Annual National Forum “Libraries Today: Skills and Services for the 21st Century” in Bulgaria

Еvery year in November, Biblio partner Global Libraries – Bulgaria Foundation holds the National Forum “Libraries Today“.  In 2020, the 5th edition of this event was entitled “Libraries: Skills and Services for the 21st Century”. The Libraries Today Forum is a large-scale event discussing the role of public libraries in the digital age, European and national policies for access to information and e-services, culture and education and lifelong learning through the public library network.

Due to the changed working conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year the forum took place as a hybrid event with a limited number of speakers on site at the  Literature Club “Peroto” at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, and others who joined online through the Zoom platform. The event was broadcast to a network of over 1,000 libraries and other stakeholders through the foundation’s Facebook page. The event involved over 500 listeners, and the individual sessions reached over 15,000 people.

Public libraries are playing an increasingly important role in the information age and are key factor for equal access to information, e-services, culture, education and lifelong learning for all citizens.

During the Forum, one of the keynote speaker was Assoc. Prof. Dr. Marina Encheva of the University of Library Studies and Information Technologies and a member of the Board of EBLIDA. She presented the main points of the EBLIDA report “Think The Unthinkable. A post-Covid 19 European Library Agenda meeting Sustainable Development Goals and funded through the European Structural and Investment Funds (2021-2027)” on how libraries in Europe are coping with the COVID-19 challenge, what measures have been taken in different countries and what have had an effect on library staff and users.

Main lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis:

  • If libraries are community centers, the first lesson to be learned is that this function can easily be lost if communities stop circulating.
  • The use of digital platforms to improve library services needs to be changed in view of the short-term and long-term vision of libraries.
  • Libraries must be able to separate connectivity and technology.
  • Libraries need to focus on Sustainable Development Goals to compensate for possible budget cuts due to reduced gross domestic product.

Other topics that were addressed are digitalisation, access to e-resources, e-learning for librarians and citizens, in the context of the new skills everyone needs to work in the 21st century.

One of the sessions was dedicated to the necessary skills of librarians to provide adequate services in the 21st century. A key element today is access to digital content. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Aneta Doncheva outlined the current state of access to digital content and digital services in libraries as an important prerequisite for efficient customer service. The solution is a new public policy and accelerated digitalisation to bridge the gap and provide adequate access and service for consumers.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kalina Ivanova, Director of the Petko R. Slaveykov Regional Library presented the two profiles for work in the library, developed under the BIBLIO project after analyzing the training needs of librarians for the labor market as a result of the digital transformation. The two new job profiles are: “Community engagement and Communication Officer” and “Digital Transformation Facilitator“. Future training aims to raise the digital skills of all librarians to at least an “intermediate” level in all areas of DigComp 2.1. Improving the digital and cross-cutting skills of librarians will help the sector move into the digital age and learn to respond to new products as a result of the constant development of technology.

The topic about the importance of media and information literacy as key transversal competence in the 21st century was also presented. Today, UNESCO’s strategy combines these two areas as a combined set of competencies (knowledge, skills and attitudes) needed for life and work today, and stressed that empowering people through media and information literacy is an important prerequisite for promoting equal access to information and knowledge and promotion of free, independent media, media pluralism and information systems.

Other important topic was offering electronic and audio books through public libraries. Spaska Tarandova, Executive Director of GLBF, moderated a discussion with different stakeholders – publishers, librarians, copyright specialists and experts. The participants agreed that during the quarantine people realized that e-content in the Bulgarian language is very limited. Contemporary literature is only available for purchase, and community members do not have access through public libraries. Participants shared their opinions on the issues and also discussed different practices from Europe and North America – streaming technology or download. The participants expressed their readiness to start a discussion among various stakeholders in order to develop a regulation on access to e-books and audiobooks through libraries.

The participants were greeted onsite by Emilia Milkova, member of the Committee of Culture and Media Committee in the 44th National Assembly. Congratulatory addresses were also received from EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, Bulgarian Minister of Culture, and Minister of Labor and Social Policy. The messages from all highlighted the importance of libraries in the digital society not only to preserve,    present and promote cultural heritage, but also as an important factor for citizens’ access to information and knowledge, for digital inclusion of all groups of the population.

By Global Libraries – Bulgaria Foundation

Featured image by Mahendra Kumar on Unsplash