In conversation with Lan Gao, Chair, IFLA’s Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section
27 May 2022
Within IFLA, the Section on Library Services to Multicultural Populations has a key role in bringing the field together to address the question of how our institutions and professions can serve our communities in all their diversity.
This work is essential to the wider mission of libraries to provide meaningful access to information for all, leaving no-one behind, as well as building stronger and more cohesive societies.
In 2022, the Section is celebrating 40 years of success in providing guidance, insights, and a space for exchange and learning. We interviewed the Section Chair, Lan Gao, to find out more.
1) Your section is focused on helping libraries respond better to the needs of multicultural populations – what are the hottest topics for you right now?
During challenging times, such as political conflicts and the current pandemic, libraries and information institutions need to ensure that vital information and authentic resources are provided to all, especially to those who might be at a disadvantage in such situations. More importantly, in order to have meaningful dialogues with all parties during times of crisis, barriers to equal access of fair information and useful resources should be removed. As the custodian of knowledge, libraries play an important role in proactively removing those barriers.
In April, we sent out a call for newsletter articles. Our main theme of this upcoming issue is how libraries support multicultural communities during times of crisis. I think this theme touches upon our Section’s focus on many levels.
The newsletter will be published soon on the IFLA repository. I hope our readers will enjoy reading the upcoming issue and join the dialogue.
2) What role can you see for libraries in proactively promoting multiculturalism and cultural diversity?
Before addressing the issue of promoting multiculturalism or cultural diversity, we must first try to understand what “culture” is. We will need to acknowledge and accept the distinctions, differences, or even the multi-polarization of ideas, beliefs, religion, customs, and social norms, which are all intrinsic components of a culture. We need to learn how to respect cultural heterogeneity. I think this is an important continued self-education process for libraries and information institutions. Adopting cultural appreciation instead of cultural appropriation is one of the first steps to promote diversity and inclusiveness.
To truly promote multiculturalism and cultural diversity, libraries and information institutions should not be complacent in having consensus view on divisive topics. We need to provide venues for discourse of various topics, even some of them touch upon ideologies and narratives that are divergent from the center, which we might not be totally comfortable with. When we step outside our own echo chamber and open to different ideas, we can be truly appreciative of the multitude of cultures. I think that is the core of libraries and library professionals promoting multiculturalism and cultural diversity in this day and age.
3) What is the benefit of addressing this question from a global, IFLA perspective?
IFLA’s Mission is “to inspire, engage, enable and connect the global library field”. One benefit of addressing this question from a global, IFLA perspective is that with the utilization of IFLA’s valuable resources and amazing manpower from around the world, we can provide libraries and their professionals the guidance, tools, and any other support they might need to promote multiculturalism and cultural diversity.
IFLA provides platforms for us to connect with each other. One of the platforms is WLIC. Attending WLIC is a nice way to experience different cultures. I first attended WLIC in 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is very close to where I live, so everything there looked familiar to me – yet I was able to meet colleagues from faraway places that I had never been before. That was an exciting conference for me to experience and appreciate the “cultural diversity” in the global library field for the first time. After that year, I attended WLICs in person and travelled to Wrocław, Kuala Lumpur, and Athens over the following years. I enjoyed them all and was very thankful for IFLA helped me to broaden my horizon in such a way. I do hope more and more of our colleagues will be able to experience WLIC in person in the future.
4) The Section is 40 years old – how are you marking this, and what are the next steps?
Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section (MCULTP). MCULTP started as an IFLA Working Group in 1981 and formally became a IFLA Section in 1986. We made the commemoration and celebration of this important milestone a main theme of our December 2021 newsletter. We reached out to past Chairs of this section and asked them to share their memories of how this section developed and matured throughout the four decades. We also shared the call for articles through other communication channels. A lot of articles were submitted by current and past members as well as past leaders of this section. Memories were shared, stories were told, successes were celebrated. I think this issue is unique in connecting our section’s past, present, and the future.
Looking forward, we would like to continue providing resources and tools to libraries, information institutions, as well as library professionals to better serve the multicultural communities, especially those of cultural and linguistic minorities. We will also strive to remove barriers to inclusive and equitable access to knowledge and information. The goal is that no one should be left out.