The New Professionals Special Interest Group is 15 year old this year!
It was an opportunity to interview Loida Garcia-Febo, co-founder of the group, international library consultant, former member of IFLA Governing Board 2013-2017 and American Library Association President 2018-2019!
Do you remember your first experience as a librarian?
I love this question! I started my career as a school librarian at an elementary school in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. I was still in library school when I received an opportunity to work at a nearby school. My mother was a school librarian for 33 years so, for me working at a school library felt very natural and I felt very at home. The school served a low-income area and there were children from different countries that traveled often between Puerto Rico and their country of origin. My first experience as a librarian was also my first experience serving multicultural and multilingual populations, and my heart was forever marked to serve them.
I loved collaborating with the school faculty and the principal whom was very supportive of the library. When I shared an idea to invite famous Puerto Ricans to read stories for the children, he immediately said “Okay, send me a proposal outlining the budget.” I sent the information to him, and he approved it, adding more funds to the budget! The end result was a morning where the entire school dedicated time to the library event that included storytelling by a popular actress and a sports star. The entire community rallied around the event and we opened the gates for the community to greet our guests.
What are, according to you, the big trends that new professionals should consider for the future of their work?
We must pay attention to social trends as they continue to impact libraries and the profession. There are challenges and answers from the libraries that come from these tendencies that impact the socio-economic-cultural spheres of the society in which we live. It is imperative then that we can integrate services and proposals reflecting these trends. As we have seen in recent times, for example, in the way technologies help the elderly, those with different skills and foster new ways of earning income, new technologies have become necessities. Associations can play a central role in helping librarians understand and integrate these new changes in their services and professional approach.
One resource new professionals from around the world can check for trends is the webinar series developed by IFLA Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning (CPDWL) and the New Professionals (NPSIG) in partnership with ALA, “New Librarians Global Connection: best practices, models and recommendations.” The series which originated from a concept I developed was established in 2012. I am happy to share that there are a number of webinars in Spanish and Portuguese presented together with IFLA Latin America & Caribbean Section.
Link to the webinars in English
Link to the webinars in Portuguese and Spanish
Personally, it was fantastic to collaborate on the IFLA Trends Report while I was a Governing Board member of IFLA. Many experts and colleagues collaborated on this excellent report that identified trends that include new technologies and their impact on access to information, online education, privacy and data protection, hyper-connected societies, and how the global information environment is being transformed by new technologies. The work on this report has continued and the most recent update was published in 2018.
The American Library Association has established the Center for the Future of Libraries which works to maintain a current web page with trends to help us understand how they are developing and why they are important to us. Trends are organized in an approach that includes seven categories: society, technology, education, the environment, politics and government, economics, and demographics. Some of the current trends include artificial intelligence, machine learning, smart cities, virtual reality, collaborative or shared consumption, resilience, and fandom.
We would like to hear your advice for librarians wishing to move up as leaders. What do you think are the key elements to succeed?
My best advice is to be transparent, promise what you know you will provide, be aware of the expectations you create, be always professional, and ethical. Along with this, I have found out that hard work is very rewarding. The key to developing professional credibility, developing your craft, and becoming exceptional librarians is to do what you said you were going to do. Deliver what you said you were going to. Finding mentors early in my career was and continues to be very important for me. My mentors provide guidance, support, and different views that have enriched my decisions. I also recommend new professionals to research, publish, and present. If you see a need for something that doesn’t exist, create it! That is how we created the NPSIG! Join efforts with others and make it happen.
Is age a main factor in librarianship leadership?
I believe that anyone can be a leader right where they are. At the beginning of their career, in the middle, and at a more veteran stage. Throughout my career, I have seen exceptional leaders from all age groups. I believe that everyone brings unique experiences and expertise needed to enrich our field and our professional associations. I was elected president of my University’s Education Faculty student council when I was 18 years old. It was absolutely amazing to lead 3,000 students at such an age. I gained so much experience and learned to build bridges, collaborations and partnerships.
There are some great examples of leadership by professionals from different age groups. Courtney Young is still the youngest librarian to have been President of the American Library Association in its 140+ years- and I am only the second youngest 😉. Courtney brought unique experiences and strengths to move the association and the profession forward.
Have you done volunteer work during your library career? Of what kind and for how long? Do you think it helped with moving forward in your career?
I grew up helping communities with my family and I really loved that. I still collaborate with community groups and very often spend my Saturdays or Sundays painting apartments of community members, driving them to buy groceries, taking them to the doctor or if there is a storm, we help those affected by storms collecting clothing and food. I have helped communities my entire life. Therefore, serving communities through being an academic, public, school, and special librarian is a real joy to me.
As a librarian, I have volunteered and served our profession in library associations such as REFORMA, ALA, IFLA, ACURIL, NYLA, among others. Together, we are stronger, and this is a great time to show that librarians are a powerful group. I have seen how librarians working in concerted efforts with civic society, and partners from public and private organizations have made history. For instance, while advocating at the United Nations, a volunteer work, I worked together with these different stakeholders. We met with country representatives, we developed strong partnerships, and worked with local librarians heroes in each country to do the same at local levels. This huge global team was able to get ‘access to information’ as a target on the Sustainable Development Goals, a document from the United Nations that is used by countries, globally, to guide their own national development. It carries financial and social responsibilities for the countries. They have to commit resources and manpower. It impacts women, children, immigrants, LGBT populations, vulnerable people, and education systems. Access to information is a crosscutting issue impacting our entire world. It was very hard work, countless hours, many years to get ‘access to information’ on Target 16.10. A passionate team, working together, including me, advocating and liaising at the United Nations, made it happen. I believe this model can be used to fight for libraries in each one of our countries. This work I did purely out of love for libraries, taught me many things that I apply to my work with libraries. It helped me to meet individuals working in other professions with issues worldwide. I am still linked to them. It was an amazing experience that I treasure.
What would be your suggestions for library associations about how to engage new librarians in leadership roles?
New librarians can bring unique refreshing perspectives into our profession. My recommendation is to invite them to participate in new initiatives of libraries and associations. I know many new professionals and students with ideas and impetus to advance the library agenda. Sometimes someone may say, but they have no experience… I think we need to give new professionals and students the opportunity to get that experience!
I am very grateful to my mentors and legends from our library field who gave me opportunities since I was in library school. They trusted me, guided me, and also allowed me to develop my own ideas.
I think the Australian Library and Information Association has found a winning formula in having a representative of their New Graduates Group in their Executive Board – words into action!
The ALA’s Emerging Leaders program brings in newer library leaders and give them the opportunity to develop leadership projects working with different ALA units, they also receive training; it is fantastic!
Would you share with us your views about the importance of diversity within our profession?
Diverse views, traditions, cultures, languages and ways of thinking are needed to enrich our profession and the services we provide to our ever changing communities. The makeup of the members of our profession should mirror our society’s demographics. Our library users also reflect our increasingly diverse society coming from different ethnic groups, socio-economic levels, linguistic and abilities background and LGBTQIA+ populations.
As librarians and library workers, our core values fuel our efforts to be inclusive and sensitive to cultures other than our own. However, applying the nuances of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) to library services may pose a challenge for some. Here is a link to a page developed by ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services to help library workers with these matters.
Additionally, I would like to share a link to EDI in Our Libraries, a video series produced by ALA’s Communications & Marketing Office with the advice of my ALA Presidential efforts during 2018-2019, to help libraries embed equity, diversity and inclusion in their services.
What are your thoughts about gender equality, and women having access to leadership positions in the library and information environment?
I appreciate this question because it is about a very important matter. We have come a long way in librarianship in terms of conversations and actions towards more gender equality in our profession and providing more paths towards women’s leadership, but more needs to be done. As per a study done by ALA, our profession in the USA is 80+% female, but that is not reflected in directorships. We, library workers of the world, ought to work together to continue conversations that lead to action to impact matters from panel presentations including all types of representation: he, she, they and zie to other areas such as better pay for library workers, and support for women leaders to shine in positions of leadership.
How can libraries advocate in these uncertain times?
We need to work together to bring change to impact public policy, benefit our profession and the communities we serve in academic, public, school and all libraries. Our library core values will guide us to build coalitions with like-minded partners sharing our values, and to adopt any public policies.
I want to share some resources developed as part of my Presidential efforts to help library advocates to advocate in these uncertain times. We wanted to prioritize new web resources for advocacy and relationship building. New resources on how to use social media to advocate for libraries were created by ALA Public Policy and Advocacy staff members.
During the Midwinter Meeting last January, we launched a video series to help library workers use storytelling to effectively advocate for libraries. The first video on how to share your library story with the media along with a new resource on how to write a letter to the editor of your local news outlet is here. The second video about how to, using storytelling strategies, invite elected leaders to visit your library is here. The third video is currently being produced and will include interviews to library workers made during the ALA Annual Conference this past June. Expect it soon!
Additionally, as a part of National Library Week, ALA encouraged library advocates to broadcast their library story by using the hashtag #MyLibraryMyStory which was developed by my Advocacy Advisory Team. This was part of a social media campaign that aimed to mobilize library advocates and get them creating and sharing digital content about their libraries, while engaging new stakeholders such as city leaders, nonprofits & community members. The goal was to create a space for advocates to flex their storytelling muscles and generate visibility for libraries! I was so happy to see that Google included the hashtag on the video they created to celebrate libraries that week.
All these resources were created thanks to the hard work of the ALA Public Policy and Advocacy Office and to my Presidential Advocacy Advisory Board.
The IFLA New Professionals group is turning 15 this year. Can you tell us how all of this began? And what surprised you most in its development?
In 2003, two librarians living in Denmark, Stuart Hamilton and Andrew Cranfield started conversing about the need for a space for new librarians within IFLA. Soon after, they contacted me and we put together a proposal that was sent to Dr. Kay Raseroka whom was the President of IFLA at the time. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that from the get-go she absolutely supported three new librarians and the concept and creation of a space for new librarians within IFLA. As part of the following conversations, a name was identified: IFLA New Professionals. It was also agreed that the best structure for the group was that provided by the Special Interest Group category of IFLA, hence NPSIG. We envisioned a forum for new librarians from all over the world. The aim was to welcome new information professionals to the field by holding virtual and in-person workshops, information sessions and conference events. Provide international networking opportunities for early career librarians and LIS students around the world.
We were all very happy to host a first programme at the 2004 IFLA Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to establish the NPSIG. The program was attended by past and upcoming IFLA Presidents, presidents of library associations from different countries and library leaders from different regions. During the program, we hosted round tables to discuss the charge of the group and future plans in various languages including English Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. That is how we established the IFLA New Professionals which is a global community for new librarians. As we know, it is an open global network for librarians and information scientists (LIS) new professionals and supporters. It is by and for the new librarians.
It is amazing to see how the NPSIG has grown and continued to provide a space for new librarians from around the world to start their association’s work, grow their leadership, and contribute to the work done by IFLA globally.
In 2018-2019, you were the president of ALA, the biggest library association in the world. Would you share with us an example of a new professional you have met during your term?
During my Presidential year, together with the ALA staff and with library directors of 8 libraries across the USA, we developed a National Library Tour Libraries = Strong Communities, an advocacy effort, which took me to all cardinal points of the USA. In one of those Tour stops, I met a remarkable new librarian still in library school and working at a public library. She attended a TV show I made with John Spears, Director of the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado and one of the Tour stops. The program was developed by the Pikes Peak Women and we spoke about women, libraries, and serving all in the community. At the end of the program, a young librarian approached me with her colleague and they had tears in their eyes. She said they felt very strong about providing library services to everyone in their community, but sometimes members of the community made it challenging to do this. It was electrifying. We spoke about our passion for communities, our commitment, our dreams for a more equitable society. I always remember her. A new librarian with a heart of gold. It is all worthy. We should continue supporting one another.