We made the journey from Vietnam to attend our first IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) to present our poster reflecting some of our COVID experiences. The WLIC in Dublin, Ireland made a long-lasting impression on all of us. We remembered reading this quote from one of the neighbouring library’s posters, “Your life doesn’t get any better by chance, it gets better by change.” We clearly see this message manifested during this conference. From attending programmes to interacting with librarians from around the world, we learned a lot about how to lead and impact library users to help them be more responsible in their selections and ultimately in the decision-making process to become engaged global citizens.

Attending the Reading for Wellbeing session was rewarding. During the session, librarians shared their experiences in engaging different learners during various COVID situations. Despite difficulties in reaching out to users and making sense of what happened, they created innovative ways and formats to ensure users with different backgrounds could access reading materials and easily comprehend the situation. Several methods that we will try applying in future involve introducing music to reading sessions and organising mindfulness workshops using deep breathing to help attendees appreciate each moment.

We felt the most impactful programme was ‘Library Under the Lid’. Amidst the pandemic, South Dublin librarians sent their users beautiful boxes each containing a book, some puzzles, small personal care items, a book light, pens, bookmarks, colouring books, and coloured pencils. They hoped to bring library experience to their users so that everyone could feel connected even when they were isolated. We find this a very inspirational, creative, forward-thinking, and practical way to take charge of a situation and turning something that was negative into a priceless opportunity. Rarely are libraries able to reach in such a personal way, but thanks to COVID, their users were able to feel even closer to their library than ever before. Even though this was a one-off activity, this simple gesture is an example of a priceless action that will bring a long-lasting positive experience. These activities have really inspired us to be creative and think out of the box to engage more people in our community.

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) by the National Library Board, Singapore through chatbots to collect data was inspiring. By categorising common topics and tailoring chat options, users could self-navigate to the best answers of their questions. Librarians use that data to improve their library services by applying what they have learnt to make better reading suggestions that can expand the breadth and depth of the reading topics. Their main chatbot website eliminates misinformation and promotes search skills among library users. We think this is a fantastic application of AI for librarians because it saves time and helps librarians to promote their services in a timely and bespoke manner. This application was one of the first things we shared when we got back to Vietnam!

The IFLA WLIC 2022 helped us to discover other great technologies. Space usage and planning technologies were particularly interesting as we discovered technological solutions to manage and improve the spaces in our library. One of the more interesting examples of this technology comes from Occuspace, which developed an application called Waitz that gives users live updates on how busy the study spaces are in the library. It promotes safety and helps with social distancing issues that many institutions and organisations needed to tackle. It is a tremendous time-saver for users who want to make sure that study space is available before visiting the library. Waitz can work seamlessly when embedded into library mobile apps.

Technologies that focused on the preservation, conservation, reservation, and management of library physical materials were also of great interest. We looked at simple products such as book scanners and specialised book lamination stations to high-tech equipment like automatic check-in bookshelves and book drops.

Applying the knowledge learned at the IFLA WLIC 2022 has inspired us to make some really great changes. The global connections and friendships that were made at the Congress provided us with long-lasting relationships and support that will make us better librarians and our library in Vietnam an even better resource for our community.

Written by Pham Thi Thanh Van and Tam Thach, RMIT University, Vietnam.