IFLA’s Strategy 2019-2024 is driving efforts to create an inspired, engaged, enabled and connected library field. Success will depend on libraries and library associations being ready to think and work internationally. We interviewed Rabeea Arif, the Working Internationally Project Manager at CILIP, the UK Library Association, about work in the United Kingdom.

Rabeea Arif, Working Internationally Manager, CILIPWhat does Working Internationally consist of?

‘Working Internationally for Libraries’ is CILIP’s initiative to promote collaboration and partnership between public libraries in England and their international counterparts.

The project is funded by Arts Council England (ACE) and will run in partnership with the British Library, British Council, and Libraries Connected, and with support from Carnegie UK Trust. In its first phase, the project will focus on English public libraries to develop a programme of activities including a grants programme & travel bursaries, an international conference, a showcase of successful international projects, and online resources for collaboration.

Why a focused international strategy now?

CILIP believes that the library and information profession is a global community of practice. In the words of CILIP CEO, Nick Poole, “No one country or community has all the answers, but by working together we can advance the profession for the good of society”. In 2018, CILIP’s Presidential Commission under then president Ayub Khan devised an international policy that promised to deliver a strong international dimension in the CILIP of the future.

In the current political climate, we want to renew and refresh our international engagement, and counter disengagement and isolation through cultural diplomacy. With timely support from Arts Council England, we are able to put the observations and suggestions from the Presidential Commission’s policy into practical action.

What was the clincher, do you think, in Arts Council England’s decision to support this work?

The project draws on the Arts Council England’s existing programmes promoting International Development, with a focus on the areas of “exchange, partnership and growth”. This project supports Arts Council England’s commitment under the “Libraries Taskforce” to creating a strong narrative about the contribution public libraries make to society and to local communities by highlighting innovative work being done in the public library sector.

Where did you look for inspiration in planning this work?

The project builds on the lessons learned through successful ‘Working Internationally Regional project’ supported by the International Council of Museums (ICOM UK) and National Museum Director’s Council (NMDC) with the British Council, which has delivered measurable improvements in international engagement by UK museums. Inspiration in envisioning the impact of this work also comes from looking at the well-documented benefits of international working across cultural organisations internationally.

What does success look like for you?

We want to create a sense of focus, momentum and energy around the opportunities of international working for libraries and hope that the project will inspire libraries with the art of the possible and assure them that international collaboration is accessible and valuable, even where budgets are very stretched.

We also want to create political awareness where governments and local bodies will value the role of public libraries in their ambitions and policies. Our goal in the first phase of the project is to have produced a visible, positive and influential cohort of librarians who are able to champion the benefit and relevance of international working for their peers.

Where do international partners come in?

We are actively reaching out to public librarians and information professionals from all parts of the world, who are interested in collaborating with libraries in England on areas of mutual interest, and to learn from or share best practice. We are also encouraging library twinning initiatives as well as innovative ideas on collaborative programming, and sharing collections & resources. CILIP is also reaching out to international libraries and library associations to form bi-lateral agreements of working together and the IFLA Congress has been instrumental in supplementing these connections.

What plans are there to extend this work to other types of library, in the rest of the country?

Our ambition is for Working Internationally for Libraries to become a sector-wide and UK-wide ongoing programme. The scope of this first phase matches the scope of ACE funding, which is for public libraries in England. However, we are already discussing future plans to expand the scope and secure funding for on-going international work across all library sectors. We have also made efforts to include non-public libraries through the ‘Building Bridges grants programme’ under the project, where non-public libraries can apply to the funding as partners with public libraries.

How do you see this fitting with IFLA’s Strategy?

CILIP is a founder member of and active participant in IFLA and strongly supports IFLA’s vision of “a strong and united library field powering literate, informed and participative societies”. We are committed to working with our colleagues at IFLA and in Library and Information Associations worldwide to make it a reality. In addition to sharing IFLA’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and supporting public libraries in England to include the SDGs in their work, we believe that the Working Internationally project aligns greatly with IFLA’s priorities of strengthening the global voice of libraries and connecting and empowering the field.

What lessons could you share with libraries and library associations elsewhere in the world?

While we hope to share our successes and challenges with planning and executing a project of this scale in due time, I can share a few wise words from one of our colleagues, Stella Thebridge, from Warwickshire Libraries, UK:

“The dilemma with international working is the bureaucracy of applications, managing people in different countries, and differing expectations of partners.  Any future co-operation needs sound frameworks so that practitioners can get on with the work on the ground and others oversee the whole project activities. It can only help advocacy and reach in every country.  We need to counter the “hunkering down” mentality of austerity, and increasing insularity.”          

More information on the project and its activities can be found at www.cilip.org.uk/workinginternationally

Find out more about the IFLA Strategy 2019-24.