectives. One of the group members works as a coordinator between the University’s IT department and the library and the other four are librarians. We also encouraged more library staff to join the project because it is important to involve as many as possible when starting a new way to work. We started to brainstorm to find out where to start, when and how.

We wanted to work with Student Library Ambassadors because we thought that student-student learning would be a good idea. Therefore, we tried to engage students that are working at the library as student helpers. This turned out to be easier said than done, since most of them didn’t have that much time to get involved. Luckily there was one student who wanted to be part of the pop-up concept. From her, we learnt a lot about how to book places at campus and where to be at which times. We also got a better understanding for the student organizations at Linkoping University. This was very valuable, and we will cooperate with them more in the continued planning and work with the pop-up library.

We used an idea qualification technique to structure our discussions, by listing the following questions: What? Who? Why? and How? After processing the What? and Who? we started to think about Why and How? We discussed a lot about in which way the library is helpful for students. We wanted to show them what we can offer, for example course literature and lots of nice study areas, both for group studying and quiet reading. We also started to think about the desk we would use for pop-up; should we bring some kind of furniture with us, for example. After some discussions back and forth we ended up with a mobile desk designed from an old book trolley. We also ordered fake tattoos with the text: The Library is Everywhere.

TatueringThis should be a real tattoo

pop-up-diskFrom book trolley to pop-up library

The start – fall 2017

We started to pop-up at the beginning of the semester, in September. Two of our three campus libraries participated in the pilot project: the Valla Library and the library at Campus Norrköping. We found that lunchtime was the best time to pop-up because most students don’t have lectures at that time. They were waiting for food or friends or just hanging around, happy to talk to us. We were inspired by other libraries working with pop-up, especially by an article by James Barnett, Stephen Bull and Helen Cooper from University of Birmingham who tried the pop-up concept in 2014-2015. They experienced that less is more; in other words, don’t bring too many things. We brought the trolley, a laptop, a few books (fiction) and freebies. The tattoos were very attractive, and the students loved them! We also designed flyers with opening hours and gave away free pens and of course we had a fruit basket for hungry students. Very popular! We were thinking about having beach flags to be even more visible, but most times we skipped that. To enhance visibility, staff wore a library t-shirt and a name tag.
pop-up-C-husetThe Library is everywhere – pop-up library in action

Insights and challenges

After testing a few times, we gathered and talked about our experiences. Almost everyone was enthusiastic and felt comfortable with the concept. Some felt a bit unaccustomed with the proactive part of the pop-up concept, that is approaching students. The project group told everyone that the best is to be yourselves, some think it’s easier than others to interact with people. It’s up to you to decide how to work with pop-up. We encountered one rather big practical problem, though. The plan was to roll the trolley outside, to be visible on the way from the library to the place we were going to pop-up. This turned out to be very difficult due to the wheels of the trolley, which weren’t really made for outdoor activities. We will have to change the wheels. Another thing was the laptop, which we had some trouble with in the beginning (difficulties to log in etc.) but we solved that along the way. Sometimes we didn’t even bring the laptop. A lesson learned: don’t forget to use social media to spread the word about what you do and where you are!

What’s next?

In December last year, management decided to prolong the project for a few months. So, the plan forward is during January 2018, we’re planning to pop-up almost every Wednesday at lunchtime. A schedule is prepared where library staff can book themselves. We’re hoping that colleagues, especially liaison librarians, will join the project. We think they will benefit, coming closer to their departments.

Linkoping University organizes so called Welcome Fairs to welcome and introduce new international students to the University. Naturally, we’ll use this opportunity to pop-up there, as well.

At the end of this semester, we will decide whether pop-up should be part of our regular library activities in the future or not. If we decide not to, then at least we’ve had a valuable learning experience.

pop-up-blå-havetThe Library is everywhere – pop-up library in action

Why do they come? The Library as place and brand

You probably all know the scene: A library reading hall with endless rows of students working, studying, learning. Alone together. A nice view. Makes me happy every time I cross it. But we should never stop question our services and our users behavior (also when it’s a very positive behavior) and I often ask myself: “Why do they come? Why don’t they sit at home and study?”. Some of them for sure because they are gonna pick up a book or need library help or instruction and don’t get me wrong: I love a library filled with working students and I think we do an awesome job giving them good conditions but still, why do they come just to sit and work? I find the question important because it might be a window to both insights on the library and the people using them.

humWhy do they come? Students working at Faculty Library of Humanities, Copenhagen University Library

I think the questions holds several answers. Sometimes, when I ask the question out loud, I get the answer from library professionals that it’s because we, as libraries, are excellent at creating learning and study environments. I will not argue that is not a part of the answer but if we break that part down, what we do, are providing our libraries with tables and chairs so our users have places to work. Other institutions, for instance the universities themselves, can do that pretty well too I guess and I don’t believe it’s the only or most significant answer to the question

I think the answers should be found elsewhere but before I dig into that I like to tell you a story from one of my libraries.

Case: Thrashed campus, neat library

At the Faculty of Social Sciences at The University of Copenhagen we have two physical library sites: The Faculty Library and a smaller Study Library at the center of campus. The Study Library has a small reference desk that are staffed from 10 am to 3 pm on weekdays and 3 large reading halls which are open from 8 am to 10 pm which means, they are un-staffed every day for 9 hours. I meet with the provost at the faculty ones every month to deal with cases evolving the library. He often complains about the way the students treat campus; Trash everywhere, a trail of parties, broken stuff etc. For some reason we never experience this at the Study Library even though it’s un-staffed many hours everyday. Why is that? Why do they trash campus but cherish the library? I think the answer to the question “Why do they come?” could be found in this pattern of behavior and I think it has to come with both the library as brand, development of the library as place and the life of the student in 2017.

The Library: A trustworthy brand since 2600 BC

I would argue that a  part of the answer to why students flock to academic libraries to work has to be found in the library as a brand. In my whole professional carrier I have been hearing voices inside the profession who calls libraries and librarians ‘traditional’ and ‘dusty’ and is arguing that we need to re-shape the brand of libraries. I don’t mind taking a discussion about re-shaping the brand but what if the library in the head of the users are just what they need? Thinking about it, libraries has been around for almost 5000 years and has since the introduction of public libraries during the Enlightenment era been associated with spaces for learning, education, research and cultural activity. Our values are openness, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (or at least that the values I like to be floating through my libraries). We are democratic institutions (but not neutral!). The book itself, which many link with libraries (for good reasons), are one of the strongest brands in the world. Looking at the example with The Study Library at Social Sciences I would not conclude that students love libraries but they for sure respect them.

Libraries don’t want people’s money – libraries want them to succeed, want them to learn, to explore, want to give them access to a bigger world.

In a highly commercial, capitalistic and digitized world, I think many students in higher education connects with that. So what if our brand is a bit traditional? It’s strong and it’s trustworthy and we should acknowledge that and use it in the future development of libraries.

19a8ff0760f0904dd9cb1a4e4e03226f--peterborough-the-libraryPeterborough, New Hampshire Town Library. First free public library supported by taxation founded April 9. 1833

Discipline, identity and belonging

The conditions for Danish students in higher education has changed pretty radical over the last couple of years: There are clear limits for your time of being a student, you got 5 years to finish your study or you are out. You can take on education and then decide to switch to another. The weekly hours students has access to there teachers and supervisors has been limited. It’s harder to get into most studies, the demands for good grades are bigger than before. I will not go into a discussion on how this development is good or bad in the bigger picture for higher education but I think it has forced our students to take on a more professional and disciplinary approach than before. They discipline themselves with going to the library to work. They make a work day of it: Waiting in front of the library in the morning till it opens, find a good spot to study and finish around 3 or 4. Couldn’t they just do that at home? Sure but we all know that you often rather do the dishes than reading Foucault. To many distractions at home. The library gives them an opportunity to separate their private life from there study so they can be more relaxed while at home.

It can be hard being a student. And lonesome. The social aspects of students life is crucial for there ability to be the best students and human beings they can be. Look at remote students: The drop-out rates are way higher than regular students studying at a physical university with other students. With the decreasing hours in class and supervision students are looking for other places to boost there academic identity as students, as learners. They probably find that in different places but one of the places are The Library. Alone together sure but every time they look up they see that they are not alone. That is important and closely connected with the last aspect of why students come to work at the library: Belonging.

We all need to belong to something; a family, a job, a football team, a nation. If you tell me you don’t need to belong I say you either a psychopath or a liar. Students and researchers at institutions of higher education are no different from that. For many students the study is a huge part of there life and I think it’s crucial for there well being and ability to perform that they feel that they belong. Same go with researchers and teachers. As an open space, not focused on administration or grades, I think the library can help students with the feeling of belonging with stimulating their academic identity and create and facilitate spaces where they can connect with other students (and teachers and researchers).

Looking at disciplines, identity and belonging one could argue that the university or Starbucks could also created those aspects in student life. Maybe, but not so successful as the library I would say. Why is that then? Because the library, as I pointed out in the beginning, is a 100% awesome brand and place. It’s solid, it’s open, it’s there to help you not because it want you money but simply because that’s the job of the library, it’s a place for learning and enlightenment, it’s a space that want you to succeed and don’t give you grades or mark you as a good or bad student, it’s simply a wonderfully place and a very powerful brand. Let’s acknowledge that as library professionals and not try to make the library something it’s not.

Perspectives: Is a library without books still a library and the perfect jungle for social animals 

So we have students flocking into our libraries and I’ve tried to answer why they come with different perspectives as outlined above. That’s nice but so what? Should we just sit back and be happy about our foot traffic stats?

No. First of all I strongly believe that the library as place is a potential cornerstone in students well being and success if we acknowledge that physical spaces is not getting less significant in a world that is getting more digitized – I believe we will experience the opposite. We are human beings and social animals. We need to be around other people to function, explore, develop, be challenged, have fun, be alive, learn, do good. ‘Online’ will not replace that. Ever.  That goes in general and for higher education and research.

I want us to embrace this and actively use the critical mass of working learning minds in our spaces to create value, network, diversity and inclusion in higher education and research. I want us not just to focus on chairs and tables but to take on an active approach to the library as place and facilitate cross-disciplinary activities. When we bring people together from different backgrounds great things happens. People who thinks alike accomplish nothing. Let the library be the social and academic jungle for people of different race, gender, age, political views, cultural and economic capital and subjects of interest, study and research.

At a talk a while ago I asked the question “Is a library without books still a library” and my own answer was yes: If we . Link to blog post: “Is a library without books still a library? Some thoughts on The Library as place”.

I think personally that a library is not only defined by its collection – whether it be physical or electronic. It is a very important part, but our main assignment in my opinion is to support research, education and learning, and it relies on other activities than just the collection.

Let’s use that space that’s left when the books leave the library to make a jungle to make the wildlife and diversity of higher education flourish.

2

Final note: Track the behavior

In the above I’m kind of guessing on why students come to the library in 2017 if it’s not to get a book or get professional help. I don’t take a big swing in the dark, I take in what I see, observe and believe and make conclusions from that, but it’s not a study. I don’t have a quantitative or qualitative data set at hand.

It’s important that we don’t just take light swings in the dark when we talk about the use and non-use of libraries and the life of our users and non-users. So my Final note on asking ourselves questions on why and how users use (or not use) libraries is: Don’t just guess and don’t just ask them. If you ask them you only get an answer to what you ask and that might no be the whole picture. If I ask 10 students if they would like 24 hours access to the library they are likely to all answers “yes, sure” but it’s not the same as they would actually use it. User Experience (UX) methods and research holds an important key to understanding our users behavior and needs in the present and developing libraries for the future.

Huge shutout to UX heroes like Andy Priestner and Anneli Friberg and other #UXLibs folks who in theory and practice advocate, support and empower the library community with UX tools, methods and awareness. Keep it up.

An remember: “The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food” – Dean Ornish

Comments on this matter is highly appreciated

Cheers

Christian

“You know it’s bad when librarians rally”. Praise to a non-neutral profession

Let me start to detach from the heading: “You know it’s bad when librarians rally”. I’ve heard it quiet a few times in different versions and sure it’s funny to some extend because it plays on the stereotypical view on librarians as quiet introvert people with cardigans, glasses and buns, driving round book trolley’s, never raises their voice or interfere in other peoples business (unless someone is to loud in the library and has to be shushed). I don’t find that to be true. Over the last couple years I been hearing a voice among the library community who has been more and more concerned about social justice, inclusion and diversity in society. Especially in North America. I like that voice. It’s an important voice. And that is because I believe that libraries – both public and academic – are important institutions in building an open, equal and diverse society. To fulfill that role we need to be active in our choices and take part in the debate. We need to take a stand and say it out loud when something is wrong. I don’t believe in such a thing as ‘neutral libraries’ or ‘neutral librarianship’. When public libraries do programs for homeless people in the community they are not neutral or indifferent – they act on a problem. When academic libraries advocate for open access to academic literature and research data they are not neutral – they take a stand that open access to information and data can help create a better world. When librarians march in protest because of budget cuts in higher education or closing of school libraries they are not neutral. They act.

I think librarians has been focusing on social justice issues for a long time but the voice I’ve been hearing is getting louder and louder. I hear it especially on Twitter and in Facebook groups but also out on the streets in various demonstrations and rallies around the world.

The Library – public, academic, special etc. – is a crucial institution in building a healthy democracy; libraries are open and inclusive spaces. They care about you, not your money. They educated people and bring them together. They create healthy and smart communities. They don’t flunk students, they focus on how they can help them succeed. Librarianship is the key to all that. It’s important that we are aware of this and that we take our responsibility as an institution and profession serious and act when things are not right.

So, let’s talk about this and let’s keep be that active institution that care about our communities and raises our voices when something isn’t right. And in the mean time I like to dedicate this blog post to all the badass librarians, library workers and library lovers who spent time and energy on advocating for social justice, inclusion and diversity by bringing the best librarian/archives rally sign I could find (I couldn’t find courtesy for all the photos so please write me if one of these are yours).

Enjoy and keep on believing that you can make a difference.

Cheers, Christian

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Librarians against nazi shitheads. Gayle Lauren at the Boston Free Speech rally 2017. Photo courtesy: Gayle Lauren

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Read and resist. The Women’s March in Washington 2017

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Facts are real. Sincerely, your librarian. The Women’s March in Washington 2017

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A school librarian is a right. Not at privilege. Rally to restore Illinois School Librarian 2017 

Save Cardiff's Library ServiceLibraries gave us power. Cardiff Library cuts ‘read-in’ protest 2015

carnigieThe Internet can’t replace a trained librarian. Save Carnegie Libraries rally 2016

carnigie2I [heart] librarians and books. Librarians to be at Save Carnegie Libraries rally 2016

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Z682.4.G39. Boston Pride Parade 2006. Photo courtesy: Lana Mariko Wood

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What do we want? Evidence based science. When do we want it? After peer review. Women’s March in Washington 2017

 

 

Tales from The Library: A growing collection of library love stories 

I love pictures. They often take me places and creates different kind of stories in my head. I like many different kinds of pictures but I really dig pictures of libraries and the people who work there and the people who uses them. Pictures of rows of books, students that are reading, kids learning to code and all the small and big sparks of the good things that libraries are.

I’ve visited many libraries in my life and had many great library experiences. Some of them I’ve captured in a photo. I thought it could be nice to find those photos, put ’em up somewhere so people can enjoy them (I don’t really know what I’m doing when I take pictures and it’s just iPhone pics but it’s pic’s of libraries so that secures 99% of the joy) and use them for websites, library marketing etc.

So here you go: Tales from The Library, a growing collection of quality library love stories from around the world: https://www.instagram.com/librarylovestoires

Cheers,

Christian

tales
Tales from The Library: https://www.instagram.com/librarylovestoires 

lovestories1
Don’t be square. Roskilde University Library

lovestories2
Sparks. New York University Library

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Alone with books. TU Delft Library