Monthly Archives: June 2019

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #24: Think What Your Audience Wants to Hear

The 10 Minute Library Advocate number 24 - Think What Your Audience Wants to Hear. Picture of a person speaking at a lecternAdvocacy is about getting people to agree with you.

When you talk with someone, you want them to understand that you have shared goals, and that you can help them.

Especially for decision-makers, who often have to face problems, libraries should look like a solution.

To do this, you need to adapt your arguments, and select or prioritise them. But how to do this?

For our 24th 10-Minute Library Advocate Exercise, think what your audience wants to hear.

You can do this by looking at the issues they care about.

For example, a K-12 education ministry official wants children who are ready for class.

A health official wants people who can learn about how to live healthier lifestyles.

Parents may just want help in keeping children entertained and helping them develop their skills.

So pick someone – or a group of people – you want to talk to and think what they want to hear!

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

Professional Units and the SDGs – How IFLA’s Committees are Contributing to Work on the 2030 Agenda

Professional Practice and Sustainable Development: How IFLA’s committees support engagement on the Global Goals

IFLA has placed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at the centre of much of its work.

They are a regular reference in our advocacy for libraries, and have provided a great way of structuring our thinking about the role of our institutions in the world today.

At the national level, many library associations and library and information workers have taken up the resources provided through IFLA’s International Advocacy Programme to launch their own work.

This makes sense. The SDGs – and the wider 2030 Agenda that contains them – are the most comprehensive, ambitious policy agenda out there.

Many governments and development agencies have explicitly made them a key pillar of their activities. Others may not refer to them so openly, but will not disagree with the framework they set out, and the subjects they highlight.

But what can cross-border professional communities – IFLA’s professional units – do? There are already some great examples here as well! This blog offers some general themes, building on work already done in 2015.


Spreading the Word

A number of IFLA’s sections have embraced the Sustainable Development Goals in sessions at the World Library and Information Congress. This has provided a great opportunity to explain the Goals and their relevance to different parts of the global library field.

Taking the perspective of a specific type of library, a specific service, or a specific user group can be a means of making the SDGs relevant. At the same time, this provides an opportunity to show how the SDGs can be used by library and information workers in the area to advocate for the work they do.

Talking about the SDGs is important – indeed, it is a key UN objective. The more libraries can show that we are using our potential to spread the word, the stronger a partner we become.


Building the Evidence

In our work at the global, regional and national levels, real-life examples of how libraries deliver on the SDGs (and other policy objectives) play a key role. They appeal to decision-makers, given their human aspect. When accompanied by evaluation, they are even stronger.

Individual professional communities within IFLA can be excellent sources of these examples, given that they bring together some of the most knowledgeable people about particular library types or services, from different parts of the world (or something like that).

Already, a number of the stories featured on IFLA’s Library Map of the World SDG Stories page are based on examples from papers submitted to sessions at WLIC. But there is lots of potential for sections to use the rest of the year to find more , for example among nominees for prizes or awards!


Driving Delivery

As highlighted in IFLA’s Core Values, access to information, guaranteed by high quality library services, is a key means of improving lives and promoting equality.

It follows that the work done by IFLA’s sections to enhance professional practice also enhances the capacity of libraries to support users. This is central to fulfilling the role given to all stakeholders in the 2030 Agenda to do their bit to deliver on the SDGs.

Standards, guidelines, toolkits and collections of best practices help the field to achieve Goals, from safeguarding cultural heritage (SDG 11.4) through preservation standards to reducing inequalities through guidelines for services to people with special needs (SDG 10).


We’d love to hear your ideas about how different sections are working with the SDGs, or of course to answer any questions.

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #23: Find – and Use – Buzzwords

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #23: Find – and Use – Buzzwords

Choosing the right words can make a difference.

They can help people make connections in their heads with other issues, placing libraries in a broader context.

They can make your message seem more relevant to wider public debate.

For example, see our ‘Words of the SDGs’ series that explains some of the most used words at the United Nations!

So for our 23rd 10-Minute Library Advocate Exercise, find – and use – buzzwords.

A ‘buzzword’ is a word that is fashionable at a given moment.

Think about the words that journalists and politicians keep on using in articles and speeches.

If over-used, a buzzword can become a cliché, so be careful!

Share your ideas and good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

2019 World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day 2019: Libraries are for everyone

20 June is World Refugee Day, a day to mark the support to the thousands of families who flee their homes every day. Around the world communities, individuals, schools, businesses and institutions such as the libraries are showing solidarity with refugees.

Arriving to a new country is never easy! A different culture and language can be a big challenge for refugees. Libraries can help make their arrival easier by welcoming them to the community.

Libraries opening their doors for refugees

Libraries such as The Multilingual Library in Norway have been actively involved in providing books in different languages. The library is a national centre of expertise for multicultural library services and has put together promo-packages that other libraries in Norway can borrow.

The packages include posters, postcards, bookmarks and balloons. It also includes books in many different languages that the borrowing library can use to make displays and to promote the fact that libraries welcomes people who speak languages other than Norwegian, a fact that many people still don’t know about.

The efforts by the Multilingual Library has been very successful. The materials and books have fed into about 160 promo-packages and are often reserved for months. The package has been strongly promoted on another international day, The International Mother Language Day, to highlight the variety of people that the library serves.

In Germany, Cologne Public Library has created a Sprachraum – literally a language room. The room is a meeting place for intercultural exchange and learning for refugees and people with a diverse background. It dedicated to hosting activities and events, book reading and to practice the German language.

The Sprachraum is run by volunteers, who actively engage with refugees, making sure that they feel welcomed to the community.

Libraries sharing experience and knowledge

Libraries worldwide serve diverse community interests, and function as learning, cultural and information centres.

This work is particular supported by the IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section, that brings together libraries and institutions who are interested in how libraries can take an active role in supporting refugees and library users with a multicultural background.

The Section is striving to share its experience in library services to ensure that every member of our global society has access to a full range of library and information services.

If you are interested in knowing more about how libraries are serving refugees, you can contact the MCULTP Section.

The ‘First International Librarian’[1]: Mary Florence Wilson

Alternative street sign for Mary Florence WIlsonThis blog is the result of a street name. Not an official one, but rather an alternative, proposed for the Route Ferney in Geneva, as part of 100elles, an effort to raise awareness – and recognition – of the contribution of women through history.

The alternative name given in this case is that of Mary Florence Wilson, the first librarian of the League of Nations. 2019 marks both the centenary of her taking on this role (at least in practical terms), one she would hold for eight years, as well as of the library itself.

Reading through her own work – notably her history of the process that led to the League of Nations Covenant[2], as well as her account of her time at the League – she comes across as clear, professional and far-sighted, but not without a sense of humour.

The views of those who worked closely with her are also generally very positive, although she clearly annoyed some of her more misogynistic colleagues. On her death in 1977, the IFLA Annual contained a report from the Association of International Librarians, including from Professor Doris Dale, who noted that ‘contacts with this fascinating personality always enriched everyone who had the privilege to meet her’[3].

Florence Wilson remains a fascinating personality to this day, and very much in the minds of those who continue to serve in the library she set up. IFLA is grateful to them for the support offered in finding the materials for this blog, which will explore just some of the things that make her so interesting a figure.


A Hundred-Year Legacy: Florence Wilson’s Practical Achievements

As the ‘first international librarian’, Florence Wilson was responsible for setting up the library for the world’s first multidisciplinary, multilateral organisation, the League of Nations.

She came from the eastern United States, and held a number of posts at Columbia University, before being recruited by Colonel House, the man US President Woodrow Wilson chose to plan for peace after World War One.

Serving as a member of the American Peace Commission, and liaison officer of the American Library Association and Library of Congress[4], she attended the Versailles Conference, and saw first-hand the efforts of the countries involved to design a new world order.

She clearly impressed those around her, and even before the League of Nations Covenant entered into force, was asked by the Secretary-General to be, Sir Eric Drummond, to organise the library. This was to be the first library serving a global organisation working across a range of policy issues, and with a key role in responding to crises.

This, she reasoned, required a special type of library, bringing together elements of a government or parliamentary library, as well as of a major research library, which could be visited by interested groups[5]. This she did, by all accounts, with energy and vision, as the library moved from small rooms on Piccadilly in London to the Hotel National, on the shore of Lake Geneva.

During her time, the library went from zero to 90 000 volumes[6], establishing itself not just as a key resource and space for the League Secretariat and visiting officials[7], but also as a research library and source for libraries across the continent and the world. Visiting experts underlined that the library as ‘successful and much appreciated’[8]. She did, however, attract the concern of her hierarchy around the expense of the library, but defended this as being essential for it to fulfil its mission[9].

Nonetheless, and strongly focused on ensuring the viability of the library, she invested considerable time in seeking to attract support from external funders, notably the Carnegie Foundation. However, it was only to be under her successor, Tietse Sevensma, that the Rockefeller family would offer the money needed both to start to achieve her vision, and to raise the building that houses the library today[10].


Florence Wilson in 1928An Intellectual Contribution: A Prophet of Access to Information

Florence Wilson stands out both for her reflection on how to carry out librarianship at the international level, and for her words and writings round the role of information in promoting peace and understanding.

She came to her role at the League conscious of her status as an American (an issue that would become more prominent when the United States chose not to join the League)[11]. At that point, the American approach to librarianship, differed strongly from the European, in particular as concerns the resourcing and organisation of the library.

Therefore, when her original plans to organise the Library along the lines of the Library of Congress were rejected, she travelled around Europe, exploring current practices. She ended up with a hybrid system, with the Dewey Decimal system alongside a card catalogue following American principles. The system worked in two languages too – the card catalogue in English, while shelf list headings were in French[12].

This leads to the more philosophical contribution – her conviction that the library should act ‘so that decisions may be based on fact, and […] express the civilization and culture of the various countries that the peoples of the world will better understand each other, and thru understanding, will be at peace’[13].

She had a strong focus on service, believing that if people could not access information easily, then the mission of the library could not be accomplished[14]. As a result, she strongly promoted the library as an open space, giving visitors the opportunity to browse for themselves (a relatively revolutionary idea in research libraries in Europe at the time)[15], and launched innovative services such as regular messages to Secretariat staff, highlighting the latest research and ideas[16]. She also welcomed visiting groups and researchers, who would otherwise have had no access to many of the materials held.

She argued that what people needed was, primarily, information, not the books that held them, and encouraged her staff to offer help along these lines[17]. This placed her on the frontier of thinking about how international relations work, contributing to the idea that the development of a body of international knowledge could be the basis for successful international cooperation[18].

This is the same logic she took into her work after the League of Nations, promoting libraries in European and the Middle East as instruments of international understanding[19]. Working at a time when the potential of information to support government was only just starting to be recognised, this was a powerful contribution[20].


A Personal Effort: Challenges (Mainly) Overcome

A key feature of many of the pieces about Florence Wilson is the discrimination she suffered, alongside almost all other women. Having taken on the task of organising the library in 1919, it was not until a year later (and the failure to appoint a male Polish candidate for her job) that she was confirmed in her function. She also became the only female library director (aged just 35) in Europe[21].

For the following years, she never rose beyond the rank of Section Head, despite her budget and responsibilities, and even then barely earned a third of her male counterparts[22]. The fact that her staff was predominantly female also led to criticism (not an issue that affected purely male departments), although were partially (although clearly not excusably) saved by the fact that they cost less to employ[23].

While she does not mention this in her own official writings, she clearly was conscious of her sex, and indeed acted as the League of Nations delegate to the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance in 1920, for example[24].

Her departure from the library was, it seems, not by choice. She was dismissed in 1927, apparently on the basis that it was necessary to find a role for the Germans, who had just been admitted to the League – they never provided someone. It could be argued that is it indeed only this departure that prevented her from being a candidate to be the first permanent IFLA Secretary General – it was her successor, Tietse Sevensma, who would take on this role in 1929.

What is clear enough is that even if she had been a man, her achievements would have been notable. They are all the more so for the challenges that she faced, and the fact that as the first to do so many things, she was finding her own way. This work has lasted, and is still continuing in Geneva today.


So as we wish happy birthday to the UN Library in Geneva, it’s also a good time to celebrate the work of the ‘first international librarian’, and hope that that street sign may be made permanent.



[1] International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (1977), IFLA Annual, Verlag Dokumentation Saur KG, Munich, p146

[2] Wilson, Florence (1928), The Origin of the League Covenant, The Hogarth Press, London

[3] International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, ibid, p147

[4] Dale, Doris Cruger (1972), An American in Geneva: Florence Wilson and the League of Nations Library, The Journal of Library History, Vol. 7, No. 2, p110

[5] Idem, p112

[6] Idem, p124

[7] Florence Wilson talks of Lord Robert Cecil having tea at a library field, and Arthur Balfour and Léon Bourgeois using library meeting rooms to chat. Wilson, Mary Florence (1922), The Library of the League of Nations, The Library Journal, 15 December 1922, p1060

[8] Idem, p119

[9] Dale, p119

[10] Blazek, Ron and Wilson, Mary Florence (1972), Vignettes of Library History: No. 11, The Library of the League of Nations, The Journal of Library History, Vol. 7, No. 4, p371

[11] Wilson (1922), p1060

[12] Blazek and Wilson, p369

[13] Idem, p1057

[14] Dale, ibid, p113

[15] Dale, ibid, p114

[16] Blazek and Wilson, ibid, p369

[17] Valeska Huber, Tamson Pietsch & Katharina Rietzler (2019), Women’s International Thought and the New Professions, 1900-1940, Modern Intellectual History (2019), (pre-print available), p16

[18] Idem, p12

[19] Idem, p15

[20] Idem, p16

[21] IFLA, ibid, p147

[22] Dale, Ibid, p111

[23] Idem, p116

[24] Idem, p122

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #22: Draw an Influence Map

The 10 Minute Library Advocate #22: Draw an Influence Map

The route to success in your advocacy isn’t always simple.

To influence one person – say a mayor, a law-maker or a funder – there can be various routes.

As mentioned in previous 10 Minute Library Advocate exercises, it can be powerful to work through someone else – a journalist or a partner.

To plan how best to use your time, you need a way to work out how to focus your effort.

So for the 22nd 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, draw an influence map.

Visualise who has an influence on who, and how they do it.

Think about how you can, in turn, influence them most effectively. Are they already friendly to libraries? Do they understand the arguments? Is it easy to get them to influence others?

Think also about where there may be difficulties – people who think libraries are unnecessary, or who oppose any publicly funded service.

This will help you decide where to focus your advocacy, and how. You can find examples of influence mapping in libraries here, or this example from broader development policy here.

Good luck, and don’t forget to share images of your influence maps!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #21: Test Your Arguments on a Friend

10 Minute Library Advocate Number 21 - Test out your arguments on a friend. Image: two people talking to each otherIt’s not always easy to prepare good arguments.

You need to get both the substance, and the style right.

But finding the right way to make your point, in the simplest, most convincing way possible can take time.

You don’t need to do this alone though.

To make sure you’re on the right path, it can be good to get the opinion of another person.

So for our 21st 10-Minute Library Advocate Exercise, test out your library advocacy arguments on a friend!

See if they’re convinced about the value of libraries, or of how you help tackle social and cultural issues.

They can offer you feedback or suggestions, point out where you can be clearer, or stronger, as well as congratulate you on your successes.

Make sure your friend knows to be objective and – if needed – critical. Your arguments will be better for it!

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!