Kristīne Pabērza: „ Everyone smiles in the same language“
Always with inquisitive eyes and a warm smile on her face, sincerely engaged in conversations with colleagues, and, with even greater sincerity, sharing library stories from across the globe - that is Kristīne whom some of you may have encountered in international meetings dedicated to IFLA’s Global Vision. Kristīne is a professional librarian with an international reputation. When she speaks of library problems in different regions of the world, Kristīne is inclined to notice the common ground that unites us despite differences in religion, culture, citizenship. She doesn’t base her work on prejudice and isn’t afraid to set off into unknown territory.
Earlier in May, Kristīne kindly answered CILIP CDEG’s questions from her office at IFLA HQ in The Hague, where she serves as Member Engagement Officer for a second year.
1. Dear Kristine, you are an example of an extremely versatile, yet “classically” trained librarian, who finds herself at a young age with an impressive portfolio of positions in public, governmental and private sectors, academia, high profile national and international projects. What professional positions were most rewarding for you? And what important lessons have you learned when exploring the library field?
Yes, I am truly blessed with my professional experience. It is almost 20 years since I started my professional career as a public librarian at Riga Central library. During my early career, I had a chance to apply and practice my skills in all types of library that we had in Latvia at that time. One of the positions which really changed who I am as a librarian was as a news librarian at one of the Latvian newspapers. This is when I learned to adapt to change, to be able to refocus fast, to respond to needs and requests quickly, and to make responsible decisions within tremendous time constraints. Every day for me was like a separate project that resulted in the next day’s newspaper and to see a librarian’s contribution to how it looks was really rewarding. Every day.
From there I moved to the Culture Information Systems Centre (CISC), an implementing agency for national ICT and training projects in libraries, archives and museums. This is where I spent the last 10 years before moving to The Hague; it really wasn’t easy to say goodbye to the team who had become my professional family. The CISC provided me with an invaluable experience and opportunity to realize my passion, both in public libraries and in data and evaluation. For the first time in Latvian history, we measured the social and economic value of our public libraries. It was all possible thanks to the Global Libraries grant that Latvians received for public library development project called “Father’s Third Son”. This project has changed libraries and librarians in Latvia and widened the doors to international cooperation. We learned that our libraries are not that much different from Chilean or Romanian libraries; no matter in which continent or under which circumstances we work, we all have a shared goal of making our communities stronger. I trust in sharing and learning as the way to be more successful in what we do. We are all more similar than different.
2. Before accepting the role of member engagement officer at the International Federation of Library Associations, you were the President of the Library Association of Latvia. Was this transition from involving library professionals of one nation to embracing the global community of colleagues smooth and straightforward?
The fact that I have been in this role was and still is very helpful in my work at IFLA. I want to believe that it gives me a better understanding of our members’ challenges and needs. In fact, because of having experience in leadership of a national association, I can now better understand what is and what is maybe not possible in certain national contexts that can influence our ability to reach global goals. This is very helpful now when we are planning and implementing actions that we believe will lead to a stronger and more united library field.
One of priorities of the Library Association of Latvia during my presidency was building partnerships and closer collaboration with other library associations in the region, not just in the Baltics but across Europe. We were learning from each other and building networks to become stronger library advocates. During the “Library Advocacy for EU” project, that the Library Association of Latvia implemented together with EBLIDA, I became friends with many presidents of library associations in Europe, which is helpful now when it comes to communication and engagement in global initiatives. IFLA as a membership organisation has all the same challenges and opportunities as any national or regional association, it’s just that the scope is different, it’s global. As far as we all, no matter in which region of the world we live and work, share a common purpose, it’s easy to find a common language even if we speak in different native languages. Everyone smiles in the same language.
3. IFLA Global Vision is a unique initiative for promoting libraries’ inclusivity around the world: 190 United Nations member states from 7 continents, all library types and employee generations, 22, 000 libraries in total. What were the management strategy and greatest challenges when bringing the world library community to one table? What is the timeframe and milestones of this project and what are the main expected outcomes?
I want to say that I admire the visionary thinking of Gerald Leitner, IFLA’s Secretary General, who came up with the idea of having a Global Vision discussion, an initiative that gives every single librarian in the world the chance to contribute to this global conversation about the values, opportunities and challenges of the library field. The participation statistics clearly demonstrate how much such an initiative was needed, how much we are all willing to engage with each other and to take part in the creation of something unique – a united library roadmap for the future.
For me it’s also a unique opportunity to be part of the team at IFLA HQ who made this possible. My responsibilities in the Global Vision projects relate mainly to data analysis, and it is a unique experience. Never before I have worked with data files which exceeds 600,000 lines of data or aggregated responses generated by more than 30,000 respondents (this is the number of participants who either voted in the global online vote or contributed their voice through workshops and meetings). Data analysis was a challenging but very exciting process. For me personally, it was also an opportunity to learn a lot about what happens in libraries and what is important for librarians in many different parts of the world, that I previously knew very little about.
The first phase of the Global Vision is finished. Based on its results, IFLA now is creating the biggest idea store for actions that will be a source of inspiration for all librarians and for IFLA in planning for the future. The second phase has started with the kick-off workshop in Barcelona in March this year that will be followed by workshops in all regions of the world. Through workshops and an online platform, we want to gather ideas from librarians that would let us identify how all regions and library types can play their part in the implementation of the Global Vision. Between September 2018 and March 2019, we will again analyse the input and will design Global Vision actions. IFLA will then create a strategy and action plans that will turn the Global Vision into reality: a strong and united library field powering literate, informed and participative societies.
4. In the recently published IFLA Global Vision report, 10 highlights and 10 corresponding opportunities were presented for further discussions. We’d like to pick out some of them and learn your thoughts. Focus on serving communities was defined as common to all libraries around the world. Better understanding of community needs is considered to be directly linked to having a greater impact on peoples’ lives through library services. Are library outreach programmes less developed in certain parts of the world? What regions / countries, would you say are at the forefront and more successful than others and why?
I don’t want to say that one region is better than another. And I should admit that I broke some of my own stereotypes of European libraries being at the forefront while serving as a trainer in Ghana, Uganda and Kenya; it happened when I realized that many African libraries are much more focused on understanding and meeting their community needs than some Latvian libraries.
There are things that work very well in one region while the same approach may fail in another. We must be keenly aware of cultural differences and the various contexts and environments in which we work and how we make things possible. Someone may simply have different priorities at the moment. Therefore, acknowledging regional characteristics and requirements will be essential in our future efforts to unite the library field in addressing common challenges.
What I believe, and this was fully supported by the Global Vision data and results, is that impact measurement is still a challenge; many countries and libraries lack understanding, skills or simply resources and tools. Inability to measure outcomes and to demonstrate impact evidence to stakeholders lead to other challenges. Our vision in the library field is to be more united. In my opinion, it is also being more united in our abilities and capabilities. We can start helping each other by just simply sharing our intelligence and resources.
5. A focus on the younger generation of library professionals was another highlight in the report. IFLA calls to give young professionals more opportunities to learn, develop and lead. Could you name any initiatives within IFLA activities targeted at promoting young professionals? Are there any success stories that you’ve encountered while serving at IFLA? Have you ever thought of your own young age as a disadvantage and obstacle?
Actually, I have personal experience of such an initiative. In 2016, I was one of nine young professionals selected for the second cohort of IFLA International Leaders Programme (ILP). The Programme was designed to increase the cohort of leaders who can effectively represent the wider library sector in the international arena, and to develop leaders within IFLA. I left the Programme when I accepted the position of member engagement officer, but I’m happy to have an opportunity to being able to continue working with the Leaders; that’s what we call them. Leaders or ILP Associates have a project, called “Stories that Matter”, through which they contributed to the development of a Storytelling Manual which IFLA recently released to help librarians to tell and submit their stories to the Library Map of the World. Leaders are implementing many amazing activities; it would require another article to tell you about them! In my opinion, ILP is a great opportunity for both, the Leaders and IFLA. During the first year of the Programme, two leaders were elected President of their respective library associations, and others were elected to and served on a number of important library-related committees in their home countries. Leaders are engaging with IFLA professional units and working/advisory groups thus contributing their intelligence to IFLA’s international agenda.
I would also like to promote IFLA’s New Professionals Special Interest Group (NPSIG), affiliated with the Management of Library Associations Section (MLAS). NPSIG is an initiative for and by new professionals. They facilitate international networking opportunities for early career librarians and LIS students around the world; host virtual and in-person workshops, information sessions and conference events. This is a group which always make IFLA’s General Conference attractive with their events. This year, at IFLA WLIC in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, they will host a session on Librarians Fashion and will discuss what the way we dress says about us. Isn’t it exciting?
IFLA also supports EIFL in their IYALI (the Young African Library Innovators) initiative which aims to expose emerging public library innovators in Africa to experiences and ideas from other developing and transition economy countries. Last year thirteen African public librarians visited Lithuania and Poland to attend workshops and visit libraries.
6. Besides the current involvement with Global Vision, what else is member engagement in IFLA involved in? Could you tell us more about the day-to-day work of your department?
My main work at IFLA is with the Library Map of the World (LMW) – the source of basic library statistics and a platform providing access to stories demonstrating how libraries in different countries contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and serve as partners in meeting local development needs. This is again an area where we are driven by the shared vision, the vision of having reliable global library statistics. We are saying that IFLA is a global voice for libraries, and my work is to make it possible one day to tell how many libraries exactly we are representing. National library statistics is still a challenge in many countries, affecting our ability to have representative regional or global numbers that we would confidently be able to use in our data stories for advocacy.
My daily work consists of communication with our data partners – national library associations, national libraries, library support organisations and other institutions from around the world – to make sure we are able to put more countries and more data on the Library Map of the World. During the first year of the project we were able to engage with more than 100 countries which provided their existing library data, and I was very happy to learn from many other about their intention to improve frameworks for national library statistics in order to be able to contribute to the global effort. It is just a beginning, and we look forward to improving from year to year as it becomes a long-term activity.
Another big part of my time is spent on stories. We recently published a practical guide “Libraries and the Sustainable Development Goals: A Storytelling Manual” which was designed to help librarians and library advocates in telling compelling stories about their library activities, projects and programmes, showing their impact on communities and people’s lives. The guide is also intended to support contributors in the process of preparing and submitting their stories to the Library Map of the World. Many librarians across the world share the same challenge – we are very good at describing what we did at our libraries but not that good at telling why we did it and what has changed for communities and users as the result of it. This material is something that we believe will be helpful in meeting this challenge. Our goal is to have more stories online to build a stronger case for libraries that we believe will support our collective library advocacy efforts around the world. I’m very excited to read every one of those stories.
7. You are very well travelled person and are privileged to see a global picture of libraries today. Have you yourself drawn any common trends relating to libraries around the world? Is it possible to compare the unique ways in which libraries operate on different continents? Would you say globalization may endanger diversity within librarianship?
For me, as someone who grew up and has lived for most of my life lived in a very homogenous society, travelling was not only a privilege to see a global picture of libraries, but in general to learn about and experience other cultures and diversity. Libraries are like mirrors of societies and the communities which they serve. As librarians, no matter in which corner of the world we are, we share the same value and role of libraries. The unique part is the way that libraries in various places express those values and roles, the way we do what we do, and how we do that to reach our shared goal – to help our users live more fulfilled lives and be happier. As long as we take care to preserve and practise our unique cultures, diversity within librarianship is not in danger. I also believe (and have learned from my own experience at IFLA HQ where our staff represents more than 15 different nationalities) that diverse cultural perspectives can inspire creativity and drive innovation. We must take advantage of partnerships and collaboration and learning from each other’s unique experiences to realize the full potential of our libraries.
8. Your social media feed is mostly dedicated to advocating the library profession. What are your inspirations and examples you aim to follow? Do you have any role models and/ or mentors in the library profession? Would you ever consider being anything other than a librarian?
That’s a very strong statement. I never had a personal social media communications plan or a conscious intention to make it professional. I went back to my Facebook account and it’s true – my life is libraries. I am proud and very happy to be a librarian and to work for libraries, but it again never was my intention. I want to think that it was a coincidence while some may think that my early childhood librarian had a strong influence on what I became. Until this day I continue reflecting on what kind of impact librarians are able to make on subconscious decision-making.
On the first day of school, when every child was asked about what she or he wants to become, I wanted to be a teacher. I fulfilled that wish in my role as a lecturer at the LIS department of the University of Latvia and a trainer of librarians. My real intention was to become an architect. Geometry and technical drawing were two of my favourite subjects at secondary school. Luckily, I failed the entrance exams and ended up at the LIS programme.
I have been asked about my role models before and it may sound strange – I never had one particular person. There are different qualities in everyone. I believe we meet people for a purpose and are given an opportunity to work with people to learn from each other. What I was always interested in is how to take some behaviours or practices from other fields and apply and try out how these work in libraries. I’m interested in new approaches, new thinking and new unusual ways of working.
Now, when I’m already reaching the age when I’m not the youngest in librarians’ gatherings anymore, I’m very much interested in learning from librarians’ younger than me, people who are trained differently, who have different thinking and different approaches, different sets of skills. I want to hope that we will be successful in achieving opportunities related to giving a stronger voice to and opportunities for young professionals. They are the ones who will implement the future which we are now checking during the Global Vision project.
Thank you for your answers
On behalf of CILIP Community, Diversity and Equality Committee,
In the photo: Kristīne Pabērza promoting IFLA's Global Vision