Author Archives: Pirkko

Keeping Older Adults in Singapore Digitally Engaged Amidst Covid-19

Undeniably, COVID-19 has profoundly changed life as we know it. The global pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on the way we live, work, and play, and everyone, including libraries, has had to adjust to a “new normal” at an alarming pace. In Singapore, the Circuit Breaker was implemented in April to contain the spread of the coronavirus and residents, especially the elderly were advised to stay at home. This meant that all non-essential workplaces including our public libraries were closed for almost two months. This unexpected situation meant that we had to promptly rethink our operations and current model of programme delivery for older adults and devise new ways to keep them meaningfully engaged at home. Before, our programming was mostly focused on onsite activities – many of which were designed with the aim of bridging the digital divide among older adults in mind.

Some examples include our partnerships with other organisations to introduce programmes that promote basic digital literacy through one-on-one assistance from volunteers, classroom training, and learning communities. For older adults who were ready to take their digital skills to the next level, we also rolled out hands-on workshops that tackled more complex topics, such as coding, app development and movie making. This helped to fuel their creativity and sustain their interest in the digital sphere.

While these digital readiness initiatives were already in place, the COVID-19 situation established the need to scale them up and deliver them in new ways. Bearing in mind that everyone has varying interests and familiarity with technology – it was crucial to curate programmes that could cater to most, if not all. Another key consideration was that certain types of programmes would not translate well onto an online platform: this included workshops with a heavy emphasis on hands-on activities, or those that required one-to-one guidance from the instructor. Programme duration was another factor: information had to be delivered in bite-sized chunks due to the possibility of “Zoom fatigue”.

Engaging Older Adults Through Online Programming

From the onset, we knew that we wanted to curate a suite of fun, exciting, and engaging programmes for older adults, involving programme concepts we had never done before. Some environmental scans and brainstorming sessions later, we birthed the #StayHome series, our very first online series for older adults. The #StayHome programme series comprise Read, Learn, and Play editions, and featured book recommendations, creative workshops, and games that covered a wide range of topics suitable for those aged 50 and above. These programmes were conducted by librarians or volunteer facilitators. On top of content creation, we supplemented all our virtual programmes with a curated list of eBooks and electronic resources that participants would find useful for continuing their learning in that particular domain. Here is more about the different editions:

 #StayHomeAndRead: Spotlights eBooks and encourages the love of reading. Sessions featuring non-fiction titles were complemented with hands-on activities (derived from the eBooks) to make reading and learning fun and interactive.

Past topics: Exploring the Fantasy Genre, PressReader App, Forest Bathing, K-pop

 #StayHomeAndLearn: Covers a wide range of topics so older adults can learn and stay relevant and connected to trends.

Past topics: Digital Housekeeping, Social Media, Coding, App Development

#StayHomeAndPlay: Engages older adults through cognitive games to improve their mental well-being.

Past topics: Print-to-Screen Trivia, Bingo, Word Scrambles

Despite having no prior experience with online programming, our enthusiastic volunteer programme facilitators were raring to explore the possibility of converting their learning communities to online meetups. Their willingness to step up to the challenge and their efforts spent tweaking their respective programme concepts successfully brought four of our volunteer-run learning communities to the virtual platform. The virtual approach was adopted for our major events too, namely the Time of Your Life Celebration in October, which is an annual celebration of older adults in conjunction with the International Day of Older Persons. This year’s event was held in collaboration with the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), and went fully online with a holistic spread of enriching programmes. This involved local and overseas industry experts deliberating on pertinent issues in the field of gerontology, which sought to inspire older adults to share about what sparked joy and created meaning in their lives.

Getting Older Adults Digitally Ready

Although the social distancing measures have affected all of us, it is safe to assume an uneven impact on the age groups when it comes to digital-readiness. While the younger generation would find it easier to cope with the situation because of their tech-savviness, for the older generation, who are less familiar with technology and often rely on face-to-face communication and in-store purchases, this meant a dramatic change in their lifestyle. Hence, there was an urgent need to get them digitally ready and equipped with the skills required for the new normal, such as video conferencing with their loved ones, ordering food and grocery deliveries, using electronic payment, and discerning fake news.

This was where the Virtual Digital Clinic (VDC), a collaboration with Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), came in. Seniors could join a VDC from the comfort of their own home and get their tech-related enquiries answered by a friendly volunteer during 20-minute consultation session. VDCs are held weekly and are available in our four official languages – English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, to make it accessible to all.

Promoting the Joy of Reading eBooks

For book lovers who were unable to get their regular printed reading materials from our libraries, we curated a monthly list of recommended eReads on a range of topics, such as Coming of (Old) Age Fiction, Mental Wellness, and Indoor Exercises. These lists were sent out in the form of Electronic Direct Mailers (EDMs) to our mailing list subscribers, members of our various book clubs and learning communities, as well as strategic partners who could share these EDMs with other older adults beyond our usual reach. This monthly mailer also served as a good opportunity to encourage older adults to browse our digital collections in the safety and comfort of their own home. Along the same vein, our quarterly publication, the Time of Your Life: Good Reads for the 50+ magazine is also available for download from our corporate website1. Written by librarians, this lifestyle magazine features articles on topics ranging from technology to positive ageing, serving as a resource to help older adults keep up with trends.


1 Time of Your Life: Good Reads for the 50+ (digital copy):

Though making the digital leap might seem like a huge hurdle, we encouraged older adults to take the first step with our suite of digital readiness initiatives such as the VDCs. The more tech-savvy were kept meaningfully engaged with our #StayHome programme series and curated eReads EDMs. Furthermore, we held Zoom tutorials for the public, where we supported our volunteer programme facilitators by guiding them on how to use Zoom prior to their sessions to build their confidence in conducting programmes on the virtual platform.

The world has hit the big reset button and we took this opportunity to review our offerings for older adults at the libraries. Libraries around the world face the same challenge of staying relevant, and evidently, this pandemic has only underscored the important role that libraries play – beyond just physical spaces where people borrow books and attend programmes, libraries play a vital role as learning concierges that enable and empower people with (digital) tools and skills to help them navigate the sea of information and the world beyond.


Raneetha Rajaratnam,  Director, Public Libraries Singapore


Public Librararies Section Online Business Meeting – save the date and join us!

IFLA Public Library Section next Business Meeting will be on 30th September 2020 and you are all invited.  So save the date!  We want public librarians to attend and let us know what is important to you about developing our Public library standards, we will update everyone on what is happening with the review of the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto and how we will be delivering a Public Library of the Year award while COVID-19 is still a major issue in our countries. We know that all Public libraries are being challenged by COVID-19 and how to deliver our services safely, for both our staff and our library members.  To meet this need we have organised a panel of presenters to tell us about their country’s public library response.

Hear from Carol Stump, Chief Librarian of Kirklees Council and the UK Libraries Connected president who will share their toolkits and COVID-19 guidelines for all UK libraries to work from and the challenges faced with opening libraries in the UK.  Library Director of Angelholm Libraries, Martin Memet Konick, will tell us all about the Swedish Library experience of COVID-19 and how they did not close.  Fatemeh Pazooki, will describe the Iran Public Libraries challenges and opportunities when faced with the Coronovirus situation in their country.  Sander van Kempen will focus on the Digital Services developed during the first COVID wave in the Netherlands.

Registrations will open soon.  Follow our Facebook page or our Twitter @IFLA_PLA for updates when registrations will be open.



Libraries facing up to Covid in the United Kingdom

In the Summer of 2019 it would have seemed impossible to believe the situation we’ve found ourselves over recent months, with locked down library services, and a pandemic affecting virtually every part of life around the globe.  A year ago, we’d never heard of Covid 19 but it has certainly changed our lives in a very short space of time.

Across the United Kingdom, public library buildings remained closed as they have done around the world at various stages through the pandemic.  In the UK re-opening began to appear in early July and services have dealt with the challenges of post Covid lockdown in different ways according to local needs.

UK public library services were one of the last publicly accessible networks to be closed down and staff were sent to work at home where they could at the end of March.  Since then public library staff have been engaged on a wide variety of work, some related to the service and some related to wider duties within their local authorities.

The situation required a quick change in the nature of the service we offer.  Whilst every library service in the country had some form of online library service, we quickly had to develop this at pace.  The demand for eBooks and for eAudio materials at least tripled in many areas of the country and our public library services struggled to keep up with the demand.  It has required many to find more funding to put into their online content and to increase access titles by purchasing more, as well as multiple licenses for popular materials.  Online information databases and resources also became extremely important for our customers and may suppliers have relaxed access rules and provided extra facilities for us.

We continued to keep in touch with our customers – especially we knew to be vulnerable.  Telephone “buddying” schemes became an important way of keeping homebound readers in touch with both library and wider services.  A limited number of library services managed to maintain some small delivery operations to those most in need in their communities.

Staff in our public library services got used to delivering storytimes, book groups, activities and craft sessions and a whole host of other innovations online through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Instagram.  These have really shown the talent of the  people who work in our organisations and although at times they have created ICT challenges, library teams were incredibly innovative in working round these.  In many cases, the content created was shared between services across the country to help those who have limited resources or who were asked to supply staff for other duties in their local areas.  The wealth of material available for our communities to engage with has been reflected in the collation of sites and activities on a number of websites.

Through all of this Libraries Connected came into its own as a Sector Support Organisation, particularly in the first instance as a voice of concern over the lack of government guidance on the closure of public spaces.

As the situation developed, Libraries Connected helped to promote and share the good practice of its members.  Working with other library and reading agencies, the organization collated content in one place to show the range of work going on, as well as sharing best practice through its online support network.  Our Basecamp networks allowed us to talk to each other about the day to day challenges that we faced, providing solutions, but also just a friendly response from someone in exactly the same situation.

Now that we have passed the peak in the UK, services have been allowed to re-open but on a much more limited basis.  We prepared for this by working together through “Think Ins” and a Recovery Group facilitated by Libraries Connected and Tortoise Media.  Working together and taking on board the experiences of our international contacts, we developed our own Libraries Connected toolkit which was endorsed by central government.  This has proved an invaluable resource for all of us as we look at the best fit of recovery for our own communities, and of course the possibilities for the future.

Many library services across the UK have adopted a “ring and read” or “click and collect” approach to recovering their services – customers can select or have books chosen for them to be collected at a static library.  Some services have restored limited browsing straightaway and some have restarted their mobile library services.  All this has been achieved through team and partnership working according to the needs of local communities.

We know we will never be quite the same again, and in some ways, the Covid 19 situation has forced us to develop our digital offers much more quickly than we would have been able to before.  We still have many challenges as we start to consider how we maintain some of the best of the services we have developed quickly over the past months, alongside the more traditional place based offer we have always provided.  Usage of services in the UK has been slow to recover and we expect this to continue whilst our customers regain their confidence.  We also know that we will have to deal with significant financial challenges and challenges on the services we provide and their value.  We probably all knew before Covid  how important physical spaces and resources were, but the last six months has certainly confirmed that libraries provide people with places to meet, to learn and to live.  Our challenge now will be to quantify the real need that we know exists for people to meet, share ideas, learn and develop together – we know the value of the public library offer but we now need to communicate this strongly and be part of the rebirth of society.

If you would like to see more of the work of the UK’s public library services over the past weeks, you can visit the Libraries From Home web page at Libraries Connected here

The Libraries Connected Toolkit is available here

Libraries Hacked has also brought together a collection of You Tube videos which have been aired during the “Lockdown” period  here

CILIP’s National Shelf Service has provided book reviews on a regular basis through the week and these can be seen here

Text by Mark Freeman, Libraries & information Services Manager, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council



How to turn libraries into places where human rights becomes reality?

How can we turn our libraries into places where human rights becomes reality and not just empty phrases? In Sweden, we start with the children


There is an unequal power balance between children and adults. Children can’t vote and they don’t hold any power positions in the society. As adults we have the responsibility to compensate for their lack of power. Children need our protection, but they also need our help to get their human rights fullfilled. To theirs and our help, we have the 54 articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), ratified by every country in the world, except for one.

At the moment, in Sweden the government and the public libraries are engaging on a journey towards the fullfilment of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. From the first of January 2020 Sweden has incorporated the UNCRC into Swedish law. At the moment library directors all over the country are planning for the implementation of childrens rights in their organizations, because this is the responsibility of the library leader – not the children´s librarian. One of the main principles of the UNCRC is stated in article no 3: All decisions taken in an organization should be taken with regard to the best interest of the child. A lot of important decisions which has impact on children is taken by the library leaders. The library directors play a very important role in the lives of children.

To the library directors help, and thanks to the financial support of the National Library of Sweden, every public library director has access to a tutorial in eight steps, ”Staying the Course,” helping them getting through the whole implementation process. You can access an English version of the tutorial Staying the Course for free.

There are also other national initiatives in Sweden. To promote the important role public libraries play in the lives of children, the Swedish Library Association will be handing out a new prize, the Children’s Rights Award of the Year, called the Elephant, starting in 2020. The prize is awarded to an activity or person who, in a library context, has made significant efforts strengthening the rights of children, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

At an international level, the IFLA Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section has decided in their Action Plan that the Section’s activities and focus for 2020-2021 should have the UNCRC as a point of departure.  It is also worth mentioning that implementing the UNCRC also strongly contributes to the fullfilment of several of the Sustainable Development Goals.

So join in with us in Sweden! Make your library a place where children are empowered!


If you want to know more, contact:

Ann Catrine Eriksson, Library Developer, Region Sörmland, Sweden


Share Your Thoughts and Ideas on the IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto till end of May

The IFLA/ UNESCO Public Library Manifesto has been an important achievement since it was first ratified in 1994.

The Manifesto proclaims UNESCO’s belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women. It identifies the public library as being central to freedom and equity of access to knowledge and information for all people.

Over the coming months, the IFLA Public Libraries Section will review the Manifesto, to identify areas that can be updated to ensure the document reflects the missions of public libraries today.

But we can’t do it without you! 

Read more

Bookstart Sweden

Bookstart Sweden

If you are going to do something to reduce differences in living conditions and health – read to your children! (Sir Michael Marmot epidemiologist and public health researcher at the conference Make Gothenburg Equal 2014)

The words of Sir Michael Marmot, summarize the vital importance of giving children a good start in life. That one of our most important tasks as a public library is to reach out and meet children and families. To give children a rich language, love for words, and to bring reading to life. It is especially important to prioritize and make a difference for vulnerable children and families as well as families with special needs. To create the conditions in society for all children to develop a language that is as good as possible according to their conditions, and which makes it possible to develop as individuals with the ability to actively participate in society.

Bookstart – more than just a book gift!

 In Sweden, we have had a government initiative since 2016 ”The whole of Sweden reads with the children”, where Bookstart is an early and important contribution. Bookstart Sweden’s aim is to strengthen young children’s (0–3 years) language and reading development, Getting parents and professionals discover that reading, talking, singing, and playing are important parts of the child’s continued development. Strengthen parents but also the whole family in their significant role for the child’s reading and writing development. The bookstart teams therefore have a family-centered inclusive way of working, where the child and the family’s language and needs are important. The meeting with the child and the family and the shared reading experience produce effects and ”aha experiences”. This is how a book starter expresses the wow effect; “We visited a family the second time where the dad was home too. He said to us: when you first came I thought you were nuts, you can’t read books for a six-months-old child. Now we have fun, o my God we are reading books, I’m so glad you told me.”

Bookstart is public library-driven, but in close collaboration with child health care, preschool, family centers, speech therapy, open preschools and others meeting young children. Different professions, but all with a joint assignment on young children’s language development. It is important to work together on the assignment.

To bookstart is to dare!

 ”Bookstart has changed my way of being a librarian!” A quote from a conversation about the start-up role. Daring to leave one’s comfort zone. Meeting families based on their needs. Sharing reading experiences outside the safe world of the library. To inspire others who meet children to get ”the reading infection”. To give hope to families in need of support. To challenge and want to develop library activities. Gaining insights such as Library Manager Britt-Inger Roos in Strömsund; “You almost turn dizzy when you realize  the visits really can make a difference to a person”

Short facts about Bok start Sweden:

 2014–2017: Five pilots, inspired by Bookstart England and Denmark. All Bookstart pilots tested home visits, at 6, 12 and 18 months age of the children. Mainly in socioeconomically weak areas of cities. Region Västernorrland had asylum seekers / new arrivals as target group and Region Jämtland Härjedalen tested Bookstart in smaller municipalities and sparsely populated areas.

2017-2020: Government assignment. Bookstart is now in an exploratory phase. Home visits and various other methods are tested based on local and regional conditions and needs. During the period: 28 book launch projects and 30 networks. Libraries can apply for projects or language network grants from the Swedish Arts Council. We work actively to increase, and disseminate, knowledge of young children’s language and reading development through fact sheets, articles, films and knowledge packages (multilingualism, national minorities, children’s language development and reading). Materials are free to download at

Most important of all is that we can all give children a good start in life – READ!

If you want to know more about Bookstart in Sweden, contact:

Anna Hällgren, administrator, Bookstart Sweden, Swedish Arts Council

Reading for small children, 4 films in 5 languages: English, Somali, Arabic, Persian and Swedish:

Children’s languages, fact sheets of different ages in 25 different languages. Free to download:

That’s some difference – read!

Photos: Susanne Kronholm


Recreation and Leisure time in Iranian Public Libraries

Recreation & Leisure time in Public Libraries: The Report of an Interdisciplinary Discussion.  

The Fifth National Congress of Iranian Information Science Specialists was held on November 20 and 21, 2019. The congress included more than 20 specialized panels on a variety of topics, each dealing with a range of professional librarianship and information issues. One of the permanent panels of this congress is the Public Libraries Panel, which was chaired by Fatemeh Pazooki (Head of the Standard Office of the Iran Public Libraries Foundation and a member of the IFLA Public Libraries Committee) who was accompanied by other specialists.

“We opened up this issue in spite of the challenges we encountered on a variety of issues because we had a matrix and mental framework for public libraries’ functions and duties, which were generally raised by upstream documents including the IFLA / UNESCO manifesto. Accordingly, public libraries have three main functions: Information, Education, and Recreation. The duty of Information has so far received much attention and debate, perhaps more than any other discipline in our field, in that we find ourselves famous for it and responsible to work more in this discipline. Education is the next, which has been debated and was a keynote presentation of last year’s theme of congress and has more obvious lines and policies than the Information and Recreation. However, Recreation and Leisure is a debate that seems to be largely ignored, and perhaps it can be said that it is not properly understood at all. It should be borne in mind that discussing leisure does not solely include people’s free time or recreation. Indeed, when it comes to two other functions, it conveys a concept that encompasses many of the tasks that the public library should carry out. ”

Dr. Kazemi (Faculty Member of the Research Institute for Cultural and Social Sciences) delivered his speech on the dimensions of public space and Public sphere concepts, where he pointed the differences between library public space and library Public sphere. 1. Public Sphere 2. Public space.  Public sphere is the place where individuals assemble to discuss their private or public issues. After that, he continued with a question: why do people go to parks instead of going to a public library? He said in response, “As stated, in the category of unproductive use of time or the dramatic use of time and the display of comfort, and the productive use of time for psychic or physiological discharge, as I pointed out, if humans fall into each of the spectrums (dominant or subordinate), neither of those two types of time consumption is completely shut down. It means that for a person with a purely functional entity, the dramatic use of time is not shut down completely, and unproductive use of time is not eliminated, but by imitating the dominant class, he wants to show the comfort on its own, or through his wife and children, that is why it would be minimalized (leisure).

Following that Dr. Shaghaghi (Shahid Beheshti University) was invited to talk about the concept of Leisure and Leisure time and the related institutions, as well as the distinction between these two issues; in fact, it was an introduction into the concept of leisure time versus the concept of work. He explained: “In this meeting, I would like to discuss the concept of leisure. Why do people go to parks instead of going to a public library? He said in response, “As stated, in the category of unproductive use of time or the dramatic use of time and the display of comfort, and the productive use of time for psychic or physiological discharge, as I pointed out, if humans fall into each of the spectrums (dominant or subordinate), neither of those two types of time consumption is completely shut down.

The second point about our entry into the discussion of public libraries is from a leisure angle that, as pointed out, the consumption of leisure means using time to recreate the physical or mental strength to prepare for restarting your work. Thus, all information activities that have an educational or informational aspect do not include the concept of using leisure time to recreate yourself for restarting the work, but a kind of preparation for a compulsory task, such as learning something, making a slide, learning a PowerPoint or reading a discussion in a book for a presentation, which are just a background to do a compulsory task and therefore that is a part of the task not a recreation of your intellectual or physical forces.”

Ms. Khorasanchi also enhanced in her presentation the meaning of leasure time and public libraries. “I think when it comes to leisure time in public libraries; the issue should be looked at through two perspectives: 1. audiences, 2. librarians. The usual discussion that what must a public library do? In this discussion, librarians are unconsciously considered. While the key role and the main difference between one public library and another is precisely the librarians who work there. Forget about this fact that how much authority and equipment they are given, which is something that all of us know about it. Just I would like to state that UNESCO has adopted “Open Science” as the motto of the World Science Day for Peace and Development in which the first and foremost issue is the free access to information. How much free access to information can play a role in persuading a person to come to a public library to have leisure and feel comfortable in every way and access to information? She continued by referring to the platform thinking approach and added, “The most fundamental debate in the field of platform thinking is the survival of libraries in the fourth industrial revolution, which is about to reach the fifth one. If public libraries want to preserve their functions and physical entity as much as their virtual entity, I think we should have a pack for our audience with regard to the debate of leisure time. It means that we should not consider our audience individually and alone, but families and friends together. That is, we should have some space in a public library for a group of teenagers. These are the actual experiences. When I was in charge of the Hosseinieh-Ershad Public Library, teenagers came to the library after school (and with their families on holidays) to spend their leisure time, which can be reminded as practical experiences.”

Text by: Fatemeh Pazooki, PhD Candidate of LIS, Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran.