Monthly Archives: October 2019

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #39: Think of a Problem, and then Present Libraries as the Solution

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #39: Think of a Problem, and then Present Libraries as the Solution

Advocacy is powerful when you are offering solutions.

The people you are likely targeting – politicians, funders, others – spend a lot of their time trying to solve problems.

And there are plenty out there – social, political economic.

Of course, libraries also need things from decision-makers – funding, laws, other support.

But lawmakers may well be more likely to listen harder when you focus on how this could help them solve other challenges.

So for our 39th 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, think of a problem, and then think about how you can present libraries as the solution.

Make sure it’s a problem that a decision-maker might care about. You can try with more than one of course.

For example, unemployment, lack of skills, a lack of integration.

If you practice your arguments, you’ll be better placed to influence others!

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!

Culture, Community and (Social) Capital: The Role of Libraries

The work of Eric Klinenberg on the role of libraries as social infrastructure has received a lot of attention in the library world.

Based on his research among residents of New York, he heard countless stories of people whose lives had been changed – improved – through the time they had spent in libraries, through their contact with librarians.

His arguments are based strongly on the idea of social capital – the connections between people that allow them to work together more effectively.

In making this link between libraries and social capital, Klinenberg brings our institutions into a space where those interested in museums and sites have long been active – the connection between cultural institutions and places and community well-being (for example here).

A day after World Habitat Day, in the European Week of Regions and Cities, and ahead of the launch of the Climate Heritage Network, this blog looks further at this connection, and in particular the challenges it faces.


Social Capital

As highlighted, the notion of social capital, in broad terms, is about connections between people. These connections can be based on norms and values – specific beliefs as to what is acceptable or not, and a sense of what is important.

In turn, these norms and values allow people to develop trust, building cooperation and saving time and effort. In times of hardship, it can allow for greater resilience and quicker recovery.

Of course the links in question are not always universal. In talking about social capital, there is talk of bonds and bridges. Bonds are what connect people within a group, and bridges are what connects people in one group with those in another.

Too much focus on links within a single group can be unhealthy, and lead to some being excluded. In order to build the widest possible sense of community, there is a need not only to support internal connectedness, but to provide opportunities to build bridges.

In ensuring both of these, both knowledge and spaces have a role to play. This understanding is already at the heart of reflection on how museums and other heritage sites contribute – through providing common reference points, as well as a space where people can come together.

As Klinenberg’s work points out, this is just as true for libraries.


Communities and Climate Change

All sorts of challenges can test the resilience of communities. Economic change, dramatic policy shifts and conflict all force changes to daily life and require adaptation.

Climate change will certainly lead to many such situations, as groups face extreme weather events, need to adopt new ways of living, or even need to abandon villages, towns and cities.

These shifts can be traumatic. Changing habits, structures and economic models may affect the norms and values that underpin social capital.

At worst, the heritage – the buildings and objects which offer a physical reference point, the documents and ideas that offer a mental one, and the spaces that enable interaction – are at risk of being lost.

The consequence of this can be to reduce social capital, both within groups, and between them, at a time when it is needed most. It can make recovery and adaptation slower and longer, if it happens at all.

At best, just as in the cases identified by Klinenberg in his own work in New York, libraries can offer both the space and the substance necessary for building social capital, even in situations of hardship, and so making communities more resilient.

The explicitly public focus of libraries – and their ability to reach out to people who may not identify with other cultural institutions – mean that they have a potentially highly important contribution.


It is helpful to see potential for a convergence in the work done by libraries and museums and other heritage institutions on where – and how – they can build social capital.

Given the respective strengths of each, there is also strong scope not just for connections within our sectors, but also across them. In the face of climate change, the chances are that this will be more and more necessary.

Helping Teachers Help All Learners: Libraries and Minority Languages

Through providing materials, developing information literacy skills, offering a space for study, and acting as a gateway to lifelong learning opportunities, libraries are a key part of the education infrastructure.

The service libraries provide is universal, but there are cases where they can be particularly important, for example for speakers of minority languages.

For World Teachers Day, this blog looks – on the basis of IFLA’s submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues – at how libraries help teachers deliver this right for people who risk missing out otherwise.

Providing the Raw Materials for Learning

The right of children to access information to support them in their development is made explicit in Article 17 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

‘States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health’.

This may not always be easy when children have a first language other than the one that dominates where they live. Educational publishers will tend to focus on the main market for works, and curricula can also be concentrated on one language and culture, at the expense of others.

Yet without access to information in their own language, learners can suffer disadvantage, with poorer results leading to fewer opportunities in life. There is a need for additional effort to create, translate, or otherwise get access to materials.

Libraries are well placed to do this. At the local level, public libraries look to ensure that their collections match the make-up of their community, with many having sections in non-majority languages. National libraries can help support this through organising exchanges with counterparts in other countries, or even developing central libraries for different language groups.

Thanks to this work, learners are able to develop their literacy and find information in their own language, helping teachers achieve their goals.

Complementing the Work of Schools

The work of libraries is not necessarily limited to providing materials – they are more than just a storehouse or supplier of books.

The strength of libraries in providing space, and additional – often informal or non-formal – opportunities to learn can also be turned to supporting the progress of non-majority language learners. In this, they complement the work of teachers.

Sometimes, this is a case of simply reproducing traditional library activities such as story-times in minority languages, as happens in Slovakia with Hungarian-speakers.

In other cases, libraries develop structured programmes for reading development, as Helsinki libraries are doing for Russian-speakers.

Elsewhere, they host workshops and lessons for the benefit of all ages, or kit out mobile libraries to help children, for example in refugee camps, to continue their education.

These projects do not need to be organised by libraries alone, but it is clear that their mission – and the space they can often offer – makes libraries a logical platform for such initiatives.


While of course teachers themselves are at the heart of successful education, their work is made far easier when they have the support of effective libraries, especially when it comes to working with minority language speakers.

There are many great examples out there of this support at work, making a reality of the right of access to information for learning and personal development for all.


Read IFLA’s Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #38: Send an Invitation to Visit your Library

Image: picture of a VIP invitation in an envelope. Text: #38 Send an invitation to visit your library. The 10-Minute Library AdvocateSome of the most powerful advocacy comes from showing what you’re doing, not just talking about it.

It’s natural for someone to believe more what they experience for themselves, than what they are told.

They’ll also remember it better!

This is as true for people in positions of power as for anyone else. Moreover, it’s possible that they haven’t visited a library in years.

So for our 38th 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, send an invitation to visit your library!

Find someone you want to influence (see exercise #6!), and then write an invitation that gets them interested. Think about what they might want to see or say, and adapt to this (see our exercise #24!). Could there be a media opportunity for them?

Clearly the visit – and its preparation – will take more than 10 minutes, but the invitation doesn’t need to be long.  Indeed, something shorter may indeed have more power!

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!

Engage through the Page: Libraries and Books Help Young People become Full Citizens

The climate marches that have marked the news in so many parts of the world over the last few months are, to a large extent, thanks to the mobilisation of young people.

The logic behind this is simple – this is the generation that will face the consequences of inaction today. But is it also reassuring to see a response to the cliché of younger people being disaffected or uninterested in global issues.

This is because democracy depends on people not only having opinions, but being ready to stand up and debate these in public. And as the climate marches have shown, the process of becoming a confident, informed, engaged citizen can start young.

This blog – on the first day of International School Library Month – looks at how libraries contribute to this.


Wider Horizons – School Libraries and Citizenship

School libraries – or other libraries providing school library services in some countries – have a mission not only to support teachers by helping develop literacy and a love of reading, but also to go further.

As set out in the IFLA-UNESCO School Libraries Manifesto, which turns 20 this year, they should also be gateways to the wider world, helping young people discover and engage with diverse ideas, experiences and opinions.

Just as any other library, in effect, school libraries provide a platform for young people to access information about the world, to build their awareness and sensitivity, and to exercise their intellectual freedom as an essential foundation of effective and responsible citizenship and participation in a democracy.

There are many great examples of this at work, for example in Portugal, where the Rights for Right project looks to make the link between literacy and citizenship, with an early focus on human rights. In the United States, school librarians work to build awareness of ethical issues among students, while in Brazil, libraries have stepped in where schools have been unable to help young people come to terms with the economic and social issues they face.


Starting the Conversation – the SDG Book Club

Of course, it isn’t necessarily easy to know where to start in order to get a discussion going about issues outside of the curriculum. Books can offer a way in – and indeed they do in all of the examples mentioned above. By telling a story, they can provide a less direct way of getting young people thinking, especially when they look to make the links between what they are reading, and their own experience.

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Book Club is one way of finding books that allow this to happen.

Set up by the United Nations in cooperation with IFLA, the International Publishers Association, the International Board on Books for Youth and the European and International Booksellers’ Federation, this provides a sample of books in each of the six official languages of the United Nations for each of the SDGs, month by month. The most recent list focuses on SDG 5 (gender equality), with SDG 6 (water and sanitation) up next.

The website, in addition to ideas for books, also has a number of other tools, for example how to set up a local book club, communications materials, a newsletter, and a blog – take a look!


With the need for – and potential of – engagement by young people shown by the recent climate marches, there is a window for school libraries to show what they are doing to create the citizens of the future. International School Library Month provides a great opportunity, and the SDG Book Club a great tool, to do this.


Find out more about the work of IFLA’s School Libraries Section.