Libro Futuro

From Luxembourg to a global vision of libraries. Mario Coffa interviews Jean-Marie Reding

Intervista in italiano

Jean-Marie Reding hasworked with him in various departments of the National Library of Luxembourg since 2000 and is the head of the [newly created] special collection “Library and history of books in Luxembourg”). President of the Association of Luxembourg Librarians, Archivists and Documentary Makers (ALBAD – ), 2003-2016, he is also Vice President for International Affairs. As a “library lobbyist” since 2003 President of the ALBAD Policy Corps he is also editor of the Luxembourg Guide to Libraries (Lëtzebuerger Bibliothéiksguide) since 2005. Co-founder and general secretary of the Luxembourg Association of Public Libraries (ULBP – www. ), 2007-2009 and board member as President of the national ex libris (ex libris) Association, Cercle Pierre Roberti, since 2018. Co-founder and president of the national fundraising organization for public libraries, FëBLux (Fir Ëffentlech Bibliothéiken, Lëtzebuerg) since 2009. Treasurer of EBLIDA (European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations) for the three-year period 2016-2021. He has published several articles on the history and politics of libraries in Luxembourg.

Jean-Marie, can you briefly tell us what pushed you to the world of libraries?

First, I was conscious that I never could get all the knowledge of world history into my brain. That’s why I wanted to work in an environment where I could easily get the data I could not memorise. Second, I was always impressed by the highly respected status of a rural or small town librarian in society, being, next to the priest and the teacher, one of the intellectuals in a community.

What does it mean to be a librarian in Luxembourg? Is there formal recognition of the profession?

The advantage of a Lilliput state like Luxembourg is that you can become a pioneer in a lot of library fields. My country unfortunately has no big library tradition, especially in the area of public libraries, “where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration“ (Andrew Carnegie), where you are learning to read first (with love) before you are reading to learn (for school). To reply to the second question: with a lot of lobbying efforts on national level, the librarians’ association ALBAD managed to get a satisfying (not good enough) formal recognition of our profession in the scope of academic and school libraries in the public sector in the last 20 years. Unfortunately, this is not the case in public libraries. On the other side the country is suffering a serious lack of qualified librarians, which have to be formed abroad (most favourite schools: Cologne, Germany, and Liège, Belgium), but still are obliged to have the following language skills: Luxembourgish, German, French AND English. Our challenging and quite varied (European) language situation is complicating our chances to recruit qualified librarians from other countries.

How did you deal with the unfortunately dramatic experience of the pandemic from a professional point of view? Has digital been able to compensate for the “forced” closures of the structures?

It was dramatic indeed, in particular for public libraries, as their worst nightmare became true: users were returning all their print books without lending out new ones! Fortunately, the big “library shelves collapse” didn’t finally occur as libraries could reopen rapidly after three weeks. A higher demand for e-books was registered of course and eminently a lack of digital children books could be determined (demand by parents). Compensation? Well, a political disputable decision, taken by our Government in December 2020, was that shops, including bookshops (!), were permitted to stay open while public libraries had to remain closed! This meant: wealthy people could buy the favoured print books for their children, the others not. You can imagine that this left a sour taste in the library scene.

You are engaged in many institutional roles and therefore have a very broad and international overview of the world of libraries and beyond. In what direction are libraries going in your view? Are we learning from recent experiences from the pandemic? What will librarians be asked for besides their traditional skills?

  1. For all libraries financed by the State (national, academic, school, special libraries, etc.), the lucky ones: nothing will change! Based on continuous safe funding they have the privilege to remain what they want to be or not to be.
  2. Print is still king – and don’t forget: politicians are and will mainly stay print book lovers! Fun fact / no kidding: the MEP Library (understand: lot of printed books) Lovers Group in the European Parliament is the 2 nd biggest of its kind in Brussels! (just after the Beer Lovers Group)
  3. For about now 2000 years the core business of libraries is … lending books on a non-commercial base! This will continue of course. With the “good / right” books, carefully selected by librarians. Why? Because simply nobody on this planet, no millionaire or billionaire, can possess ALL ever published – printed and digital – books in its private library at (a how huge?) home!
  4. At least since the appearance of the television in every household at the end of the 1960es, it is obvious, particularly in the public library field, that rooms simply filled with books are no more viable. Without animation the pre-1970 public library changes into a book cemetery. Dead libraries. Animation makes libraries live!
  5. After the actual pandemic is before the next pandemic. Library core business will continue. From our colleagues of hospital libraries we know that gladly almost every virus cannot survive on paper. Or did ever someone got ill by using paper money or toilet paper?
  6. Jump on every new technology offensive if possible? If you got the required budget, of course! You can participate at any innovation (like maker spaces, repair cafés, etc.) and show to your funding body that you and your library are hip, chic and trendy. But, let us be honest: it will stay a short-term experiment. Invest instead in a long-term trend: transform a part of your public library into a citizen’s advice bureau and adopt some basic administrative services, which are open to the community when the town hall offices have to close (evenings, Saturdays). Your politicians will love that: a combination of being useful for the community culturally (understand: generating only costs) and purely pragmatically beneficial for the administration at the same time.
  7. What you need as librarians besides your traditional skills, is openness to new technologies or simply the capability to not fear computers and the internet, because you know that they cannot explode when you klick on a download- button. Of course, as librarian, being able to read the instructions of use is an important skill. Sometimes you just have to know where to find an online guidance (YouTube-video).

This project aims to create an international network of experiences and stories between librarians from all over the world in order to share their stories and stimulate professional discussion. Do you believe that this sharing and “global vision” of the profession can help strengthen our profession?

It is always important to have built up an international network, because, at least once in your lifetime, you need A) door openers in every country (writing flattering introduction e-mails to colleagues in remote areas), B) colleagues/friends which know and like you personally and cannot refuse you a proper reply, and C) who can provide you with practical, often not published information on specific library topics. Yes, an oral history tradition exists among librarians too, around the world! This knowledge is especially shared in informal happenings during international congresses, like common meals and drinking events. Take part of them! Regarding the IFLA “global vision”, it is a nice label, trying to create, as so many times before in IFLA history, positive be-part-of-a-world-community-vibes for librarians. As library historian, I like to refer to the beginnings of IFLA (founded 1927) and its collaboration with the Unesco-predecessor, the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation (IICI, founded 1926), in the 1930s. Back then, many librarians worldwide – even in the tiny country of Luxembourg! – were participating in national commissions, filled out surveys, which then were published in form of books. The goal: to simplify the circulation of the cheapest carrier of information (and civilisation) at that time around the globe: the book. Today librarians are still trying to ease the fastest circulation of information in any form through the world. You can call this an ancient “global mission” since 1927.

What could you recommend to a young student who dreams of becoming a librarian?

– For nerds, who are so often attracted by our profession: yes, as librarian, it is still possible to hide yourself from the bad world outside, in an anonymous library office (traditionally: attic or basement) cataloguing 40 hours per week, working quietly (Shush!), avoiding human contact as much as possible, until safe retirement. (But is this what you really want? Why not studying accountancy instead?).

– For people with social skills, who we need much more in libraries: Always remember that your final degree as qualified librarian allows you to work in the type of library which you like the most! Not all libraries are the same! With your diploma you can easily apply for a job in “your” library, the one with more or less action, with more or less interesting users, with more or less variety in your daily work for the next 40 years. Of course, with a valid degree, you can also change your workplace whenever you want. In conclusion, after successful studies, you have the freedom of choice! Wonderful, isn’t it?




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.