SLA Europe member Brie Grey-Noble talks about her recent experiences at ILI 2011.
One of the most interesting sessions that I attended as part of last month’s Internet Librarian International conference was Library Users in Turbulent Times, which featured three very compelling presentations. All three speakers explored some of the ways that librarians can act as agents for social change. The presentations motivated me to look at the different ways that I might use my skills as a librarian to help others, foster communication and provide access to information in uncertain times.
The first speaker, Kayo Chang, gave an interesting presentation on how the uprisings in the Middle East affected her workplace, the Library Learning Centre (LLC) at Bahrain Polytechnic. Prior to the protests in Bahrain, the LLC had developed a visible and active online presence on various social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter. Following the protests, internet access in the country was limited and a number of sites were no longer accessible. On campus, students were no longer able to access Facebook or Twitter. This meant that the LLC was no longer able to communicate with its users through these channels. In addition, students were being arrested for posts they had made on their accounts during the protests and after. In order to address many of the issues surrounding the use of social media and the political climate in the country, the LLC has been working to develop and deliver media literacy sessions to its community members. It has also meant that the LLC has had to look at other ways to keep its users informed of the events and services it offers.
The second presentation was delivered, via Skype, by Fuda Kulenovic who spoke about the role of libraries in post-conflict societies, specifically making reference to his own experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He began by explaining some of the consequences of war (disinformation, miscommunication, destruction, loss of trust and no conversation) and described some of the challenges that librarians may face in a post-conflict society stressing the important role that we, as librarians and information professionals, can play in such a society. By recognizing that he could help his community by providing access to reliable information he sought to create spaces where dialogue could take place and questions could be answered. This meant taking on the role of the “embedded librarian” and creating libraries/information centres wherever possible. These “libraries” weren’t necessarily buildings filled with books, but shared public spaces, such as cafes, where ideas were shared and discussions could take place. He stressed the our role is to facilitate information sharing and to build communities wherever possible.
The third, and final, presentation of this session was delivered by Maria Cotero, who spoke about the African Prisons Project. The purpose of the project is to provide prisoners in African prisons with access to literacy programs and reading materials. Many people currently in prison in countries such as Uganda are illiterate. The low literacy rate has contributed the large number of people currently in prison in some African countries. For example, in many cases, a prisoner may have signed a written confession that they were unable to read. The African Prisons Project is working to increase literacy and provide prisoners with access to information that up until now has not been available to them.
The idea of a global society is something that I encounter in my day-to-day life. The way I, and many people around the world, communicate has changed rapidly and the rise of the internet and social media as enabled us to communicate more quickly than ever. However, equitable access to information and technology is not available globally. Various factors may limit access to information, be it to books and traditional print media or e-resources and other web-based information. That is why it is so essential to be willing to adapt our skills and provide our communities with the best information and services we can provide regardless of the circumstances. This can mean creating spaces for communication and sharing information, re-thinking strategies for reaching our users or even leaving our traditional environments to go directly to our users to give them our help.
A lot of what I learned over the course of the conference had to do with accepting and adapting to change. This session highlighted that there is more to this idea than just being on top of trends. Of course, keeping up to date and embracing new technologies is important, but being able to recognize the needs of the user community and being flexible in the way services are delivered is also essential.
Brie can be contacted via or on Twitter @briegn.