“Soft Skills are Heart Skills”: Take Aways from the Opening Keynote at the Library 2.0 Conference: Wholehearted Libraries

On March 10, 2020, I attended the virtual conference Library 2.020: Wholehearted Libraries: Soft Skills for 21st Century Information Professionals. With its focus on the human side of 21st-Century information work, I found this conference a welcome and uplifting diversion from the non-stop COVID-19 global pandemic news. This blog post addresses some of my key takeaways from the opening keynote session from the conference.

More than 4500 people participated in this conference from around the world – Egypt, Lithuania, Ecuador, New Zealand, Poland, Malaysia, Chile, Puerto Rico, Norway, Italy, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, among other countries, as well as all over the United States from Alaska to Pennsylvania. 

The recordings for the keynote and regular sessions are all posted on the main event page for Library 2.0: https://www.library20.com/wholehearted. Please note that you need to be a member of Library 2.0 (free) to view them. If you aren’t a member, just click “Join” on the top right of the homepage. You can then view all of the presentation recordings for free.

The conference kicked off with a thought-provoking opening keynote panel featuring four distinguished speakers:

  • Michael Stephens, Associate Professor in the School of Information at San José State University @mstephens7
  • Loida Garcia-Febo, International Library Consultant @loidagarciafebo
  • Christian Lauersen, Director of Libraries and Citizens services, Roskilde Municipality, Denmark @clauersen
  • Rivkah Sass, Library Director, Sacramento Public Library @Rivkah

Dr. Michael Stephens, participating from Michigan, USA, started the panel off by addressing the ways that information professionals take care of the people who come into libraries, use the power of stories to help us learn about each other and how we view the world, create a space for all by focusing on people and not books, and make connections and open doors for learners.He also discussed some of the key soft skills that information professionals need for wholehearted libraries:, namely: Curiosity, Creativity, Confidence, Empathy, Character, Compassion, Mercy, and Understanding.

“We are the heart of our communities, and that only works because of what the people who work in libraries give of themselves. The best make that emotional investment because they believe in the institution and the communities they serve.” Dr. Michael Stephens

Christian Lauersen, participating from Copenhagen, Denmark, started his talk by stating that “Libraries are a people business.” He discussed Maslow Hierarchy of Needs and how humans are driven and motivated by “love and belonging.”He said it is important to ask the right question:

“To which challenges in your community are the library the answer?” Christian Lauersen

Some of the challenges communities today are facing include inequality, loneliness, polarization, and social inclusion. For more of his thoughts on the topic of inclusion and libraries, see his blog post “Do you want to dance? Inclusion and belonging in libraries and beyond.” Similar to other panelists, he emphasized that the key to libraries as forces of social good is the library staff. 

Loida Garcia-Febo, participating from New York, USA, talked about the importance of “Serving with Love” by embedding equity, inclusion and diversity (EDI). She also highlighted the need to create community spaces that build respect, to be intentional in our thinking and intentions for change, and to counter negative forces. When she served as the American Library Association (ALA) President, one of things she focused on was the need for diverse and equitable services in our libraries and the importance of advocating for all people, especially for vulnerable groups. She created a video series around EDI that explored the way that EDI factors into daily life, what challenges librarians face, and how libraries can promote EDI in their communities. She discussed how library programs and services should be related to and reflect human rights – through empathy, humanism, compassion, reflective action, among other skills.

“Libraries are community as well as knowledge hubs, and should promote and harness civic activism.” Loida Garcia-Febo

Rivkah Sass, participating from a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan where she was volunteering, shared some of the impressive work that the Sacramento Public Library has engaged in that resulted in this library winning the inaugural Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize. She said that in order to build community, you have to start with your staff. Her tips for being a wholehearted library were to:

be all “in”; listen to the community (for example, using something like The Harwood Institute Community Conversation Starter); listen to staff; try things, fail, try more things; identify what can you really impact; find something else if you aren’t happy; and be a glow worm. Rivkah Sass

I am not certain what “be a glow worm” means because unfortunately Rivkah lost internet connection at this time, but it comes from a Winston Churchill quote “We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow-worm.” There was some speculation in the participant discussion about the meaning of this, with one person guessing that being a glow worm is to show your light to other customers and be awesome. I think that sounds pretty good!

One of the discussion questions at the end of the keynote session asked: What does outreach and user engagement with libraries look like to you in 2020? What soft skills are required for this new normal? This question generated a range of responses from both the keynote presenters and the participants about the soft skills that are critical for outreach and user engagement. These included compassion, knowledge of your community, emotional and social intelligence, empathy, kindness, curiosity, cultural awareness, listening with your heart not just your ears, and understanding diversity and meeting diversity needs.

In sum, I found this opening session to be an inspiring and engaging way to get the conference started.  By focusing on the human spirit, the session reminds us why working in the field of library and information science is so rewarding. The main message – “soft skills are heart skills” – also reminds us about the ways that information professionals around the world bring their heart into the work every day and, by doing so, continue to have a huge impact on the communities that they serve.


If you enjoyed this Library 2.0 conference, you might also be interested in speaking at and/or attending other upcoming Library 2.020 virtual conferences (all 12-3pm Pacific Time):

  • Small, Rural and Independent Libraries Wednesday, June 17, 2020. This conference is being organized in partnership with Jim Lynch from TechSoup for Libraries, Kate Laughlin from the Association for Rural & Small Libraries, and the School of Information at San José State University.
  • Sustainability in Libraries Wednesday, October 14, 2020. This conference is being organized in partnership with Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, executive director, Mid-Hudson Library System (New York), and the School of Information at San José State University.

For answers to frequently asked questions about the Library 2.0 conference, go to: https://www.library20.com/page/miniconferencefaq.