Monthly Archives: August 2019

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #33: Bring a Prop or Support

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #33: Bring a Prop or Support

Advocacy shouldn’t just be about talking.

For people who have lots of meetings, it may even be difficult to remember what happened in one particular conversation.

So you need a way of giving the person you are talking to a way of remembering you, and your message.

You need both to make your meeting different, as well as give them a reminder, so that you can follow up.

So for our 33rd 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, bring a prop or support.

This can be something simple like a photo or a postcard. If you have a brochure or something more detailed, this is even better.

Even a souvenir can help, as long as it has the name of your library or organisation on it, or some reminder of your meeting.

Not only does this add something to your presentation, but also, when your interlocutor is emptying their bag or jacket at the end of the day or week, they will see it and think of libraries.

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!

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #32: Compare Notes and Share Ideas!

10-Minute Library Advocate #32 - Compare notes and share ideasYou don’t need to advocate alone!

One of the key strengths of the library field is that there are institutions and professionals in cities, towns and villages around the world.

And in them, there are people doing advocacy, each with their own strengths and questions.

This means lots of potential to discuss what you’re doing and learn.

So for our 32nd 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, compare notes and share ideas!

Find someone else who is advocating for libraries, and see what has worked for them, and what lessons they have learned.

The World Library and Information Congress, starting this weekend, is a great time to do this.

Not just in the formal sessions, where you can hear more about IFLA tools and services.

But also in the informal chats where you can really go deeper, and ask the questions you want to ask!

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!

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #31: Remember to take a Selfie

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #31: Remember to take a Selfie

Advocacy needs to leave a trace.

If you want to be able to build a relationship, it’s important to show what you have already done, and achieved.

Having evidence that you’ve met a politician or other target makes it easier to follow up.

And it’s great to have when talking about your advocacy to your colleagues and friends!

So for our 31st 10-Minute Library Advocacy exercise, when you meet with a politician or other decision-maker, remember to take a selfie!

Of course, depending on the person you’re talking to, a traditional photo will also be good!

And it’s a great way of creating a sense of complicity, and even a sense of fun, as long as the person you are meeting seems likely to accept.

Normally, people in power like having photos taken of them at work.

You can also share it with the person you have met – they might want to be able to show they are meeting with stakeholders too.

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!

Making the Book Chain Stronger – and Unique

In many countries, the series of actors – and actions – that take a book from idea to bookshelf is known as the ‘book chain’.

The metaphor is attractive because of its simplicity, with a book to be published passed from writer, to publisher, to distributor, to bookshops and libraries, and to readers.

It is also used for planning policy interventions to support culture, with each actor benefitting from different supports – grants, tax reductions, or other tools.

Of course there is disruption. Plenty of authors simply bypass publishers simply by self-publishing. The work of distributors and bookshops (and some elements of the work of libraries) is subject to competition from the internet.

What is more worrying – as has been highlighted in online discussions in Senegal recently – is a tendency to forget libraries. This blog explains both why libraries are essential throughout the book chain, and indeed, why they make it unique.


Support at Every Step: Libraries Across the Book Chain

In the most simple terms, libraries are a market for publishers – in some cases, they are even the predominant ones (notably for scholarly works). However, this is to forget the other ways they provide help.

Authors – who tend to have a very positive attitude towards libraries – benefit from not only form the possibility to carry out research, but also to meet with some of the most passionate readers out there, and to be discovered by new audiences. Given that, alongside the desire to earn a living, simply being read is a high priority, this makes libraries into natural friends of authors.

For publishers, libraries are also effectively free advertising space, and make it feasible for them to produce a wider variety of content than would be possible if only working through bookshops. Libraries are also key players in developing the book-buyers of the future by encouraging literacy and a love of reading.

Similarly, libraries also be a useful source of feedback about demand for individual books, complementing that provided by bookshops. They are also are a vital part of the overall infrastructure for books – through running ISBN agencies, managing national biographies, and ensuring the preservation of works for future generations.

For bookshops, where perhaps the risk of competition can be seen as highest, there is in fact complementarity. Various studies from the US have shown that not only are people using libraries also more likely to use bookshops, but that discovering a new author in a library often leads to buying a second book at the bookshop.



Making it Unique: Why Libraries Make the Book Chain Special

What is missing from the previous set of actors are of course readers – libraries’ primary focus.

Indeed, it is this focus on meeting reader needs, first and foremost, that makes libraries and the book chain as a whole so special. No other sector of the creative industries has such a central focus on ensuring that it is not only about profit, but also about access.

This makes sense. Literacy is a core life-skill, and it is clear that a love of books and reading tends to make for better chances in life.

Arguably, as set out in the UNESCO Recommendation of 2015, the written word has a special role in sharing the thoughts and ideas that animate societies, and spreading the knowledge that drives progress. In this situation, giving everyone an equitable chance to access and enjoy it is essential to ensuring social cohesion, innovation, and compliance with international obligations.

Libraries, then, can be a source of pride for all others in the book chain – the thing that marks it out as being truly democratic, truly a contribution to broader social goals, rather than just a market or elite activity.



Clearly, the book chain is not without its problems, not least the need to hold its ground in the competition for people’s attention with other activities.

Moreover, there are ongoing discussions about how it is most appropriate for governments to support the creation and dissemination of new ideas, how to ensure that authors get a fair deal. As with any activity involving public money (including of course libraries), it’s important to be careful about how it is spent.

What is certain, at least, is that libraries are, and should be, part of the solution.


Find out more about how to support new authors – and creativity in general at session 188 – From Consumers to Creators – of this year’s World Library and Information Congress.

Libraries Transforming Education: Equity, Capability, Continuity

This year’s International Youth Day focuses on the need to transform education.

As the United Nations’ own website underlines, the combination of the crucial role of education in delivering other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the future role of young people themselves, makes this a vital area of work.

Libraries have always had a key part to play in supporting education, from simply making available the materials needed by students to more active provision of teaching.

They can also be at the heart of the transformation that will be necessary to make education truly universal, effective and meaningful for all. This blog suggests three ways in which they can make a unique contribution.


Equity: a key challenge faced by many schools is the unevenness of basic literacy skills among new entrants. It is clear that those children who have had more opportunity to read – and listen to others read – before starting formal education are in a better position to succeed.

Libraries have a long experience of promoting reading for pleasure from a young age, and indeed in the Netherlands are seen as part of the overall government offer of support for young families. In this way, they allow for early intervention, which helps stop children starting school at a disadvantage.


Capability: in addition to supporting basic literacy, libraries are very well placed to help young people develop the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in an information-rich world. Many support media and information literacy classes, for example, giving youth the tools they need to take their own decisions and engage in civic life.

In other cases, libraries provide a space for learning how to use new technologies which may not be available in schools (for example in Kibera, Kenya), or to learn to code (as in rural regions of Romania). There are further great examples in the most recent newsletter from IFLA’s Section on Library Services for Children and Young Adults.

Such skills can be essential if young people are to go into the world with the knowledge and abilities they need to be independent.


Continuity: crucially, the support that libraries offer does not stop when school does. A key strength of the library field is that services are available for all, throughout their lives. Evidence from the United States suggests that about half of all 18-35 year olds have visited a public library in the last year, a larger share than any other age group.

Especially where compulsory education does not extend far beyond primary school, libraries can be essential as places for young people to keep contact with learning opportunities. As underlined in Katarina Popovic’s contribution to this year’s Development and Access to Information report, these are chances which are indispensable if we are to achieve the SDGs.


With the right support, libraries ready, in turn, to support the transformation of education necessary to ensure that everyone has the knowledge and skills they need.


See also our blogs for World Youth Skills Day 2019 on the importance of information skills for youth, for World Teachers Day 2018 looking at how libraries support teachers, and for World Youth Day 2018, focusing on libraries providing safe spaces for youth.   


The 10-Minute Library Advocate #30: Get Your Opening Lines Right!

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #30: Get Your Opening Lines Right!

Good advocacy can take place in seconds.

This can be because you only have a very short period of time to talk with someone.

But it can also be because the person you’re talking to starts to make up their mind very quickly.

For someone busy, this is natural.

You need to make sure that they get the best impression of you and libraries from the beginning.

So for our 30th 10-Minute Library Advocate Exercise, get your opening lines right.

Practice it – setting out who you are, and what you want to talk about, and why it matters.

You may need to use it without much warning, so it’s good to have it in your head.

It can also help build your confidence for the rest of the conversation!

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!

Sen and Sensibility: Why Libraries’ Universalism is Worth Protecting

Public libraries, as underlined in the IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, have a clear mandate to serve their entire communities. As such, they can be described as ‘universalist’ – for everyone, not just a selected group.

This is an increasingly unique characteristic of public services at a time of growing pressure to show that resources are being used most effectively.

This part of the nature of libraries’ work can lay them open to the accusation that they are serving people who do not need help, for example through lending books that readers could buy.

However, it is also backed up by the universalist message of the Declaration of Human Rights, itself cited in the IFLA Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom.

The question of whether and how far a public service should be limited touches on a long-standing debate in social policy about the merits of universal, as opposed to targeted benefits and services. It is also one where the work of one key contributor – Amartya Sen – has received a Nobel Prize.

So what does Sen tell us about the relevant merits of targeting vs universalism, and how does this affect libraries?


Targeting vs Universalism

On the side of those favouring targeting, there is an expression of concern about the apparent waste of public (or private) money that comes from serving people who do not need services.

Money and effort which could be spent on the poor goes to the rich. They argue that targeting can ensure that most – if not all – goes to those who are ostensibly in greatest difficulty.

The implication is that it is only people below a certain income who are able to access certain services or benefits. And too often, services for the poor risk becoming poor services.

However, there are strong criticisms of this approach, not least those of Amartya Sen, as mentioned in the introduction.

The means of working out who is eligible or not are far from perfect. It can be difficult to measure income – some will lie in order to gain support, others will hide their poverty out of pride.

This point is an important one. In many countries, it is seen as shameful to be poor. People do not want to admit that they do not have money, and so will avoid situations where they have to do this.

Targeting, it is argued also creates the risk of reducing incentives to improve your situation, given that this could lead to a withdrawal of support. Why work those extra hours that could take you over a certain threshold when it means you might end up worse off once support is cut?

Finally, targeting implies that the population involved are just that – targets – rather than agents in their own right, something that also risks damaging the self-respect of beneficiaries.

Sen does note that some adaptation of services may be valuable, for example due to disability, or social status. These can have a useful levelling-up effect.

However, they should come against a backdrop of universal support and services. Indeed, such an approach tends to be associated with greater overall equality.


Universalism in the Library

The work of libraries not only provides an example of universalism at work, but also brings in another key aspect of Sen’s thinking – that of ‘capabilities’.

Linked to his objection to the idea of the poor as being ‘targets’, he focuses on how to ensure that people in difficult situations have the possibility to improve their lives. These ‘capabilities’ allow for ‘functionings’ – taking part in economic, social and cultural life.

Key capabilities in this regard are skills such as literacy and the right and possibility to share and receive information.

Libraries provide these, as underlined in the Development and Access to Information report. And of course, crucially, they do this in a universal way, building capabilities for all.

In doing do, they provide a means of participating in culture which neither excludes people because they have too little money (like the market), or because they have too much (risking stigmatising users as being poor).

The same goes for education and research.

Finally, by offering a space where everyone is welcome, libraries also contribute to a sense of community – something that Sen and others have underlined as being a function of welfare systems more broadly.

Libraries are one of the few institutions in our societies which are genuinely open for all. This is something worth protecting, given the contribution this makes both to economic and social goals.

The emphasis in key IFLA texts – not least the Public Library Manifesto and the Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom, which respectively turn 25 and 20 this year – on access for, and service to, all, are as relevant as ever.


Read further:
Cautherley, George (2016), Should Social Welfare be Universal or Means-Tested, in EJInsight, 18 April 2016, Accessible here:

Mkandwire, Thandika (2005), Targeting and Universalism in Developing Countries, United Nations,

Sen, Amartya (1995), The political economy of targeting, in Public spending and the poor: theory and evidence, edited by D. van de Walle & K. Nead (John Hopkins University Press, 1995), pp. 11-24. Accessible here: