Libraries around the world are facing a multitude of challenges and many are finding creative solutions. There are opportunities, globally as well as locally, to share expertise and to collaborate. We don’t know what opportunities exist until we start talking to each other. This is, in a nutshell, what is good about international librarianship.
As librarians we network every day; within our organisations, with stakeholders, with our customers, But the question is how do we translate into international collaboration?
Getting to know people who work in libraries in other countries is easier than ever with the rise of online communication tools which allow us to have conversations, compare notes and share problems, ideas and solutions. But how do you find these people?
At the end of last year, we created the International Librarians Network to help you solve that problem.
So What is the ILN? The ILN is a facilitated peer mentoring program designed to help librarians develop international networks. The core belief of the program is that innovation and inspiration can cross borders, and that spreading our networks beyond our home countries can make us better at what we do.
Anyone who is working or studying in the library and information management area is welcome to join ILN, and membership is free. There are no qualifications or external memberships required to join the program.
Applicants are asked for two types of information:
1.Information about themselves, including what sector they work in, how long they’ve been in the profession, and what their professional interests are. 2. What they’re looking for in their professional partner. For example, we ask participants if they particularly want to be matched with someone who works in the same sector as them, or if they’re happy to be matched with someone in any sector.
Applicants are then matched with others outside their country, based on the information they provide in their application form. This match forms what we call a partnership. Partnerships are supported by us for 6 months, with discussion topics, prompts and regular email contact.
In today’s presentation we would like to tell you about how we took an idea and started to turn it into a reality.
At the end of 2013 the co-founders – Kate, Alyson and Clare – realised that there were very limited opportunities to network internationally if you couldn’t afford to fly around the world and attend international conferences. After a little further exploration the idea for the ILN was born.
We launched the ILN in February 2013. Initially we promoted the program almost exclusively via Twitter tapping into the vast community of librarians and information professionals already using the resource and the response was extraordinary.
In the first two weeks alone, 28 participants signed up from 9 countries and the website was viewed over 1800 times from 27 countries.
Using only freely available tools, ILN was able to tap into existing professional learning networks online through web-based word-of-mouth.
In March when we launched the pilot program, we had 92 participants from 20 countries. This map shows where our participants (green) and our country coordinators (yellow) came from for the pilot program.
In our mid-program survey - We asked participants why they joined the ILN and (not surprisingly) most people wanted to develop an international network, but interesting more then 55% stated that they also signed up because they wanted to show support for the program.
Networking, whether internationally or down the corridor begins with creating and developing a relationship.
The Program Coordinators created each partnership by hand-matching the participants, trying to accommodate the requests of each individual.
With 92 participants this activity was tricky but not onerous however it was immediately apparent that as the program grows alternatives to this process might need to be found.
Each participant was emailed the contact details of their partner and the program officially commenced.
Initial conversations were supported with discussion topics centered on getting to know one another and participants were encouraged to connect using other online tools like Facebook and Twitter.
Matching up all the participants in the pilot project was a very exciting moment for us.
Our excitement turned out to be just the beginning. Within an hour or so of the emails being sent out there was an amazing reaction (mostly more excitement!) among our twitter followers and contacts.
Karen De Toit: Conversation is going in the #ILN @InterLibNet mentoring program > so excited of having met @tapsister > definitely going to learn much! TX
Fifi Ryan: So excited, got an email from my peer mentor :) drafting up my response, so much to say @InterLibNet
Fiona Kerr: Went to work on day off to see if there was an email from @InterLibNet And excited to see my partner's from Romania!
And a fabulous conversation between a collection of Aust and NZ librarians which started with them talking about being nervous and not sure what to write and ending up declaring:
Better than sharing your knicker size anyway! #toomuchinfo
But As the program moved out of its infancy, the pilot entered its most challenging phase: sustaining the partnerships.
Some partnerships worked better than others.
After the initial excitement died down, the challenges of distance communication set in for some participants and four of the forty-six partnerships were dissolved as one partner lost interest or other demands arose. One further partnership had to be terminated by the Program Coordinators after a report of inappropriate communication. Happily though, two new partnerships were created from within the dissolved partnerships so the participants who were still keen did not miss out.
The monthly discussion topics proved vital to sustain the partnerships During the pilot discussion topics included ‘what is international librarianship, ‘reading and writing’ and ‘the future of the profession’. Our discussion topic during October is conferences – attending them, presenting at them, learning from them and so on.
Based on feedback from pilot participants the Program Coordinators are considering how this could be supported even more extensively in future rounds. For example, in the current round we are trialing splitting the monthly discussion topic into 2 parts. At the beginning of the month, an email is sent to each participant outlining that month’s discussion topic and two weeks later a second email is sent out with ideas for how to take the discussions further. This fortnightly email should help to facilitate more regular contact between participants.
We do advise participants that maintaining contact at least fortnightly with their program partner is likely to give the best outcomes in terms of developing the relationship, based on feedback during the evaluation.
As you can see, the majority of participants in the pilot maintained contact either fortnightly or monthly
During the pilot, we ran two surveys; one at the mid-point of the pilot and one at the end.
This allowed for some interesting evaluation and comparison
The initial evaluation of the mid-pilot survey suggested:
• There is demand for the program • That the basic model is sustainable and reasonably scalable • The discussion topics effectively stimulated communication • That identifying struggling partnerships early is import but remains a challenge for the program coordinators • That synchronous communication methods strengthen partnerships.
Additionally, feedback received from the mid-pilot survey resulted in the ILN launching a Facebook page during 2013. This has proved to be popular and provides another space for participants (and non-participants) to share views and comments.
Evaluation completed following the second survey indicates similar responses.
But we did find that communication between partners tended to drop off between the two surveys. While this isn’t really surprising, it does present us with some challenges about the kind of support we can offer participants in the second half of the program, when the novelty has worn off and maintaining the relationship may be more difficult.
From this second survey we also found that nearly 50% of respondents said they were planning to keep in touch with their ILN partner
And also 56% said they felt the program had had an impact on their work or professional practice due to Gaining new ideas Expanding their view of the world and librarianship Feeling more connected Increasing professional confidence
So what did we as program coordinators learn from the process of starting the ILN? And what could you do if you are interested in getting your own project off the ground?
Lets get the bad news out of the way first. At times, the challenges running a program can be considerable.
But by working through these challenges we have identified some key areas to consider when starting a project like the ILN
First, managing a project like this takes a lot of time and effort – physically, mentally and emotionally. Find some friends/colleagues/associates to join the project with you. The ILN started as one person’s idea and expanded to an initial program team of 3.
We quickly became aware that there was too much work for 3 of us and we brought in a 4th program coordinator. We have also developed a network of country coordinators, because while our group knows about the Australian library experience, we realise that don’t know as much about libraries in Ireland or the Philippines or Ghana. The country coordinators provide that key local knowledge
It can also be challenge to remain impartial about a project you are passionate about. Having others to bounce ideas off of helps to facilitate that objectivity.
And having a group working on a project builds in sustainability. You have to think to yourself, ‘how can this project be set up such way that it won’t fall apart if I walk away from it? ‘
Don’t forget about governance tools for running the organisation. These might be the boring parts, but they are very necessary. Consider how these tools can set up expectations for your project and for your participants.
For example, we created a code of conduct about mid way during the pilot after an incident between 2 program participants. Since that time, all participants are required read and agree to the code of conduct. This allows us to caution participants or even remove participants from the program if needed. The code of conduct includes a communication policy that doubles as our social media policy and governs not only what we will see as acceptable behaviour by participants but also makes a promise about our own professional behaviour.
Ensuring participants understand the responsibility of what they are signing up is an area we will continue to work on in the future.
You can find a copy of this policy on the ILN web site.
Another lesson we learned was that you can’t plan a project forever, at some point you will have to take a deep breath and dive in.
If you have an idea, any idea and you are not sure if it will be successful- get it up and running and just call it a pilot!
We ran the ILN as a pilot in the beginning because we weren’t sure anyone else would think it was a good idea.
Calling it a pilot helps you to keep some distance from it as a success or failure and also invites participants to share their feedback with you – to help you turn the pilot into something else.
Of course, if you run a pilot and it doesn’t work, isn't what you thought it would be, or turns out to be way too much work for the benefits gained, there’s no face lost if you shut it down.
After all, it was only a pilot right?
It is also helpful to think ahead and build in evaluation. This is a critical point. How will you measure the success of the project?
As mentioned previously, a direct result of our mid pilot survey we started the ILN Facebook page. And in response to feedback about participants losing motivation, we have changed the delivery of our monthly discussion topics to keep the conversation flowing. But had we had not built in those surveys into the pilot from the beginning we would not have had the feedback to respond to.
However, don’t feel bound to jump in relation to every bit of feedback you might get. You need to always consider feedback carefully and decide if those changes are manageable and will be beneficial. We’ve had interest in our program being run in a number of languages, currently we only operate in English, and whilst we love the idea of being be more inclusive, the reality is that for our organisation it is beyond the resources we have at the moment. We’d love to consider it should circumstances allow it in the future so that idea is on the wish list.
Remember to think early about any permissions you might require for your evaluative processes. We didn’t know if we’d want to publish the results of the surveys of the pilot program but we went ahead and got ethics approval from our employer anyway, just in case. As it turned out, we did present the results, as you have seen today, so getting ethics approval all those months ago was a good idea.
So we’ve discussed the challenges but what about the rewards? Would we recommend doing something like this to others?
Absolutely! As a professional development exercise this was a big one – but like most things, the more you put in, the more you get out of it.
As a flexible, small (ish) project, the ILN gave us the opportunity to problem solve, develop policies, make changes and see the effects of those changes- all in a short space of time.
Sometimes in our day to day lives as employees of large organisations it’s difficult to have those opportunities. The wheels move slowly in many large libraries (such as ours) and it has been interesting to flex our decision making and problem solving muscles in a different way.
And there are other rewards too…..
We have also personally expanded our international networks! As administrators of this program, we have the chance to develop networks with our country coordinators, our program participants and others as we have spread the word about the ILN.
This photo of a few of the ILN participants we had the privilege to meet up with at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Singapore in August. We were at the Congress to present a poster on the ILN pilot project and took the opportunity to also meet with some lovely participants.
We’ve also had numerous other occasions to speak about the ILN at events just like this webinar.
So finally, what’s next for the ILN
The first official round has started with 392 participants from 40 countries around the world. (growing from 92 participants from 20 countries in the pilot)
As with the pilot, we matched partnerships literally by hand for round one– this matching process is a lengthy one but vial to the success of the program. To assist in the process, we ask applicants to list about the areas of librarianship that interest them and then we match participants with similar interests. At this stage those lists of interest can include anything, the field in the form is free text. But going forward we are looking at creating a controlled vocabulary to assist in this matching process.
We are also looking at ways of providing opportunities for synchronous communications between participants, like conducting an ILN webinar or facilitating group chats. These ideas do come with challenges both financial and time zone related, but we do love challenges. One of our participants commented on the blog that he and his ILN partner had ‘friended’ each other on Facebook and had the opportunity to chat in real time. He found this experience made the partnership seem more real to both of them. So we would love to look for more opportunities to encourage those types of ‘real’ experiences.
Thank you for joining us today.
Please feel free to get in touch with us if you would like more information or would like to get involved.
You can find details about the International Librarians Network and the next round of peer mentoring on our website.
Librarians without borders: the International Librarians Network experience
Why develop an
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