Libraries on the agenda

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This August the half a million information professionals served by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions will have a new president. Claudia Lux, of Zentral und Landesbibliothek Berlin, Germany, tells us her plans for the role

What are your plans for IFLA?

My presidential theme is ‘libraries on the agenda’. That doesn’t mean just talking to people in the cultural or education departments of governments but making it known that libraries support all areas of society. For example, libraries can play a role in planning, city development, migration and social inclusion but this is not generally known about enough for libraries to be part of the strategic development of countries.

Some of us are too shy and don’t want to interfere in policy but that means that we can get forgotten when there is development going on or money available. For example, a few years ago the World Summit on the Information Society looked at putting wires and other infrastructure into developing countries. They decided to put the telecommunications connections to the post offices in these countries. However, the people would have benefitted more if the connections had been made to the libraries instead because libraries are about access to information, not just about wires.

Claudia Lux, of Zentral und Landesbibliothek Berlin, Germany

IFLA brings together the best policies from around the world. Some countries already have some good ideas for libraries that could work in other countries.

Library budgets have a lot to do with how politicians see libraries. Some politicians think that the internet has all the information and that libraries are just for old books. They don’t see that the connection between online information and users is often through the library.

It is also important to get more money from outside for libraries. Libraries are often fully-funded by the state or their institutions. They could use more money from alumni or corporate sponsorship, but we need to avoid sponsors simply wanting to use the library to sell things. Libraries don’t support just one view so, although they can take money from different sources, they have to give the broad picture of information.

How do partnerships help?

The relationship between IFLA and publishers is very good because libraries are key customers of publishers but we also know that many libraries only have small budgets. Sometimes high-level information is very expensive and libraries have to cancel subscriptions. Librarians and publishers have to find a way out of this through consortia or national libraries, for example, so that people can have access to information.

I think the open-access debate is a key aspect of providing free access to information for everybody. However, publishers play an important role in providing information and we accept that some have different views on open access. There are many different ways that will exist in parallel and libraries have to deal with all of them.

For underdeveloped countries it is very important for getting access to information that there must be options to pay less or nothing for information. IFLA is talking with publishers about possibile projects to help in these areas.

How have libraries changed?

Libraries now do more outreach to customers and readers to help them cope with the digital world. Libraries are also much better in technology than they have been before. However, there is still a big gap in those who have access to information. Libraries can help to close this gap. The gap is not just between developed and developing countries but also within countries. There is also the danger of libraries not being able to keep up with technology. It is up to IFLA and other organisations to help them.

This is important because technology can open up opportunities. For example, it was sometimes very difficult to buy and ship expensive textbooks to universities and schools in Africa. If they have the electricity, connectivity and copyright then it would be possible for them to access many e-books. On the other hand, e-books could be very exclusive if the potential users only have one computer, electricity for just an hour a day or copyright problems. We have to find solutions for all these challenges.

What do you predict for the future?

I hope that we find a better balance between librarians’ professional development and the challenges of the digital world. It doesn’t mean that we go away from books and printed material. More print books are being produced than ever before. However, we realise where the challenges are and need to follow them with multimedia professional development and finding common standards for future digital libraries.

We already have sections of IFLA working on standards and guidelines for digital libraries. I’m sure that we will be also active in standards for e-books. We are already discussing how RFID standards fit with the interests of libraries. Our strength is in bringing together different parts of the profession and different parts of the world. It means that we can develop guidelines that fit many libraries and help them to work in the direction of digital information.

Interview by Siân Harris