Congress theme: “Open access to knowledge - promoting sustainable progress”

Henning Mankell informal session

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Today around 70 people attended an informal talk with Henning Mankell at the Gothenburg University Library. The room was filled with IFLA delegates who all were excited to listen to him talk and to ask him questions. In general the questions asked were about Africa, libraries and politics.

He said that he was a storyteller, and that he was. One of the stories he told was the one of a Swedish librarian who went to an African library in order to help them. What he did there was that he listened to them and found out what they needed. It was not help with catalogues or structures, it was a non-leaking ceiling and some stronger light bulbs. He said that a dialogue is what there should be, not a monologue of what we think they need. Here he gave an illustrative example of how it usually are,”I have the solution, what are your problems?”

One story that had always moved him a lot was one of a project with memory books to children from their parents whom died from AIDS. He was shown such a book by a 10 year old girl, it was just a two folded paper with a dead blue butterfly in it, but the message in it was clear, it was a reminder of something her dead mother had loved.

During economic crisis it is often children and culture that are the targets, this because children don’t vote and don’t complain, and culture because it is a ”soft target”. To this he said that we should ”not just tell the politicians that they have to support us, but why they need to support us”. On another question of how to proceed with talking to politicians he said that one ought to ”use the language that has effect”.

When asked the question how Mankell would describe his dream version of a library in Africa he said that the books and the people are the main characters, chairs and tables and ice cream machines are not important. It is as he said with the roof and the bulbs; the need for us to listen to what they need is greater than what we believe they need.