Sunday, 1 July 2012

ABF 2012, part 3/4: examples from abroad

From 7th to 9th June 2012, the ABF (Association des Bibliothécaires de France - the French library association) held its 58th annual congress in Montreuil, near Paris. And I was there! I had been invited by a friend on the ABF regional branch committee for the wider-Paris area to help out during the three days. This gave me the opportunity to attend several sessions, most of them directly linked to the conference theme: 

The Friday afternoon session was entitled: "Do we still need libraries? Examples from abroad". It echoed the morning one - which unfortunately I could not attend - on the difficulties encountered by French libraries, with an overview of the situation for library services in Belgium, the UK, Lebanon and the Middle-East as well as Quebec.

Chantal Stanescu, deputy head of the Brussels Area library service, explained the new policy set up by the Belgian minister for libraries. This policy is inscribed in a law which, despite referring to libraries as "local operators", has the particularity of guaranteeing funding, not for the library services, but to pay for library staff. This law states that libraries contribute to the development of the citizens by offering access to knowledge and education and that by doing so they also facilitate participation in the democracy.
In Belgium, library services devote themselves to helping people in practical aspects of their lives. Users often come to the library accompanied by partners such as after-school associations or employment agencies, on a regular basis. Therefore, these customers keep coming back...

Tony Durcan, head of Culture, Libraries and Lifelong Learning at Newcastle City Council, talked about the UK political agenda and used examples from Newcastle Libraries to demonstrate how libraries still had "real value, and real potential" in this current environment.
You can watch his presentation here; it starts at about 9 minutes 30 after the beginning of the video. Tony's presentation is in English, interspersed with the translation in French by Annick Guinery, session moderator, and myself (!)
Tony Durcan, head of Culture, Libraries and Lifelong Learning at Newcastle City Council; and myself, unofficial translator
Next was Maud Stephan-Hachem's presentation: "Will there be a season for Arabic libraries?"
She emphasized the fact that reading was not very developed in Arabic countries. There are only about 20,000 to 30,000 titles published every year in the 22 Arabic-speaking countries, for a population of 300 million people. As much as 30% of the population is illiterate, and access to reading materials is reduced by issues of distribution (censorship, tariff barriers) and price of books. Reading is mainly either of religious texts or of academic content, related to study.
The existing public libraries are often old libraries focused on preserving heritage collections, though in Lebanon the success of new libraries meant as lively event venues is gaining momentum.

In contrast, French-Canadian libraries seem to be doing especially well! Suzanne Payette, from the city of Brossard in Quebec, gave an inspiring talk, telling us what she thinks library services should be doing. Here's a summary of the points she mentioned:
  • Key roles of libraries = literacy, education, culture, information;
  • The librarian is a mediator: we are there to help customers make information theirs, not just to store it. Library staff should get out from behind the desk: they should be mobile, IT-literate and interact with people;
  • 24/7 access: in Quebec, Sundays are the busiest day, therefore libraries should be open. Self-service helps supplement opening hours, and digital resources make some services available 24 hours a day;
  • Attractive buildings;
  • Choose the books and collections according to the users;
  • Have a social media presence, develop communication with any organisation that can have a link to the library service and push the information towards people. For example: have an agreement with a theatre - any individual buying a theatre ticket, and having authorized the use of their email address, will receive an email informing them of library resources relating to this particular play;
  • Work as a network, in a consortium and/or with any kind of organisation that can enrich practical knowledge of the local environment.

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