Report from EBLIDA Council and Conference, 13-14 May, Athens
EBLIDA Council Meeting
The 22nd EBLIDA Council meeting was held on 13th May. Items on the agenda included:
Approval of new members/dismissals
Council approved four new members, two dismissals and seven cancellations (including Donegal County Library). EBLIDA currently has 112 members (48 full, 64 associate).
Presentation of 2013 Annual Report
The Annual Report focused on EBLIDA’s activities in relation to the work programme 2013-2014. It is available online at http://www.eblida.org/about-eblida/strategy-and-annual-report.html.
Reports from Expert Groups
- Expert Group on Information Law (EGIL)
The group has been actively working for copyright reform. Recent activities include preparation of the EBLIDA response to the EU copyright consultation and contribution to the C4C joint answer wizard. EGIL will continue as a large expert group with small work groups for specific subjects, including data protection, the PSI Directive and the EU-US Free Trade Agreement. EGIL participated in three working groups in relation to Licensing for Europe, which is dominated by commercial entities such as publishers and producers. A joint meeting was held between E GIL and the IFLA Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) which was also attended by LIBER, to discuss the breakdown of talks relating to copyright exceptions for libraries and archives at the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright & Related Rights (SCCR) in early May.
- Expert Group on Culture and Information Society (EGCIS)
EGCIS has connections with Culture Action Europe and is preparing a position paper on libraries and literacy in Europe which is due for completion by the end of May. Information literacy will play an essential role in the future of libraries and the group wants to promote awareness of its importance amongst national library associations. European Literacy Day is scheduled for 8th September 2015 and a conference will be held in Riga on that day.
Right to e-read Campaign
Gerald Leitner, Chair of the Task Force on e-books reported that the right to e-read campaign was the hot topic of the year. There are six members of the Task Force, which is supported by the Expert Group on Information Law (EGIL). There is a lot of uncertainty in the e-book market at present and publishers are struggling to develop a business model to address the different markets for print and e-books. This has resulted in confusion for booksellers and readers. Current copyright law favours publishers, and collection development policies are being dictated by publishers not libraries. E-books can’t be owned, shared with friends or family or inherited. EBLIDA and IFLA are both very concerned about the issue and a number of events and public presentations have been organised to raise awareness and greater understanding. A website for the campaign was launched in January 2014, with promotional material translated into 21 languages, and press conferences held across Europe. There are currently 10,000 signatures on the petition and the aim is to increase this to 10 million by the end of October when the new Commission is appointed. There was a discussion on the likely effect of European and national elections on copyright law, and it was felt that a shift to the left would have little impact, as left wing politicians are supportive of rights holders such as artists and writers as well as libraries.
There is €129k on the balance sheet and unpaid debt of €8k. There was a surplus on an EU grant at the end of 2012 and it is still unclear if this will need to be paid back. The EU Executive Agency has requested proof from the tax authorities that EBLIDA is exempt from VAT as a non-profit organisation. Expenditure relating to the right to e-read campaign is high and the 2014 budget reflects this.
Work Programme 2014-2015
The work programme reflects the key policy areas in the EBLIDA Strategy 2013-2016: bridging libraries in Europe, enhancing access to information and ensuring sustainability. Activities include campaigning, lobbying the EC, MEPs and national politicians, monitoring developments in copyright & information society, and co-operation with peer organisations and other stakeholders.
Next Council Meeting and Conference
The 2015 Council/Conference will be held at the new National Library in Riga, Latvia from 7-9 May 2015. The conference theme is “Building a Europe of Readers”.
IFLA are distributing a letter from national associations asking the EU to engage constructively in discussions relating to copyright exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives after the breakdown of talks at WIPO in early May. The LAI has endorsed the letter.
A reception and tour of the Greek National Library for Council members was held in the evening.
The joint conference was held on 14th May at the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, and 120+ delegates attended. The conference theme was "Libraries in transition. Changes? - Crisis? - Chances!"
Giorgos Glossiotis, President of the Association of Greek Librarians and Information Scientists (EEBEP) opened the conference with a quote from Heraclitus - “no-one can cross the same river twice”, likening books/information to a flowing river. He also quoted Bob Dylan’s famous lyrics “the times they are a-changing”, noting that it is a difficult transition to a digital world, particularly for public libraries.
Session 1: Libraries in transition
- The literacy role of libraries in Europe
H.R.H. Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands spoke about the link between literacy and libraries and the initiatives she is involved with. Libraries need to be attractive and relevant to deliver the services required. We need to “build the bridge as we walk on it” and position ourselves in the midst of political debate. As Einstein said “those with the privilege to know have the duty to act”. There are opportunities to co-operate at European level rather than re-inventing the wheel. The Princess is the founder of a reading and writing foundation and is a member of the EU High Level Expert Group on Literacy. Anyone interested in collaborating is invited to contact the office in Brussels.
- “Strong libraries, strong societies”
IFLA President Sinikka Sipilä gave an overview on IFLA’s role and activities. IFLA is the leading international body representing library and information professionals, with 1400 members in 150 countries. IFLA promotes high standards of library and information services, and its core mission is to create a nation of informed citizens. A legal framework is needed for strong libraries, both constitutionally and through legislation, as legal and policy support provides justification. IFLA provides a comprehensive programme offering a strategic and co-ordinated approach to capacity building and sustainability of library associations. A recent survey found that 80% of Finns are regular library users and 73% of respondents said libraries have improved their quality of life. Decision makers must be made aware of the benefits and needs of libraries. “A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life” - Henry Ward-Beecher. Strong societies have informed citizens who participate actively in society, and are open, equal and democratic. New technologies will transform the global information economy and expand access but also present barriers. Hyper-connected societies and online learning will transform data protection. IFLA are working on an advocacy document for a post-2015 development framework, the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development, which will be launched at the World Library & Information Congress in August.
- Libraries in transition and beyond
A panel discussion followed the presentations, and participants were asked to comment on their vision for the future. IFLA President Sinikka Sipilä said the future is unclear and change is taking place too quickly for regulations to follow. It is important to promote reading and understanding of information and life on a deeper level, rather than in scattered forms as with social media. Mobile devices will become more predominant, and equal access to information is increasingly important, e.g. for a bigger elderly and visually impaired user base.
Interim NAPLE President Jan Braeckman said the impact of new technology has led to a power struggle that is financially motivated and has an economic impact. Policy makers are questioning the playground of the state vs the private sector, and technology/media companies e.g. Google are looking at context as well as players in the information game. People have a different way of dealing with information – they no longer search for in-depth knowledge, and are interacting with other people as well as books. A computer science student predicted that Information is changing the way we think, and in future there will be a direct connection between the brain and the internet.
EBLIDA President Klaus-Peter Böttger said the industry is creating a digital divide between those who can pay and those who can’t. Developing the library as place and an independent learning centre will be a factor in resolving this divide.
Parallel Sessions: 1. Changes? 2. Crisis? 3. Chances!
I attended the first session on changes which included three presentations and a brief opportunity for interactive discussion.
Gerald Leitner (Austrian Library Association, EBLIDA Executive Committee and IFLA Governing Board) referred to the IFLA Trend Report which was written by experts from a range of fields and is available online at http://trends.ifla.org/. The amount of digital content created in 2011 amounts to several million times all the books ever written. The global information economy will be transformed by new technologies, and digital trends are on a on a course for collision. Boundaries of data protection and privacy will be redefined, and online education will transform and disrupt traditional learning. We have information at our fingertips- but what should we do with it? People who lack skills will face barriers to inclusion in a growing range of areas. If online education is free, how much is it worth? Permanent out-of-school education is important. Expanding data sets held by governments and companies will support the advanced profiling of individuals. This has serious consequences for individual privacy and trust in the online world. Hyper-connected societies will listen to and empower new voices and groups. There is a need for more transparency and citizen-focused public services. Many governments are filtering access to information, which is censorship. Guy Daines of CILIP pointed out that a change in skills/employment is as important as technology. I raised the question as to what are the core skills of a librarian/information professional that can be applied regardless of technological environment or sector – we need to create awareness and promote a sense of professional identity on a universal level rather than questioning our role/value as a response to any new technological development.
Eva Semertzaki (Bank of Greece Library) spoke about the socio-economic aspects of changes in Greek libraries. Libraries are continuing to transform to meet society’s changing needs. Public libraries are important because they promote literacy and love of reading, and also provide technical resources. School libraries in particular are feeling financial pressures driven by the recession. There are some signs of economic recovery in Greece. There are 46 public libraries, and a new National Library is scheduled for completion in 2016 as part of a project to develop a cultural centre at a cost of €600 million. Changes in library staff competencies are required, and we need to think creatively and outside the box. Libraries need to be user centric and serve as a one-stop-shop.
Ioannis Tsakonas (University of Patras Library) gave a presentation on the technological state of Greek libraries. Change is not to be feared but embraced, as all entities move and nothing remains still. Technology is not an isolated concept - it involves a different type of interaction with our audience. Reusability and device agnosticism (compatibility across different systems) are the keys, and being on the move means being in the cloud. There is low penetration of e-books in the Greek market at present, with few shops, elementary formats and no sophisticated models. The Kallipos e-book project and HEAL consortium of academic libraries are innovators in the area of open data. There are opportunities for public/private sector co-operation, and centralised technological solutions as a response to scarcity of resources. Academic libraries are transforming into information hubs, and public libraries into community hubs. The Media Lab Future Library project (http://medialab.futurelibrary.gr) is an initiative which aims to provide a blueprint for creativity, collaboration, innovation and learning in public libraries. It uses virtual worlds and digital storytelling to transform information literacy programmes. Information literacy is a public good, regardless of technology or format.
Wrap-up session: Round table
A keynote speaker from each session provided a summary of the key points covered.
It is difficult to make predictions regarding the future. 20 years ago the death of libraries was predicted and this didn’t happen. Instead there has been investment in new library buildings, including design competitions. The strength of libraries/librarians is the ability to change and to respond to technology. We cannot drive change, but need to react to it and identify opportunities. The IFLA Trend Report is a useful resource for the development of changes in the library world. It doesn’t provide answers, but demonstrates important trends for the development of libraries, technological changes and economic and sociological frameworks.
The session looked into how the crisis is affecting libraries and the actions taken to overcome the crisis. There are two main effects of the crisis: public library closures and significant budget cuts in key areas, including collection, personnel, and co-operation. Libraries are operating as shelters, and people are citizens, not consumers. We must engage in an innovative way with publishers, universities and foundations. There is a large cartel in the publishing industry, and small independent publishers need to co-operate with libraries. Evidence is needed to demonstrate the social value of libraries, and it is important to negotiate and speak a common language. Libraries can operate with cuts by redefining the role of librarians, retraining and being prepared.
The crisis has created opportunities. Public libraries are incorporating new technologies and taking exciting new routes. They are reaching out to the community and giving more control to users, which allows time for librarians to be more productive. There is increased demand on services due to the recession, and we need greater awareness that libraries are an investment. Librarians can become part of the political agenda, by supporting job seeking and an aging population in Europe and worldwide. We have to provide appropriate services, and contribute to enhancement of basic skills and lifelong learning abilities.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Klaus-Peter Böttger wrapped up the conference by posing the question what can be resolved? He remarked that society is not aware of the importance of libraries, and the responsibility lies with us. We have to change, and as with running a marathon this begins by taking one step at a time to get to the finish, while avoiding the fate of Pheidippides! EBLIDA will host an advocacy workshop at beginning of November for delegates from national associations and new MEPs and Commissioners.
A cultural excursion took place on 15th May, including visits to the archaeological site at Mycenae, the city of Nafplio, and the Anthos Fougaro library/cultural multispace.
Some of the cultural excursion group enjoying the sights at Mycenae. Photo: Jean-Marie Reading