Libro Futuro

Idea Stores and virtual room. The library as a “third place”. Mario Coffa interviews Maija Berndtson

intervista in italiano

 Maija Berndtson was Director of Helsinki City Library, Central Library for Public libraries; qualified as a librarian, obtained an master’s degree in Helsinki in 1974. Held posts as librarian in Helsinki and Espoo before becoming Director in 1987. Project member for EU supported project Lasipalatsi film and media centre under the Urban Pilot Programme Phase II, 1997-2000. Member of management board for EU supported project PubliCA (Public Libraries Concerted Action) from 1997 to 1999. Member of International Network of Public Libraries, run by Bertelsmann Foundation, since 1998. She has written many articles in Finnish library journals and authored books and has lectured at domestic and international seminars and conferences. In IFLA it was Chairperson of the Section of Library Buildings and Equipment in 1996-1998. It was member of juries in international competitions as The Cultural Centre of Turin, The Stockholm Public Library, The Deichman Library of Oslo Public Library and The Helsinki Central Library. In 1989-1990.

It was Vice-President, Finnish Library Association.

Let’s start with the current situation that has arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic: both digital tools and digital libraries have experienced a significant increase following the physical closure of libraries. Could this be the right opportunity to consolidate the “digital revolution” that has been underway for some time?

Lately libraries have been working hard to be accepted as third places, community houses or living rooms of the society. It is quite paradoxical that now the COVID-19 pandemic closes the physical libraries in many European countries. During the pandemic libraries have been forced to change the focus to digital and on-line services. Of course many libraries already have had some digital services but it has been amazing to see how innovative librarians have been to find out new ways to serve their customers. On the other hand it has been surprising how eager customers have been to use existing different e-materials like reading e-magazines, lending e-books and streaming music and films. In many countries the use of e-media has been growing rapidly in general. In these cases libraries have to secure that even they offer these services which is not always self-evident. Perhaps the new situation also speeds up providing national e-libraries.
Instead of starting counting all new innovations in European libraries I refer to EBLIDA´s report A European library agenda for the post-Covid 19 age in which there are many interesting examples of new kind of service forms. They are not all digital but the report indicates how versatile the range of library services is. But to answer your question shortly: Yes, this is the right moment to consolidate the digital revolution in libraries.

In a 2015 conference in which you participated as a speaker, we talked about library design and innovation and very interesting questions were asked about the adaptation of the spaces in the library with respect to new technologies but also what was required of the staff to complete this adjustment. After six years, what has changed? Has progress been made in this regard? What is there still to do?

There are all the time new challenges – even when we are talking about the premises. They are not as stable as we might think. The big paradigm shift was to move to 70 per cent of the space for the users, 30 per cent for the collection while before we put it in the opposite way. This idea is connected to the library´s role as a third place, a place where you can spend time and do all kinds of things. Today libraries have areas for maker spaces, different kinds of studios and even kitchens.
Now the pandemic has shown that we have to rethink even the use of the premises. For example more outdoor premises where it is possible due to the climate, generous areas indoors with the distance between the users, different doors for the entrance and for the exit etc. Not to talk about the possibilities the new technology offers like an immersive room which is a virtual reality room. It is a self-contained space that is customised with embedded or portable technology that delivers or enhances a highly immersive multimedia experience. Once inside, individuals can move around with freedom, closely replicating the real world. I present this one example just to indicate that there is no end how the library premises should undergo changes.

Today we talk about “new libraries” or “libraries 2.0”: what is the difference between the vision of a “new library” compared to the vision of the “traditional library”?

For me the “traditional library” is an institution which wants to preserve “the status quo” and is not eager to approve new services or ways to work. I would not however use expressions “new library” or “library 2.0” when I am talking about a library which is developing its services constantly. I like the phrase which some colleagues like David Lankes uses: “Library as a movement”. This expression tells that libraries and their services are not ever “finished”. They have to reflect the changes in the surrounding world and the society. At the same time we have to keep our ground and to remember that public libraries are basis for the democracy and for the equal access to information!

How important are digital skills, as well as clearly librarianship skills, in a librarian’s portfolio today?

Librarians should be experts on supplying information and knowlegde with the help of best available forms and media. Librarians need not be specialists in digital skills but they should be aware of the latest developments in the digital world. It is difficult to be competent for example in Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Virtual Reality (VR) but it is important to realize and recognize these kinds of new phenomena and to find out partners to work with. Librarians should place themselves on the one hand in the role of citizens and think what would be relevant for them to know about these new things. And on the other hand they should think how these phenomena influence on the work of the libraries and services.

Information runs on the internet and especially through social media with all the risks we know well such as that of fake news. In this dizzying and copious dance of information, how can a library filter and guarantee its veracity? Can the library and social media coexist?

Libraries cannot have a total filter function when they supply media and information. The collection always includes controversial material which can even depend on the view of the user. There does not exist only one truth and libraries should be places where you can find all kind of information. That is why that citizens and library users should always use their own criticism of sources, too. Libraries could support users by organizing courses and training in media literacy and include in those programs source criticism. With my studies in history the criticism of sources is for me natural and relevant. The library and the social media can coexist and they really should do that. Libraries have to be active in social media and on one hand to follow what it is happening there and on the other hand to produce own material for example for facebook, instagram and twitter. I recently read an interesting Princh library blog by Robin Jeanne “4 Reasons Libraries Should Have A Dedicated Social Media Page” in which is very simply explained why it is important for libraries to be active in social media. For me the problem between fake news and verified information is one of the biggest challenges libraries face today and one of the most difficult to handle with – and to answer! But in their own information libraries have to be keen on to guarantee the vericity! 

Also in Italy we look at the “Idea Store” model for libraries. What does it consist of and what are the requirements for it to be really effective with respect to the services provided?

The excellence with the “Idea Store” model is that they started with the customer surveys! They asked citizens in the borough of Tower Hamlets what kinds of needs they had and where they would like to have the service points of libraries. In my opinion it was pity that the concept of public libraries was not known well enough among the inhabitants so they changed the name of the service. But to be learned from the model of Idea Stores is that a part of the planning of library services should always include listening to our customers and to the citizens we serve!



Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa archivista e bibliotecario, laureato in Conservazione dei Beni Culturali presso l’Università degli Studi di Perugia (2005) e diplomato in Archivistica e Paleografia presso la Scuola di Archivistica dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (2010). Dal 2010 Lavora per CAeB (Cooperativa Archivistica e Bibliotecaria) presso le biblioteche dell’Università di Perugia come bibliotecario e come archivista presso l'Archivio Storico del Comune di Gubbio. Si occupa di Biblioteche Digitali e formazione in ambito di biblioteconomia digitale. Nel 2014 membro del Comitato Esecutivo Regionale dell’Associazione Italiana Biblioteche (AIB) sezione Umbria, membro del gruppo AIB sul portfolio professionale e nel triennio 2017-2020 Presidente eletto di AIB Umbria. Dal 2020 membro dell'Osservatorio Formazione dell'Associazione Italiana Biblioteche. Autore di diversi articoli e interviste per Insula Europea sul tema degli archivi, delle biblioteche e del digital lending.


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