Libro Futuro

Reference and digital literacy. Mario Coffa interviews Adjoa K. Talke-Boateng

Intervista in italiano

Adjoa K. Talke-Boateng is a UK Librarian, based in Germany. She holds a Master of Information Science, a Master of Human Computing Interaction Design and a Bachelor of Arts in History with French. She is a member and past Chair of the Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section (MCULTP) of IFLA – the International Federation of Library Associations and institutions. She is Chair of the Professional Council at IFLA 2021-2023.

To begin, can you tell us briefly about your work and what do you do?

First of all, Mario, I would like to say thank you for inviting me to be part of this amazing project. The interviews highlight and reinforce why I am pleased to say that I am a Librarian. To answer your question – I work collaboratively and consistently across organisations to generate, capture and share knowledge, information and learning. The goal is to help make inclusiveness a real and operational element of Information service design and development. At BirdLife International this has taken the form of my management of the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas (WDKBA). The WDKBA has been developed working in partnership with twelve other global conservation organizations. My lived experiences, in combination with several years of practical and managerial experience across the scope of the Librarianship arena, have been central. My early training and work in Academic and Reference Librarianship gave me the opportunity to develop a holistic insight into identifying barriers faced by many library users when trying to access and understand complex data. My role as a Librarian has given me the opportunity to work with diverse, cross-functional teams.

From your experience in London, what does it mean to be a librarian in the UK?

I have loved being a Librarian and am fortunate as this was my number one career choice. My experience, from well over twenty years of being a Librarian in the UK, has been that the many achievements have been accompanied by many challenges. Of course, many of these challenges are global, which is one of the reasons I joined IFLA. In the UK, Librarians are respected and valued by the general public and their local communities. This can be seen in the manner in which cuts and closures to public libraries have been fought. Although it is often a challenge to secure budgets in Academia, Library services are usually a key selling point of universities when seeking prospective students. The need to improve diversity and inclusion particularly at senior levels remains a key challenge to being a Librarian in the UK. It is important that Libraries especially reflect the communities that they serve because Libraries enable community and social success.

You are Vice Chair of the Professional Committee at IFLA. What are your thoughts on the recognition of the librarian profession?

A brief online search ‘how to become a Librarian’ gives an idea of the level of work required to achieve formal accreditation around the world. Library workers often spend many more years gaining a unique and invaluable level of skills alongside their experience. Wherever I travel in the world when I tell people that I am a Librarian they are respectful. We are in a service profession – as is well known ‘Knowledge is Power’ and we provide the tools and time to develop levels of literacy that empowers people to access much needed information often at the point of need.

You have been running the reference service at the British Library for many years. Given your experience, what are the needs most requested by users when they arrive at the library?

Did you know that users who have registered to use the British Library Information resources are referred to as ‘Readers’? It’s an interesting term that gives some idea about the systems in place. Time and time again users visiting the British Library for the first time have told me that they found the initial experience to be quite overwhelming. The building is impressive however, in normal times there is usually so much happening, for example, exhibitions, many Tourists and regular users who research, study and work in the building. Finding the information wanted requires the help of the Reference Team. This is the same both physically and online because users are working with systems that are unfamiliar. It is also possible to ask the Reference teams for help finding more resources using the remote enquiry service ‘Ask a Librarian’. You do not have to be a ‘Reader’ to use this service. Can I add that outside of the Reference rooms, I was often asked where visitors to the library could find and see ‘Paradoxymoron’, by Patrick Hughes.

Can the digital literacy process, which accelerated sharply after the tragic experience of COVID 19, transform libraries and complement the traditional working methods of the librarian?

I think to answer this question I would need to better understand what is meant by ‘traditional working methods of the librarian’. My view is that Librarians have always evolved to meet the needs of their communities. This is Continuous Professional Development and the digital literacy process is a contributing factor. My work and being an active member of IFLA, has kept me informed of the many ways in which Librarians across the world work to support Digital Literacy. I have had the privilege of working with and meeting Librarians who use different skills and methods to answer the Digital Literacy needs of the communities that they serve. Reference, Academic Liaison, Knowledge Managers, Archivists, Data Managers, Frontline Service providers there are so many different job titles, the common factor is that they are all specialists in the library work and services that they provide. The benefits of Digital Literacy have been highlighted by the experience of COVID 19. Neutral and accessible teaching, training and development is important and needed. This is a fast-evolving process, particularly when measured with reference to the activities of the Big Tech companies and also the political usage of personal data. This pace makes it hard to give a universal or comprehensive definition of what total Digital Literacy means or how it can be recognised. The Wikipedia definition of Digital literacy gives a basic overview of an individual’s ability to find, evaluate, and clearly communicate information through typing and other media on various digital platforms. It is evaluated by an individual’s grammar, composition, typing skills and ability to produce text, images, audio and designs using technology. Despite the lack of a definition, the work done by Librarians makes a difference which can be seen through projects such as the ‘Library Map of the World’.





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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