Our Top Four Takeaways from IFLA WLIC 2023
September 13, 2023 || FCTEC
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) just hosted the 88th annual World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The congress brought together more than 3,000 library and information professionals from more than 130 countries to discuss key trends, challenges and concerns. Here are the top four takeaways from delegates who attended representing FCTEC.
Spanning five busy days, the IFLA WLIC 2023 event provided attendees with deep insights, rich conversations and robust debate. Focusing on the roles, expectations and interests of library and information services, and their users, the event unpacked some interesting shifts in how these roles and resources are evolving within the contemporary world of work. There were four key trends that emerged strongly throughout the event.
- Digital: The great leveller
- Skills are critical
- Toxic librarianship and leadership
- The interface between human and digital
The needs and concerns of librarians differ depending on country, financial resources, specialist expertise and institutional settings. While these resources and influences have a marked effect on how librarians approach their roles and their futures, one key factor rose as a singular value-add for all - digital.
In being the greatest challenge and opportunity at once, digital proves to be @the great leveller.” Digital creates new ways of engaging with users and markets that have previously been unavailable or too expensive to contemplate. One example is the use of digitisation technology and services to provide people with impaired vision access to libraries and content. However, the legal issues surrounding copyright are slow to be resolved. Part of the solution may comprise new digital technologies such as blockchain, which could be used to secure responsible distribution of creative works online.
It has become increasingly important for libraries to harmonise their efforts when it comes to developing key digital skills. Sadly, this remains elusive for many African institutions. There may be valid reasons for the delay in rolling out the library curriculum for the future, but institutions of teaching and research cannot afford the loss of time and funds this introduces. There is so much information and expertise readily available but it looks like everyone, vendors and institutions alike, wants to sell and mantain their island, their walled garden of income and expertise, rather than create truly inclusive learning environments at a global scale. The ongoing practice of expensive contracts for exclusive access to parts of the content pie isolates users, librarians and institutions wherever they are in the world. By design, it doesn’t scale. It is time to disrupt this by engaging in more discussions with brave, open educationalists and knowledge workers. If advocacy for Open Access has been captured at some African institutions, it may be time that relevant for-profit organisations come to the party and take a long-term, sustainable approach to partnering with libraries. The skills that will serve our collective futures are not built on political ideologies (e.g. ‘de-northernization’), but in a culture of creative inquiry, of actioning the plethora of new opportunities that the digitised and born-digital library offers. Digitally skilled librarianship involves actively collaborating with relevant industry partners on new solutions rather than passively buying in limited resources according to an outdated, pre-digital model and mindset.
A session entitled ‘Toxic Librarianship and Leadership? Strategies and Methods in Addressing Difficult Workplace Environments’ was an eye-opener. The issue of toxic work relationships runs deeply through many libraries and effects not only those who are bullied in isolation until they undergo massive professional and personal distress, but also the host institutions themselves, as they become captured and frozen in an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. This inhibits innovation and growth, and leads to a cottage industry of separate actors trying to continue serving the needs of their constituencies. Funds and time are wasted, and staff with expertise and passion leave for a safer work environment elsewhere. When speaking your mind, asking questions and having ideas become dangerous qualities, then libraries become the opposite of what they should be. Rather than opening access to the widest imaginable range of information and serving as a safe space of enquiry and innovation, the toxic library only serves a handful of careerists. One pernicious issue raised in the session was how it tends to take time until the greater effects of toxic leadership (which can include toxic positivity) become obvious, namely when the whole institution, e.g. the university ceases to deliver the inclusivity and innovation it once prided itself on. Solving this problem is clearly complex, with suggestions not only including more coaching and team building exercises, but also a bold look at the politics of power, including different structures of accountability and consequence management.
One of the most recurrent themes at the event was the interface between human lived experiences in the rapidly evolving digital world. Is it possible to evolve institutional structures fast enough to ensure they are not overwhelmed by the ‘siren servers’ - a concept outlined by Jaron Lanier in his book Who Owns the Future? - and the dynamics of ‘unchecked’ developments in artificial intelligence (AI)?
The event was a game-changer and a mind opener, providing attendees with visibility into core challenges and concerns that must be addressed to ensure the future stability of the industry. FCTEC attended together with SMA and Zeutschel and you can find out more about how we are focusing on addressing these trends and our solutions here.