Translated from an interview with Catherina Isberg with the Swedish Library Association, in Swedish, published on October 6, 2022:
I know – the title may provoke, but by the end of this text, it will hopefully seem comprehensible and justified.
As senior lecturer at a Swedish university offering educational programs in Library and information science (LIS), I sometimes get questions and comments about the training of future librarians. Often it is about what aspiring librarians should know and how this is best taught. It is striking how engaging the issue of librarians’ competence is – the various opinions come from widely different quarters. Sometimes librarians’ work is even proposed as the answer to major societal challenges such as reawakening young people’s lust to read and strengthening citizens’ digital skills.
In addition to the outside world’s expectations of the profession, there is an internal tendency to problematize the professional role and competence. That debate has recurred over decades in trade press, mailing lists and social media. In parallel, research is conducted with the aim of understanding, challenging, equipping and ideally inspiring the profession, and the production of Bachelor and Master theses at our universities testifies to the interest in profession-related topics among students. Their small-scale research contributions are quick-footed and likely to delve into the field’s hottest questions.
Debate and recurring discussions are sometimes interpreted as the profession facing a crisis. For my own part, however, I am both optimistic and incurably curious (the researcher’s occupational injury?). I see vivid discussion as an expression of the importance of libraries for the country’s inhabitants, and internal debate as a sign of vitality. Few professions show such spark! The need for discussion can be linked to the history of the profession; the professionalization process of the past century, amalgamated professional organizations, academisation of training and the establishment of the LIS discipline. Today the profession is powerfully organized, but at the same time it spans disparate activities.
As a natural reaction to societal developments, and perhaps as a backlash for the unifying professional project, new competences are called for in libraries, and more specialized training.
Another important aspect of the position of librarianship today, is its quality as a welfare profession; one of the female-intensive occupations that have thrived within the Nordic welfare hub. Ambivalence towards the profession’s theoretical basis is typical, and compared to classic professions, the welfare professions are less hierarchical, more collaborative and highly focused on the clients. I know from experience, that responsiveness to users’ needs and interests is a shining beacon for aspiring and active librarians, regardless of library type.
Surely that sounds nice? But every medal has its flip side. The emphasis on responsiveness, commitment, and (often) idealism, can make librarians stretch far in their compliance. Always being prepared to tone down competitive thinking and professional pretensions out of consideration for the interests of others, is an attitude that risks backfiring. For an illustration of this dilemma of a welfare profession, we may turn to the children’s librarians – a group that was early associated with selfless work of the “vocational type”. We’d like to think that image faded decades ago, but my research into the competence of children’s librarians was an eye-opener.
The participants in my study said they appreciated the rich opportunities for competence development as well as their chance to influence its content. But several librarians also described dissatisfaction with the overly free choices and the perceived lack of managerial steering of the knowledge-developing activities. Rather than seeing the collective competence as a strategic resource for the workplace, competence development was often treated as an encouraging ‘salary benefit’. Several managers also hesitated in connection with my interview question concerning what incentives they saw for children’s librarians’ competence development. Their answers were that the librarians’ heartfelt meetings with the users – in this case children who love to read – were to be regarded as both a driving force and a reward.
Get me right – trusting relationships and personal appreciation are worth their weight in gold in everyday work, but should we really, in 2022, regard professional work as its own reward? Such an approach, with the logic of the old “vocation” just below the surface, undeniably brings to mind non-profit and amateur work.
There is no room here for the follow-up questions that need to be asked. I end by stating that those concerned with how the librarian profession can be strengthened for the future, should pay attention to where the boundaries are drawn between professional and personal commitment. As a representative of research and higher education, I want to promote a reflective professional practice, where sensitivity to the outside world is complemented by research-oriented and proactive working methods; an ambition that probably applies to most universities offering LIS education around the globe.
What do you think – is there reason to push the discussion about the prerequisites and the future of librarianship one step further? I think so.
Lecturer at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science, University of Borås, Sweden
Note: This article has previously been published in Swedish at http://www.noll27.se
The study on children’s librarians mentioned in the blog entry is accessible (in Swedish): https://regionbiblioteket.se/publicerat/barnbibliotekariers-kompetens/
How do you manage during a 35 day long city fair which is the result of a 3 year long innovation journey? And what skills do you need to have in order to manage this?
In a previous blog post, Tina Haglund has described the H22 City Expo of Helsingborg Sweden. https://blogs.ifla.org/cpdwl/2022/06/14/h22-city-expo-helsingborg-sweden/
In this blog post I follow up on this and reflect on the management skills needed and the learning opportunities the City Expo gave.
During the past years, all departments and employees of in the city of Helsingborg have had the opportunity to explore and apply for funding to test new ideas and innovations. The public library of Helsingborg has for example been working with co-creating together with citizens to find out the needs and ideas in a new (and rebuilt) library in 2026 https://innovation.helsingborg.se/en/initiative/development-and-rebuilding-of-the-city-library/. Also the library has a project collaborating with the University of Lund, on “The sustainable/resilient workplace” https://innovation.helsingborg.se/en/initiative/sustainable-workplace-a-collaboration-and-research-project/. Digidel 2.0, exploring how to develop the digital competence center of the library is another example of the work https://innovation.helsingborg.se/en/initiative/digidel-2-0/. And many other innovations and development initiatives have been put in place.
The results of the innovation work so far was presented during various talks and presentations during the 35 days. This meant that at the same time as keeping business running as usual, the library staff also were involved in many different activities. At the same time employees could work as volunteers during the H22.
Of course this affected both the employeeship as well as leadership and management skills. All managers of the city of Helsingborg have, during the last three years, gone through a management skill program called “Samspel Helsingborg” (= interplay/interaction Helsingborg). This program has given us the skills needed in moving from New Public Management (NPM) into a Trust Based Management model and has been key to the success of the innovative movement.
The Trust Based Management model is something which have been worked on at the national level through a research based work “The Swedish Delegation of Trust”. The guiding principles in Trust Based Management is according to The Swedish Delegation of Trust:
- Focus on the Citizen – their experience and knowledge, understand what is needed
- Comprehensive/holistic view – everyone take responsibility for the whole
- Space for action – delegate powers and mandates, welcome co-decisions
- Support – closely as part of the core business (rather than central)
- Knowledge – reward continuous learning
- Openness – share information, welcome dissent and respect criticism
My reflections on some management skills that were of importance before, during and after this period of innovation and City Expo are:
- Involvement in strategy and business plan – involve all staff in the strategical planning as well as the operational planning of the library business. Make real use of all the knowledge within the organization and ensure that everyone knows where we are heading. Follow up together with the staff, so that everyone see how the work proceeds.
- A culture of participation – ensure to build a culture where both staff and users gets involved and participate in the development work.
- Trust – really manage by trust and let go of control. Let the employees use their skills and solve different situations using their full potential and experience. Keep the written routines and rules to an absolute minimum as it is impossible to foresee what will happen and there is a risk that every situation makes you write a new routine instead of focusing on doing the job and solving the situation.
- Brave – be brave and have the courage to let go of things. Delegate a lot and let others solve the issues in their way, using their skills and expertise. Be sure to enjoy when things turn up in another way than you expected.
- Make mistakes and learn from them – ensure a culture where it’s really ok to make mistakes. A culture where you don’t try to avoid making mistakes or try to find who did the mistake and blame them. Instead celebrate the mistake and learn from it. Most important as a manager here is to really walk the talk and do the same thing as you say.
- Communicative skills – keep the communication open and transparent in all directions so that everyone knows where to find the information needed and communicate when things needs to be acted on. Listen (don’t just hear) what people are communicating and act. Also use communication as a learning tool so that every day gives a learning experience.
- Together – we do this together. This is really of utmost importance as no one can have all the skills, expertise, know the solutions and work on complex issues alone. No one has the answer by themselves. Especially the manager does not know everything in the complex world we are living in. Those working close to the library users usually are the ones with the best solution and they need to get the mandate and tools to act. Other businesses and organizations have skills within their areas. Find those, collaborate and network and make them flourish. We need to do it together.
For us at Helsingborg City Libraires it was also important to use the City Expo so that everyone within the staff could get the opportunity to learn new things from everything going on during the expo. We therefor decided that all staff could use up till 8 hours each, to take part and participate in different events to improve their skills and to get inspired by what others do. Often you can get new ideas for your library business by talking and listening to other kinds of services and see how they meet different challenges. We used this as a learning opportunity. And importantly, we did not ask for details on what the staff did, we trusted that they used this time to learn for their and the libraries’ future.
Further information on the H22 City Expo is available at: www.h22cityexpo.se
Information on different innovations we have worked on in the city can be found at: https://innovation.helsingborg.se/en/
by Catharina Isberg, Library Director, Helsingborg Sweden
Helsingborg Public Libraries has during the beginning of this year moved into a two-year project in collaboration with the Department of Psychology at Lund University. “The Resilient/Sustainable Workplace” is a project that with help of modern psychological and related research develops the business so that organizational structure and organizational culture becomes more sustainable and resilient in relation to changing roles, tasks and technological stress/digitalization. The work is in line with several of the city’s focal points “Increasing expectations from residents”, “Increased focus on security”, “Residents in different worlds”, “New demands on communication”, “A society with greater vulnerability” and above all “Right skills/ability at the right place”. https://trendomvarld.helsingborg.se/#brannpunkter
The process is a needs-driven innovation closely linked to both assignments and societal changes and rigs the organization to meet challenges with a focus on the user. The work is based on research and the needs that exist in a modern workplace with continuous demands for constant change, leadership, increased need for involvement of residents, increased mandate for employees and the need to find security and sustainability in everyday life.
During 2014 til 2016, Helsingborg Public Library carried out a collaborative project together with the Department of Psychology at Lund University. The project was called “The Healthy Workplace” and aimed to improve the organizational and social work environment in the business based on modern research and focused on both the importance of the structure and the individual’s conditions.
“The Resilient/Sustainable Workplace” is a new project that to some extent builds on “Healthy Workplace”. The work will be a pilot that could be scaled up and used in other activities. The content will touch on the areas of trust, work in change, identify strengths, and work on social identity.
The library’s main task is to give everyone free access to information and knowledge, create inspiring meeting places, work to promote reading and work with digital inclusion, this in order to secure freedom of opinion and expression and participation in the democratic society. The entire information landscape is changing with increased digitalization and globalization. In previous work, it has emerged that the staff experienced the libraries’ changed role, the many new tasks associated with this change and technology stress / digitalization as stressors in today’s library environment.
These factors have also been identified as problems in international research and indicate a challenge for the library of the future both in Sweden and internationally. More specifically, they signal a need to build a sustainable and resilient library organization where employees both learn to deal with these problems and who also address the changed librarian identity that follows from this changed role.
The project goal is to lead to a more sustainable and resilient library organization as well as a better working environment and a higher level of well-being for staff. In addition to this, the project will generate new scientific knowledge for the library community, nationally as well as internationally.
The project runs over two years and will combine competence development and interaction with all library staff in Helsingborg with ongoing research projects. At least four workshops / seminars will be conducted with all staff connected to how both the organization and employees can become more resilient to stress, manage uncertainty and change work.
It is important during the project and workshop that the staff group feels involved, which is also the key to success. Commitment leads to participation and is essential for it to work and be fruitful.
The previous project generated two scientific articles, both of which were cited, received positive attention in library research and has led to new initiatives. It is these that lay the foundation for this new work.
Previously published articles on this work:
Organizational stressors and burnout in public librarians. Magnus Lindén, Ilkka Salo & Anna Jansson, 2018, I: Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. 50, 2, s199-204
The healthy workplace: the library in collaboration with a psychology researcher. Catharina Isberg, Fanny Mikkelsen, 2016, InfoTrend, Vol 69, Nr 1/2, s5-12
/Catharina Isberg, Library Director, Helsingborg Sweden and Tina Haglund, Digital Library Media Department Manager, Helsingborg Sweden
Mental illness is unfortunately increasing after crises and therefore it is important that we see the risks and act on them. This is an important managerial issue to work on as the pandemic evolves. It is also an important professional development issue.
it is important that we bear in mind that mental illness is something that we can all experience, in different phases of life. Also, a small reduction in our well-being is also a loss.
During the pandemic, the media in Sweden has written about the connection between mental illness and COVID-19. In June, a large part of Helsingborg’s library management team participated in a webinar organized by our occupational health, “Prevent mental illness following on the Corona crisis.”
As a continuation of this webinar and as part of our systematic work health activities, we have made a plan in the area. Helsingborg is now looking at how we can implement measures at organizational, group and individual levels.
The work is based on the following areas:
- Using positive sides of the crisis (the need for social activities increases, the focus on new solutions and initiatives taken as well as increased creativity and innovation)
- Identifying early health signals (increase the awareness of all staff so that we all see the early health signals, professional development within this, and continue to discuss this in individual dialogues)
- Focusing on group development (continue with professional development, work on social activities, do not just focus on Covid-19)
- Supporting managers, both on group and individual levels.
We are continuously working on this and have various activities during the year. One concrete initiative is to use a tool to learn more about how to see early health and stress signals together with all staff. We are also looking at how we can carry out group activities in a Corona-safe manner. And we also have a research project which has just started together with Lund University.
Feel free to share with us how you work with this important issue. We would like to get inspiration on how we can develop this work further.
Catharina Isberg, Library Director Helsingborg City Libraries
The CPDWL Coaching Initiative is moving forward. A webinar was offered in the end of May “Enhancing your strengths through coaching”. This free webinar explored the role of coaching and its value for developing library and information professionals for the future. Further information on the webinar is available at: https://www.ifla.org/cpdwl/projects
The next step is a session at the WLIC in Athens. A Drop in Coaching session is offered on Thursday August 29, 08:30 – 10:30 in Banqueting Hall. Session 251 in the WLIC programme.
The session offers career and professional development coaching for the individual and is an initiative from CPDWL in collaboration with the Management & Marketing section.
All WLIC delegates are welcome to join the coaching session.
The set up is a drop-in session where the participants can get coached in areas as Professional development and lifelong learning, Career planning, People management and leadership, Change management, Project management, Marketing as well as Work-life-balance.
The coaching will focus on one individual at a time. Each coaching interaction will last approximately 15-30 minutes. Please note that there can be a waiting time for a coach to be available. There will be a waiting area available in the room.
The focus of the coaching will be to help develop the individual’s career and professional development. The coach helps the individual to move from where one is to where one needs to go and wants to be. The coach will support the coached person to see ways and opportunities to move forward in his/her professional life. The focus will be on supporting the individual to lead herself/himself and for the individual to identify areas in need of development.
Societal trends are placing new demands on the library and information sector. To ensure that library professionals are prepared to adapt to these changes, it is imperative to be ‘learning organizations’ and continuously develop the staff. The IFLA Guidelines for CPD state: “The individual library and information professional is primarily responsible for pursuing ongoing learning that constantly improves knowledge and skills”.
The CPDWL section has during the last years been working with interactive and collaborative methods in order to increase the professional development and competence sharing in the work of the section as well as of IFLA. During former CPDWL satellite conferences, career and professional development coaching has been part of the program. At WLIC 2018 in Kuala Lumpur a coaching pilot test was performed. This was very well received by the delegates, and we are now offering a new coaching possibility during the WLIC in Athens.
The members of the Coaching Initiative working group for the 2019 programme are Catharina Isberg, Almuth Gastinger, Ewa Stenberg and Ulrike Lang from the CPDWL section, and Anya Feltreuter and Cindy Hill from the Management & Marketing section.
Last week the Swedish library Association held it’s annual conference in Helsingborg, the city where I am working as the library director. The theme for the entire conference was competences and continuing professional development.
We were very happy that IFLA Secretary General Gerald Leitner was visiting our conference and also gave a speech at the General Assembly.
During the speech Secretary General was talking about the following.
IFLA is the global voice of libraries. The leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. The voice can only be strong when supported on several levels. IFLA is an independent, non-profit organization with 1400 members in 146 countries.
IFLA has 60 standing committees involving 1200 experts and divided into five different Divisions.
We are living in a time of rapid change where libraries are of real importance. The internet is disrupting every media industry, the movie, film etc. But what does this mean to libraries?
Complaining is not a strategy. We have to come out of the comfort zone and start with a strategy. Secretary General also cited Abraham Lincoln “The best way to predict your future is to create it together”. And also said no library is an island, we can do the strategy together.
Therefore IFLA started the Global Vision work in 2017. This was a way to work on the global library mind-set and to do it together. A global answer to the challenges facing the library field from ever-increasing globalisation. A work to change IFLA into an open inclusive participatory organization.
Vision – Strategy – Action
A vision without execution is hallucination. We need to go from the vision we created together, to a strategy we create with a lot of contribution, and come to action. A call to everyone to work together with IFLA on this.
The Global Vision was followed by a Global Idea store – a contribution with 8500 ideas from around the world. In Athens there will be a launch of the ILFA Global Vision Ideas Store for Actions. There we all can get ideas from librarians all over the world.
In Athens also the IFLA Strategy 2019-2024 will be launched. From there we all need to come to action.
From my perspective as Library Director and incoming Division Chair IV and IFLA Governing Board member this mean that I need to make the IFLA vision and strategy work become part of both my IFLA work as well as in my daily work. I hope you all move to action in the same way. Together we will be strong!
Library Director Helsingborg City Libraries Sweden,
Secretary CPDWL, Convener CPDWL Coaching Iniative,
incoming Division Chair IV and IFLA Governing Board and Professional Committee member