Libro Futuro

The challenges of the librarian and libraries. Mario Coffa interviews Barbara Lison

Intervista in italiano

Barbara Lison since almost 30 years has been working as Director of the Public Library system of Bremen, one of the largest public library systems in Germany. She is an educated librarian with university degrees in Slavonic studies, History and Educational theory.

Besides her duties in Bremen library Barbara has been actively advocating for libraries on national and international levels. She had several offices in different library related associations, having served as President of the German Library Association, dbv, and President of Bibliothek Information Deutschland, BID, the national umbrella organisation of German library and information associations. She has also held leadership positions in the European Bureau for Libraries, Archives and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA), including Executive Committee member and Vice-President. She has been a member of IFLA´s Governing Board, held the position of Treasurer and IFLA President-elect. Her term of Presidency is from August 2021 to August 2023. She is an expert on any aspect of the management of libraries, especially innovation, HRM, customer orientation and change management.

I would like to start, taking advantage of your role as President-elect 2019-2021, to ask you some questions about the objectives you proposed in the application phase and first: how IFLA can help empower libraries globally and create a vision for their future?

Actually, when you look at my Statement for Candidacy of 2019 then you can find the objectives which are still relevant and which I am still seeing as my task as IFLA President:

-“the worldwide enhancement of libraries, especially in the successful implementation of their vision for the future”;

– “ensuring the acknowledgement of the libraries; important role for the knowledge society in the digital age”;

– “taking further action in IFLA’s International Advocacy Program with regard to the UN-Sustainable Development Goals”;

– “engaging myself to secure open access, fair copyright and fair e-lending conditions”;

– “strengthening and further developing the IFLA’s governance structure based on my longterm expertise in the governance of library associations”;

– “ensuring IFLA’s financial sustainability and strength to act effectively on a global scale”.

Another question that I have often asked other colleagues: how can we contribute to consolidate the role of libraries and above all that of the librarian profession?

Well, from my point-of-view the keyword here is “ADVOCACY”. We have learned how to be good professionals, how to organise the services of our library, but we still have to learn how we represent our interests to the “outer world”, to the politicians and opinion leaders. And we must not be too shy and modest – that seems to be a characteristic of many members of our profession. On the contrary, we must tell forcefully and proactively our success stories to the world. It’s worthwhile!

You are very present on social networks (Facebook, Linkedin): especially after the dramatic experience of Covid 19, do you believe that the digital revolution that has been going on for years can finally be consolidated in libraries too? In this sense, can social networks also help this process?

The Pandemic has definitely enhanced the scope of application of digital technology everywhere, and in many libraries as well. Now it is almost normal to use communication platforms like Zoom or Teams and this will continue even after the Covid-19 crisis. But there is also a broader presence of library services in the Internet, on social media platforms. Especially the public libraries have developed new online services which were already rather “normal” for the academic and research libraries. I think that the Pandemic was kind of “helpful” for the libraries in that way that the funding bodies were more motivated to finance the necessary technology and even licenses for the extended digital presence of the libraries.

As Director of the Bremen Public Library, can you briefly explain to us what the situation of libraries and librarians is like in Germany?

The situation of the German libraries is in general rather good. Libraries are acknowledged as relevant institutions for research, education and culture. The resources for the libraries come mainly from taxpayers’ money. The political and administrative responsibility for the public libraries is with the respective local municipality, whereas the research and university libraries are organisationally located in the administration of the 16 States. Unfortunately, Germany is one of the few countries without a national library law, which makes strategic working on a national level very complicated. There generally is an urban-rural gap when it comes to services, equipment, furnishings and quality of spaces, which unfortunately is reinforced, by a typical north-south divide. Most librarians in Germany are civil servants and have a secure regular income that is based on a collective salary agreement for the public service.

One of your last conferences had the title: “librarian, a profession with many challenges”. I would add, many challenges for the best job in the world. But how can we best address these challenges?

I don’t have a solution for everybody, of course. However, I have a solution for myself, for my professional life. This is the willingness to be useful for society, to serve as facilitator in the knowledge world and contribute to the development of the knowledge society. Therefore, I have always been striving to ready myself to respond to ongoing change, and, if possible, to be able to pre-empt it, in order to ensure the sustainability of our institutions and of our profession to the benefit of our users. This is the core meaning of my Presidential theme: Libraries Building a Sustainable Future. I believe that this is the best approach how we will ensure a sustainable future for IFLA itself, and hence create a strong and united library field that enables and powers literate, informed and participatory societies.



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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