Leaders’ Conversations 2021
Visualizing Our Future: Masterplans of Libraries and Archives (National Libraries Edition)

The National Library Board, Singapore (NLB), in collaboration with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Regional Office for Asia and Oceania, held a webinar on 1st November 2021 on the theme “Visualising our Future: Masterplans of Libraries and Archives”. This edition, the first of four episodes, focused on the National Libraries, while the remaining sessions held subsequently on 9th, 17th and 22nd November 2021 focused on the Public Libraries, Archives and Academic Libraries respectively.

The Leaders Conversations’ series was jointly launched by NLB and the IFLA Regional Office for Asia and Oceania in 2020, in support of IFLA’s Global Vision. It aims to bring top leaders from libraries and archives together to discuss challenges impacting their sector, explore new opportunities and ideate innovative solutions.

The IFLA President, Ms Barbara Lison, delivered the opening address where she welcomed the sharing of knowledge and insights by library leaders to uplift the professional practices of libraries and emphasised the importance of libraries as agents of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The session featured four eminent leaders of libraries:

  • Mr Xiong Yuanming, Director, National Library of China;
  • Dr Marie-Louise Ayres, Director-General, National Library of Australia;
  • Ms Liisa Savolainen, Deputy Director, National Library of Finland; and
  • Mr Ng Cher Pong, Chief Executive Officer, NLB.

The three distinguished panellists for the session were:

  1. Mr Hoani Lambert, Deputy Chief Executive, Enterprise Partnerships, Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand;
  2. Ms Liz Jolly, Chief Librarian, British Library; and
  3. Ibu Woro Titi Haryanti Salikin, Prime Secretary, National Library of Indonesia.

Mr Gene Tan, Assistant Chief Executive (Partnerships and Strategy), NLB, moderated the webinar which was attended by 104 participants from all over the world. The compact presentations by the four speakers on their masterplans were informative and captivating.

Presentation Highlights

The National Library of China’s three main strategies comprise plans to transform into a smart library and support an integrated nationwide smart library network; to focus on Quality Promotion in areas such as rules and regulations, human resource development and decision-making capacities; and to forge new partnerships in an “ecology of knowledge” with an open, inclusionary attitude in embracing the future.

Dr Ayres provided an understanding of the National Library of Australia (NLA)’s formulation of its Corporate Plan, with its key missions organised under the categories of Collect, Connect, Collaborate and Capability. Within these four constructs, some of the areas highlighted were prioritising the type and variety of resources to be collected (including digital resources), legal deposit and e-deposits, sourcing for resources on indigenous/minority communities, tackling storage capacity issues, and defining qualitative and quantitative performance indicators.

The focus of the National Library of Finland (NLF) was the long-term preservation of cultural heritage and born-digital and digitised materials. It placed great emphasis on IT solutions. NLF had an online platform that enabled discovery of resources from around 400 content providers. Simplified tools for accessing data were being provided, along with a review of copyright restrictions to facilitate research and data mining. The provision of a Digital Reading Room for restricted and sensitive data was being explored.

Mr Ng gave highlights on NLB’s LAB25 (Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025), which comprises four key roles of Learning Marketplace, Informed Citizenry, Singapore Storyteller and Equaliser. Two transformative features within the blueprint were highlighted – the omni-channel service framework that aimed to integrate physical and digital services for a seamless online, offline experience, and the “Curiocity” project which aimed to bring the library’s collection to the local community through innovative geo-based tagging, layering and 3D framing.

Panel Discussion and Q&A Segment

The presentations were followed by an engaging and interactive discussion where the speakers, joined by the three panellists, gave further insights into global library priorities and trends. Mr Lambert highlighted New Zealand’s focus on addressing the needs of children and how poverty formed a barrier to accessing library services. Similarly, Ms Jolly spoke about the importance the British Library (BL) placed in attending to underserved communities, with the principles of integration, openness and inclusivity guiding its programmes. Ibu Woro took the opportunity to detail the efforts of the National Library of Indonesia in providing a one-search function that encompassed some 1,500 libraries as well as its ongoing efforts to collate, consolidate and present Nusantara manuscripts on an online platform for the benefit of a domestic and global audience keen to study Indonesian history and culture.

The imperatives of balancing the physical and digital services of the libraries also garnered much attention. Mr Ng explained NLB’s “hubs and nodes” integrated model where QR codes linked to e-books were embedded in decals and wallpapers, which themselves were strategically situated in places where people frequented (e.g., malls). This would entice people who do not traditionally visit the libraries. Inspired by the Amazon Go concept, NLB was also launching “grab and go” library facilities where books could be borrowed automatically through sensors without users needing to perform any act of borrowing.

In the case of NLA, given the vast geographical spread of the country and a diffused population housing pattern, the proliferation of online services was an obvious decision. Mr Xiong, while acknowledging the fact that NLC itself had been spearheading online services for the past two decades and had made good strides, flagged that digital access could not supplant physical services in view of the distinct atmosphere that libraries provided to visitors.

Ms Lison raised the factor of staffing requirements that would determine the success of the various initiatives. Ms Savolainen admitted to the challenge of matching private sector remuneration but expressed confidence that people would be attracted to work in cultural heritage institutions for their enabling social mission. She added that library leadership should bring diverse categories of staff together in a cooperative atmosphere. The importance of respecting the work of librarians, at a time when librarians were trying to play roles they were not made for, was emphasised by Ms Jolly. She identified people skills as being vital for librarians to facilitate knowledge co-creation with the community. Mr Lambert pointed out the need for specialists in multiple disciplines, such as digital experts and human-centered design specialists, to work together.

With libraries recognising the need to enhance collaboration with a wide range of partners, the panellists seized the opportunity to explore this subject. Mr Ng posited a new paradigm in terms of working with partners where instead of narrowly defining the scope of partnership at the outset, the preference was to give broad directions and then explore the types of solutions partners can deliver. When partnering with tech giants, NLB sought not only to bridge the digital divide, but to also keep communities enthused and motivated to learn about cutting edge technology and digital applications.

In a refreshing inversion of the commonly perceived role of libraries, Ms Lison spoke about bringing the knowledge of the people to the libraries. The libraries could emulate the best practices of museums which were good at harnessing the knowledge people had. Ms Savolainen referred to an enhanced model of partnerships as we looked to the future of libraries, one that involved genuine discussion, understanding and co-creation.

Asked to identify key partners to increase engagement with, Mr Lambert identified the children of New Zealand, the librarians, and archivists of the future. Dr Ayres singled out indigenous communities, particularly those living in remote areas. Mr Xiong articulated his intention to work with libraries all over the world. Ms Jolly’s focus was on underserved communities, including those disadvantaged on account of their age, social class, and ethnicity, with the ultimate objective of making BL everyone’s national library.

Written by: Mohamed Saleem, Manager, Partnership, National Library Board, Singapore

Leaders’ Conversations 2021
Visualising Our Future: Masterplans of Libraries and Archives (Public Libraries Edition)

The National Library Board, Singapore (NLB), in collaboration with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Regional Office for Asia and Oceania, held a webinar on 9th November 2021 on the theme “Visualising our Future: Masterplans of Libraries and Archives”. This edition, the second of four episodes, focused on the Public Libraries, while the other sessions held on 1st, 17th and 22nd November 2021 focused on the National Libraries, Archives and Academic Libraries respectively.

The Leaders Conversations’ series was jointly launched by NLB and the IFLA Regional Office for Asia and Oceania in 2020, in support of IFLA’s Global Vision. It aims to bring top leaders from libraries and archives together to discuss challenges impacting their sector, explore new opportunities and ideate innovative solutions.

The opening address was delivered by the IFLA President, Ms Barbara Lison, where she welcomed the value of the conference as a platform for the sharing of knowledge and insights by library leaders to uplift the professional practices of libraries. She highlighted the benefit of distilling a common understanding from global trends to address challenges in the sector. She reiterated the importance of libraries working together and becoming agents in the realisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms Lison was joined by the IFLA Secretary General Mr Gerald Leitner who welcomed the Leaders’ Conversations series as manifesting and furthering the IFLA Global Vision. He underscored IFLA’s facilitative organisation structure and efforts in supporting libraries around the globe and emphasised that it was vital to have conversations to enhance library services, to bring about a strong and equitable post-pandemic recovery.

The webinar featured three eminent library leaders as presenters:

  1. Ms Sidsel Bech-Petersen, Head, Innovation and Co-creation, Aarhus Public Libraries, Denmark;
  2. Datu Dr Rashidah Bolhassan, President, Librarians’ Association of Malaysia; and
  3. Mr Ng Cher Pong, Chief Executive Officer, NLB.

The three distinguished panellists for the session were:

  1. Mr Chu Shuqing, Director & Professor of Library Science, Zhejiang Library;
  2. Ms Vicki McDonald, State Librarian & Chief Executive Officer, State Library Queensland; and
  3. Ms Catherine Lau, Assistant Chief Executive (Archives & Libraries Group), NLB.

Mr Gene Tan, Assistant Chief Executive (Partnerships and Strategy), NLB, moderated the event which was attended by 96 participants from all over the world.

Presentation Highlights

Ms Bech-Petersen defined the key drivers for the Aarhus Public Libraries (APL), beginning with the need for radical transformation, new mindsets, and a climate of social sustainability. This called for planet/human-centred design. She elaborated that libraries should be “dream factories” for the community and to this end, APL provided facilities to the community to prototype solutions for the future. APL also believed in promoting and strengthening democracy and social cohesion in an era of fake news. For instance, APL imparted data and media literacy though workshops. Ms Bech-Petersen also mentioned the focus on Creative Learning. Tinkering in library spaces like Idea Labs, Creative Labs and Maker’s Labs was one way for citizens to gain new skills. Library spaces should thus foster play, research, imagination, and invention.

Dr Rashidah spoke about the push in the delivery of library services online. Examples included open learning platforms and producing tuition content for children. Due to the pandemic, innovative services, such as a direct-to-consumer book borrowing service called the “Book Bear” had been conceived. Members could search and request for books via an app for the library to arrange free delivery of books. However, even as library services moved online, the need for physical libraries remained. Under a Book-for-Life (BFL) movement, community library facilities were established in towns with minimal usage restrictions and catered to people who had no internet device or connection. BFL encouraged communities to exchange reading materials with the tagline, “Give a Book, Take a Book”. Outreach to communities and schools in remote areas, as well as ensuring equitable access for marginalised populations were priorities of the public libraries in Malaysia. For these initiatives to fructify, Dr Rashidah flagged the importance of staff development and a mindset of innovation. She aptly closed her presentation with an affirming quote by R. David Lankes – “The value of the library is in the librarians”.

Mr Ng gave an insight into NLB’s LAB25 (Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025) comprising four roles of Learning Marketplace, Informed Citizenry, Singapore Storyteller and Equaliser. In crystallising the Learning Superstore design, which is one of the transformative elements under the pillar of Learning Marketplace, NLB studied commercial online platforms and learnt to apply the power of agglomeration whereby partners would bring content to libraries, leading to greater online usage of resources. This in turn would attract more partners and content, creating a virtuous cycle. It had observed how personalised recommendation drove consumption in Netflix and sought to contextualise this in its digital platform. As for the Equaliser role, NLB wanted not just to bridge the digital divide, but to be a digital elevator, by motivating the population to keep pace with the constantly evolving digital landscape. Mr Ng capped his presentation by referring to a new omni-channel ecosystem, which conjoined the physical and digital services in a seamless, integrated network of “hubs and nodes”, expanding the library’s reach. Participants obtained a glimpse of some features of this omni-channel model e.g., immersive wallpapers planted in locations such as malls and embedded with QR codes which led to library e-books as well as staff-less facilities where library books could be loaned in a concept modelled after Amazon’s “grab and go” format.

Panel Discussion and Q&A Segment

The experiences shared by the panellists provided further insights and ideas. Ms McDonald revealed that while the State Library Queensland (SLQ) was a reference and research library, it had a unique space for children, which will be developed further as a focal point of learning. SLQ aims to increase public engagement with its collection, including digitised content.

Mr Chu gave emphasis to Zhejiang Library’s plans to link all library resources within the province for online discovery and to enhance integration among libraries such that books borrowed from one library could be returned in another. Efforts were being directed to make translated materials conveniently accessible on a digital platform.

Ms Lau expanded on NLB’s LAB25 plans by stating that the Learning Marketplace had eight Learning Focus Areas which had been systematically constructed to achieve specific outcomes. Visitors to the library would receive real-time recommendations on programmes and reading materials based on their past usage pattern.

The panellists were tapped for their views on the critical role of libraries in bridging various forms of societal divides as well as making efforts to reach out to non-library users. Ms Bech-Petersen shared that APL invited people with disabilities to be part of the library design processes to enhance usability and visited labour unions to increase awareness of library’s services among this stratum of workers. Digital services were a boon for some non-library users such as young people with anxiety issues who shied from public interactions. Dr Rashidah added that it was important to situate libraries at the core of development planning and not relegate it to an afterthought. Ms McDonald accentuated the point that the library workforce should be diverse and be representative of the community in various aspects to be able to truly understand and attract all groups of the society to the library. Mr Chu opined that widening the variety of library activities and infusing joy into learning can help to broaden participation.

Ms Lison sought the opinions of the panellists on the concept of libraries as a third space, at a time when the lines between different places such as office, work, home etc., were being blurred. Mr Ng stated that libraries could function as an important, neutral place, providing authoritative content in different formats such as articles, podcasts etc., and these could widen perspectives, allowing users to come to their own informed conclusion. Ms McDonald pointed out that libraries also functioned as workplaces, patronised by businesspeople utilising library resources. The online space was itself becoming diverse and libraries should ensure it remained accessible to all and be a space for all. Ms Lau referred to Jane Jacobs’ conception of the role of community and stressed the importance of bringing back the notion of community. With the imperfection of the digital world and its isolative properties, libraries served to bring people together and learn together by being a community space. Ms Bech-Petersen articulated that libraries were a trusted place for the community, a place for all ages and citizens, a place for diversity and a place for inspiration. Dr Rashidah brought in another dimension of space into the mix, that of time – online resources and services not only enabled access in geographically vast countries, but such access could also be flexibly availed at a time of the users’ choosing.

The session was wrapped up with the moderator’s question to identify a key loss and gain resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Panellists regretted the fall in physical visitorship to libraries even if it was matched or surpassed by the rise in digital usage. Ms Bech-Petersen rued the loss of freedom but found comfort that the pandemic stimulated innovative solutions to problems, which offered hope for other crises confronting humanity such as the climate emergency.

Written by: Mohamed Saleem, Manager, Partnership, National Library Board, Singapore

Leaders’ Conversations 2021
Visualising Our Future: Masterplans of Libraries and Archives (Archives Edition)

The National Library Board, Singapore (NLB), in collaboration with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Regional Office for Asia and Oceania, held a webinar on 17th November 2021 on the theme “Visualising our Future: Masterplans of Libraries and Archives”. This edition, the third of four episodes, focused on the Archives, while the other sessions held on 1st, 9th and 22nd November 2021, focused on the National Libraries, Public Libraries and Academic Libraries respectively.

The Leaders Conversations’ series was jointly launched by NLB and the IFLA Regional Office for Asia and Oceania in 2020, in support of IFLA’s Global Vision. It aims to bring top leaders from libraries and archives together to discuss challenges impacting their sector, explore new opportunities and ideate innovative solutions.

The President of the International Council of Archives (ICA), Mr David Fricker, who is also the Director-General of the National Archives of Australia, delivered the opening address. He welcomed NLB’s timely initiative in convening the webinar and expressed confidence that the discussions would maintain momentum in innovation in the management of archives, particularly pertinent in a time of COVID-19 triggered disruptions. Stressing the importance of archives in ensuring transparency and accountability through proper recording, he encouraged the archival community to ensure the records of the under-represented were adequately kept, as periods of social upheavals had greater impact on marginalised communities. Even as administrations addressed short-term emergencies, archives must ensure recording of reliable, inclusive memories for study by future generations. Mr Fricker noted that the webinar aligned well with ICA’s global strategy of strengthening collaboration, ensuring a transparent and inclusive ICA, and advocating for archival communities.

The session featured three presenters who are eminent leaders of archives:

  1. Mr Wang Shaozhong, Deputy Director-General, Central Archives of China & National Archives Administration of China;
  2. Mr Jeff James, CEO & Keeper, The National Archives, UK; and
  3. Ms Julia Chee, Director, National Archives of Singapore, NLB.

The four distinguished panellists for the session were:

  1. Mr Stephen Clarke, Chief Archivist, Archives New Zealand;
  2. Ms Rini Agustiani, Secretary General, National Archives of Indonesia;
  3. Ms Leslie Weir, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Library and Archives Canada; and
  4. Mr Jaafar Sidek, Director-General, National Archives of Malaysia.

Mr Eric Chin, General-Counsel, NLB, who was previously the Director of National Archives of Singapore (NAS), moderated the webinar which was attended by 182 participants from all over the world.

Presentation Highlights

Mr Wang highlighted that the advent of the digital age, made more salient by the COVID-19 outbreak, was propelling tremendous changes. The National Archives Administration of China’s (NAAC) response to these developments comprised four thrusts. First, “strengthening the archives resource system” where the scope of resource collection was to be expanded to cover additional subject areas, the management mechanism for major events and emergencies would be improved, and the digital transformation accelerated. Second, “promoting the construction of the archives’ utilisation system”. NAAC would align the archives closer to government functions and people’s needs. NAAC would build a resource sharing platform, enhance online inquiry services, and actively explore new technology. Third, “promoting the informatisation of archives”. NAAC had in recent years pushed for electronic document filing and issued a “Digital Archives Construction Guide”. Fourth, “enhancing the positioning of archives”. Besides fulfilling its basic functions, NAAC actively explored new forms of archival services that would meet future national and societal needs. The 14th Five-Year National Archives Development Plan issued in 2021 encompassed training and talent strengthening, exchange and cooperation with foreign countries, national memory project and initiatives covering literary heritage, science and technology archives.

In sketching The National Archives UK’s (TNA) long-term strategic direction, Mr James emphasised the need to be entrepreneurial, inclusive and to connect with a global audience in an innovative and sustainable way. Amidst COVID-19, comprehensive record keeping was important to provide legal certainty. Mr James spoke about promoting the collections to new audiences with selected digital content being provided free of charge. Digital downloads had witnessed exponential rise, and public and school engagements were conducted online through webinars, podcasts etc. TNA endeavoured to make archival materials available for use, including commercial use, and to inform research and enhance discovery. Mr James pointed to the need to ensure a sustainable future, to mitigate risks to archival collections and to secure funding to protect vulnerable collections. He stressed the importance of being an inclusive employer with responsive working conditions and to reconfigure ways of working. He rounded off his presentation by underlining international collaboration and partnerships as keys to success.

NLB’s LAB25 (Library and Archives Blueprint 2025) was explained by Ms Chee as consisting of four key roles – Learning Marketplace, Informed Citizenry, Singapore Storyteller and Equaliser. She focused on the Singapore Storyteller role, which straddled the functions of both archives and libraries, and which had three main components of Collector (Capturing Singapore experiences), Keeper (Leading in digital preservation) and Connector (Enabling discovery and use). In addition, NLB had been working on the Singapore Digital Resource project. This project aimed to acquire rare digital collections relating to Singapore/Southeast Asia from overseas institutions. Ms Chee also highlighted the Citizen Archivist project as a public crowdsourcing platform model to enrich documentation of archived collections. Under the Keeper role, NAS is working on the development of a Secure Digital Preservation System for the archival of public records and ensuring long-term preservation of collections. As “Connector”, NAS would work with the National Library of Singapore to enhance discovery of collections, enabled by smart technology (machine learning and AI).

With these three feeders, NAS employed an omni-channel model to liberate its collections. Besides the network of public libraries, there would also be creatively designed and strategically located installations placed at locations to reach out to the unconverted. These installations are known as Nodes, and they would be designed with QR codes, linked to resources, so as to draw people to curated historical information. Curated videos, mini documentaries, and other related content on Singapore heritage would be published on dedicated channels. NAS also planned to engage children and young adults through customised programming, so as to cultivate a generation who would grow to appreciate Singapore’s documentary heritage.

Panel Discussion and Q&A Segment

The panellists were invited to briefly highlight their institutions’ priorities which generated thoughtful ideas for deliberation. Mr Clarke emphasised the importance of sustainability in all its myriad manifestations. One was to ensure the archives kept pace with technological changes and factored in risks of obsolescence. Another was to check the carbon footprint of archives’ buildings. Cultural sustainability was an additional illustration and framed here as paying attention to the records of indigenous peoples. Juxtaposing the two roles, one as a heritage institution safeguarding the memory of the nation and the other as a regulator in managing government records, Mr Clarke impressed how archives contributed to the sustainability of democracy.

Mr Chin, observing the immense quantity of materials being collected, digitised and stored, and the attendant carbon footprint inevitably accrued, rhetorically posed if there was a need for archives to play the role of a “Google”. Mr Wang shared that the traditional paper-based archives in China were being digitised and he articulated the concept of green archives for energy savings e.g., archives buildings were constructed according to green principles and materials. Mr Clarke added that using Machine Learning tools for appraisal held out the potential for reducing 30 to 40 percent of archival holdings. Providing surrogates for high resolution copies as a way of reducing energy consumption was recommended, with the latter reserved for high value work.

A personal suggestion was surfaced by Mr Fricker in disaster risk mitigation. Learning from Estonia, and incorporating the idea of data sovereignty, he mentioned that the Pacific Island states could, for example, store their national treasures in Australia, which was relatively more climatically stable, under the safeguard of the Vienna Convention, even while more lasting solutions to climate emergencies were being pursued.

Ms Weir brought up the challenges of balancing the analogue with the digital. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) would be implementing a Digital Asset Management System for access to its digital collections. AI would be used to support the scale and complexity of records. Placing clear focus on user experiences and on discovery of collections, LAC would be working with the Ottawa Public Library and a dedicated facility would cater to indigenous community materials. LAC would like to reflect diversity and the multicultural composition of Canada and share everyone’s stories.

Ms Rini outlined the National Archives of Indonesia’s preoccupations going forward, including increasing the record management capacity of the government at all levels, increasing access to the archives by the public, accelerating the implementation of digital transformation as well as legislative updates to keep abreast of technological developments.

Mr Jaafar conveyed his priority in convincing government bodies to shift from traditional record keeping to electronic records. The other challenge was to be relevant to the public and to use trendy means, such as virtual galleries, in reaching out to a younger demographic. Technology could be used to assist researchers and others to obtain the right information. Archives needed to work on marketing its collections to increase visibility. He broached the subject of international connectivity, an easily accessible global archive of resources to help researchers. To deliver on these objectives, Mr Jaafar touched on human capital development and the need for subject matter experts and for staff with innovative ideas.

Harnessing technological developments to manage the complexities inherent to massive archival repositories dominated the discussions. Mr Fricker identified AI, which though not in maturation in the archive industry, was something to be actively explored. He however cautioned about a “perilous” journey as AI would have unwanted bias which needed to be countered. For example, collections may be skewed away from marginalised, under-represented communities and towards popular views which may get further unwarranted reinforcement. Mr Clarke recalled that the archives had always depended on automation and the scale of information left no alternative. The approach of Archives New Zealand was to archive wholescale into a digital “landfill” and retroactively classify with the aid of machine learning tools, while enacting guards against its biases.

The discussants were asked to identify opportunities for collaborative action in the context of challenges such as digital prevalence and technology obsolescence. Mr Chin questioned if archives could embrace the idea of cooperating in a consortium to find technological solutions. Ms Chee cited map collections where archives could cooperate as all archives had map collections and joint efforts could be exerted to make the maps more accessible. Ms Weir raised the problem of ensuring authenticity of digital records which were susceptible to alteration and suggested capitalising on emerging trends such as Non-Fungible Tokens and Block Chain technology. Mr Chin buttressed this view by suggesting the usefulness of an ISO-standard equivalent scheme for the integrity of archival processes and resources. Mr Wang shared his experience where legislation was used to ensure digital archives were trustworthy and authentic, and rules were in place to manage the transfer of materials to national archives.

Mr Jaafar complimented the expertise the UK, Australia and New Zealand possessed in digital preservation and suggested a discussion among subject matter experts for mutual benefit. He further suggested the rejuvenation of the relevant programmes by the Southeast Asia Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (SARBICA) which provided for knowledge sharing. Mr James concurred with other panellists in stating that collaboration amongst archives, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to share knowledge was vital. While praising ICA’s contributions in this regard, he also flagged other important work ICA was doing in the areas of human rights and copyrights, and encouraged everyone to engage in cross-sectoral cooperation. He also called for collaboration with other organisations such as IFLA, UNESCO and technology companies.

In an information era blighted by the scourge of fake news, Mr Chin took up the topic of trusted information and asked how the trust and reliance people reposed in national archives could be increased. Mr Wang responded that originality in the form of source documents in NAAC’s possession was its main strength. As source documents could not be copied or altered, the element of originality intrinsically inspired trust. Mr Fricker, examining this point of originality from another angle, said that while in Australia the record-keeping system was still quite traditional, government business was now often being conducted over new media such as WhatsApp and Signal, and the question then arose as to how and what materials on non-traditional platforms were to be collected, while ensuring such records of government activity were authentic and original.

Mr James offered another perspective by remarking that sections of the population had felt marginalised and not represented in official records. Archivists thus had to ensure a multiplicity of views in records. He reiterated an essential note in the understanding of archives, which was that people should realise that what they were perceiving in an archival resource was only part of the story, and not the whole story, and it would not be the entire truth. In this light, collaborating with others to collectively tell stories so that the under-represented felt represented, assumed importance, congruent with society’s increasing sophistication.

Mr Chin, acknowledging the need for cultivating the younger generation, requested Ms Weir to share the benefits of the Youth Advisory Council that LAC had constituted. Ms Weir elaborated that the Council had around 24 members, of ages 18 – 24 and from different backgrounds. The Council had communicated on the matters its members were interested in, e.g., music collections. LAC planned to leverage youth networks to spread the message about archival collections and their role in supporting civil society. Receptivity to peer messaging would be better than messages pushed by teachers or parents.

In closing the conference, Mr Fricker reflected that the discussions had given further inspiration for cooperation and impetus to be alert to both the risks and potential of emerging technologies. ICA had supportive programmes for under-resourced archival colleagues in Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific. Appreciating the goodwill everyone had displayed at the conference, Mr Fricker recommitted ICA to carrying forward the cooperative momentum.

Written by: Mohamed Saleem, Manager, Partnership, National Library Board, Singapore

Leaders’ Conversations 2021
Visualising Our Future: Masterplans of Libraries and Archives (Academic Libraries Edition)

The National Library Board, Singapore (NLB), in collaboration with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Regional Office for Asia and Oceania, held a webinar on 22nd November 2021 on the theme “Visualising our Future: Masterplans of Libraries and Archives”. This edition, the last of four episodes, focused on the Academic Libraries, while the previous sessions held on 1st, 9th and 17th November 2021 focused on the National Libraries, Public Libraries and Archives respectively.

The Leaders Conversations’ series was jointly launched by NLB and the IFLA Regional Office for Asia and Oceania in 2020, in support of IFLA’s Global Vision. It aims to bring top leaders from libraries and archives together to discuss challenges impacting their sector, explore new opportunities and ideate innovative solutions.

In his opening remarks, Mr Stephen Wyber, Director, Policy and Advocacy, IFLA, contextualised the discussions by citing developments such as COVID-19 and COP26 and stated that it was important to collect and share information across various boundaries for research and policy making. Academic libraries played an important role in this regard, they need to work together with students and researchers to develop solutions for global challenges.

The session featured three presenters and two panellists from leading universities:

  1. Ms Dou Tianfang, Associate University Librarian, Tsinghua University;
  2. Mr Jeremy Upton, Director of Library & University Collections, University of Edinburgh;
  3. Ms Catherine Clark, University Librarian, Curtin University and Director, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library;
  4. Dr Shirley Wong, University Librarian, Hong Kong Polytechnic University; and
  5. Ms Bethany Wilkes, University Librarian, Singapore Management University.

Dr Sadie-Jane Nunis, President, Library Association of Singapore (LAS) was the moderator for the session, with the Director of Partnerships in NLB, Ms Soh Lin Li, as the host. The webinar was attended by 105 participants from all over the world.

Presentation Highlights

The presentations on library strategies by the three speakers were illuminative. Ms Dou’s presentation “To Be Better in Digital Ecosystem”, with its priority of being “tech-driven and tech-enabled”, displayed Tsinghua University’s focus on enhancing and personalising user experience in accessing e-resources, improving data infrastructure, and supporting open science initiatives.

Mr Upton highlighted the University of Edinburgh’s support for curriculum transformation, with the library providing for information skills and interdisciplinary collaboration. The various facets of collection management in the digital age were being closely studied. Partnerships with academics in data management, electronic examination and supporting research through open science were identified. Mr Upton also touched on the library’s important role in supporting the university’s culture and identity.

Ms Clark gave a comprehensive understanding of the methodical process behind the formulation of the Curtin University’s (CU) strategy, which was neatly captioned under five major direction themes, i.e., Library as Partner; Trusted Information Sources; Library Spaces; Community Engagement; and Culture & Workforce, and attractively enveloped under the vision statement, “a great library with great heart that empowers great minds”. She also detailed the pitfalls that needed to be borne in mind when implementing the strategy.

Panel Discussion and Q&A Segment

The topic of licensing in collection management and achieving the best outcome in negotiations with vendors and publishers commenced the discussions. Mr Upton was clear in saying that the future of publishing was in an open science approach and libraries had to enable that change and engage with academics. Dr Wong suggested that universities negotiate collectively. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPU) was also consulting with the government to build a research gateway. Ms Wilkes shared that the Singapore Management University (SMU) was working collaboratively with other university libraries and vendors to leverage collective bargaining power. In a similar fashion, Ms Clark mentioned a consortium run by the Council of University Libraries to negotiate transformative agreements, placing importance on transparency and payment. Alternatives to ensure open environment and preservation in the longer term were being explored. Mr Wyber commented that the procurement rules should be fair and anti-trust agencies could be alerted if market principles were distorted, since public interest were at stake.

The inter-connected issues of ensuring open science and reviewing the research matrix, with the latter affecting university rankings, were considered. Ms Clark said that CU was looking beyond the confines of citation counts and toward a more holistic approach, involving areas such as having an open ecosystem, gender equity and giving effect to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This perspective of additional research inputs was supported by Ms Wilkes. Mr Upton shared that he found membership to the League of European Research Universities, which had a road map on how to achieve open science and open scholarship, particularly useful. He reiterated the need to engage with academics as they could influence changes. Dr Wong clarified that the need for universities to improve their rankings and the objective of open access were not contradictory as increasing open access to research output increased citations which led to improved rankings.

The Chair of the IFLA Regional Division Committee for Asia-Oceania, Mr Winston Roberts, who was in attendance, raised the potential difficulty of maintaining long-term funding for physical buildings when the focus was shifting to digital services. Dr Wong revealed that HKPU had just received funds to extend and renovate the library based on actual usage and requirements. She recommended that the occurrence of learning activities in library spaces (including study space, maker’s space and studio space) be amply demonstrated, for example, through organised visits for government representatives. Surveys had also shown that physical library spaces provided a more satisfactory learning environment.

Mr Upton recalled that earlier predictions of physical spaces becoming less relevant had not materialised. On the contrary, there was insufficient space to meet demand. The pandemic had shown that library space was critical even as new remote and hybrid arrangements (with students on and off campus) needed to be concurrently considered. He reiterated the importance of space for interdisciplinarity. He said that physical spaces were also where the physical and the digital interacted with each other and this attribute should be explored further. Heritage collections also needed physical space. He cited other requirements, such as exhibitions and makerspaces. He drew attention to the contribution of library spaces to the university’s sense of identity and community, as well as its role in reaching out to the wider community.

Ms Clark said that this question resonated with her, having just completed a significant building project. She reinforced the view that libraries offered invaluable space, as reaffirmed during the pandemic. She also spoke of necessities, such as creating space for interdisciplinary interactions. She pointed out that COVID-19 revealed the need to redesign spaces, with a greater emphasis on individual study spaces. This was because online activities like virtual meetings were in fact undertaken physically from library spaces. The need for space could be statistically indicated e.g., number of visitors and users.

Staffing matters garnered close attention among the participants. One of the participants expressed his concern that while the work scope of libraries had increased over time, staffing strength had been static or even reduced, thereby forcing the question of which library activities were to be discontinued.

Dr Wong acknowledged this reality. As mitigation, HKPU had rolled out self-services for various functions and installed automation where possible. Provision of some services had been trimmed though other services had been increased. HKPU also employed student helpers for some tasks. Paying students for help rendered had the collateral benefit of financially aiding them.

Concurring with the advantages of this approach, Ms Wilkes added that students were smart and could undertake self-services. SMU library focused on functions where it could add value and, to this end, an assessment of the relevancy of its various activities was carried out through surveys, focus group discussions and by an analysis of the queries and comments received. Communication with stakeholders was necessary for them to better appreciate how the library was making adjustments and optimising resources.

Ms Dou proposed that duties of a repetitive and routine nature could be outsourced. Ms Clark suggested that libraries could enlist assistance from external consultancies on work or process redesign. Mr Upton noted that while digitisation allowed for more work to be done, it had concomitantly led to greater demands being placed on the library. Expectations should therefore be managed as to what could be realised with limited resources even as the potential was exciting. Prioritisation of various objectives was essential and decision makers should be involved in making choices and commitments. Mr Wyber seconded the approach adding that the focus on larger goals could be guiding principles.

The panellists were asked to share their thoughts on the future roles of library staff given changing circumstances such as a reduction in shelving space. Mr Upton clarified that the roles had not really changed but there was now a different method of discharging the roles. For example, the collections team would still be involved in digital collections. Management of digital content was a complex matter and he felt that for the research information management systems, better work could be done in the metadata of digitised heritage collections. Staff could be migrated from one role to another and move between roles. This was vividly illustrated by Dr Wong who recounted that with media services having moved to streaming, HKPU had redeployed affected staff to other library services such as event management. Staff would also need to be retrained for the future to enable job retention, for instance in fields like VR/AR and data management.

Mr Wyber suggested that staff could move up the value chain by venturing into new areas such as promoting discoverability, open science and education, and continuing to invest in library spaces, which were unique. Ms Clark held up the important role of staff in filtering misinformation. Besides information literacy, she said libraries imparted digital literacy in areas such as data, video and 3D modelling. These contributions were well received by the students.

Capping the discussions, the panellists were asked in a lighter note how best to maintain personal touch in an age of digitisation – a challenge not exclusive to academic libraries but ubiquitous in all areas of public engagement. Mr Upton maintained that while online space could be reasonably effective and enjoyable, there would always be a significant difference between digital and physical spaces. Human touch would be essential to make the digital better. Ms Wilkes agreed that the physical experience cannot be replicated online. She stressed the need for balance and for humanity to be brought to digital interactions. She related the example in SMU where a virtual chat service with a librarian had been offered and the students had provided feedback that they appreciated interacting with a librarian. She would not wish to pivot to the extreme of a completely virtual chatbot.

Written by: Mohamed Saleem, Manager, Partnership, National Library Board, Singapore