I was lucky to attend the 2023 Next Library conference which was held in the extremely well-appointed and well-equipped Aarhus public library in Aarhus, Denmark. The conference was fully booked out. It included plenary sessions, ignite sessions, break out workshops and plenty of socialization involving sharing experiences and ideas. Although there were a few people from the UK and USA, most of the attendees were from European countries who seemed to share a strong fabric of cooperation and shared goals. As the only Australian, I was pleased to present about human rights on the main stage to all the attendees.
The official opening of the conference introduced the concept of celebrating mistakes. Attendees were encouraged to admit to their mistakes, wave their hands in the air and shout out, “I made a mistake”. Attendees were also encouraged to experiment and learn through mistakes. Celebrating mistakes allowed for people to be and feel human. Humans make mistakes. It is one of the keyways by which they learn. However, it seemed that the word responsibility was missing in relation to mistakes. When people take responsibility for mistakes and take remedial action, they are more likely to learn and grow as individuals.
17 Sustainable Development Goals
Nonetheless, sustainability and the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (17 SDG) were an underlying theme throughout the conference. Professor Katherine Richardson Biological Oceanographer, leader of the Sustainability Science Centre and a principal investigator for the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen was the opening Keynote speaker. Put simply, the demand for the Earth’s Resources exceeds supply. We need to find equitable ways of working constructively and sustainably with the earth’s resources. I recall Professor Richardson suggesting that earth should have been named water because there is far more water on earth than land above the water. And if we let global warming persist, there will even be less habitual land for humans. On a positive note, “The SDGs forces us to respect the (eco)system which we are a part!” said Professor Richardson. I was impressed by what I describe as the European sustainability fabric. It seemed strong and all inclusive. Much can be learned from this sort of collaborative approach to sustainability as well as other realms of life. It left me wondering how Australia, New Zealand and their nearby neighbors could create a similar fabric. In recognition of sustainability, only vegetarian food was served, and recycling was encouraged. This included drink containers, tea and coffee cups. In support of sustainability, during many of the workshops discarded cardboard boxes were well utilized for creative building tasks.
Human Rights Education
Along with the 17 SDGs, I presented the Human Rights educational game to all the attendees in the auditorium. It is my aim to see the United Nations 30 Articles and three pillars of Freedom, Equality and Dignity embedded into the library network and schools’ system. With Racism, Anti Semitism and Hate on the rise, more than ever, the UNs healthy behavior framework has become a necessity rather than a token representation. In Australia, Ballarat Grammar School has been piloting the game and will submit an article for publishing shortly. In Sydney, for around 125 students we facilitated a human rights leadership forum at The Whitlam Library. Likewise, Monash University in Victoria plans to create a longitudinal study involving embedding human rights education in schools curriculum. Recently, Melbourne Grammar School kindly hosted the first ever Victorian Human Rights Student Educational Leadership Forum. Opened by Melbourne Grammar School’s Headmaster, Philip Grutzner, the forum was run by Monash University’s Dr Erin Leif, and co-facilitated by Commissioner Lorraine Finlay and myself. The event was hugely successful with many students thanking us and shaking our hands. It is my hypothesis that embedding the UNs framework in school education will see a significant reduction in unhealthy human behaviors such as but not limited to Racism, Anti Semitism, Hate, and Bullying. Likewise, I expect to see more cohesion and improved mental health leading to less school related anxiety.
Throughout the conference, many other great themes were addressed. Some of which I summarize below:
Democracy was a theme that stood out to me as important because the way people learn their values, customs, gender identity, behaviors and right from wrong has changed. In a rapidly changing world much learning is taking place through nontraditional sources such as social media which is typically underpinned by commercial interests. It can also be argued that democracy is being challenged by fake news and misleading information associated with social media. This is a theme the conference thought could be addressed through libraries. Libraries were seen as a fabric of community and the glue that holds communities together. Places where refugees can get help with integration and so much more. Likewise, libraries were portrayed as safe and impartial homes of democracy challenging fake news and misleading information. With openness, inclusion, diversity of views and knowledge sources more based on the quality and in depth information.
Play & STEM Education
I attended and participated in a session involving learning through play for Science STEM. This session involved using basic materials provided such as balloons, pipe cleaners, playing cards and tape to make a contraption that would allow a raw egg to be dropped from about two floors onto the concrete floor below without the egg breaking. In teams the groups created all sorts of innovative ways of achieving the goal and a huge amount of fun was had by all. Another element of the Science STEM session focused on 21st Century Skills – the 5 Cs (creativity, collaboration, communication, critical and computational thinking). These skills were certainly utilized when we made our contraption. I am pleased to share that our egg safely landed on the concrete floor without cracking, and we learned new ways of solving problems.
On the subject of learning and in contrast to schools, libraries were presented as unstructured learning places. They were seen as environments allowing children and adults to learn at their own pace and as deeply as their interests took them. On the basis that school education is heavily structured, libraries can offer untimed and unstructured learning opportunities so that their communities can explore ideas until they are ready to move on to other areas of interest.
During various sessions, libraries were also presented as multipurpose inclusive centers that can be utilized as for example, reach out centers, playgrounds, villages, escape rooms, therapy, bibliotherapy, dance therapy, art therapy, applied improvisation, music therapy, sand therapy, and non-judgmental homes for people from all walks of life such as but not limited to LGBTQ. LGBTQ was featured in one session which showed how they created a LGBTQ hub within their library.
What European libraries are doing
Below is a list of some of the many projects European libraries and undertaking:
Challenging cultural barriers and stereotypes, reclaiming public spaces, Nurturing a multicultural community, Queering the library, Building digital skills to challenge fake news, This house is your house, Creating a dynamic cultural knowledge hub, Repairing our planet together, one object at a time, A night at the library: engaging young people, Unlocking new opportunities for prisoners and ex-convicts, Co-creating healthcare solutions, Unleashing student creativity through zines, Tastier together – tackling food waste, Learning for life, Technophobia is not for women, Fighting discrimination with books, Gener-actions intergenerational solidarity, Breaking down cultural barriers, The library escape, Breaking down cultural barriers for refugees, Cultural opportunities to challenge disinformation, Reading for recovery. #HACK to attract young library users, Heritage talks, Creating a buzz: bringing bees to libraries, Cooking up green solutions, Breaking down language barriers, Libraries as therapy, Building bridges, finding new connections, A creative hub for young refugees, Working together to challenge fake news, Libraries without borders.
The Next Library conference ended with a fabulous celebration party. We were all bused out of town to a mystical property set up for outdoor music events and of course celebrations. There was lots of dancing, a variety of food, fire pits and lots of cross cultural conversations.
Hopefully this summary has inspired you to revisit your existing library programs to see how you can also address sustainability, climate change, and inclusion in new ways. Please feel welcome to reach out directly to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
He is an educationalist and the founder of The Brainary®. Hugh is passionate about making a meaningful difference in the world, which he goes about achieving through education and healthcare resources, technologies and publishing.
Hugh is well published in both academic and non-academic journals and has served on both ministerially and non-ministerially appointed boards of management.
In 2016 past Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presented Hugh’s team with a National Disability Award for its innovative work in the field of robotics and disabilities.