OCLC EMEARC in Berlin: conference reflections

A few weeks ago, I was at the OCLC EMEA Regional Council Meeting in Berlin and I’ve just had a notification that the presentations are online, so it makes sense to blog about it this week! It was my first time at such an OCLC event*, and it was great to be able to hear from librarians from such a broad range of nations, libraries and cultures. “EMEA” by the way, stands for Europe, Middle East and Africa. The cultural mix was a real strength of this event, and one that I haven’t experienced in the same way before at any other library conference.

Here is a picture that I took of the stained glass window at the venue:

stained glass window with staircase in front of it

The building was rather special: the meeting was held at the ESMT Berlin, a business school located in the former GDR National Council building. There were little clues everywhere to the building’s former life, from the colourful window to the ball shaped lights which I recognised from reading about the former GDR people’s palace, to the tiny little crossed Meissen swords on one of the wall tiles in the large lobby.**

I learnt lots about the way that OCLC operates, of course, as well as about the member libraries represented by speakers and attendees. You can read about OCLC’s governance structure online anyway, but it was different to hear about it from the people who are actually involved. The meeting showed a great emphasis on accountability to- and involvement of- its members. I was also rather taken by the phrase which we saw everywhere in marketing materials:

Because what is known must be shared

It is a phrase so apt for librarians, and also for OCLC itself, who are all about supporting the community with sharing. From the sharing of metadata records and sharing resources through cloud systems and inter-library loan schemes, to sharing ideas and good practice at events like the very one I was attending, OCLC is definitely about sharing.

My highlights


The plenary speakers were inspiring, in the way that plenary speakers are supposed to be, and Skip Pritchard’s keynote which was all about cultural differences definitely got me thinking. The point that I took was that in the modern era we cross cultures so quickly and easily that we don’t always notice, and the potential for misunderstanding is huge. There are so many gaps that we need to try and bridge, across languages and scripts, but more than this, in interpretation, and OCLC as an international organisation obviously faces these challenges fairly regularly. I liked how passionate he sounded about working for OCLC.

Lightning struck twice

Beyond this, the lightning talks were a real highlight for me.  Of the lightning talks, Katrin Kropf of Chemnitz Public Library later won the prize, for her presentation that was all about games and the library: board games, computer games consoles with a projector screen, table football and a (sturdy) interactive table all featured. I also felt inspired by her approach that the library, with its games and books, could get out into the community, appearing at youth clubs and shopping malls and other places where the library’s target audience could be found. It was a very practical lesson in how to take the library to the user, rather than waiting for the users to come to the library.

And another lightning talk that impressed me was from Daniel Tepe of Bremen Public Library. He pointed out that some library visitors don’t spend long in the library because they already know what they want, whilst others come to the library to seek inspiration, and it’s the latter group that library digital services could serve better. The (German language) website that he pointed us to, Stabi24.de looks to me like it does a good job of making e-book and digital content not just discoverable but also visible, and presented in an inspirational way.

Breaking out

Of the parallel member sessions that I attended, I very much enjoyed a presentation from Lars Binau of DTU Denmark. He explained how, 12 years ago the library had had approximately 125,000 visits a year, and now it has roughly 555,000 visits a year. This clearly signalled big changes! And the innovative approach that he described was not just about moving books into the basement to make space for more students, but the whole building needed refurbishing. The library had to provide adequate lighting, suitable accoustics and sound dampening, and indeed air exchange, because of the heat rising off so many more people in the space. And since they were refurbishing, and since the Internet of Things was right around the corner, and it’s a technical university, well they got involved with creating what seemed like a technological playground in the library. Lars described lots of experimentation with sensors and services that meant that students were getting to personalise their environments in the library and staff were fast becoming data scientists. When asked whether students resented being “lab rats” in such an environment, Lars answered that the students get to do experiments themselves, so if it’s helping them to learn and to improve their experience of the library then they don’t seem to mind.

So those are just a handful of my highlights. I daresay I’ll continue to digest this event’s very rich fare for some time to come!

*OCLC are one of my clients
**Hours of watching the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow are apparently paying off!