Entitled Transforming Access to Digital Europe in Public Libraries, this was the second of these congresses I’ve attended, the last one being in 2009. The congress was held over a day and a half at the European Parliament in Brussels and attracted around 150 participants. Chris Batt, formerly Chief Executive at MLA, chaired the event which was run by Civic Agenda and supported by a host of organisations including JISC TechDis, Bibnet, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eblida, to name a few. You can visit the event website and see all the information and presentations from the speakers, www.ecei11.com and Maria Cotera is writing a piece for the CILIP journal Update so you can also learn more about her impressions.
The event opened with two presentations on how to advocate to the European Parliament. The institution does not fund statutory services, like public libraries, but it will fund community hubs and telecentres. Not for the first time, I wondered whether libraries are driven to develop along certain lines because they chase the funding or because there is customer-demand. This was followed by some really impressive examples of taking advocacy into tough political environments and winning, namely Digital Wales and the work of IFLA with WIPO. Linda McAvan MEP joined a panel discussion and took questions from the floor before hosting a reception, which two other MEPs came along to as well.
The second day was a feast of papers from around Europe showing how libraries are repositioning themselves in the digital landscape including working with learning disabled adults in Latvia, the unique selling proposition developed by Bibnet, the inspirational Urban Media Space in Aarhus and developments in Romania. The next session on best practice led into an afternoon panel and question and answer format, which was quite a refreshing change for the more traditional conference session. Discussion included developing digital skills, e-government, peer-to-peer support, use of structural funds, broadband connectivity, social inclusion, gaming, working with specific target groups and accessibility. The final presentation came from Helen Milner of the UK Online Centres who challenged the congress to imaging a world without libraries and to consider that any strategy which is based on buildings is doomed. This enabled the conference delegates, mainly librarians, to consider what they really sought to achieve – namely people who are fulfilled, nourished, knowledgeable and empowered – and whether they thought they would find them in the library.
Rhona Arthur, Assistant Director