What’s the IFLA Trend Report and Why You Should Care

As ubiquitous as the ALA was to me even before starting library school, the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) was something I only learned about through a single iSchool course. In the library profession, I think it can be easy to get myopic on our local institution or system, as it is usually the funding from a college or library system, or city or state budgets that dictates much of our work, as well as certain federal funds like IMLS grants. However, an ongoing consciousness and involvement with global issues facing libraries is crucial not only in looking ahead towards changes impacting institutions around the globe, but also to support and inform the solutions we develop at a local level.

The IFLA Trend Report is a terrific stepping stone for gaining more awareness of global trends both within and beyond the library sector. First published in 2013, the IFLA Trend Report identifies and focuses on five major global trends shaping the future of libraries Topics often include: Access to information, education, privacy, civic engagement, and technological transformation. Starting in 2016, the IFLA has produced annual updates to the trend report reflecting global conversations sparked from the original report, recognizing new trends and developments, and distilling key insights across a broad range of disciplines outside the library sector and international backgrounds.

In the 2018 Update to the Trend Report, the perspectives of four experts from different locations and different areas of expertise are offered as a starting point for exploring four broader key developments currently impacting libraries. Reading the update, there were several points that struck me as particularly relevant and important to consider:
Rapid change and uncertainties abound, so preparing for possible outcomes can position libraries to endure in the future.

Rafael Ramirez points to the closure of large numbers of libraries in the UK since 2010 following the financial crisis as evidence of how sudden changes can have unanticipated consequences for libraries. Climate change, natural disasters, as well as the swift pace of automation and technological changes all present future insecurities. Ramirez also cites efforts to narrow access to internet technologies, such as the new proposed EU Copyright Directive. The United States have seen similar prohibitive measures, such as the elimination of Net Neutrality and threats to federal library funds under the current administration. Ramirez advocates for libraries to engage in scenario planning for identified trends in order to be better equipped to pivot and plan for the future.

Despite attacks on privacy on multiple fronts, libraries have not only the power to fight back, but also an opportunity to empower individuals.

Journalist, Glynn Moody, notes the subtle, often less apparent threats to libraries that largely take place digitally. This can happen through government surveillance, but also the collection and selling of personal data and online behavior by private companies for marketing purposes. One need only consider some of the major data breaches at several large corporations or as Moody mentions, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to see the consequences such erosions of privacy can wrought. Yet libraries can take an active counterstance by implementing privacy measures like virtual private networks (VPNs), encouraging open access materials as alternatives to costly journals, but most importantly by teaching users how and why they can protect their own privacy. I reflected on how many public library users are unaware of the privacy settings of their library borrowing history or saved lists in the library OPAC, much less the privacy permissions on their Facebook or other online accounts. Clearly there’s a lot of space for libraries to take a more active lead on privacy.

The widespread distrust of private companies and government entities alike and the power yielded over internet technology by a small number of players.
In response to such mistrust, libraries can step up to be a point of trust and inclusion, since as Cassie Robeson points out, “They [libraries] are one of the few places left where you are a resident–or a person–before you are a consumer.” As such, libraries have the opportunity to affirm their role as vital community hubs for technology access, but also the equitable curation and dissemination of trusted information sources. For me, this is where diversity really comes into practice. Are we as libraries truly promoting an inclusion of perspectives and representations in our curation, marketing, and community events?

Libraries are logical hubs not only for technology access, but also for training and social support.

Robert Baig discusses the successful role libraries can play in partnership with community networks. Baig gives examples of successful library and community network partnerships, including smaller efforts such as hosting a central community network at the Perafita Public Library in rural Portugal and on a larger scale, efforts like the XAFOGAR project to extend fiber networks across the county of Garrotxa in Catalonia. With these kinds of effective collaboration models, Baig encourages libraries to consider how they can create partnerships locally that allow for expanded technology access, but also the necessary training and support. In the United States, similar efforts involving public and private partnerships are taking place, so there are lots of ways coalitions across the globe can learn from each other’s efforts.

You can download the summary and full 2018 Update on the IFLA Trends Report as a springboard for sparking your own thinking about how your library work can be informed by global perspectives.

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