Hard work and playfulness at Internet Librarian International

David E Bennett reflects on some of the key themes that emerged from #ILI2015.

Packed with highly varied content, strategic opportunities, technologies and innovations, ILI2015 demonstrated how courageous and innovative libraries and librarians are re-imagining their roles to meet the needs of changing society.

A playful approach benefits everyone

Playful learning helps create courageous, empathetic, compassionate, fearless learners.  Libraries are therefore becoming fun, enabling spaces where anyone interested in facilitating learning can come together to develop learning communities: engaging activity centres where community groups and organisations help children learn to code their own games and constructively destroy and rebuild things to find out how they work. We heard case studies from a mobile makerspace in Australia, the creation of a FabLab in Danish schools and got our hands on 'playful technology' in the conference's 'X Track'

Libraries themselves need the courage to adapt to changing times and actively work to shape the future. Developing playful workspaces where librarians are unafraid to push the boundaries and where it is accepted perfect planning and certain outcomes are not always possible.  The idea of playful work inspired delegates as a powerful way to deliver the radical changes the world now demands of libraries.

Supporting and leading clients

Adapting naturally to support the varied ways their clients found information, the University of Utrecht developed a browser extension that locates the full text, catalogue holding or suggests an interlibrary loan request for any resource discovered online, teaching their clients to become scholars and expect to have to seek out information.

Collaborating and sharing

As PayPal and Google have demonstrated, open source licensing means many hands can make light work of development.  

In Norway, an source public library system has been developed using open source platform WordPress and collaboratively developed plugins to offer all its libraries highly customisable web services with tools supported by a large development community.

Moving with our clients and taking control through open source platforms rather than serving as procurement specialists for other vendors’ systems allows libraries to become more agile and responsive. 

Safeguarding democracy through information literacy

Librarians are one of the leading hopes for preserving an informed democracy, ideally positioned actively to oppose censorship and counter political and social pressures that threaten the freedom of expression.  Learners need to understand how the world they see online is being tailored by search engines, how what they discover is being limited by invisible filters held up in front of their eyes.  Those uncritically turning to social media as a source of knowledge need to learn how to find unbiased information, trace facts to their source, understand bias, and verify whether what they read is true.  Librarians are well placed to help teach them. 

Librarians can also help preserve freedom of expression by questioning the censorious movement in education that seeks to create emotionally safe spaces where students are protected from anything that might offend them.  Students at some institutions are excused from studying arguments they might find offensive, depriving them of the vital developmental experience of refuting wrong claims and narrowing their experience of the world.

Frightened, ill-informed citizens are easy to manipulate.  Librarians are ideally positioned to help young people develop the skills that will set them free and halt the 'infantilisation of society'.  We are needed more now than ever before.

David E Bennett is Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University of Portsmouth.  He is writing here in his personal capacity after volunteering to act as a Roving Reporter at the Internet Librarian International conference held in London in October 2015.