Women, information and libraries – an interview with Mathilde Koskas, convenor of WILSIG

Mathilde Koskas is the head of the French National Bibliography (books) section at the French National Library. She has been involved in IFLA for several years and is now convenor of the Women, information and libraries special interest group (WILSIG). Thank you Mathilde for having accepted to answer our questions and introduce your group! (French version)

NPSIG : Where did the need to create a special interest group about Women, Information and libraries come from? Aren’t libraries a widely female world, where the urgency of addressing these issues is less obvious than elsewhere?

Libraries are a part of society, where the need to address these issues is indisputable. First, let me precise that the scope of WIL’s activities is not limited to women as librarians. We work for women as information producers and library users, as do other groups in IFLA focused on a particular group of users. In the world in general, women tend to be a minority (in their place in society, even if it is not the case numerically), and in order to provide them with the best service, we must take into account the particularities of their access to information needs.

But the need to talk about our experiences as women in the workplace was and still is felt as well. The SIG was originated by a group of colleagues in the 1990’s, and has evolved to find the most appropriate form (SIG, section…). I think it comes from the experiences of the women who created it, and from a need to change things within IFLA itself. The simple fact that we are asked the question… We may feel less exposed in libraries than in more traditionally male circles, but there are situations we all experiment.


What does it bring to the reflection about these issues to be part of IFLA?

For me, it is above all the international dimension, which enables us to talk to colleagues who may be facing the same questions, but in very different contexts, which will make the solutions different as well.

It is also in a framework that gives the means to act on a global scale, to be part of UN initiatives and to inspire them, for instance.

It also helps trying to put into practice what we advocate for: diverse voices. We can draw attention to the fact that a society that treats women as a minority loses important voices. At IFLA, we can make the voices of a diverse group of women heard.

What were the latest activities of your group?

This summer, we organized our first UnConference “Women & Library Technology“, in partnership with the IT Section.

This has been a very useful experience for us to make our plans for the future, reflect on how to operate, the SIG status within IFLA being what it is…

During the congress, we were able to meet many colleagues interested in our activities and willing to get involved. We discussed the best ways to do it, and since the fall we have been working on the implementation of the solutions we discussed.

Like for any IFLA body, the end-of-year period after the Congress is also very much taken up by drafting reports, action plans, programmes for the next Congress… As you know, a special interest group has a fairly small official team, it is important not be overwhelmed by administrative tasks!

We have just sent out the call for papers for our satellite meeting in August 2017 on the role of LIS professionals supporting women living in conflict situations; a subject that has returned for years to the group’s discussions and is especially relevant to the theme for this year’s Congress, Libraries. Solidarity. Society. It will be focusing on current library and information initiatives which are supporting and improving the lives of women living in conflict situations.

What changes would you like to see for WILSIG in the next few years?

I want us to build a broad, flexible and strong professional community.

How can new professionals get involved in WILSIG?

We had a lot of discussions about this last summer, and we decided to create an online tool that could serve as a focal point for discussions. The idea is to really make it a public space, where everyone can express themselves, and not just a channel for disseminating information coming from the group’s official (in the IFLA sense) representatives (we already have social media accounts Twitter and Facebook and the IFLA mailing list for this). We were inspired by the New Professionals SIG’s blog, but we are starting this year with an online form that will allow volunteers to tell us what contributions they want to make (for example, help setting up a blog, help running and maintaining it, etc.). We would like to make a big effort on multilingualism, and a simple and not too time-consuming way of participating is to propose translations of the contents present on our site, the future blog, etc.

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