The 2017 IFLA WLIC took place in Wroclaw, a lovely city in the southwestern region of Poland from 19 to 25 August, 2017. With the theme Libraries. Solidarity. Society, the congress brought together thousands of representatives of the library field. IFLA’S Global Vision brainstorming that started earlier this year in Athens, Greece continued in Wroclaw, and as Donna Scheeder, IFLA President expressed, the delegates got together “to explore how a connected library field can meet the challenges of the future. Hopefully the final report will be released soon. Library staff around the world will be encouraged to vote supporting (or not) the document when the final draft is released.
One of the highlights of the congress for me was the Social Science Libraries one-day workshop titled Understanding Your Library from the Inside Out: A Workshop in Library Ethnography for User Assessment. Our workshop leader was Celia Emmelhainz, Anthropology and Qualitative Research Librarian from UC Berkeley and our keynote speaker was Lynn Silipigny Connaway, Senior Research Scientist and Director of User Research at OCLC. We were very fortunate to hold the workshop in a brand new library facility at Wroclaw University Library. The workshop, capped at thirty participants, attracted participants from twelve countries affiliated with eleven IFLA units, and eight librarians from the host institution also joined the workshop. Through hands on exercises, we learned the importance of qualitative assessment of library services in capturing the behaviors of elusive library users. These rich and nuanced data provides important information to support decisions about resources and services. Despite her busy schedule during the congress, Dee Magnoni was able to join us at the workshop. So did Kay Cassell, faculty emerita from SC&I, LIS.
Qualitative assessment was mentioned a few times during the congress. Jim Neal, the ALA President, stressed the importance for the libraries to depart from simple statistics collection and focus on the context and relationships beyond the numbers. The ethnography in libraries was also mentioned in Dona Scheeder’s remarks during the congress opening. Clearly the library leaders recognize the need to go beyond the numbers to gain access to rich and meaningful information in order to shape future direction of libraries.
Organizing this workshop in Wroclaw while in New Jersey was extremely challenging. I was fortunate to work with Grażyna Piotrowicz, Director of Wroclaw University Libraries, who shared her local knowledge and invaluable insights with me. I was also assisted by Rutgers University Libraries/Rutgers University colleagues who put me in touch with key individuals and provided significant administrative assistance. It really took a village to make the ethnographic workshop successful!
Head, Margery Somers Foster Center & Women’s Studies Librarian
Former Chair of IFLA, Social Science Libraries Section