Libro Futuro

Librarian in New Caledonia. Mario Coffa interviews Mark Perkins

Intervista in italiano

Mark Perkins is originally from the United Kingdom. He worked in librarianship at LSE as a cataloguer and head of interlibrary loan. He has collaborated with Library Association UK (now CILIP), holding various positions with particular interest in developing countries and has worked with European “Information Development” groups. He collaborated with IFLA by attending the 1996 Beijing conference as a workshop organizer / presenter. He subsequently served as Special Librarian at the Overseas Development Institute before moving to New Caledonia to take up the post of cataloger and then librarian at the Pacific Community, and finally cataloguer at the University of New Caledonia until retirement. In IFLA he was a member of the Committee for Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) and of the Regional Committee (RSCAO), as well as of regional library organizations and the Internet Society. He recently reached retirement and is collaborating on a cataloging project with the Pacific Community.

Mark, what does it mean to be a librarian in a wonderful land like New Caledonia?

New Caledonia is a wonderful francophone Pacific island in an anglophone Ocean. Besides the friendly oceanic people and beautiful location, there are relatively small numbers of professionals in the country. So, staying in touch with international colleagues is more essential than ever, both to stay abreast of developments, new ideas & to have a (multilingual) circle of support.

You have collaborated with CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) on various issues, including developing countries. Briefly, what can you tell us as an account of your experience? 

I came to the profession with a politics/economics background, so my initial interaction with CILIP (Library Association at the time) was in relation to those policy issues that impacted the profession and my work – copyright and censorship. I fought to ensure that CILIP policy statements had a professional ethical foundation rather than just refering to existing legislation. This also had an international angle, as CILIP is seen as an international example – especially in Commonwealth countries – so its policy positions have a much wider impact that just the UK. As my interest in developing countries started to coincide with my professional work, I became involved with specialized ‘development information’ organizations outside of CILIP, both technical and advocacy. The former involved ‘federating’ various European development information library systems to provide international access to their collections, which was ahead of its time but still left a cooperative legacy. The latter involved campaigning for sustainable funding for development information collections within the UK. The cross-over into CILIP for this development information work was to fight to ensure that its international work was truly international, and not focused on USA, Europe, etc. 

You also have a more global view of the situation of libraries having partnered with IFLA. In your opinion, and given the dramatic experience of the pandemic, in which direction are libraries going? What skills do librarians need and will they still need to meet the needs of their communities?

Libraries seem to be going in (at least) two directions: diminishing budgets and increasing online services. The pandemic and associated lockdowns, has accelerated the move to online services, with library staff worldwide being amazingly agile in order to adapt. Online, lifelong, self motivated learning in this context has become unavoidable in this context (as well as the ability to borrow and adapt ideas from ones wider circle of professional contacts). Unfortunately, as with other services seen as ‘essential’ during the pandemic, budgets have not reflected their essential role, nor has legislation (eg copyright) adapted to allow the continuing provision of e-services, with the Internet Archive even being prosecuted in order to criminalise ‘Controlled Digital Lending’. There is also a problem with Ebooks being licensed by libraries rather than bought; this means librarians have less control over what they can do with their ‘collections’, are limited in how they can preserve the written heritage and can even be subject to censorship at a distance by Ebook licensors. So librarians will need strong advocacy skills, both political and legal, in order to have the funding and legal environment to meet the needs of their communities.

Do you believe that digital can help meet the needs of our users? What role can new technologies play in our libraries?

As indicated in reply to the previous question, I do not only think that digital can help meet all the needs of our users, but that digital is essential. The information being produced today is prolific, and no single library (or other institution) can organize and make accessible anything but an infinitesimal portion of this information world without ‘digital’ – and without cooperation on a massive scale. Besides organising information, digital provides access, both locally and distant; it ensures preservation by digitizing analogue items (not only text), transfering ‘born digital’ to new preservation formats and supports; it can help with expanding access to learning; allow use to create (FabLabs); and more.

What would you recommend to a young student who would like to become a librarian?

To take a placement/pre-library school year in a library where available, and try their hand at everything they can, and to visit as many different types of library as possible. Librarianship is an enormously varied profession, with a multitude of technical positions, administrative and managerial positions; backroom, frontroom and online staff and positions/libraries that will require the balancing act of combining all of these. Then, once they have found what they think suits them, start the professional journey of initial qualification and lifelong learning, remaining flexible all along the way, not being afraid to change to another position that suits better.


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.