Tag Archives: community

The 10-Minute International Librarian #89: Make a connection

Libraries are already strongly characterised by collaboration.

Within and across institutions, we rely on this in order to deliver information and services to users. Through it, we can provide a much wider range of support than alone.

We also partner with other actors of course, combining the strengths of libraries with those of others in order to do more.

But libraries can also act as a catalyst – a place where new collaborations and partnerships can begin, bringing together other players who might not otherwise work together.

Through this, libraries can help build stronger communities and cohesion.

So for our 89th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, make a connection.

Think of the different people, organisations and groups that you work with.

Which ones could cooperate, but aren’t doing so at the moment?

How can you make the link? How can you encourage potential partners to get involved?

Let us know about the most successful connections that you have made in the chat!

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! Key Initiative 3.2: Support virtual networking and connections 

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!

Towards Safe Housing in Supportive Communities: The Contribution of Libraries

Today marks World Habitat Day, created in 1985 in order to draw attention to the importance of safe and adequate housing, located in a place that enables residents to access public green and open spaces, employment opportunities, health-care services, schools, childcare centres and other social facilities.

This is a key issue. Those who do not have access to safe housing too often struggle to obtain formal work or much needed social benefits, and find it difficult to enjoy other rights, such as to health (a point made painfully clear during the COVID-19 pandemic).

Critically, it is also too often a hidden problem, with those experiencing homelessness or inadequate housing confined to parts of cities and towns which are rarely visited by others, or actively trying to hide their status out of embarrassment.

We are a long way from solving this problem too, not only in countries which still have high levels of informal housing, but even in richer ones where high housing prices and difficult rules around accessing benefits may risk excluding many.

As institutions strongly embedded in communities, and with a mission to respond to their needs, libraries both experience, and are active in looking to respond to this situation.

In order to mark World Habitat Day 2020, we highlight three ways in which they are helping:


A Refuge from the Street: clearly any long-term solution to poor quality or insufficient housing is investment in building or renovation. This is outside of the mandate of libraries.

However, as IFLA’s Guidelines on Library Services to Persons Experiencing Homelessness underline, a home is not just somewhere to go at night, but also to go during the day. Indeed, it may be possible to be less conspicuous in a library than on the street, providing a moment of privacy.

Realising this potential is not necessarily a given, and libraries themselves are likely to need to make an effort in order to ensure that they provide the space and support users experiencing homelessness (including temporary or unstable housing) may need.

Rules, practices and behaviours (and even design) can risk inadvertently leaving users feeling unwelcomed, in particular when users experiencing homeless also have other characteristics that leave them at risk of marginalisation. The Guidelines provide excellent tools for addressing this.


A Stepping-Stone to Support: libraries in many countries have a well-established role not just as a provider of information and services, but also as a portal to those offered by others. Indeed, people may feel less stigma coming to a library to apply for social payments or join support schemes than walking through the door of a benefits office or job centre.

Many libraries are already providing access to such possibilities even without making a special effort. Yet there are also examples of more intense collaborations, where libraries partner with other organisations addressing homelessness to realise this potential most effectively, or alternatively hire social workers or invite representatives of other organisations to come into the library.

Clearly, library services can also be specifically focused on communities experiencing insecure housing, with the public library in Kibera, one of the biggest informal settlements in Africa playing a key role in supporting education, while libraries in shelters in Indonesia and Malaysia to provide skills support and training.


From a District to a Community – Libraries as Hub: as set out at the beginning of this blog, quality housing is not just about the rooves, walls, plumbing and cables, but also access to local services. As set out in the Declaration of this year’s World Urban Forum, libraries are one of the core cultural services to which communities should have access.

This sense of library as part of the social infrastructure of any community (an idea most recently associated with the work of Eric Klinenberg), or as a third place or community living room is a well-established one. As set out in a recent World Bank report, libraries can indeed be at the heart of inclusive regeneration policies.


Many of the examples given here of course date from before the COVID-19 pandemic. The obligation to stop in-person services has certainly seriously restricted possibilities to support. Nonetheless, there are strong examples of libraries helping by distributing computer equipment to shelters, providing sanitisers or hygiene facilities, or supporting food banks, alongside more general efforts to leave the WiFi to help people get online.

While it remains unclear when a full return to physical service provision will be possible, it is likely that the crisis we are currently facing will leave many more people facing challenges associated with poor or insecure housing. Libraries can be part of the response.

Sustainability, Authenticity, Awareness, Access: Cultural Heritage and Beyond

The activities surrounding this year’s European Day of Conservation-Restoration seek to highlight key themes in the preservation of cultural heritage: sustainability, authenticity, awareness, and access.

These are not only important in preservation, but also resonate with the core tenets of an informed and participatory society. This blog will touch on how applying these themes through cultural heritage can have a greater reach, building on shared values to create connected and informed communities.



The topic of sustainability is far-reaching, and it must be. As we are well aware through the Sustainable Development Goals, incorporating a sustainable framework within all elements of global development is key to securing a brighter future for humanity.

Conservators in archives, museums, libraries and beyond work to ensure that primary sources of our heritage are sustained for future generations of study.

They make it possible for society at large to experience, value and share these elements of their culture.  As the British Council states in their 2018 report, Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth:

When people engage with, learn from, value and promote their cultural heritage, it can contribute to both social and economic development. An inclusive way of working, that engages individuals and communities in their heritage, and supports institutions and nations to effect positive change for all levels of society, can lead to economic growth and better social welfare. Heritage in this way can be a source of sustainability, a way to embed growth in the fabric of society and to celebrate the past in today’s evolving world.

 Finding methods through which all individuals see themselves reflected in society and invited to take part, through media, accessible spaces and participatory policy, is a contributor to the sustainable development of connected communities



 How valuable is the knowledge that our physical cultural heritage is authentic? The Nara Document on Authenticity states:

In a world that is increasingly subject to the forces of globalization and homogenization, and in a world in which the search for cultural identity is sometimes pursued through aggressive nationalism and the suppression of the cultures of minorities, the essential contribution made by the consideration of authenticity in conservation practice is to clarify and illuminate the collective memory of humanity.

Authenticity is about accurate representation, and determining it requires the skills of careful reading and critical thinking. Identifying authenticity in the information and media we consume is among the defining themes of our times.

Teaching how to value and determine authenticity, within cultural heritage and beyond, trains the skills required to think critically about the information we consume.



Participatory societies are informed societies. Individuals and communities can best engage with, learn from, value and promote their cultural heritage when they are invited to do so.

Days like the European Day of Conservation-Restoration help to raise awareness of the work being done in what might otherwise be considered closed-off spaces. Awareness of one another’s cultural values through heritage helps build mutual respect and understanding.

Advocacy is important! Find ways to share the work you’re doing in a way that resonates with people. Tell stories and invite conversation. Awareness-raising of the value of services and spaces which build connected, informed societies helps ensure that they remain available for generations to come.



Closely tied to raising awareness is ensuring that there are mechanisms in place to connect people with their heritage. Inclusive representation of cultures connects communities to their past and to one another.

In broader terms, access to information is a central tenet of democracy.  Suppressing information, in the same way as suppressing culture, limits the right to think, act and express oneself freely.

Access also means building accessible spaces which invite all individuals to take part in culture, governance and civil society – despite language, ability, identity, age and gender. This reaches far beyond access to cultural heritage.

However, connecting people to their heritage can be part of a broader aim to uphold the freedom of expression and access to information that is at the heart of an informed democratic society.


Cultural heritage can allow for greater engagement with the public sphere. Institutions which conserve heritage, provide opportunities to learn about it, and allow conversations to grow around it can be models of an inclusive approach to engagement on a societal level.

How do you build on these values in your area of the profession?

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.