This Library World: Inspired by Greater Global Perspective | Editorial

The global network of libraries can be difficult to imagine or describe, but now, thanks to a massive project undertaken by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), it is coming into better focus than ever before.

I have long thought of libraries as a network that, despite largely local governance, transcends borders of all types to make up a global community (see "Global by Nature: Reflecting on the collective work ahead" for one example). That global network can be difficult to imagine or describe, but now, thanks to a massive project undertaken by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), it is coming into better focus than ever before.

Last year, IFLA initiated its Global Vision discussion to help foster more robust connections among libraries worldwide. Some 185 regional workshops were complemented by an online survey to engage more people from more places. Last fall I participated in the online component, joining the more than 21,000 individuals worldwide who ultimately responded, one of just over 12 percent of folks weighing in from North America.

This March, we got a first look at the findings of the visioning process so far with IFLA’s release of a report summary (PDF) that will lead to the presentation of the full report at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in August.

“You see here a picture of the world,” said IFLA Secretary General Gerald Leitner, referring to the cover (pictured) of the report at the 2018 IFLA President’s Meeting, held March 19 in Barcelona. “But what you see here is a different view of the world than is usual.... This map doesn’t have borders. We don’t accept borders. We want to overcome borders. What we do want with this Global Vision report is to connect the world, to connect the whole library field to act together. Therefore, you don’t find here any borders, you find only connections. This is our view of the global library field.”

Nicely stated.

There are high-level findings to think about here. But first, take a moment to ponder the scale of the engagement in this effort so far. Between the workshops and the online voting and with representation from all library types hailing from seven continents, there’s almost 470,000 years of library experience behind the findings, Leitner pointed out. (Get the details via the live-stream of his talk.)

The process has revealed, the summary report asserts, that respondents have a shared “commitment to the enduring value and role of libraries” but that we need to “connect global and local actions effectively” as a pathway to “addressing common challenges.” The report then puts forward ten highlights from the findings paralleled with ten related opportunities. Here’s #7: “We see the need to build collaboration and partnerships”; what it asks of the field: “We need to develop a spirit of collaboration.” And #8: “We want to be less bureaucratic, inflexible and resistant to change” presents us with the “need to challenge current structures and [behaviors].”

I like that these findings surface the way the field approaches the work internally, but I’m especially fond of the ones that focus outwardly, hitting on why libraries are so valuable, such as #1, on intellectual freedom, and #2, on literacy development. Consider #9: “We are guardians of the memory of the world”; “we need to maximize access to the world’s documentary heritage.”

Next steps call for the development of what IFLA is calling a Global Action Plan, and I, for one, am eager to see what emerges. The vision—“A strong and united library field powering literate, informed and participative societies”—is a powerful one, worth striving for together.

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