Original publication from IFLA ninth Knowledge Café (02 December 2022)

Approximately 150 librarians met at the ninth Knowledge Café, held during the 87th IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland, July 26-29, 2022.  This year’s Congress overall theme was “Inspire, Engage, Enable, Connect.” The first Knowledge Café was held at the WLIC in Singapore in 2014 and the tradition has been kept alive even through the pandemic with a virtual café in February 2021.  The session was co-sponsored by the Knowledge Management Section and the Continuous Professional Development and Workplace Learning Section and was co-chaired by Monica Ertel and Maggie Farrell.

Over the years, the Knowledge Cafes have focused on engagement, connecting Knowledge Café participants with each other to focus on ways to engage with information communities – including library users, staff, and stakeholders in an ever-changing world.

Libraries are core institutions in our communities. Globally, our physical libraries may have been closed by the pandemic but locally, we’ve continued to provide ongoing services to our communities through a variety of onsite and virtual connections. New and innovative ways of working have emerged along with our tried-and-true services. We have been challenged with providing remote support, keeping our staff connected and motivated, providing continuous information literacy, designing new services, developing hybrid approaches to in-person and virtual services and more. These challenges have also presented opportunities to innovate and rethink how we provide these services while also supporting our library workers. As in past Knowledge Cafe events, this session was organized using round tables with a variety of discussion topics and facilitators to allow attendees to learn and share with colleagues from around the world.

Power comes not from knowledge kept but from knowledge shared.  The true value of knowledge comes from passing it on.  Simply, knowledge sharing is the practice of exchanging and disseminating the ideas, experience, and knowledge with others to ensure our services are the best they can be.

Knowledge sharing starts at the personal level which is the purpose of the Knowledge Cafes.  We are committed to sharing and learning from one another.

Following are summaries of the ten topics and knowledge shared during the session.  Thank you to our discussion leaders and rapporteurs!

Keeping communication open

Catherina Isberg and Jeannie Bail

Managing employee (and your) morale

Ida Kelemen and Alberta Comer

Remote services

Elsa de Almeida Valente and Sabrina Celi

Dealing with the ‘infodemic’

Ellie Valentine and Karin Finer

Community engagement throughout the pandemic

Maggie Farrell and Anne Barnhart

Remote workers

David Byrne and Tina Haglund

Facing fiscal challenges

Chama Mpundy Mfula and Sandy Hirsh

Training and professional development

Joan Weeks and Anya Feltreuter

Developing library leaders of the future

Barbara Schultz-Jones and Kendra Albright

Coaching and mentoring

Ulrike Lang and Almuth Gastinger

Keeping communication open

Facilitator: Catharina Isberg  Library Director Lund Public Libraries SWEDEN

Rapporteur: Jeannie Bail Liaison Librarian, Faculty of Management and Renaissance College, University of New Brunswick Libraries CANADA

Catherina Isberg and Jeannie Bail

The pandemic and forced isolation came unexpectedly. Library staff had to learn how to work remotely in a very short time, master remote technologies, develop skills in remote communication with users and the creation/management of electronic content. They also had to learn new time management to effectively combine work and family responsibilities. This caused stress for most of them. To this was added a natural fear for the life and health of their loved ones.

Remote work has seen many of the following characteristics:

  • Staff spread out and decentralized
  • Communication affected with new formal and informal channels
  • Some services closed
  • New services and innovations
  • Health concerns due to public health

The group discussed several questions to address these characteristics

Q: How do you and your team keep communication open, despite the challenges brought by the pandemic?

  • Groups were created in Teams to keep connections
  • More frequent meetings to catch up and check in
  • For users, health and safety precautions like quarantine materials were instituted
  • Curb-side pick-up was implemented
  • For some, despite the lockdown, business had to continue as usual such the work in one parliamentary library
  • Virtual meetings have been more convenient for some and will continue to be embraced and utilized in the future
  • In some ways, work was the easy part of dealing with the pandemic. Social contact was more difficult
  • Some challenging situations were described regarding staff’s desire to either work at home or in the library. Some staff were required to report physically which caused some resistance.  And some preferred to go into the library, as they liked the face-to-face contact.
  • Alerts were sent out with critical information. Dialogues were held, as well
  • Prior to the pandemic, in one institution, there was some inequality in terms of where people were located physically. With the pandemic, all employees were on the same platform. The result is that everyone will continue to operate this way going forward.
  • In some cases, transparency and accountability improved and became better within the organization due to protocols developed during the lockdown. Staff found new ways of engaging.
  • The pandemic resulted in some activities that hadn’t been done before which made people think about an academic library differently.  In one library, it created fun distractions and promoted international collaboration. Social media previously had been formal. Now, it was more fun, and metrics showed increased engagement.
  • Regular communication was an important aspect of helping staff stay connected
  • All-staff dialogues were held regularly.
  • It was important to keep the social aspect of work going.  Many had virtual coffee breaks that were not mandatory. In the beginning, participation was high, but then decreased.

Q: What strategies did you use? Which ones were effective? Not effective?

  • Teams calls which eventually tapered off.
  • Created a wellness group: happy hours, topics (travel, pets, tv shows, etc.).
  • Dean’s chats now happen once a month.
  • A newsletter was created. There is a need for more communication. Dean’s chats are more informal now and focused on one topic.
  • Pandemic has changed how people communicate and disseminate information.
  • Email is used less frequently now. Only used now for emergencies.
  • Teams has been embraced. Used to meet daily (both work and social combined). Some employees did not have internet access. Most communication has shifted to Teams. Know where to find information on Teams now.
  • Parliamentary library: sharing of information via WhatsApp. Moved back to near-normal with services.
  • Perfected Zoom.
  • Had to keep contact with sponsors. Had a lot of events to organize virtually for customers. Events held via Zoom. Virtual events increased geographic reach. Events are now hybrid.
  • Less intermediary communication – important info is distributed to everyone. Can be more targeted with dissemination and content.
  • Use Teams for weekly meetings with smaller groups and monthly meetings for bigger ones.
  • Use Mentimeter to check in to gauge emotions of the group. Useful way to take care of each other without being too intrusive. Can also use Menti to post questions anonymously. Can upload questions.

Q: Did communication change?

  • Tech tools made people accessible. People were used to being physically based, but now users had to adopt new tools.
  • Communication changed during the period.  It shifted from posting info on websites to now utilizing social media. This attracted new users.  However, in some cases (such as a parliamentary library) they can’t have a direct library presence on social media and need to go through the main organizational channel.
  • This was an opportunity to build international connections in libraries. One library wanted to connect more with international students. The majority were on WeChat. Unfortunately, the Library was not permitted to open a WeChat account and establish a presence. This is a problem when there is a need to go where the students are, but this is prohibited due to security concerns.
  • Privacy laws affect communication.

Q: How have staff reacted?

  • Staff have been honest, constructive, and respectful. They put forward solutions and suggestions. The pandemic made the team closer, despite being spread throughout the country. It is important to have strong communication channels. The organization was better prepared due to existing decentralization.
  • Staff became better at communication. Channels are mixed: some are for fun and some are for work. Team leaders have meetings 1x week and have regular check-ins with reports. Teams has become the main mode of communication.
  • Made sure that meetings finished 5 minutes early to allow transitions.
  • Virtual walks and talks > carried on through the pandemic.
  • Working team appointed to evaluate and assess Teams usage and weed teams that are no longer relevant.
  • Some staff did not have access to the Internet. No video was necessary at times due to limited bandwidth.
  • A divide developed between those whose presence was required on-site vs. those who were able to work remotely.
  • Hot desks in London> no permanent space. Hard to communicate why people are not back.

Q: What was your main takeaway re: communication during the pandemic?

  • We CAN work from home and it is possible to effectively work remotely. Libraries need to embrace different types of working. Work/home life was blurred for some. Some people work better remotely and some work better in the office. Library workers need flexibility.
  • Remote meetings made it possible to have time to study meeting documentation more closely and make more contributions. There was an opportunity for one to analyze information before meeting and utilize knowledge sharing.
  • People’s tech skills improved.  Workers were forced to use new platforms and develop more comfort and confidence.
  • Tips and guidelines for online meeting protocols were developed.
  • MORE FLEXIBILITY is needed for how and where we work!
  • Staffing decisions were made on the departmental level. Admin worked hybrid (in office/WFH).
  • Security was tight during early days, so access was restricted at first and in-library presence mediated so staff had to work from home.
  • Services were forced to become more digital and flexible. Staff were asked to learn and adapt quickly, which they did!
  • More international collaboration due to everyone now working remotely and on the same (or similar) platforms.

Managing employee (and your) morale

Facilitator: Ida Kelemen  Head of Information Services for MPs, Hungarian National Assembly  HUNGARY  

Rapporteur: Alberta Comer Dean of Libraries,  J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah  UNITED STATES

IFLA members who participated in this round table discussion of “Managing employee (and your) morale” focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted, and continues to impact, morale of library staff.

Most attendees agreed that the pandemic’s impact could be divided into two distinct phases. At the beginning of the pandemic, during the early months, library staff worked together to create quick solutions, all while mostly working from home. One attendee called this the ‘heroic’ phase. Staff felt part of the solution and, although it was a frightening time, they worked together to provide users needed resources and information. Staff issues did arise, including:

  • How to balance work life and home life?
  • How to help staff who needed IT training?
  • How to provide technology for those who did not have personal devices?
  • How to manage remote staff?
  • What work to provide staff whose job had been primarily with print materials?
  • How to access the internet in areas where it is not readily available?

The second phase of the pandemic was the partial/full return to onsite work with many issues continuing to occur as libraries return to pre-pandemic work hours. Several attendees said that this was the phase that saw the lowest morale amongst library staff. Some of these staff issues included:

  • Library users now have different ways to access information, thus fewer are accessing the library. This has led libraries to rethink what their role is in society. (An interesting side note is that one attendee whose country did not have lockdowns is still seeing high library use.)
  • Returning to work remains difficult for people with children since childcare is difficult to find.
  • There is staff resentment from those required to be onsite (usually lower paid, frontline staff) toward those who worked from home (usually librarians).
  • How to have meaningful meetings when some staff are onsite while others are at home?
  • How to equitably share information with staff when some are onsite while others are at home?

Attendees also said that the conversation continues about onsite versus hybrid versus remote work, with many staff asking to have work options. Attendees agreed that what has helped with all phases of the pandemic has been to have meaningful and frequent communication with staff.

Remote Services

Facilitator: Elsa de Almeida Valente  Head, Registration Collections, Erasmus University of Rotterdam NETHERLANDS

Rapporteur:  Sabrina Celi Università degli studi di Siena  ITALY

The topic of this table was remote services but many of the participants also wanted to talk about remote work at home during the lockdown and the forced situation of offering the services online. Everyone agreed that physical isolation helped librarians and patrons develop and improve their digital skills.  They were able to develop new services using digital resources and online tools. After the pandemic, some libraries continue with some of these remote services, and many were able to provide a hybrid of both. The librarians want to have patrons back in the physical library and discover theirs needs in the new e-life. That will be a challenge for libraries especially because the extras costs of digital resources and the IT support.

A librarian from an Australian academic law library shared that the pandemic period was very difficult; the situation is now better. Fortunately, during the lockdown, employers had their own laptops and the government and publishers allowed royalty free access to traditional resources and e-resources.  Now that the situation is back to the way it was pre-Covid, access to resources is back to being by payment.

In Egypt, the situation was completely different in terms of access to the library during the pandemic. The library was closed.  However, this resulted in a new point of view.  There is now an understanding that people want access to digital resources.  This librarian shared that even though the library is now physically open, not as many people are coming in as they are used to using the library remotely by using digital services. managing with physical spaces and return in presence it has been a problem, people don’t want to come back because they like the new digital services.

One participant from Zambia shared the unfortunate situation in which there was a total shut down of the library with no digital access or connections.

The Malawi Parliament was closed during the pandemic.  The library was able to get support from IT personnel to help manage the library’s data base and remote services.

The Finland public library was on full lockdown for four months.   They offered services remotely and luckily, had no problems with IT infrastructure, connections, registrations or to reaching users.  They also tried to find some new ways to engage users.   For example, they established online Finnish language conversation groups on different topics with volunteers on Zoom.  People joined from every part of the world.  They also set up an Instagram lifetime for teenagers to help create community. They also started using Microsoft Teams which they had not used prior to the pandemic.  One issue is how to continue to keep communication open – the human touch is so important. During this time, they have learned along the way.

A Canadian academic library shared that the transition has been difficult.  It took a while to get people used to working and accessing resources online.  Covid required this to change overnight.  However, now that the library is back open, the issue is getting people to come back to the library.  Some students who started during the lockdown, don’t even know how to use the library.

A Swiss public library is offering space to students as an alternative space to academic libraries which is very popular.  One of their new services in the ‘borrowbox’ that contains digital materials.  It isn’t perfect but they are learning.

A librarian from Estonia shared the positive news that thanks to the national IT infrastructure, they had no problems.  They have 5,000,000 users and they were able to get them registered for the library directly online.  They were able to continue to offer lending books online and in person using the space outside of their library including returns.  One difficulty was providing reference services by email.  Sometimes requests were too vague or too general.  One way they are getting people back in the library now that it has reopened, is to have reading room picnics.   They reopened their library in July.

And Irish library is now open 7 days a week. They have high circulation for videos and e-reading.  Borrowing through the online catalogue is used more frequently than pre-Covid.  Patrons appreciated the free wi-fi and e-books platform.  Online reading clubs were offered but people preferred face-to-face.  Fewer people are coming into the physical library and the librarians are doing all they can to get them to return.

Dealing with the ‘infodemic’

Facilitator: Ellie Valentine  Freelance Librarian  UNITED STATES 

Rapporteur:  Karin Finer    Information Specialist, European Parliamentary Research Service

The discussions began with the question: ‘What is ‘infodemic’ and how do/should libraries react?’ Most participants agreed that ‘infodemic’ entails an excessive amount of information – often spreading rapidly in the digital environment, including false or misleading information. The word is often used in relation to a health crisis but is not exclusive to the health sector. The discussion group was a diverse group of people and several themes emerged in the discussions:


  • There are many channels through which misinformation is spread, e.g., printed publications, social media, podcasts on popular platforms such as Spotify etc. which makes an overview almost impossible.
  • Curating reliable information is very difficult.  There is simply too much information from a wide range of sources and in different formats.
  • In relation to the Covid-19 pandemic: many research papers are published in pre-print, i.e., not peer-reviewed, which results in misinformation also in sources traditionally regarded as reliable. The UK Health Security Agencyhas identified that a staggering 150 new papers are published daily.

Role of libraries:

  • Should libraries be ‘re-active’ or ‘pro-active’ – ‘neutral’ or ‘radical’? To what extent should libraries clearly take a stand on issues that can be regarded as sensitive? How does this affect possible neutrality and/or support of traditional democratic values? In these interesting discussions, opinions differed depending on national guidelines, type of library and resources available. Many participants thought balance is important, ensuring that different stakeholders are heard. Library Information campaigns in favour of Covid-19 vaccinations was mentioned as a sensitive issue that had caused critique.
  • Any kind of selection by libraries is a choice/decision, including acquisitions, reading suggestions, choice of metadata etc. and it is based on professional education and experience, which is why librarians are usually ready to defend those decisions.

Library activities:

  • Training the general public, teachers, students, and legislators on how to evaluate information sources.
  • Identifying trustworthy sources and making them available digitally.
  • Providing information packages online.
  • Keeping libraries open.  The importance of library spaces as hubs for discussion – especially diverse discussions (not to shut down an opposing voice, but to welcome and encourage open debate).


  • Increasing cooperation and sharing of resources between libraries on all levels (regional, national, international), as well as with civil society organisations. In relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, a call was made to increase cooperation between health authorities and public libraries. The role of national library associations and global organisations like IFLA is very important.
  • Libraries are trusted! Outreach activities to inform and educate on ‘infodemic’ issues can be achieved effectively only with the trust of the general public. Therefore, it is important to maintain that trust through openness, transparency, and inclusivity.

You may want to check out this blog (Carl Bergstrom: Why Birds Don’t Lie and We Do) that touches on many of the issues discussed at this table.

Community engagement throughout the pandemic

Facilitator: Maggie Farrell  Dean of Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNITED STATES

Rapporteur: Anne Barnhart Professor and Head of Outreach & Assessment, Ingram Library, University of West Georgia   UNITED STATES

Participants from different libraries and countries shared their experience and ideas.

A library is in a small town in Serbia was challenged to make the library more visible online. They created a “Library Corner” at a nearby scenic lake to take advantage of the attractive location.  This experiment helped bring new people to the library and it ended up functioning as a tourist information center for people coming to see the lake. They connected with a high school and those students helped promote the Library Corner on Instagram and a couple of Instagram travel bloggers also promoted it.

Prior to Covid, the National Library of the Netherlands had started investing in digital skills to support public libraries who were helping citizens learn. These efforts had a slow start but then during Covid, more citizens needed digital skills to get their vaccine passports. They came to the libraries for help. This brought people in who had previously avoided libraries (as too intellectual or because people thought libraries had nothing that interested them) so now libraries are working to keep these new users. An added benefit is that the national government saw a new value in libraries as a public/community service, therefore more funding started coming from the government. Now when people come in for a vaccine passport, the librarians can teach more digital skills (e.g., how to communicate online with grandkids or friends abroad). This has resulted in some return users.

A suburban library in Chicago developed TechLabs to connect teens to the library. They also had a Teen Advisory Board to get teens to help curate the space and a book club in the park.  The library branch had previously focused on children and adults but as a result, teens were more involved.

A library in Nigeria had volunteers write book reviews. Because of a strike at the university, it was difficult to get employees to do this, so they involved volunteers which has worked out well.

A librarian from the UK shared how they are bringing books closer to their communities. They have developed ‘Little Libraries’ that are set up in train stations and at doctor’s offices. The ‘Little Libraries’ have different themes, including one that was focused on children’s books in areas where their parents are less likely to be literate.

One library installed book baskets with children’s books and Wi-Fi hot spots in the parking lots so people could access the internet during lockdown.  And another distributed laptops and hotspots to families in need.

A university library in Nigeria developed an app to reach out to students and faculty. The library received a grant to help develop the app and they hope that through attending conferences, they can promote its success.

A U.S. university library lent laptops and hotspots to students. They also realized how important library space is to the students. They wanted to be able to support online learning from home and within the library facility.  They built soundproof single-person booths in the library so students can do their online classes from inside the library.  They used to have a face-to-face researcher speaker series, but these moved to Zoom during the lockdown. The Zoom series got more views (live and asynchronous), so they are continuing to do that online.

It was interesting to hear that in the U.K.; some libraries were also vaccination centers.

A university library in the U.S. built an online course (libguides.westga.edu/libraryden) that is now a creative commons licensed and available for anyone to use.

One librarian said they had many proposals for innovative programs during the pandemic, but unfortunately, their administration did not approve any of them, including services such as curbside pickup. The attitude was “the government says we are closed so we will close” and did not want to add any services during the lockdown. This library is a library of record, and they cannot circulate any book more than 50 years old. They were able to scan parts of some materials for e-delivery.

A Vietnamese university library developed a book delivery service. The library mailed books to students’ homes in order to make library materials accessible. This was very popular resulted in increased circulation.  Previous information literacy instruction had been targeted directly to students, but the library had a hard time communicating with them during lockdown. The library switched its focus and began promoting information literacy to instructors to have them include it in their courses.  Students like having a different person for a day (not only hearing from their main instructor but hearing also from a librarian). They also created online tutorials and convinced some faculty to use these and the associated assessments in their classes. This library has now expanded the book delivery service to their alumni who live outside of the city.

A university library in Ireland created a ‘click and collect’ service for book pickup and ‘scan and deliver’ for what they could e-deliver within the bounds of copyright. They also used 3D printers to make plastic holders for face shields for healthcare workers. Now that they have reopened, the ‘scan and deliver service’ has been retained due to its success. The ‘click and collect’ service was discontinued since people can come to the library and they just don’t have the staffing to keep it going.

At the Qatar National Library, they extended the due dates for books. They also created a digital form for curbside pickup. They increased the subscriptions to audiobooks and e-books and added content to help people use the streaming and licensed e-materials. Once the building reopened, they started training the public to use the self-borrowing station as a Covid safety measure. The self-borrowing station had been there for a while, but the public did not want to use it much to the library’s dismay. Covid changed that attitude. The library increased their social media presence and discovered that their website did not work well on mobile devices. They realized that they needed to improve how they present themselves online, so they developed a mobile app for the library. They have an internal IT team who developed the app. They also saw they needed to increase staff time dedicated to email (this went from 200 emails a day to over 500 emails per day of people asking questions that are clearly answered on the library’s website). They also use a chatbot for questions. Qatar has not maintained their pick-up service and they also had to reduce the quantity of e-resources now that the public can come back into the building. They have more e-resources than they did prior to Covid but not as many as they had during the lockdown. They are keeping up their social media presence. They do online storytelling in Arabic and in English and will continue doing that especially since vaccinations for kids is not universal.

Volunteers at a Dublin public library ran a book delivery service, mostly to elderly people. The volunteers delivered books and often just spent time (social distanced on the porch) talking with the elderly people in the community to help them deal with isolation. The elderly could call the library and just say something like “I enjoy reading crime books” and the library would select eight books to send to them. Some of the recipients were clearly using the service not for the books but just to have a visitor come for the social interaction. The library also started online social family quizzes that were quite popular.  The delivery services stopped after the libraries reopened; however, the participant said it could be useful to keep it going because many people still need the service especially the elderly who are still staying home due to Covid.

Remote Workers

FacilitatorDavid Byrne  CILIP RPG, UNITED KINGDOM

Rapporteur:  Tina Haglund  Department Manager, Digital Library/Media  Helsingborg City Libraries  SWEDEN 

During the pandemic, many institutions have implemented remote work options and flexible schedules.  This has been perceived as an employee benefit as well as more productive for certain types of work. Questions:

  • Is your library still working partially from home (remote)?
  • How is it going?
  • Will your library have remote work options in the future?
  • The participants expressed joy and happiness at the opening up of organisations and being able to meet users and customers in person again.
  • The participants are mostly back on site. At public libraries it´s harder to work remotely since the libraries are back to normal and remote working is difficult or not possible for staff on the frontline.
  • It also depends what role or position you have in the organization: tasks like management and administration for example are often easier when working remotely.

What challenges have you experienced?

  • During the pandemic there was an energy and determination to solve the task and fulfill the goals of the libraries and to be an asset in the community, university, or to the employer. There was the challenge to continue to provide services during periods when libraries were closed and lock down in place.
  • Some staff needed to be physically at the library to manage remote services while others could work from home. The home office environment had its own challenges with slower technology and bad Internet connections. Employers often had to provide staff with laptops and phones at short notice.
  • Some of the participants expressed difficulty in maintaining a work-life balance when working from home. It became easy to work longer hours and sometimes spread over 7 days of the week.
  • Bad Internet connections and slow technology created stressful situations, especially during Zoom or Teams meetings.

What benefits have you experienced?

  • By creating new services online and setting up Facebook chats to serve the community. With remote working and the rapid move to digital meetings, some libraries helped and provided colleagues with online guidelines and training on how to use Zoom. It was easier to adjust more quickly if the investment in technology was already in place: some libraries had laptops and iPads for use by both the public and staff members.
  • Many of the participants had the possibility to do a lot of online training and professional development, something that benefitted both the employee and the employer.
  • By using experiences from covid in other major challenges like climate concerns, to travel less and work part of your time remote.
  • When you need to focus on specific tasks it is sometimes a lot easier to do so by working remotely without colleagues around. The possibility to work from home can make it easier to plan the week and to have digital meetings instead of physical ones – this also saves time in travelling.

What changes in management or for supervisors have you developed?

  • During covid restrictions and lock down, the focus was on keeping the library services going and managing daily challenges. When opening up other questions and issues were raised, like being “fair” about who works on site and who is allowed to work remotely depending on specific roles and responsibilities. Some libraries took the opportunity to create a policy allowing remote work in order to increase flexibility in the workplace.
  • Online meetings can save time and reduce the need for travel linked to meetings.
  • An opportunity to build trust across teams with tasks being completed successfully both on site and remotely without the usual supervision.
  • Harder for management to fulfill obligations linked to the working environment when colleagues are working remotely. It is also more difficult to address personnel issues as a manager when team members are working remotely. You have to rely on email and meetings by telephone and online meetings rather being able to meet up face to face.

Facing Fiscal Challenges

Facilitator: Chama Mpundy Mfula  Chief Librarian, National Assembly of Zambia  ZAMBIA

Rapporteur: Sandy Hirsh  Associate Dean for Academics, San Jose State University  UNITED STATES 

Pictured: Sandy Hirsh, rapporteur (far left), Chama Mpundu Mfula, facilitator (far right) – Group 7, 2nd discussion group

Libraries face uncertain fiscal situations. Some have been reduced due to the pandemic. Others managed the pandemic through temporary funding.  Is this true for your library?  And if so, how are you prioritizing services, operations and/or personnel?

A big part of the discussion was focused around the impact that the pandemic has had on library budgets. In the group discussion, several indicated that their budgets had been reduced and others said that their funding remained the same, but some said that their budget allocation has not kept up with inflation. The participants from Zambia and Kenya both mentioned that they had to re-envision the budget so that their budget ties directly to services. Participants generally indicated that budgets are more restricted and regimented than prior to the pandemic. Several people talked about the importance of prioritizing certain types of services in order to stretch the library budget, such as by prioritizing services to a committee rather than to a specific individual. Some mentioned that donor funds helped them enrich their collections and helped with digitization expenses, while others mentioned that donor support had been reduced; so, the experiences with fundraising/donations varied.

In some places, like Kenya, libraries did not close during the pandemic. They had challenges such as: most of the collections were not in digital formats; they had to use their budgets to pay for masks and other COVID-related needs; and they moved meetings to Online but found they were not well prepared for this as most people did not have laptops (so they used their phone instead). They also talked about how the pandemic gave them the opportunity to rethink how they offered their services. For example, the need for digitization became evident so they bought equipment to digitize their collections.

This is not a unique example of the way that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted libraries.  Other participants also talked about how the pandemic necessitated new services. For example, other libraries mentioned how they started new chat services and how they launched electronic reservations to meet the new needs of their users.

Additionally, some said that it had been harder to show their value as a librarian during the pandemic. Even though online services were provided, because people were not physically in the library, “it was out of sight/out of mind.”  Library users do not necessarily realize that the materials and services are being provided by the library.

Some specific themes that came up in our discussion included the following:

Staffing: For all libraries, staffing is a major expense, with collections being a much smaller part of the budget. Some of the concerns raised around staffing included:

  • Recruiting and retaining staff are difficult.There are several reasons that were mentioned.
    • Remote Work:One is that many people now want remote work. While some places are allowing staff to telework, this is not the same as remote work as these staff still need to be a commutable distance from their library. Policies vary based on institutional rules and based on supervisor expectations.
    • Salaries:One participant shared that they recently lost four people to private industry due to salaries as library rates of pay are not competitive with industry.  This is a problem across libraries.
  • Unionized environments introduce complications.Some libraries in unionized environments might have a mix of faculty and staff — some of whom are in a union and some who are not; this can lead to disparities. Also, in some places, there are multiple unions that negotiate different compensation and benefits for their members, also leading to inequities. One participant (from a union environment) discussed how they were fighting for health care during the pandemic as healthcare had been underpaid, and were also addressing concerns around pay gaps (specifically inequal payments to men and women).
  • Challenges for women in the workplace increased due to pandemic. In addition to unequal payments to men and women, some discussed how women usually don’t get to higher positions because of maternity leave. Also, during the pandemic when everyone was working at home, mothers had to provide childcare and this sometimes affected their ability to provide some services, e.g., mothers had kids on their lap during online meeting sessions.

Collections: Generally, collections represented a smaller portion of the overall library budget.

  • However, one challenge was that to administrators, collection budget allocations look expendablein a way that staffing does not, so there needs to be an education piece for decision makers to make sure they understand the implications of cutting collection budgets.
  • Collection budgets have also been impacted due to inflation, so collection funding does not have as much purchase power. Some mitigating factors are that consortiums allow libraries to buy books at a discounted rate and some libraries have received donations that allow them to add more titles.
  • One big collections trend mentioned has been the increase in demand for eBooks.However, eBooks “cost 5-7 times the cost of physical books” which is a problem for libraries to accommodate within limited collections budgets. Given that some people prefer eBooks and some prefer physical books, libraries are having to make some tough decisions about what format to buy materials in.
  • Faculty requests for copies of articles has increased because faculty couldn’t get access to some databases. Because collections budgets were not raised, some libraries have had to deny a lot of requests and face the challenge of deciding which licenses to buy and which requests to deny.

Training/Learning about how to manage finances:

  • Most participants discussed how their training and conference travel funds have been reduced.
  • Our group also talked about what LIS students learn about managing financeswhen they are working on their MLIS degrees. Most students don’t think of themselves as managers so are not interested in management courses while working on their MLIS degrees. However, some LIS textbooks address this important topic. For example, the 3rd edition of the LIS textbook published in 2022 by Sandra Hirsh, Information Services Today: An Introduction, includes a chapter on “Managing Budgets.” Sometimes this topic, budgeting, is included in a general management course in the MLIS curriculum. Often times, library staff are most interested in learning about “managing budgets” when they start working in a library, so learning about how to manage budgets through continuing professional development or workplace learning is a good approach.

Training and professional development

Facilitator: Joan Weeks  Head, Near East Section and Turkic Area Specialist, African and Middle Eastern Division. Library of Congress  UNITED STATES  

Rapporteur:  Anya Feltreuter  Director Mjölby Public Library  SWEDEN 

What new training do you or your library need to face the future?

  • Start up a Continuing Professional Development Committee – encourage staff to be engaged with society and what´s going on
  • National libraries should be open to more changes.
  • More digital training is needed for staff. Colleagues had problems with programmes during covid – digital skills are needed – colleagues can be trained by colleagues. Trouble with online meeting software, databases (especially law e-resources), downloading apps. This takes a lot of time from librarians with technical skills.
  • Different ways of sharing information- for example colleagues between colleagues is needed.
  • Programme for structural professional development (Croatia), bibliotherapy. National platform for public libraries for librarians in Sweden, but not for academic libraries. Need to keep up with the legal issues for example.
  • Sometimes IT department wants to do things in a certain way that doesn´t work with the way libraries work. One way can be to show the IT department that librarians have skills that can help them.
  • Lack of motivation by staff to attend training sessions, some people want to continue with the way it is.  One way can be to offer one to one training after sessions with the whole staff. Be open to the staff who are not keeping up; if they are not learning the new skills.
  • Publisher fills in a lot of gaps directly to users without help of libraries – how do we develop collections when that happens? Temporary access to e-books. Lots of questions about copyright arose during covid.
  • Communication is key especially between sections of a big organizations. Identify library staff with missing skills – where librarians train their colleagues can be a solution. Good if they can be recorded.
  • Teaching skills are hard to get. The skills that are needed have changed during the last years and librarians have to keep up, for example, teaching online.
  • Sometimes it can be too much information. It can also be a problem with too much personal information.  A policy can help.
  • Collecting websites can be difficult since they disappear after a campaign.
  • People left during covid, more work to do for fewer people. Lots of vacancies.
  • Pear-coaching peer-teaching solution – pairing young and experienced librarians to share knowledge and develop new ways of teaching – some methods have been working. It is a problem when people have contracts and don’t feel inspired to continue develop.
  • It is also a question about management to get to know staff and know how you can help them to move forward. Important that managers show that it is appreciated when staff teach others.
  • Essential to create an environment that allows people to fail and try again. Important that managers show their mistakes and that they are learning, not only co-workers.
  • Important to make the entire library very accessible and inclusive.

What are you doing to keep up with your own training?

  • Joining committees and see what other people are doing.
  • Talk to colleagues, taking notes. Reading literature, attending conferences and meetings.
  • Do new things and remember how it is to be a beginner. Try working at other places.
  • Library labs – round tables like these – where you get to talk about different things. It can be challenging to get the discussions started sometimes and get people to moderate the discussion.
  • Individual development plans can be good in theory but sometimes they are hard to follow. There is a lot of webinars but hard to get the time to take them. Hard to find the training for the needed skills because it costs and you have to travel.
  • Journal club with colleagues – read an article and discuss with colleagues related to things that we are working with right now.
  • Guest lectures are good. It is also good to know which colleagues work with different skills so you know who to ask.
  • With software, for example, you need to try and see how it works.
  • Look up communities on different topics where you can learn and meet people who work with the same thing.
  • Also, important to find new ways of learning. Learn together with users – we don´t need to know everything at first. Collective brains are better than just one.

Developing Library Leaders of the Future

Facilitator:  Barbara Schultz-Jones  Professor, University of North Texas  UNITED STATES

Rapporteur:  Kendra Albright  Goodyear Endowed Professor in Knowledge Management, Kent State University UNITED STATES 

How can we identify the leaders of the future?

  • Change is a keyword – ready to change and crisis is another key word and together they are powerful
  • Change can be perceived as a threat so working with people
  • Opportunity – anyone can be a leader but without the opportunity you can’t get there
  • Knowledge interest
  • Society knowledge and that’s important to know
  • Innovative with the skill sets
  • Good lobby worker to work with the politicians/administrators
  • Profession needs to be outward facing
  • Forward looking in attitude and outlook
  • Build partnerships and networking
  • Taking care of persons working with you and making sure they are ok
  • Tapping into the ideas of other people and turning them into leaders – listening is very important

What strategies can be used to develop leaders for the future?

  • Making sure that for every position you have a succession plan
  • Prepare people to succeed
  • Identifying the next set of potential leaders and make sure they have mentors
  • Mentorship:
    • mentorship is a strategic focus, and the dividends can be seen immediately
    • formal mentorship program that recognizes diversity, equity, and inclusion
    • mentorship for outward facing
  • Formal and informal assessment to check on support and make sure the mentorship system or leadership system is working
  • Networking between leaders to share knowledge and support
  • Allowing people to manage a project – delegate and let them make mistakes and learn from them
  • Encouraging people to lead
  • Developing a formal network of librarians from various areas and across languages
  • Need public relations so people know about your strategies
  • Professional development programs within professional associations
  • Sharing activities and competencies across associations to raise understanding and knowledge
  • Support system that includes individual and joint meetings to make sure that the relationships are working
  • Trust in workers and build confidence and trust

What are the characteristics of future ready librarians? 

  • Solicit a statement of your personal vision and accomplishments
  • Passion for your profession that is inspiring
  • Formal ways of identifying future leaders – passion, vision, accomplishment
  • What have you done in the past and what is your vision for the future?
  • able to demonstrate your skills and competencies
  • People are ready/willing to follow
  • Encouraged to interact with a wide range of committees, people and experiences “outside in the world
  • Help every employee take responsibility for their own work and be their own leader.
  • Eagerness to learn, flexibility
  • Organized
  • Someone who really wants to embrace change
  • Ready to help your colleagues – you are there for them and know their scope of work
  • Have boundaries in terms of what to share and what not to share
  • Integrity – when you speak you are consistent, and know each of your staff to know how to motivate and reward them
  • Generosity – how do we want to impact the community, emotional counselling for staff if needed
  • Must have a vision, where are they going
  • Want to teach your skills
  • Reluctant but capable and firm
  • Believe in yourself and your vision and be willing to be creative to make it happen and motivate other
  • Personal commitment
  • Make it happen despite all odds

Do LIS programs prepare you to be leaders?

  • No, did not prepare me formally – learning in libraries and with mentors prepared me
  • We did take some useful classes for knowing more about management, but we are needing more to learn about experiences – need to find other sessions/online sessions and this is a major challenge once you are on the job
  • Librarian is a state of mind and actual programs and services not learned in library school but if you are curious, open minded, and willing to connect with other colleagues then you can be successful
  • PhD in political science so parliamentary library as a result and skills learned on the job and librarianship is about information services
  • Doesn’t matter what you learned in school, leadership is learned and encouraged on the job
  • Library school is good for the fundamentals but does not teach about leadership, that happens on the job and if you get the exposure and the opportunities then it’s an individual’s choice to offer their service as a leader
  • We need to step up about the needs of the user
  • At the end of the day, it’s about you as a person and whether you can/want to lead
  • Wish there was a management course that would help you understand what good and bad management is to help identify the toxic environments and how to respond

Coaching and mentoring

Facilitator: Ulrike Lang  Retired Head of Education and Training Department, State and University Library Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky GERMANY 

RapporteurAlmuth Gastinger  Senior Academic Librarian, NTNU University Library NORWAY

Coaching and mentoring are an important part of managing your library staff.  Research has shown that mentoring and coaching improve performance.

We started the discussions with a short introduction of everybody around the table. The two groups were quite diverse with 14 colleagues from 9 countries U.K., Croatia, USA, Qatar, Sweden, Serbia, Ireland, Germany, Norway. Among them were several newcomers. People came from both public and academic libraries.

Discussion summary:

  • Some of the people attending had little or no experience with coaching or mentoring.  We started by explaining the difference between the two.
  • Some had experience with mentoring students, some with new staff.  In some organisations/institutions, new staff get a mentor who works as a contact person for the employee.
  • At one library, the director takes time to talk to new staff one-on-one.
  • In Germany, coaching is often used when there are challenges between staff and managers/leadership.
  • In countries (i.e., USA), where there is a tenure process (getting promoted in your career based on certain criteria), mentoring or coaching is often important as part of the formal evaluation process.
  • At some institutions, a person/coach from outside comes into the library/institution and talks about coaching and mentoring or offers coaching/mentoring to managers or staff. This is usually quite expensive and thus is rather rare.
  • Participants liked the following ‘definition’ of mentoring: “mentoring is when a mentor looks after a newcomer”.
  • Chemistry between people is more important in mentoring than in coaching. If there is a mismatch between mentor and mentee, the mentoring probably will not work.
  • Communication skills are very important in coaching, even more in group coaching.
  • In mentoring and coaching, trust is crucial.
  • As a mentor or coach, you also learn a lot from your mentee since they often have another perspective on things.
  • When coaching, it sometimes is helpful if the coach has no knowledge about the topic to be discussed. This can help avoiding giving advice.
  • Some institutions have a budget for CPD/training, but coaching training is usually very expensive.
  • Some institutions or universities have employed organisational psychologists who can serve as a coach and help when there are conflicts.
  • We also discussed a culture of failure and how this might be different in other countries. We also discussed how people cope with this. One person talked about how it may be helpful that one person starts talking about mistakes and the other might dare to do the same.
  • The discussion leader told us about a visual communication method she uses when thinking about successes and hinders. She draws piles for each success and each hinder. Small piles when they are small and huge ones when successes or hinders are big. The participants liked that visual method.

Some examples of programmes:

  • Medical Library Association (MLA):

Offers formal and informal mentoring. One programme is called “Colleague Connection”.  It is a great service they offer to new MLA Members and First Time MLA Meeting attendees. https://www.mlanet.org/blog/seeking-mentors-and-mentees-for-colleague-connection-at-mla-22-in-new-orleans

See also here about mentoring within MLA: https://www.mlanet.org/p/cm/ld/fid=45

  • CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) and Library Association in the UK:

CILIP gives support on the journey towards Professional Registration. A mentor can help take a fresh look at skills and experiences, discover new ideas and perspectives, and provide support through the process. All of CILIP’s mentors have completed the CILIP mentorship training programme and know how to support members to successfully complete the Professional Registration. See: https://www.cilip.org.uk/page/ProfessionalRegistrationCandidates

  • ALA (American Library Association):

ALA offers mentoring for members of the International Relations Roundtable (IRRT). Mentors/mentees are from various countries.

Following is a report from this programme: http://www.ala.org/rt/irrt/irrtmentorprogram


  • There is a difference between mentoring and coaching. Mentoring is more about giving advice, while coaching is about the coach asking the right (open) questions so that the coachee reflects and solves the problem herself/himself.
  • Coaching and mentoring help people to reflect on challenges and learn a lot.
  • There are mentoring and coaching programmes offered. Ask your employer or Library Association what they can offer you.