Do you think people go far in life

The importance of entering into partnerships
If you want to go far, go together

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. ”The“ Emerging International Voices ”project has proven this.

From Catharina Boss

I joined theEmerging International Voices for two reasons. On the one hand, I was convinced that my library's digital services and their use by our customers had not yet reached their full potential. There is openness to digital services, but there are also obstacles. As the person responsible for one of our online platforms, I was interested in suggestions from experts on how we can improve.

Since I had already experienced the advantages of international exchange before, I also knew from my own experience that talking to library staff from all over the world can have a great influence on personal attitudes and work. I had no doubt it would be a great opportunity to be part of Emerging International Voices Get to know people who are passionate about making the libraries in their countries even better than they already are.

I was not disappointed.

With every online session my horizons broadened and my views were (re) formed. I particularly liked three key findings.

Digitize your corporate culture

The discussions made it clear that many of us are concerned about how we can reach digitally illiterate people. At the same time, we are confronted with obstacles within our institutions: not all library staff are equally competent when it comes to digital devices and services. Kathrin Schuster from the Munich City Library pointed out that the integration of a digital culture is the basis of a successful digital strategy. In my opinion, this was a crucial moment because obviously our digital literacy is the foundation on which we build our online services.

We can't create good content and manage accounts efficiently if we don't know how social networks work. It is also impossible to hold successful workshops or support customers seeking advice if we do not know how to navigate our digital library. Additionally, we are service providers and most of our work is intangible, so our communication skills are the cornerstone of our relationship with customers. Customers who experience uncertainty or indifference on our part will not ask for support again. Also, many people are simply not familiar with the digital services available. These must be recommended.

In particular, if those employees who either operate platforms or are in contact with customers have digital knowledge, they will be able to talk about it confidently. Trust and competence, in turn, will lead to customer satisfaction. In order to achieve this, it is not enough to leave everything digital to those employees who have a great affinity for these topics. We should build up know-how with as many library staff as possible. Aside from training, it is therefore particularly important to set a good example in our corporate culture and to systematically incorporate digitalism.

Live your values ​​by entering into partnerships

Luke Swarthout of the New York Public Library spoke of three types of decision making when it comes to digital services: build, buy, or join. Only when we build our own platforms do we have full control over them and are able to create digital spaces that reflect our values ​​as democratic, non-commercial institutions. Unfortunately, financial considerations often force us to pursue the other two options.

Working together is a key to success. It makes it possible to bundle resources and makes us strong negotiating partners when it comes to digital licenses.

So I was deeply impressed when Marie Østergaard from Aarhus Public Libraries spoke about the project Det digital folk library spoke that has brought together libraries from all over Denmark. In my opinion, this proves that working together is a key to success. It facilitates the exchange of ideas, experiences and skills and enables resources to be pooled and used to create competitive but non-commercial spaces. It also makes us strong negotiating partners when it comes to digital licenses (whoever deals with digital licenses knows how ridiculously expensive they can be!).

As librarians, we are fortunate that we do not have to compete with one another. We all focus on our local communities. Of course, this also means that we are very individual. A community project can be a success in one place but a failure in another. A small rural library may not invest as much time or money as a large city library. However, I am convinced that building alliances like in Denmark, be it on a national or even global level, offers an opportunity to secure our future as a non-commercial area.

Listen to your community and their wants and needs

Unfortunately, it is a bitter truth that we tend to bury ourselves in our heads. We like to build buildings and design services based on what we think is best for our clientele. We make assumptions about their abilities and preferences. So do I. I work in a public library and our community is very diverse. As a millennial, I often find myself frowning (mentally!) When dealing with visitors who have never used a computer, let alone have an email address. How is that even possible in a western industrialized country in 2020? Well, it's just like that. We all have different backgrounds, resources, strengths and weaknesses. But in our undeniably digital world - and especially during a pandemic when online services are the only alternative to both physical and material library visits - people without digital knowledge or access to hardware struggle and need our support.

Instead of turning our backs on those who do not want or cannot be online, we should rather involve them in our decision-making process and pursue strategies that are based on the wishes and needs of as many people as possible.

However, as I listened to our experts, I realized that it shouldn't be about changing people (unless they want to). We shouldn't try desperately to turn offline users into online users - some of them just prefer analog media, others don't have the infrastructure at home and visit libraries precisely for that reason. Instead of turning our backs on those who do not want or cannot be online, we should rather involve them in our decision-making process and pursue strategies based on the wishes and needs of as many people as possible. We serve the community and it must be at the center of everything we do. Because people are our reason d’Être.

about the project

“Emerging International Voices” is a joint project of the Goethe-Institut and IFLA. His long-term goal is to build an international network of young people who are committed to promoting library work in their countries.

Translation: Christine O'Neill
Copyright: Text: Goethe-Institut, Catharina Boss. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

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