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BII celebrates 20 years of professional exchange

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Barbara Lison
Foto: 2019, V. Münch

"It is always important for one's own development to think outside the box "

Interview with Barbara Lison

Executive Director of the Bremen Public Library, currently Vice President and future President of IFLA from 2021


German Version





BI-International is 20 years old this year. The initiative was once founded to promote international exchange among library experts. What were particularly important events from your point of view?

In organizational terms, a milestone about 10 years ago was the clear assignment of BII as the permanent commission of BID, then BDB, and thus the creation of a clear legal framework, especially for the ongoing financing of scholarships - also thanks to the support of the German National Library. At that time, the tasks of BII emerged from the disbanded foreign branch of the German Library Institute. At this point I would like to emphasize the always good cooperation with the previous BID presidents and also the acting president and the so important networking with the German library associations, which are represented in the BII committee by delegated members. The close cooperation with the Goethe-Institut as an equal partnership is also very important to us. For two years now we have had a cooperation agreement with the Goethe-Institut, which now defines a cooperation previously existing on a project level as a joint binding project and secures the financial support of stays abroad for German library professionals on a long-term basis. BII has also been involved from the outset in sending German experts to the IFLA congresses. It is precisely this constant promotion of participation in the IFLA World Congress that has contributed to more active participation by German colleagues in IFLA's committee work. A further positive effect of BII IST's 20 years of work, the BII scholarships are also intended for the individual commitment of the scholarship holders, so that personal interest and lasting contacts between guest libraries and scholarship holders often grow and persist.

You have been on the board since 2012 and are now the spokesperson for BI-International. How has international cooperation developed since then?

Very well and very clearly - in all directions. Germany has assumed a new position in the global library landscape, not least because of Claudia Lux's presidency of IFLA between 2007 and 2009. Another reason could be that today's younger generation thinks more internationally, is very interested in best practices from abroad and, not least through social media, is now seeking and establishing new connections more quickly. Certainly, the more structured work of BII in recent years and the partner country initiative have also strengthened professional exchange, not least through the Librarian-In-Residence scholarships.

How important is BID's partner country initiative?

This is a very important initiative at all levels. It is a symbol of opening up to all areas of the library scene in another country, to best practices and exchange of experience. The Partner Country Initiative was founded in 2007 - another important event and for the first time in connection with the Library Congress. BII has supported the Partner Country Initiative from the very beginning. This has resulted in a joint three-year partner country period between the BID Congresses, and BII has also secured funding for special trips during this period. Colleagues also participate through presentations at congresses in both countries. This creates new professional and personal connections. The partner country initiative is supported by all BID members.

Why should German library experts be interested in a stay abroad, why should international experts be interested in a stay in Germany?

It is always important for one's own development to think outside the box and gain new ideas. From Germany, we are primarily interested in the best practices in other countries, but fortunately we also experience the opposite perspective. It's great when this results in long-term contact and dialogue and when the scholarship holders are interested in developments in their host countries. It is nice when former scholarship holders and hosts meet again at international conferences and continue to exchange ideas.

The year 2020 is a special challenge. The pandemic makes travel and planning almost impossible. How can an international exchange nevertheless be continued and succeed?

One should not give up hope that the situation will one day change and improve again. Planning should go beyond this corona period, and one should think beyond it. As long as there are restrictions, digital possibilities should be used. They are not the optimum and cannot replace a personal exchange. But perhaps this can awaken a new desire to travel. When traveling is possible again, BII is ready to get started and can end the "suffering" for all those who would have liked to do a professional exchange abroad or in Germany now. In the meantime, BII will also be increasingly communicative, active and visible via social media and keep in touch.

Where do you see BI-International in the next 20 years?

When everyone is immune to corona or vaccinated? Then BII will still be there to support them. Our great concern is also the promotion of young professionals. We want to make this clear through appropriate projects; we want to place special emphasis on this and hopefully provide more financial support. In this respect, we are open to new ideas on how we can strengthen this even more.

Barbara Lison, thank you very much for the interview.

The interview was conducted by Elgin Jakisch, Office BI-International