‘It was one of my best professional experiences’
Four EIFL Public Library Innovation Award winners speak about their experiences at the Next Library Festival 2023 in Aarhus, Denmark

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EIFL Public Library Innovation Awards ceremony at the Next Library Festival 2023 - from left, Jelena Rajic from Serbia, Martyna Maliene from Lithuania, Marianne Wamuyu from Kenya, and Ivan Eduardo Triana Bohoquez from Colombia.
EIFL Public Library Innovation Awards ceremony at the Next Library Festival 2023 - from left, Jelena Rajic from Serbia, Martyna Maliene from Lithuania, Marianne Wamuyu from Kenya, and Ivan Eduardo Triana Bohoquez from Colombia.

In January 2023, we named four winners of the EIFL Public Library Innovation Award for Public Libraries enabling learning through play. With support from the LEGO Foundation, representatives of the four winning libraries, from Colombia, Kenya, Lithuania and Serbia, travelled to Aarhus in Denmark to participate in the Next Library Festival 2023 (14-16 May). Ramune Petuchoivaite, Manager of the EIFL Public Library Innovation Programme, travelled with the four winners. After the event, she asked them about their Next Library experience.

There could not have been a better place than the Next Library Festival to celebrate and showcase the programmes of the four winners of the EIFL Public Library Innovation Award, and for inspiring other libraries seeking ideas for playful activities that would engage children in learning outside of the formal education system. 

Organized by the ever-inspiring Aarhus Public Libraries team, the Next Library Festival 2023, had three themes – Sustainability, Play, and Democracy. It gathered 350 participants from 30 countries – forward-thinking librarians, consultants, innovators, and decision-makers – interested in shaping the public library of today and the future. 

“The Next Library is more than a conference -  it is a movement and a community that over years has grown to more than 1,700 library leaders and innovators from 96 countries around the world,” said Marie Ostergaard, Director of Aarhus Public Libraries, in her opening address. 

For the EIFL innovation award winners, from Colombia, Kenya, Lithuania and Serbia, the Festival was a rich learning experience. 

It’s quite impossible to be a passive observer in the Next Library Festival. Everyone attending is co-creator and contributor, constantly engaged in some session, activity, or action – exploring, presenting, sharing, asking questions, reflecting, giving an interview, playing, and/or dreaming. 

The EIFL innovation award winners had three scheduled roles – to represent their libraries at the EIFL Public Library Innovation Award ceremony, where we formally presented the awards, they ran pop-up demonstrations of their winning programmes, and gave great ignite talks and answered questions from the audience. 

After the Festival, I asked the four what they had learnt, who inspired them and what professional and personal takeaways they brought back home. Here’s what they said: 

The library - ‘a space to dream, create and learn’ 

“I have had one of my best professional experiences. The Aarhus libraries’ team proves that the librarian’s profile goes beyond technical skills, their abilities to create unique and special experiences are key to turning the library into a space to dream, create and learn. I was particularly inspired by Marie Ostergaard. I thought she was an incredible person who demonstrates, with results, the abilities of a leader who inspires her team. I would love to keep in touch with her to replicate her good practices,” said Ivan Eduardo Triana Bohoquez, Director General at Fundación Biblioseo, Colombia.

“I was fascinated by the atmosphere in the Next Library 2023 Festival. Everyone attending was so keen and motivated to participate in the sessions, ask questions, talk, and share,” said Martyna Maliene, Senior Librarian at the Central Library of Vilnius City Municipality in Lithuania.

“In such an atmosphere, it was a breathtaking experience to receive the EIFL Public Library Innovation Award on behalf of the Naujoji Vilnia team, and to see the active interest in our ‘Isl@nd of Openness’ programme, which uses an interactive game platform and integrates an educational bibliotherapy method. It motivates the team to continue working and to try harder,” she said. 

"Getting appreciation for the work we are doing was really humbling and amazing, and knowing that we are creating a difference in our libraries,” said Marianne Wamuyu, from Eastlands Library in Nairobi, Kenya. “But the Festival also enabled me to explore new cultures, meet people from different libraries across the world and learn what they are doing to make libraries more engaging and better for their communities.”

In the true spirit of the Next Library participant, Jelena Rajic, Librarian of Public Library ‘Radislav Nikčević’ in Jagodina, Serbia, said: “I did not want to miss anything, but it was virtually impossible to see and hear everything that I wanted to - there were so many interesting sessions and activities happening simultaneously.

“I had a unique opportunity to introduce our ‘I have the right to read’ programme to an international audience and see that what we do in our relatively small library to inspire children to read and share could be interesting and inspiring to other libraries,” added Jelena.

Libraries for a better future 

“We visited LEGO® House in Billund, where we were presented with the new partnership of LEGO Group and Aarhus Public Libraries, to create dream labs to bring children’s voices into debates about the future. Libraries are piloting creative workshops called ‘Build the Change’, where children are asked to solve real-world challenges,” said Marianne.

“The visit to the newly opened Gellerup library was very informative and encouraging; the library's team there is constantly seeking new ways of using library spaces, equipment and materials to address community needs. It showed us that we are on the right track and I saw some amazing ideas that I will be sharing with our team when it comes to the renovation of our library,” she added.

“The Next Library was the opportunity to broaden my vision as a professional, and as a person. I had the chance to confirm the various impacts of libraries on communities. They are spaces for opportunities, creation, and citizen participation,” said Ivan. 

Martyna was inspired by Finland’s experience of introducing activities and projects promoting democracy. “Interestingly, supporting active citizenship and democracy is a mandatory function of Finland’s libraries, defined in the law. I think these types of library programmes are more and more needed all over the world,” she said. 

The keynote presentation of Ben Mardell, principal investigator at Project Zero, a research organization at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, sparked Jelena’s interest: “I was excited by the ideas shared by Ben Mardell in his keynote on ‘Pedagogy of Play’. The three elements of playful learning: Wonder, Choice, and Delight - are absolutely applicable in children’s programmes in libraries and can make learning more attractive and fun.” 

Next Library Festival 2023 goody bag

Explore the Next Library 2023 goody bag for keynotes on Ecosystem and Sustainability, Playful Learning, and Living Democracy, photos from the Festival, interviews, slides and feedback.