Innovating and enterprising for libraries in development initiatives: interview with Merve Yavuzdemir
01 June 2022
At the heart of the work of IFLA and the library field as a whole around the SDGs is the fact that libraries are partners for development, across the policy agenda. This isn’t just a theory, but something that is made reality every day.
As a result, it makes sense that libraries should also be involved in wider initiatives that look to deliver on development goals, at the national and international levels. And there is so much scope to be enterprising and innovative in how we get involved!
We interviewed Merve Yavuzdemir from Turkey, who is running library projects with the United Nations Development Programme, to find out more, and to underline the possibilities for libraries everywhere to be proactive in taking a place at the table!
1) Being innovative is not always part of people’s stereotype of libraries – how are you working to combat this?
As in many parts of the world, a large part of society in Turkey thinks that libraries consist of book warehouses. However, libraries have already turned from lending spaces into learning spaces. The content of learning spaces develops in parallel with the needs of society. While the expectation of the industrial society was rather simple, the expectation of the information society is much different. Now we are in the period of Society 5.0. It is no longer possible to think of solution-oriented library services that will meet the needs of smart societies separately from innovation. In this context, we look at the library field from the perspective of social innovation and entrepreneurship. We update traditional services with user-oriented designs. Of course, this is not easy to do.
As Kütüp-Anne Platform team, we participated in training on social innovation and entrepreneurship in advance. Then, we created projects for libraries in national and international social innovation platforms and carried out advocacy activities. We have updated our discourses and targets with a focus on innovation. In this way, we have given greater consideration to the UN 2030 agenda.
In short, we have opened a way forward where we can advocate for the library by breaking down stereotypes.
2) The same goes for being entrepreneurial. How does your work look to apply ideas from entrepreneurship to the library field?
Libraries in Turkey are public spaces that provide free service to the community. In my opinion, libraries have an important role in producing solutions to both global and local problems. They can do this directly or as a creative solution center, they can inspire, and they can offer opportunities to their users.
For example, we consider “the green library” approach to be a part of this solution. During the Covid-19 period, libraries supported health staff by designing masks and visors in their makerspaces , and producing them on 3D printers. This is a very important example in this regard.
The number of incubation centers for start-ups is increasing in our country. Libraries, on the other hand, serve as the incubation center of society as a lifelong learning center. It offers opportunities to many local start-ups, especially with the equality of opportunity it offers in access to technology.
3) How easy has it been to get people working on programmes related to innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership to think about libraries?
While it is not easy to understand innovation correctly even in the library ecosystem, it is much more difficult for libraries to be accepted in the innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership ecosystem. Especially at a time of focus on technology-centered initiatives as a locomotive in this field, the number of those who perceive libraries as a public institution that has reached the end of their lifetime is not small at all.
The publications and discourses of IFLA (especially the advocacy subgroup) to overcome this obstacle have been very inspiring for us.
We have followed the library field very closely on a global scale. Most importantly, we have closely observed the demands and needs of society and analyzed its problems. Thus, we have been successful in social innovation programs because the projects we have produced have the potential to be a solution to a real social problem.
Of course, we could not succeed in every program in which we participated. However, every program we attended provided us with an important and growing social network. Our experiences have enabled us to develop the right discourse and perspective for future programs.
The most common questions we encounter in such programs are “Why should I go to the library when I can easily access every information with Google?” and “Will e-books not completely end the need for published books?”.
So, it was not easy at first to convince the opinion leaders in a short time. Now, we give examples of libraries located on Google campuses and bookstores opened by Amazon while answering such questions. Then, we tell them about the new role of libraries.
4) What has your experience of working with UNDP been?
As in all member countries, there is an Accelerator Lab within the scope of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Turkey. Through this, UNDP aims to build a global network and multiply good practices to achieve the UN2030 Agenda. In this context, the UNDP Accelerator Lab called for candidates for the Social Innovation Support Program at the end of 2020.
As the social innovation project team we formed within the scope of the Kütüp-Anne Platform, we submitted the Agro-Library Project. After a 3-stage evaluation process, we were one of the successful projects – one of 10 projects out of more than 400 applicants. UNDP has also decided to provide piloting support to our project. Pilot implementation of the Agro-Library Project has been continuing since June 2021 with the financial support of UNDP.
When the project is finalized, first the national and then the international presentation process will begin. In other words, our experience will be shared alongside the Agro-Library guide as a good example in the Accelerator Labs network.
This has been a very instructive process for us. The UNDP team provided consultancy throughout the process to ensure that our project matched with the Sustainable Development Goals. As a team, we provided awareness to the UNDP team in the library field. So it was a mutually beneficial effort.
5) What about your experience of working with the EU office in Turkey? What has working with them allowed you to do?
As Kütüp-Anne Platform, we have completed four different EU projects so far. The biggest contribution of these projects to us has been to redefine libraries with a rights-based perspective.
Our projects are stated below:
1- The Library City Project – Ankara
“Library City Project: Response to Quarantine Children of Covid-19” by Merve Yavuzdemir, founder and manager of the Kütüp-Anne Platform, a web-based resource for libraries, children’s books, and promoting reading culture in Turkey.
Library City was a project in Ankara, Turkey, in May and June of 2020, where 600 children ages 3-10 were sent books to their homes while in strict quarantine. Posters of the covers of the books were also sent. After the children read the book, they displayed the poster for that book in their window for all to see. The children’s homes became the “library”. The campaign also included activities and resources for families. Hopefully we will not experience anything like or on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic again. But this is a great idea and I could see replicating this as part of a winter or summer reading program during pandemic as well as “normal” times.” Tanya DiMaggio, Poster Sessions for Children’s Services at #ALAAC21, ALA Annual Conference 2021
2- The Library City Project – Konya
3- The Information Explorers
Information Explorer was a EU-funded project that helps children overcome the infodemic through media and information literacy during the covid-19 period.
4- Child Readers’ Rights
The Child Readers’ Rights project aims to discover children’s critical literacy skills, reveal their intellectual perspectives and expectations with concrete data, and explore the rights of readers in the scope of P4C workshops and resources prepared by our experts.
The Child Reader Rights Document created at the end of the project was published in 10 different languages. (https://bit.ly/cocukokurhaklaribildirgesii)
We also have new projects that we will start working on in the coming period and apply for EU financial support. I believe that we have raised the voice of libraries with the projects we carry out. We also support the ecosystem with these projects. For example, we provide training to librarians, produce materials for libraries, and raise awareness in society.
The fact that we always tend to provide more social impact than originally foreseen in the projects for which we receive financial support from the EU makes it easier for our new project applications to receive acceptance and financial support from the EU.
So, I think that we are setting a good example and motivate many library staff.
6) What are you most proud of in your work so far?
We are proud of every new platform where we raise the voice of libraries. The awards we have received in recent years and the programs we are a part of are as follows:
- Ankara Development Agency Social Entrepreneurship Program for Youth – Education
- UNDP Social Innovation Support Program – Award (Agro-Library)
- Social Workshop – Social Innovation Acceleration Program – Award (Library of things)
- Women in Innovation Program – Turkey’s 30 most innovative women (LibAround)
- Junior Chamber International-Ten Outstanding Young Persons Of the Turkey – Cultural Achievement Category – First Prize
- TechAnkara Entrepreneurship Center Program – Advanced Entrepreneurship Education
- SheMakes (Google Turkey & MadiaCAT) – Leading Women of the Future Program
- Brothers – Women Engaging in Life Training Program
7) What are your plans for 2022?
Our most important work area for 2022 is “fully accessible libraries”!
We would like to bring this issue to the agenda in terms of spatial, technological, and inclusive collections and services and include this issue among our social innovation projects.
In addition, there are institutions such as non-governmental organizations working in the library field. This year, we are planning an event where we can share the network and know-how among civil initiatives in the field of library and reading culture. This collaboration will be a work we care about for creating system thinking and coordination.
We also want to prepare a guide and checklist for the Agro-Library in cooperation with UNDP. We are still working on this project.
Another thing that we are excited about is the JCI TOYP 2022 Global competition. This year, I will be globally in the field of cultural achievement representing my country. I believe, that if our work in the library field receives such a global award, it will open many new doors for us.
On the other hand, I will present a paper at the 3rd International Children’s Libraries symposium this year, having also done so at the first two symposiums.
I am also taking personal training to write a picture book. I would love to write books that will bring children together with libraries.
8) What recommendations would you have to colleagues elsewhere?
When it comes to innovation, I believe there are 3 main obstacles to the development of the library field ecosystem: interdisciplinary work, collaboration, and coordination.
These three barriers prevent us from being inclusive, sustainable, and innovative while working in this field.
However, libraries have become an important center in society after the transformation they experienced. They have not only been a center of information and learning, but also have a focus on cultural and social belonging. In other words, it is an incubation center that offers the opportunity for the individual to realize themselves.
Considering the pioneering role of libraries and the value of stepping out of our comfort zone, it is very important to cooperate with different disciplines, be in contact with national and international cooperation organizations, and coordinate by enriching our existing network. Thus, we can expand our sphere of influence and find new financial support opportunities.
To develop our field, we should use innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities, which are indispensable for the 21st century and smart societies.
To share our experiences and collaborate, you can follow @kutupanne accounts or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.