After having asked myself what libraries are for in my previous post, now the political bit – what can the EU do for libraries? Or what should it do?

Ilona Kish from the Public Libraries 2020 programme in Brussels ran a workshop about funding opportunities for libraries here at Next Library this morning and – as the kind of blogger in residence at the event – I sat and listened and wondered.

A bit of the challenge, but also the joy of this event, is the sheer range of people and organisations represented.

Sat at my table discussing EU funding opportunities for libraries were Nonja van der Ark from Bibliotheek Kennemerwaard, Alkmaar, Katja Schneider from Stadtbibliothek Wuppertal, Grif Peterson from Boston working for P2PU, Hannelore Vogt from Stadtbibliothek Köln, Moses Mwandihi from Kenya National Library Services Kisumu, and Elisabeth Wichenje from Goethe Institut Nairobi.

It turns out that P2PU and the Kenyan National Library Service (with some additional exchange of ideas with Köln), have been working on an EU funded project about digital learning. And P2PU has been working with Köln to translate P2PU’s materials into 5 different EU languages – also EU funded. But the projects are of course separate – for the EU thinks EU-internal and EU-external.

And then there is the headache of project funding – it is (relatively) easy to get something moving as a project, but trying to get stable administrative funding for a network like P2PU is one hell of a struggle from EU funds. Nonja spoke of her administration headaches with EU funds and the complexity of the administration. “In Netherlands,” she said to me “never let it be said we are short of money. If you have a good library project we will will find a way to fund it.” But the clear implication was that trying to manoeuvre library projects into EU funding streams was not at all an easy task, and seeking funds nationally was an easier bet.

Look at it from the EU side.

There is a Common Agricultural Policy with its hefty funding. Fisheries and Regional Funding too (some of the latter can help libraries in poor areas no doubt). But there is no EU Libraries Fund. And there is also a logical political reason for that – libraries are not the political responsibility of even national administrations, but local or regional administration in most cases. Those authorities would not be too happy were the EU to be specifically active in this area.

But the phrase “to bring the EU closer to its citizens” passes the lips of plenty of EU politicians. I am never sure what that means normally, but what better place to do that than through libraries? There are 65000 public libraries in Europe. And 100 million people use libraries yearly (that’s 1 in every 5 Europeans). As a presentation from the British Library at the event argued, no other cultural offering anywhere even comes close.

Ilona and her team – through their Public Libraries 2020 project (funded until now by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation!) and their connected MEP Library Group (that has 100 MEPs in it) are making a solid start to try to lobby for the needs of libraries in the EU. But political campaigning and advocacy is hardly something you would normally associate with libraries.

And then what about the 2019 European Elections? What could you do, I asked Katja from Wuppertal. How about bringing MEPs and MEP candidates to libraries, all around Europe in the months before the EP campaign gets crazily busy (namely January-March 2019) and introduce future politicians to what libraries are doing, and how they are changing? “Why not?” she said.

Give to others what attending Next Library gave to me – an insight into the world of libraries that’s diverse and interesting and changing fast – and could probably do with some helping hand from the EU.

Now if we can work out quite how the EU could actually best do that!

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