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Learnings and professional development through an international leadership programme

07 August 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Ilene McKenna
Learnings and professional development through an international leadership programme

ILLP Participants at Boston Spa on Day 3 - 13 November 2019.

Ilene McKenna is the Lead Archivist, Archival Information System Renewal at Library and Archives Canada. In November 2019, she had the opportunity to take part in British Library’s International Library Leaders programme. Here she shares with us her experience of visiting a UK library and the power of collaborative learning.


Created in 2004, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) combines the collections, services and staff of both the former National Library of Canada (established in 1953) and the National Archives of Canada (established as the Dominion Archives in 1872). As an institution, Library and Archives Canada acquires, processes, preserves and provides access to Canada’s documentary heritage. Assembled over 145 years, the collection contains materials in all formats from across Canada and around the world that are of interest to Canadians and those with an interest in Canada.

I have a background in music performance and history, complemented by college training in archival studies. Fifteen years of experience as reference archivist at LAC (helping academic and government researchers, genealogists and the public, on site and at distance, discover and access material in their national collection) now informs my current role in leading the institution’s move to a next-generation, back-office archival information system solution.

I am interested in all facets of the work carried out at and by institutions within the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) community, but primarily the innovative and creative ways in which they are making their collections and related information available to researchers and broader audiences, onsite and online, in an effort to remain vital, relevant, reliable and responsible hubs of information and knowledge.

British Library International Library Leaders Programme 2019

From November 11 to 15 2019, I had the privilege to attend the inaugural edition of the British Library’s International Library Leaders Programme (ILLP).

The ILLP is a newly developed, weeklong intensive professional development programme for library and archive professionals, primarily aimed at those keen to gain insights into the multitude of operations at a national library and to exchange knowledge with their peers around the future of libraries. Applications for the program were sought from a wide range of roles across library and archives worldwide.

The sessions for each of the five days were organized around specific themes presented by staff experts from across all sectors of the Library. The week kicked off with an official welcome and introduction to the strategy and purposes of the British Library from Mr. Roly Keating, Chief Executive, and proceeded with sessions on portfolios and key projects (Day 1), collections and curation (Day 2), digitization project management (Day 2), digital preservation (Day 3); metadata and cataloguing (Day 3); collection management (Day 3), caring for physical collections - conservation and preservation (Day 4), digital scholarship (Day 4), and engaging audiences with library collections using new tools, services, exhibitions and learning programs (Day 5).

Fiona Clancy, Digitisation Workflow Manager, British Library, presents session on Digitising the British Library’s Heritage Collections: the ‘Heritage Made Digital’ Programme to ILLP participants on Day 2 - 12 November 2019.

With the exception of an excursion on Day 3 to tour the Library’s state-of-the-art automated storage facilities (the National Newspaper Building and the Additional Storage Building) and meet the digitization, digital preservation and metadata staff in Boston Spa, all sessions were held at the Library’s St. Pancras site.

But the ILLP wasn’t all work! Full days of intensive learning were interspersed with a variety of social events – a guided tour of the Buddhism exhibition, an informal pub dinner and a more formal dinner in York – during which all participants had a chance to relax and chat. A lovely closing reception with staff from the British Library, and leaders from U.K. professional library associations and organizations, such as CILIP offered a wonderful final opportunity for networking.

Successes and challenges

The ILLP offered a unique occasion to look behind the scenes of one of the world’s largest national libraries. Throughout the Programme, information provided by institutional experts served as the catalyst for lively discussion and information sharing among participants and Library staff. With participation by library, archive, history, communication and information technology professionals, representing public libraries, academic libraries, museums, galleries and national and state archives from around the world – Australia (Adelaide), Canada (Guelph, Ottawa), Israel (Tel Aviv), Jamaica (Kingston), Poland (Łódź), Qatar (Qatar), South Africa (Durban), and the United States (Chicago, Austin, Philadelphia) – the ILLP workshops, break-out sessions and participant presentations offered an important opportunity to engage in a dynamic exchange of diverse global perspectives on the work undertaken by and challenges facing all library and archive institutions in the 21st century.

Value to the community and sector

The ILLP provided an immensely valuable opportunity to leverage the power of the “hive mind” in order to find creative approaches for addressing common problems: collection care and conservation challenges, public outreach and collection access onsite and via online catalogues and discovery systems, budgets and funding, cataloguing backlogs, staff engagement and relevancy. In an age when the very existence and viability of many heritage institutions are being questioned, it is more important than ever to build community and support from around the world. This was exemplified in the engagement of ILLP participants and British Library staff. As library, archive, information management and technology professionals we must embrace our roles within the context of a larger global community where all cultural heritage is the world’s cultural heritage. Indeed pro-active sharing of information and expertise will become a more urgent necessity, post-COVID-19, as GLAM institutions worldwide struggle to cope with the impacts of scarce financial resources and an increased demand for access to distance learning.

Top tips

One must always come to any international project with a sense of mutual respect and acceptance, an eagerness to reach out and share, but above all, the desire and discipline to listen and learn. Engaging with an international or any partner is extremely valuable and to succeed requires planning, preparation, flexibility and an open mind. Engagement, however, is not simply about sharing expertise; it is about understanding the challenges faced by one’s own institution through the shared experience of a broad community of colleagues. By way of a personal example, given the particular challenges faced by Library and Archives Canada in integrating multiple search tools and catalogs, I found it essential to familiarize myself not just with the experiences of a few institutions, but rather with as many experiences possible – something I was able to do through an international programme such as the ILLP.

Header image: ILLP Participants at Boston Spa on Day 3 - 13 November 2019.

Published: 7 August 2020

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