The CPDWL Podcast Project is back!
Our first episode for season 3 features Barbara Lison, IFLA President 2021-2023 and CPDWL Information Coordinator Edward Lim as host.
Hear the podcast conversation: https://anchor.fm/ifla-cpdwl
Barbara Lison is currently President of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and has been the Director of Bremen Public Library since 1992. Barbara has been actively involved in German and European library Associations and IFLA for many years. She has served as President of the Federal Association Library & Information Germany (BID), the umbrella organization of the German Library Associations. From 2016 to 2019, she was Chair of the German Library Association (dbv). She has also held a number of senior positions in the European Bureau for Libraries, Archives and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA), including Vice President. Barbara is particularly committed to library policy and the development of libraries for the future.
Hi everyone! This is Edward Lim. Welcome to the CPDWL podcast project. In this space we talk with library and information professionals to support and participate in professional development work. Today’s guest is IFLA President Barbara Lison. Barbara Lison is currently President of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and has been the Director of Bremen Public Library since 1992. Barbara has been actively involved in German and European library Associations and IFLA for many years. She has served as President of the Federal Association Library & Information Germany (BID), the umbrella organization of the German Library Associations. From 2016 to 2019, she was Chair of the German Library Association (dbv). She has also held a number of senior positions in the European Bureau for Libraries, Archives and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA), including Vice President. Barbara is particularly committed to library policy and the development of libraries for the future.
Yes, hello, hello, hello, Edward.
Good to have you here! So we’re gonna start off with our first question. I always think it is the most difficult question but usually we try to solve the easy question. So, if you have to describe yourself using one word, what word would it be?
I would use the word vibrant.
Do you want to say that a bit more why vibrant?
Yeah. I always am very vivid, I like to talk with people. I like to network, I am very curious, so I like to discover the world, and I also like when the world discovers me so that is ,that is why I say vibrant.
Interesting choice. So maybe you can start out a little bit, share with us, what compelled you to be a librarian. How do you get started, I didn’t notice that your university degree was in Slavonic Studies and History?
Yep. Yeah, History and Slavonic studies. Yes, well I was always interested in libraries, as a user of course, and I watched people who worked in the library, and I thought well this might be a, well not very interesting occupation or profession. But then I worked at the university, I had to earn money for my studies and I worked at the university. And I found that, this is in the library of the historical department for history, and as well this is a very interesting job because it helps people to get information and this is something which I really appreciated in that job. And for the first time I felt really useful. And so I thought, “well this might be interesting to go on with it…” and when I finished my topical studies, which led me and the first time to become a teacher for two years and then I thought, “Oh no, teacher is not what I wanted to be, let’s go for libraries,” and then I did a two year traineeship for librarians in Germany. And what was clear for me that I would rather go to public libraries, then two academic libraries that came from all the internships, which I made during this traineeship, and so I was always looking for a job in a public library.
Yeah, I think that’s interesting, I believe some of our listeners would have similar experiences of encountering life libraries as the use of first, and being in some kind of library environment. And I think you mentioned being a teacher for a short while before you became a librarian. Is there any other profession, other than librarianship that you would have wanted to attend. Looking back at your long career in librarianship?
Yeah, well, there are two professions which are really what I like, what I like to start with. One is an engineer, I had an uncle who was an engineer and I was really admiring his work and I was very much interested. But, of course, in the 70s to start a study, as a woman in engineering, that was really awkward. And so many people said, “Oh no, just leave, just leave it out. Don’t say something and do something different.” That was one thing and the other thing was architecture or town planning. I’m still very much interested in architecture, library architecture, of course now, and also town planning and libraries, I think have a big role in town planning as well. So, that is, now I’m doing town planning and architecture from the library point of view.
That’s fascinating. I’m sure we have listeners who used to be engineers and now your librarian so that’s interesting and you mentioned a little bit about architecture, about having libraries in the center of the town [that] are centered at community space I guess. So, I think what’s exciting is, you are now IFLA President, I read that you, you started serving in the Metropolitan Library section, quite some time ago in the 90s so, you know, maybe you could share with our listeners, how do you get first get involved with IFLA?
Well, I was always involved when I started my job in libraries, I was always involved with the association so I started of course with the German associations with the Librarians Association and the Libraries Association, and I saw a very high impact for my work for my person as well in networking. So, if you have a job like being a library director, it is more or less a standalone job because in a city, you are the only librarian director or at least in university, you are the only library director normally, and this is a standalone job so it is very important to network and to find people who have the same interest, who share the same values, of course, and this is mostly done in the association so you find other people with the same goals in the associations, and that is why I started in the national associations, and from the National Associations I came to the European umbrella of library associations. And then from there, the step into the international library world with IFLA was not that difficult. The first real encounter with IFLA which I had personally was in 2003, when the World Library and Information Congress took place in Berlin. And then, there I was a volunteer. I thought, “Well, I don’t have that much money at that time and nobody would have paid for me so I thought well if I become a volunteer, I can easily join the conference,” of course, I have to work, but this is something which helps me to get into, into the bubble of IFLA, if I may say so, yeah. So I worked there at the information desk in Berlin and met a lot of people that was so interesting to be a volunteer because as a volunteer, I think you might even meet more people whom you don’t know so far. Then if you are just there as a participant. So I always can very much advise to become a volunteer and then I was a volunteer again in Milan, so I started to be a volunteer and as a volunteer, you get involved with IFLA quite a lot. And yes, and then in 2007, I was President of one of the library associations in Germany. And that started then to become more on an outer field. And so I run for the elections in 2011 for [the] governing board.
Yes, and I was elected and I had, I think I had the second best voting at that time already for the first time I was running. So I felt really very well acknowledged and appreciated. Yes, and I was then from 2011 to 13 and 13 to 15 You have always two terms in two years for a term and IFLA. I was on the governing boards until 2015. And then I paused for two years. And I thought, “Well, why not try to get another position…” For instance, the President of IFLA but you cannot really come out, out of the blue, and become the President so you have to be part of the governing board or of one of the most governing board, and so while I ran again. I was elected and became treasurer. And then as treasurer, I ran for President. Yes and I was President elect from 19 to 21, and now I’m President so it’s maybe, one can say it’s step by step, and it’s a lot of luck, of course, and it’s a lot of work, but you have to be, you have to be lucky and fortunate, of course as well.
I think you mentioned, a lot of themes that something about leadership, of being sort of lonely at the top, you mentioned being the only library director. I thought that was interesting, as well as many of us started being involved in IFLA because you know as a volunteer because it came to our city, or came to our country you know that sort of how I got involved in his life. Well, and I think that’s a great professional development team that you know we are [the] CPDWL section after all. So I want to ask you, do you have any other professional development tips or advice that you would like to share with others besides volunteering for upcoming IFLA activities?
Well, you can imagine that I have been asked this already several times, and I always say the first thing I always say, and I will repeat that is be curious and continue with your curiosity throughout your life. That means, be open to the new things [and] be open to other people. And don’t say I’m a saturated person. I think this is one of the most important things which brings you forward. And with give, which gives you a personal development chance. So whatever profession you might have and sometimes librarians say well I have learned to be a librarian for two or maybe three years. And that’s it, and now I sit here at my desk and wait until I’m retired. And I, this is in many professions the case, but I also meet, unfortunately, people in our profession who do this, and this is not really recommendable so I would really, people who would like to have — enjoy that job because you can enjoy their job in different ways but I think the real way to enjoy the job is to be service oriented and being service oriented needs, always an outward perspective. So, the output perspective is not based on its own. It must be curiosity, it must be a like for people, and a like for getting new knowledge and getting new knowledge, the basis is curiosity.
Right, right. I hear I hear some of the other points, You mentioned really, it’s about staying engaged, genuinely engaged about the profession. Being curious you mentioned so this is probably going to be another question that you get asked a lot, now they get the President, you know, Share with us, a special moment, a memorable moment you have about IFLA, whether it was early in Berlin or in Milan, or recently, you know, the virtual WLIC that we had was anything that stands out for you?
Well you see, I have to come back to one thing. That’s the volunteers that said I was a volunteer. And for me, it is always such a great feeling, it comes into my heart. When, at the end of the conferences. I see the 3 to 400 volunteers, being onstage, or somewhere else, and being applauded and being so happy that they were, they were part of it, and I am so happy that there are so many people who are engaged, who are trying to be a part of the IFLA family and the IFLA community in a way which is service. And so I think service orientation is so clue to our profession, and in the in these three or 400 volunteers, you see the service oriented orientation and this is for me, always this this warms up my heart very much. When, when, when we have the IFLA volunteers together and we cheer them and they cheer themselves. That’s so wonderful.
Right, I mean, I mean, just, just to continue on this point about, what are you excited, the most in the profession, they see that you have a long history, you know, when it comes to advocating for libraries. We mentioned earlier about public policy, and stuff like that but you know I wanted to hear a little bit more about what gets you excited about the profession, you know, you’ve been in the profession for a long time now.
While the profession is a profession, who helps people to develop themselves. We say libraries change lives. And I think this is so true libraries change lives, but it’s not the buildings, it’s not the books, it’s not the information which is there, it’s the people who work in the libraries, who have the ambition to improve the lives of the people who come to the library and use the library, and this is for me. The crucial things, might it be academic librarians who serve, research, and who support research and learning and on a very high academic level. Might it be the children’s librarian, who tries to, to, well to implement into the children, the joy for discovering knowledge, not reading alone, the joy for discovering knowledge. And this is, this is for me the clue of the profession.
Okay, so I just wanted to talk a little bit. We talked about sort of being involved at the national level, like you were with the German Library Association, and also at the regional level with your work at the European level. And now you know you’re the President of IFLA, and this is really probably at the highest, you know, international stage. So maybe you could talk a little bit more about what global library should mean to you. I know you mentioned a lot, you know, in your previous presentations about multiculturalism and diversity, you know, I would like to hear more, and I’m sure our listeners would like to learn more about that.
Yeah well global, global librarianship, does not mean that every library is like the other. So, the global librarianship is …. it’s a positive puzzle, a jigsaw of different pieces, which bring a big picture of global libraries together. So, one library can be a huge academic library like let’s say Stanford or a huge public library like let’s say, the public library of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, but they are different, they are different. Our library, like we know there are these camel libraries, or the libraries on boats or whatever, but they all bring in their shares to bring knowledge to people in a different way, and with different accents and this is how diversity comes in, because the accents of the content is different, that maybe the way they work is different, but the outcome, the result is the goal is the same. And so this is for me this is global librarianship, we are united in our goals, and we are. Perhaps you remember that. If not, started the global vision project, and the highest or the outcome on the highest level of this global vision project was we are united in our goals, how we now fulfill the goals, how we work to come to that goal that is different. And this must be different from country to country from a social level from one to the other. But the goal is the main thing and I just said what the goal is for me where and I think these are the goals for all the librarians and the global library. The Global Vision Program showed exactly this: we have these 10 opportunities and the global vision. And when you look at the 10 opportunities, then you also should look at the 10 challenges and to fulfill these goals, you work in a different way in different countries on different levels. But the goals are the same and I think this is so important.
Do you mind talking a little bit about, you know, you’ve been involved at different libraries associations of the year, you know, how has your sort of vision for librarianship of libraries how how is that changed for you personally over the years?
Well, I think that my understanding of a library is not a static understanding. It is not referred to a building or referred to special media. So, the understanding of a, of a library. I think every librarian should be change. So the understanding is we should be ready for change, we should be savvy enough for change, I think this is, this is a very important thing and the 30 years and now in Bremen Public Libraries, and the let’s say, 38 years that I’m in librarianship now has shown that we have we can never sit down and say, “That’s it, now we are done.” And this is something which is important when I started in the library field, we were discussing, oh, shall we have videos in the library. “Oh yes, perhaps we shall do a project to find out whether we have videos…” then 10 years later, “Oh, what about the internet there’s something coming up, like, what is called Internet …What is this?” Then in between came the computers into the library and of course digitization brought a lot of change and is bringing a lot of change into the libraries, and we shall be ready to take that change and make use of the development, not follow blindly the development… that’s not good, but make use of the technical development, if possible, of course, and bring it to a service and develop services which are useful for our users and customers.
Right, I think your message, definitely, rather than you know today with so much new technology, you know revolving around things like, you know, artificial intelligence, you know, you’re bound to the library. So we want to end off this sort of podcast recording shows my listeners want to learn more about what you have to share, and I see the many many library groups that invited you to give keynotes and presentations you know different library associations, maybe you could share in this upcoming project or presentation also event you’ll be attending virtually. You know how our listeners can tell a follow up with some of the things that you’re working on.
Yeah well I’m working, of course, a lot on IFLA itself, because the President also has to care for the organization where he or she is President, so. Perhaps you remember that we had, we have new statutes, which changed a flag quite a lot in different parts, And especially we introduced into IFLA more appreciation for the region’s, so the region’s play now, a bigger role also connected with the issue of diversity, a bigger role within IFLA shall play a bigger role within a flat as they had done before. And not only the regions like Asia and Africa or South America, but regions like North America or also Europe. So we now have the six regions, which are represented in the Regional Council and the chair of the Regional Council is also on the governing board so on the highest body of IFLA. So this is something which I really look forward to bringing into life, this idea about regional representation and the regional participation in the IFLA work, that is something which is very important. And of course, we are living in pandemic times, and you have, have seen what has happened with IFLA last year we did not not have any conference this year we had a totally virtual conference, many people were very happy about this conference, but also said, “Well, you see, the social aspect and the meeting in person is so important as well.” So next year we are going to have a hopefully we are going to have a hybrid conference, and to bring this hybrid conference into a good position and into a good service to all our members and all the librarians who want to attend virtually or in person. This is a big project not only for me but for headquarters and the Secretary General, but this is something the organization does not exist without work. So we put off a lot of work and I myself will do that as well into a sustainable organization so you know my theme is, “libraries building a sustainable future.” This is my theme, and this belongs to the libraries, of course, and it also shall belong to IFLA as an organization because only strong IFLA can support the libraries of the world if we are a weak organization, who cares?
Right, I think that’s been many changes. If you know, to try and keep up with some of the ongoing changes like you mentioned the statutes, and also right to the conferences that, you know, WLIC is sort of changing, and will continue to change for next year in the foreseeable future. So yeah, I think many of our listeners will be looking forward to some of these changes, and also you communicating these changes to the members and [to] different library associations… Barbara, I want to thank you personally for being here with us. I know you have a busy schedule. Thank you very much for sharing some of what we have covered about, you know, being involved, that is volunteering in IFLA. And I hope we will continue to have, you know, volunteers, or for IFLA conferences in one shape or form, you know, you’ll be in the future. So I want to thank you and then…
Yes and thank you very much for having invited me for this podcast, I enjoyed it very much and thank you for your questions, Edward!