Monthly Archives: July 2021

The 10-Minute International Librarian #61: Think of the last time you attracted a non-user

 As part of libraries’ mission to serve every member of their communities, a key question is how to bring in new users.

Among those who do not currently regularly visit library buildings or websites, there may be some – or many even – who are missing out on opportunities that could help them.

To address this, we need to be able to identify what is holding them back from using libraries, and how to overcome any barriers that might exist.

What works in helping them to understand how coming to the library – or its website – can benefit them? What assumptions or concerns need to be tackled?

This is also helpful in advocacy, when you may well also be trying to convince people who do not use our institutions – or have not done so for many years – of why they are so important.

So for our 61st 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, think of the last time you attracted a non-user.

How did they find out about the library?

What had prevented them from using the library before, and what made them change their mind?

Think about what lessons you can draw for wider efforts to engage non-users, including among decision-makers.

Share your stories in the comments box below.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! Key Initiative 3.3: Empower the field at the national and regional levels.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box below.

Essential yet unequal: lessons for libraries from the OECD Skills Outlook 2021

Providing meaningful access to information is not just about creating the physical possibility to get hold of information, but also about delivering the skills necessary to use it.

With growing recognition of the importance of competencies in order to allow people to make the most of an information-rich – or even information-saturated world – the role of libraries not just as a repository, but rather as a skills-provider at the heart of the education infrastructure has become clear.

It is not just libraires who recognise this – organisations in the lifelong-learning sector (here and here), as well as governments working to promote digital skills in general – have underlined the value of involving our institutions.

As such, it can be helpful to follow the wider policy discussion about lifelong-learning and skills, in order to be able to take available opportunities to place libraires at the heart of the development of strategies in the field.

A good starting point for this is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Skills Outlook (including a free-to-read version), which appears once every two years. This highlights key themes that policy-makers will need to consider in taking decisions, drawing on internationally comparable data, as well as offering national profiles.

This blog highlights some of the central messages of this work that can be relevant for libraries in their planning and advocacy.


An essential response to a changing world, in the long- and short-term

A first key point made by the report is the importance of skills in general. Evolutions in the economy, often driven in turn by technological change, have meant not only that whole categories of job have emerged and declined, but that even to carry out a single job, the skills required change over time.

This need for regular retraining and lifelong-learning was already growing in the years before COVID, with existing skills become obsolescent quicker than ever.

However, the pandemic has only accelerated this trend, hitting some sectors hard while others have remained stable or even grown. Many people will find themselves needing to gain the skills needed to take on new jobs.

Alongside other ‘transversal skills’ (including things like communication, problem-solving and creativity), it seems clear that digital literacy skills will be crucial to this. As the report points out, the ability to use digital tools to work remotely has been essential for work to continue in many sectors, as well of course as to communicate with others and access information.

Digital literacy has, also, been key for access to skills. There are many learning opportunities online, but as the report notes, to benefit from these a potential learner needs already to feel confident.


Skills – and possibilities to gain skills – are unequally distributed

Worryingly, despite the importance of skills in allowing people to respond to change, some are less active in developing them than others.

A key factor behind this, as highlighted by the report, is level of initial education. Those who have been able to pursue formal education for longer are also then more likely to carry on taking opportunities to learn throughout life. Yet also, investment in early-years skills, such as literacy, also make a big difference.

Job types also matter – people in skilled work are more likely to receive support from employers to develop further skills, as well as being able to learn from colleagues. Meanwhile, people who are out of work, or in short-term or less skilled work have a higher chance of not benefitting from training.

This gap all too often turns into a gap in attitudes, with some far more positive about learning than others, and to readier to look for and take up opportunities.

On a personal level, this risks seeing people less able to respond to change, and so condemned to low-paid work or unemployment. On the level of societies and economies, it risks creating divides, as well as wasting potential.


Designing a response, with libraries

The OECD draws on the experience of those countries which are doing better in trying to close this divide in order to offer lessons for others, while acknowledging that no-one has yet found the perfect solution.

One key focus, it suggests, is to work on developing the core skills necessary for people to take advantage of wider learning opportunities.

A major component of this is of course reading. The report underlines correlation between levels of literacy and levels of uptake of training in general. In turn, enjoyment of reading correlates strongly with literacy.

This is, of course, an area of key library strength. Use of libraries and enjoyment of reading tends to correlate, as do numbers of school libraires and enjoyment of reading. Librarians have a strong background in building a love of books by exposing young people to a wide variety of materials than can grab their attention and help them to become independent, confident readers.

A second component is around developing digital literacy. As highlighted above, digital skills are not only important for taking on many jobs today, but they can also make the difference between accessing and not accessing learning opportunities.

Again, this is a library area of strength, with many public and other libraires providing the equipment, skills and setting needed for everyone to get the best out of the internet. Many governments already recognise this role of libraries in digital skills strategies.

A third is about ensuring that people find out about the possibilities open to them. Individuals are too often not aware of the opportunities that exist, or confused by the choice. While effective career counselling can be vital within schools, adults too can benefit from help and guidance in choosing courses to follow.

A final one is to provide a wide range of types of learning, in different formats, which can suit the needs and situation of different learners – ‘life-wide learning’ (as opposed to ‘lifelong learning’). Longer, more formal courses may not work for everyone.

To deliver on this, a variety of settings and types of programming can help ensure that everyone finds something that works for them, in particular outside of the workplace.

As a result, based on the report, we can define the following advocacy points for libraries, based on the points made in the OECD’s Skills Outlook:

  • Governments must not neglect basic literacy. In particular, they can gain from supporting interventions that build enjoyment of reading – something that represents a traditional strength of libraries, and should be integrated into policies in the field.
  • Governments need to invest in digital literacy and inclusion, as a precondition for developing the skills, and taking on the jobs, of the future. Libraries have a recognised role in digital skills provision and should be at the heart of strategies on the subject.
  • Governments should ensure easy access to information about learning opportunities for all members of the community, regardless of age or work status. Libraries represent an ideal placer to do this, as well as a portal towards specialised skills providers.
  • Governments need to acknowledge the role of a variety of institutions in delivering skills. In addition to formal education institutions, libraries also offer important complementary provision (not just literacy and digital skills, but also a variety of programmes targeted at different competences and groups, in an environment that often puts learners at ease.

The 10-Minute Digital Librarian #8: Check your cybersecurity

The pandemic has led both to growing reliance on the internet and other digital tools to go about our lives, but also growing awareness of the risks that come with them.

Cybersecurity is all about keeping information and services safe from unauthorised access and use. It helps ensure not only that library systems are working as they should and that information is available when people need it, but it is also a question of protection of privacy.

There are various tools that exist to promote security, for example through encrypting information sent online, or defending against viruses or malware (malicious software). There is also an important role for individuals in adopting practices that reduce risks.

In the case of libraries, it will not always be the case that it is possible to control all aspects of cybersecurity. For example, key decisions may be in the hands of a host institution or local/national government.

However, as part of libraries’ mission to promote online safety and privacy, it is good to be aware of what the risks are, and to act – either yourself or by calling on others – where there are risks that can be easily avoided.

So for our 8th 10-Minute Digital Librarian, check on your cybersecurity!

There are various useful and simple steps you can take to do this.

For example, making sure that your computers have received the relevant updates and patches is important – this can help ensure that you are protected against the most recent threats.

Another is to make back-up copies of key information – this can help mean that a ransomware attack does not end up preventing you from accessing key data.

A further idea is to enforce a strong password policy, in order to ensure that yours and colleagues’ devices do not become entry points.

If you have more time, you can carry out more of a review of the assets you have, and the risks you might face. For example, you may want to think about whether to encrypt your website (using https rather than http) if you have not already.

You can also consider which third party vendors, such as databases or other services, have access to your users’ data. Do they have proper policies in place to promote cybersecurity?

A step further, as highlighted in our last two posts, is to become more proactive, and integrate cybersecurity into your wider work to promote digital literacy.

You can find further ideas in our blog on cybersecurity from last year.

Let us know what steps you have taken to improve cybersecurity in your library in the comments box below.

Good luck!


If you are interested in issues around digital safety and privacy more broadly, you should take a look at the work of IFLA’s Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section, as well as our Advisory Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression.

Discover our series of 10-Minute Digital Librarian posts as it grows.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #60: think about how you enable users

Too often, different degrees of access to information or skills can create economic, social, and democratic divides.

The lucky are enabled, ready to exploit the possibilities open to them, while others are left behind, unaware or unable to do so.

They are left without the capabilities necessary for development.

Tackling this is a key question in any effort not only to promote equality in society, but also to ensure that we are mobilising every talent we have.

It is also traditionally part of the work of libraries, which work to ensure that no-one need be disadvantaged because they cannot afford books, other materials of learning opportunities.

With COVID having underlined the divisions that exist in our societies, it is an important time to underline this role, and ensure that libraries are recognised as contributing.

So for our 60th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, think about how you enable users.

What examples can you give of how you help them find the information or develop the skills they need to fulfil their potential?

Can you explain it in a couple of sentences, including noting how the work of libraries can change lives for the better?

While the word ‘enable’ itself can be complicated, it is core to the nature of libraries to work with users rather than simply telling them what to do!

Let us know your examples in the comments box below.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! Key Initiative 1.1: Show the power of libraries in achieving the Sustainable Development

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box below.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #59: Think how you can amplify your voice

If decision-makers are to make choices that favour libraries, it’s important that they know about you.

It is a cliché, but often it will be those who shout the loudest who gain the most attention!

Of course, you need to be smart about your work to advocate for libraries.

You should ensure that your arguments are based on fact, and avoid exaggeration.

But our institutions have a strong case to make, and one that’s worth being heard!

We’ve already had a few exercises about the possibility of working with partners who can speak up for you (exercises #5#18#24).

But you, based on your understanding of where you live and work, will have an idea of what works best.

So for our 59th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, think how you can amplify your voice.

How do other people involved in advocacy manage to do it? What is the most successful advocacy effort you are aware of?

What options do you have to reach out, effectively, both to decision-makers and to the people that influence them?

Let us know the most original way you have used for ensuring that the voice of libraries is heard!

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! Key Initiative 1.3: Work with library associations and libraries to identify key legal and funding challenges to their work, and advocate for action.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box below.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #58: Define Scenarios

We often tend to think of the future in terms of individual developments, for example in technology, environment, or social issues.

The rise of AI, climate change, or inequality of course all do have an important impact on libraries, shaping the tools we use, the physical environment we inhabit, and the people we serve.

However, on their own, they may only give us an incomplete picture.

And indeed, they may interact in unexpected or complex ways – for example, technology can both help us save energy (and so mitigate climate change), but at the same time consumes plenty itself (potentially intensifying it).

This makes it helpful to go one step further, and in doing so, get closer to being able to think through how things might look in reality.

So for our 58th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, define scenarios.

You can do this by bringing together your thinking about some of the trends you can see shaping society. Combined, what sort of world could they lead to?

Try to define a few scenarios – you can include ones that are more likely, and ones that are less likely, from your point of view.

Once you have these, you can then think through what they might mean for your library, and how you could prepare for them, or even make the best of them!

Let us know about your experience in doing this in the comments box below!

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! Key Initiative 3.3: Empower the field at the national and regional levels.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box below.