Libro Futuro

Organizational development and strategy in the library. Mario Coffa interviews Catharina Isberg

Intervista in italiano

Catharina Isberg is Library Director of Helsingborg City Libraries since 2013. Catharina is actively working on developing the library services to best meet the need of the community on both local, regional, national and international level. Since 2011 Catharina is active in IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations) and is from 2019 part of the Management & Marketing Standing Committee. During 2019-2021 Catharina served as Division Chair and on IFLA Governing Board, IFLA Congress Advisory Committee and IFLA Professional Committee. 2011-2019 Catharina was a SC Member of IFLA CPDWL (Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning).

Catharina, can you tell us briefly about your work? Director of the Helsinborg Library. What does it mean to be a librarian in Sweden?

Free access to information and knowledge, for all, is the core of the library mission. This work promotes freedom of opinion and enable participation in the democratic society. This is of high importance in the Helsingborg Public Libraries as well as for the Swedish library sector. Digitalization is affecting our societies as well as the library business. As the information landscape changes and more of the information and knowledge becomes digital we need to change our work. New skills are needed to ensure that the library services are in line with the needs and demands of the society. The city of Helsingborg is developing and evolving with a growing population, new city districts and changed social structures. Work on smart cities, with a vision of being one of the most innovative cities in Europe and taking advantage of the possibilities of digitalization are important parts of all of the work of the city. The city library is developing and changing its operations to continue to be in line with the ambitions of the city as well as to better serve today’s society and continue to be relevant in the future. During the last years the Helsingborg public library has worked intensively with the digital divide to get more people digitally included. The services includes providing access to digital information, access to technology and the premises as well as through supervision and training performed by the library staff.

In order for this to be possible, focus is needed on library development, activities within continuing professional development as well as a change of attitude and working methods. Resources has been allocated from traditional services to form a structure supporting the needs of change as well as making digitization part of everything we do. The Helsingborg Public Libraries have 10 libraries (the main library and 9 branches), a library bus and the digital library. We organize our work according to what you work with, not where you work. Our organization has 5 departments; Search (working on the digital inclusion), Read (working on reading literacy), Digbib/Media (working on the digital library and the collection), Meet (working on the meeting place) and a support department. Being a librarian in Sweden and in Helsingborg means the same as in the rest of the world – to constantly adopt to the changed information landscape and to work close to the community as well as including the library users in the work. A movement of power is on its way, where the power moves from top management and get closer to the end users.

You are an expert in organizational development in strategy and library development. In a future vision and especially after the experience of COVID 19, what do you think are the plans and strategies that a library should implement in order to adapt to the new needs of the community?

In Sweden we have during the last years moved into a new management model which we call trust based management. This replace NPM (New Public Management) which has been the business model for the last decades. Trust based management is a model were the power and responsibilities moves closer to the patrons/users/customer by empowering those who work close to the public. The power moves from the top to the bottom if we talk with the terms of a more hierarchical organizational format. There is also less control and measurements and more follow up by dialogue. This movement had all started a year before the pandemic, but when we got hit by the pandemic and into a crisis we lost some of this trust based management and got back into the more hierarchical structure which is needed in a crisis. As the pandemic now loosen its grip, we now need to find our way back to the trust based working life. The library field needs to develop even further when it comes to collaboration and working closely with the community. The library is an important part of the democratic infrastructure and therefor needs to ensure that people can use the services also in times of crisis. This has been really visible in the pandemic. I have also seen how other departments within the city have got a new understanding of what a modern library is doing and which role we play. Our Digidel – digital competence center for the inhabitants – has played a key role in this.

Early in the pandemic we realized that in order to serve the public there was a huge need of accurate information on the pandemic and also a need to continuously get access to the digital information landscape, our computers and the skills of the librarians. We have been developing the services both virtually and in the library premises to be able to offer services in a Covid-19 safe manner. And after a year the health authorities on national and regional level contacted the library so that we can provide Covid-19 information in different languages and support inhabitants in booking of vaccination times. Of course we had already provided information on the pandemic earlier, but it was a good sign to see that the authorities recognized our work and that we play a role in this.

The pandemic has opened up for many new collaborations and at the same time some of the old collaborations have been difficult to undertake. So now we need to look into who to collaborate with, reconnect with some of the ones we lost and develop our new collaborations. Advocacy, resilience, change management and communication skills – many soft skills – are important to include into the future strategies, as I see it.

In August 2018, CPDWL was named by the Professional Committee as the winner of the inaugural IFLA Dynamic Unit and Impact Award. What did this recognition mean for you?

The IFLA Dynamic Unit and Impact Award was launched in 2018 and CPDWL (Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning) was the first winner of this. The units within IFLA – Sections as for example CPDWL or Special Interest groups (SIG) – have the greatest impact on IFLA’s global work – engaging members, developing strong leadership and identity, delivering high-quality services and communicating activities within IFLA and beyond. The DUIA Dynamic Unit Award, each year, recognizes the Professional Units who have put the expectations of a Dynamic Unit into practice. For CPDWL this was an important appreciation of the work performed within the section for many years. The award was given to the unit and not to an individual and for us within CPDWL it gave us appraisal on the work we had been doing. The award, presented at the closing ceremony of the WLIC in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was accepted by me, as then the Secretary of the Standing Committee and former Co-Chair and Information Coordinator. This was really an honor for me to be the one receiving the award on behalf of all of the CPDWL Standing Committee.

The achievements of CPDWL were highlighted in the citation: Thanks to a solid plan of activities and working methods, leading to the delivery of a variety of services to IFLA members, a broad and inclusive communication strategy, and a robust collaborative approach within and beyond its Standing Committee, this Unit is making a high-quality impact on its own membership and on a wider audience, across other IFLA units and across all areas of the profession in our transforming global library field. The Award reflects the sustained commitment and engagement of the section; Standing Committee members, extending over many years. Current and past members of the Standing Committee have contributed to the achievements of the section, encompassing best practice guidelines, conference sessions, satellite meetings, webinars, coaching programs and many publications.

The success of IFLA& Global Vision is underpinned by ongoing professional learning, underscoring the integral value and impact of the CPDWL section to the library and information profession across the world.

I was very impressed by your webinar which entitled: “IFLA as an international operator – how does it work and how can I get involved?”. Can you explain us better?

IFLA – the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions – is the global voice of libraries. As the library and information science field is changing, the need for a strong global voice is of highest importance. IFLA is covering all different types of libraries which is really a strength for the global library field. There are many important areas were IFLA is active, such as advocacy, free access to information, copyright legislation and library standards. One recent example is the update of the Public Library Manifesto which is performed by the Public Library Section together with IFLA Headquarter and UNESCO. IFLA is a very large organization with more than 1200 volunteers involved in the work. So there are many different possibilities to get engaged in the work. Either as participant in a webinar or a conference such as the yearly WLIC (World Library and Information Congress), or as a member of one of the different sections working in many different areas within the LIS field. Every other year there are elections to become a volunteer and get engaged. Next time is in 2023, so please keep your eyes open and get engaged!






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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