Next Library 2017: An International Library Conference

This summer I had the pleasure of attending Next Library 2017, an annual gathering of library professionals and innovators from around the world with a vested interest in furthering the work of libraries everywhere. With more than 38 countries represented, the conference offers a sneak peek into the inner workings and successes of libraries all over the world. As I found out, it seems libraries, regardless of type and region, seem to share many of the same core challenges: funding, understanding community needs, generating program ideas, staying current with technology, and making connections with those we serve. In many ways, this conference is a celebration of diverse libraries and the great strides they are making despite these challenges and how other libraries can benefit.

Dokk1 Library in Aarhus, Denmark

Here are the highlights:

• Fran Galovic Public Library in Croatia hosts extremely popular Tedx talks that are given by people in the community.

• Nashville Public Library has a Seed Exchange which gives seeds to patrons (patrons bring back seeds from the plants they grow). They also have something called Boom Box, which is online streaming of free songs by local musicians, available to anyone. The library also hosts Wishing Chair Productions which is their own resident theater troupe.

• CLAC (Center for Reading and Cultural Activities) of Yaounde  in Cameroon offers afterschool tutoring using Khan Academy.

• Various Danish libraries offer a pairing service where they pair up seniors who want to learn new hobbies with those who are willing to teach.

• Peer 2 Peer University is a community based platform using learning circles that receive content from facilitators online.

• Gary Soh, with the National Library Board in Singapore, shared a quote by Pete Cashmore, “We’re living at a time when attention is the new currency.” He presented different ideas about interactive displays as a way to garner and keep patron attention. He showed pictures of cherry blossom trees where patrons could pick a book off of the branches, book displays where people could rearrange words to form new sentences, and reader’s advisory pamphlets that have a piece of a poster printed on the back. The patron would need to collect all of the reader’s advisory pamphlets in order to put together the whole poster.

• Michael Stephens, Assistant Professor at San Jose State University School of Information, presented about understanding, empathy, and caring as themes of librarianship. Afterward, there was time to speak one-on-one with presenters and I asked him if he had any ideas on how to teach these characteristics to children and teens through programs. He mentioned facilitating a program for children and teens in which they spend time creating something together in a meaningful way. A few ideas I had were a quilt or art installation where each child decorates their own piece (theme could be what each child needs to succeed in life or what a perfect world looks like) which is put together to form one piece. The piece could be temporarily hung in a local government office where the artists can visit it and see that their words have weight, are important and can cause change.

• One library has reading volunteers which visit patrons in their homes to read to them as a way to connect with the homebound and provide a social experience.

• Chicago Public Libraries has a giant Jenga set that they take to local fairs and events. What a fun introduction to the library as a place for more than just books!

• Boulder Public Library has a Makerspace called BLDG 61 where participants can partake in sewing, laser and wood cutting, metalworking, 3d printing and kiln work.

Boulder Public Library and their makeshop, BLDG 61. They had a wooden map with the world and corresponding flags that conference participants could decorate with a motor and/or LED lights and a battery. By the end of the conference, the map was filled with all of the different countries.

• Dokk1 Library in Aarhus, Denmark offers civil services such as passport, marriage, license, tax info, resident and work permits, in addition to regular library functions.

The robot at work at Dokk 1. Each night when the library closes, he sweeps the building in search of missing collection items.

• Clinton-Macomb Public Library checks out Cricut dies, wireless speakers, hotspots, and a party package which includes a 14ft outdoor movie screen with projector and speakers. They also offer drive-up services.

Helsinki City Library offers support services for immigrants and hosts social events where they can get to know and learn from each other. The library also hosts IGS, Information Gas Station, which is just like an online manned Google.

Cultuurconnect in Brussels assists libraries in offering a Business Model Masterclass and provides technical equipment, manpower, and expertise. This is a cheap way for people with business ideas to flesh them out, see if it works and move on to the next phase of development.

City Library in Abuja Nigeria provides literacy, art and technology classes and entrepreneurship training for community members. They grant certificates, assist members with selling their art, and showcased one of their graduates who went on to become a professional photographer. 

Kennemerwaard Library in the Netherlands connects people with local groups, organizations and businesses according to interests. Examples include mediation groups, food co-ops, Earth-friendly food producers, and artist events.

During a Q & A session with a speaker and a group of participants, we began to chat about how some of these successful programs and activities are formed. I asked, “How did you know this program would be successful? How did you know partnering with that organization would lead to a popular program? How did you choose which activities to offer? Much of the consensus was that librarians did not know which programs/activities/partnerships were going to be successful and which ones were not. They simply tried a number of things until they came upon something the public enjoyed. It is my hope that in sharing these highlights, readers will be able to try some of these ideas at their own branch. For, as I learned from listening to the global roster of speakers, patrons, regardless of country, all want the same thing: a place to grow, connect, learn, and add value to their lives.

Shana Hinze is a Branch Manager with the Miami-Dade Public Library System.