Supporting learning is at the heart of the mission of libraries, and indeed in many cases is why they were built in the first place. However, this role isn’t always as celebrated as much as it should be. However, there are great examples of our institutions taking the lead, as our interview with some of the team behind the Global Learning Festival shows.

We talked to Lara Pugh, Project Leader Learning City, Wollongong City Libraries and Global Learning Festival Working Group member, and Diane Tabbagh, Coordinator Learning Community, Wyndham City Council and Global Learning Festival Working Group Chair.

The Festival itself is back again in November 2022 for its third year, and libraries around the world are encouraged to join this global event and promote lifelong learning for all. More details about how to get touch are below!

Logo for Global Learning Festival and links to social media and website (also included in the body-text of the article)

IFLA: What led Melton and Wyndham City Councils to establish the Global Learning Festival?

Lara and Diane: The idea of the Global Learning Festival was first conceived in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. Melbourne, like many cities around the world, was in lockdown for extended periods of time and many of its residents had to transition to online modes of work, leisure and entertainment. Learning communities and cities around the world were cancelling or postponing their learning festivals and other events. Two UNESCO Learning Cities in Greater Melbourne, Melton and Wyndham, saw this as a unique opportunity to bring unity and connection to communities all over the world and to give learners a firsthand experience of the benefits that lifelong learning can bring, particularly during uncertain and challenging times.

How does working globally make a difference?

The idea of a Learning City encourages us to think and act beyond the walls of formal educational institutions and infrastructures and think about the city as an ecosystem containing vast, informal opportunities, resources and potential for enabling people to learn and develop themselves in ways that meet their needs, interests and ambitions.

There are two global learning city networks, the PASCAL Learning City Networks and the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. They are both international policy-oriented networks that aim to establish global communities of practice around the world. These networks support the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), namely SDG 4 Quality Education, SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities and SDG 17 Partnerships; they support cities in addressing global issues at a local level.

Through global initiatives like the Global Learning Festival, we are able to pool our resources and offer a broader range of learning opportunities to a larger audience through collaboration. In November 2021, the Global Learning Festival showcased 95 events from across the world including from Australia, the USA, the U.K, Israel, Northern Ireland, Taiwan, Canada, Bangladesh, Kenya, Benin, Colombia, Finland, Italy, Lithuania, and Turkey. Over 4796 people logged in and “attended” or viewed the range of events and recordings. Topics included cooking, history, sustainable living, international development, inclusion, entrepreneurship, professional development, reconciliation, gardening, cooking, resilience, mental health and self-care, STEM, author talks and human rights.

Chef Avery, who was involved in the cooking with Avery programme. Image: child in an apron and chef's hat2021 GLF Event: Avery Bakes Pumpkin Bread and Jam Squares

Avery is 7 years old and lives in Massachusetts, USA. With the help of her parents, she hosted a cooking event that connected her with people locally and globally. Avery was overwhelmed by the positive responses she received from around the world, including primary school students in Melbourne Australia. Avery was most excited by a young local participant who wanted to connect and have a playdate as soon as possible!

For how long have libraries been part of the festival?

The Global Learning Festival is in its third year in 2022 and libraries have been involved since the beginning. In 2020, four libraries in Greater Melbourne (Australia) hosted a range of live events on a broad range of topics like the war on drugs, native plants, parenting in digital world, a writing group and a virtual English language café; what’s more, these libraries were able to offer their customers lifelong learning opportunities from around the world. these libraries were able to offer their customers.

In 2021, more libraries from across Australia joined the Global Learning Festival working group and offered live events like a ‘No Dig’ gardening workshop, a professional development event for Early Childhood Professionals, an environmental education event for primary-school students and a sustainable living webinar. Each year, the Global Learning Festival working group is hoping to welcome new partners from across the world and offer free online learning opportunities for more people around the world.

Further to the important part libraries have played in hosting GLF events, library team members have directly played an active part on the GLF working group, helping to coordinate and shape the festival.

What opportunities are there for libraries to get involved? What sort of activities do libraries carry out?

Libraries are encouraged to get involved in the 2022 Global Learning Festival in three ways. Library staff are encouraged to “Like” and follow the Global Learning Festival Facebook Page.

In June and July, libraries promote opportunities for local professional and community members to share their passion globally and host hour-long online learning events. The themes of proposed events should address at least one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals varying from First Nation’s culture, author talks, employability, literacy, gender, sustainability, health and wellbeing, climate action, technology and history.

In October-November, libraries participate in the Global Learning Festival by encouraging their customers to register for and attend a broad range of free hour-long online learning opportunities from around the world.

What does the target audience of the festival gain from the participation of libraries?

Library customers who participate in the Global Learning Festival can learn about a broad range of topics from around the world from the comfort of their armchair. They also benefit from a sense of connection and unity with people of all ages from around the world. The Global Learning Festival can foster an increased sense of global citizenship for library customers who participate in Festival events.

GLF event participants are exposed to the plethora of events and programs that libraries around the world provide. It is possible that they go on to explore the many other benefits of libraries through their experience of attending a GLF event. Event providers can promote their usual event programming during the festival – offering an opportunity to capture a different segment of the community.

Photo of one of the participants in the 2021 Global Learning Festival2021 GLF Event: Nyadol Nyuon on Lifelong Learning for Connection, Equality and Inclusion

17-year-old Emmie found Nyadol’s story intriguing, “Her insights on lifelong learning can help to me to improve my own life and existence”

Renae, a mother of one, was reminded of the power of reading, “It is a gateway that opens us to the world and other people’s perspectives; perspectives we may never experience firsthand.”

How do libraries benefit from participating?

The Global learning Festival (GLF) offers libraries a unique opportunity to enhance their role in community engagement and education. Libraries will raise their profile as community learning centres by encouraging local professionals and hobbyists to host an event, broadening their program offerings in November each year and encouraging their customers to learn something new from somewhere around the world. What’s more, libraries have an opportunity to partner with local organisations to promote lifelong learning for all in the community.

Shaniece from Empathy - picture of a child with face paint working with a film crew, smiling2021 GLF Event: Beyond Empathy ‘Podformance’ – What is Lifelong Learning?

“We were excited to host an event as our values of lifelong learning and connection align perfectly with the values of the Global Learning Festival”

Shaniece from Beyond Empathy was excited to partner with Wollongong City Libraries Australia in the 2021 GLF on a ‘Podformance’ that explored the concept of lifelong learning. She says the GLF reinforced her ideas of lifelong learning and its power to be inclusive no matter your social standing.

Get a taste for their discussion on lifelong learning here.

What does it mean for you to integrate libraries effectively into learning policies and strategies more broadly?

Many local governments in Australia embed ‘learning community’ or ‘learning city’ units into library departments, strengthening the link between libraries and lifelong learning whilst promoting the learning city concept. Libraries are key stakeholders in the implementation of lifelong learning policies and strategies, for example:

  • Brimbank Library (in Greater Melbourne) is responsible for developing and delivering the city’s Lifelong Learning Strategy; and
  • Wollongong City Libraries (south of Sydney) is driving a city-wide project to develop a learning strategy and join the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities in 2024.

All in all, libraries deliver a vast range of formal and informal learning opportunities; they facilitate a range of learning networks and connections; and they play an important advocacy and influencer role both within councils and externally to other community stakeholders.