Jan Holmquist

This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Steve Thomas. I’m pleased today to be expanding the show out internationally with my first guest from a non-American country. Jan Holmquist is a public librarian in Denmark and you can follow him on Twitter @janholmquist and he blogs at Janholmquist.wordpress.com.

Jan, welcome to the show.

Well, thank you Steve, thanks for having me on the show.

You get to be the first international guest on the show. Everybody else that has been on the show has been American so far, so congratulations on that. [laughs]

Thank you very much, yeah that’s great, thank you for bringing a Danish accent to the show. [laughs]

I’ve been, I know I’ve got some listeners from other countries. I’ve heard from people from Great Britain and Australia and New Zealand before, so I know there are people from other countries that are listening, so I want to try and broaden that a little bit. And as my first international guest, I wanted to ask you how would you say Circulating Ideas in your native language?

Oh, [laughs], yeah, that was a tough one. Bringe ideer videre, kind of means passing on ideas.

Oh, okay.

Otherwise circulate, that’s pretty much the same, cirkulere so cirkulerende ideer, it could be, yeah.

And do you use the term circulate in libraries like the same way we do?

Oh yes we do, yeah.

You circulate your collections and everything, okay.


So, you are the first guest who is not an American, but I know a lot of listeners will already know who you are due to your work online and on social media. How important do you think social media is in connecting librarians from around the world? And how personally, how has it improved your professional life?

I think it is very important and now we can do, do things and connect in a way that wasn’t possible before social media. It’s been very much an eye-opener for me. When I started out I didn’t know where it would take me so it’s hard to overrate how much it has actually done for, for me and also for the profession, because it’s also possible to work on projects and ideas and it’s more easy than I would have thought it would be. So, I think that it’s very, very important and I get so much inspiration from people online via social media that I translate to my situation and my community and use in my work. So, it’s, it’s hard to overrate it.

And do you have a lot of local librarians in your network? A lot of, would you say it’s more international? Or a little mix of both?

I think it’s a mix of both because, of course, you work with people face-to-face and that’s very important because you’re making the library for your community and you should share on the national level and a local level, but I don’t think I, I’m thinking about it as two separate things. It is one big international network that contain a lot of Danish librarians and also a lot of librarians from all over the world. So, I think I think about it in the global, in global terms.

Do you have a lot of library conferences over there?

Yes, we have some library conferences in Denmark and then each, and then there’s also one every second year in Aarhus, that’s an international conference, Next Library and this year, this summer it will be Next Library in Aarhus again and that’s a very good conference. So we have an international one in English as well, but otherwise we have things like the ALA that we have once a year repeatedly a conference, a conference in Danish.

Right and do you go to a lot of other conferences in other countries even?

I think that I’ve been to a lot over the last years here, but there are so many that I would like to go to that I haven’t been to yet. So. [laughs]

Have you been able to make it over to the US yet, or no?

No, not yet, not yet. I hope to do that one day, but.

We’ll get you over here.

Oh, nice. I’m looking forward to that.

And, have you been able to meet a lot of people that you’ve met through social media in person?

Yes I have and that has been so great. I was, I was lucky to meet Michael Stevens this year at the, no last year, it’s 2013 now so. Last year in Helsinki I met Michael and last year in May I met Justin Hoenke, I get the right to pronounce his last name Hoenke because it’s kind of a German and we made a lot of fun with that in Hamburg, Germany, so. So, that has been great and Miley Joseph from Australia visited me also last year, so I met a lot of people last year that I collaborated with. Also Loida Garcia-Febo, I met her twice I think it was last year and she was also part of the Helpless week in libraries. So, I met a lot of these people and that’s great and even though that social media is a very good way to connect and you can do what we’re doing now, Skype, to, to talk in another way and I think that it’s, it’s very important, it is another to thing to meet people in person, it just is so.

Yeah, I think even though social media does provide us a good way to hook up, there is something about that face-to-face meeting that’s more special.

Yes, I think that when you get to know people and I think that you can know people very well through social media, but you, then you just get, you just really want to meet them in real life and have all the, all the other ways of communicating that, yeah, the smiles and the, all, all the stuff, the non-verbal stuff as well. So, it is another way of talking when you have people in front of you, just is.

And is it, is there anybody else that you communicate with on a regular basis over Skype, or just social media kind of stuff?

Yeah, there are a lot of people that I, I Skype with Buffy Hamilton from time to time and some of the best hours, it’s so much fun, so I really want to meet her someday. We Skype from time to time, but not as often as we want to [laughs] because time flies and so on, but it’s always great to talk to her and yeah, so we Skype regularly and I’ve been Skyping with people from Australia, a couple of times as well.

So, you mentioned a little bit ago the Help TWiL campaign that you did. Can you talk a little bit about that? And how that came together?


And I guess we should start with TWiL is This Week In Libraries.

It’s a show that is a sponsored show, so what we wanted to do was to, to help out, to sponsor the show we had crowdfunding and we thought that it would be a beautiful idea to get the viewers that were librarians from all over the world to be part of the sponsoring the show. So, so like it usually is with these things, there was an email from Nancy Dowd  that started it all and then we were a couple of people that were emailing each other and said, “What should we do? How should we do this?” And then we made the Tumblr and we set up the Paypal account and made the social media campaign and that was a very good example of working international via network with people there that you never met. At that time I haven’t met Mylee Joseph yet, I met Alotta, but it is a very good thing, when I was asleep in Denmark, Mylee Joseph was working from Australia and that, we covered a lot of time zones here so we could, we could be on 24 hours actually. That’s how it started up and we, we worked with just exchanging emails and the blog and tweets and the Google doc and basically that’s all it takes to set up a campaign.

And did you guys think it was a successful campaign?

I think it was a successful campaign. We aimed very high in how much we wanted to collect and we didn’t reach the goal, but at the time we did the campaign, the show got a lot of new viewers and we could see that the LinkedIn Group that is connected to the show, it got a lot of new users in that time, so. I think the show got broader in a way and that’s great too and also we provided the funds and said, sent a good message to Eric and Yarp that we love what they do and we think that it’s very important, because it is, it is a small learning environment for librarians worldwide.

And, you were also involved in the Buy A Library for India project. Can you talk about how that got started and?

Yes, it was kind of the same story, I think, that it was an English, no, Scottish I guess, librarian that sent a tweet about, “Hey, you can buy a library for India if you have this amount of funds, you can buy a library for India.” And then Ned Potter tweeted that and said, “Oh, I don’t have that kind of money.” And I tweeted, “Oh no, I haven’t got that kind of money either, but it’s a, it’s a cool thing that you can buy and build a library in India.” And then Andromeda Yelton said, “But, I don’t have the kind of money either, but maybe Twitter does.” And then we began writing each other should we do this, should we make a campaign and we asked Justin if he wanted to be part of the team too and he just loved the idea, so, so there we were and that was, that was very cool and, of course, also with the, with Ned working on his marketing book at that time too, so he, we had a marketing expert on our team and I think that we worked well, very well together so that was and that was so much fun and that was the first project I did on an international level and both of these projects have been spare time projects of course, but it’s, I think there’s a lot to learn with working that way, so. And it was so much fun.

And, was that project a success as well? I mean, did they, did they get that library built in India?

Yes, they did, yeah. And actually we collected a lot more funds than we needed, so there was also money to get a bigger library than we aimed for and some subscriptions for foreign newspapers and extra books and also a four donkey driven libraries in Africa so that was a huge success and, and yes it’s, it was the four of us that did a lot of work but 100 people from all over the world contributed with funds, so, so it’s really their library and yeah and it’s a great story and it, so it’s great to know that the library is there, but it’s also a good story of how you can use social media in a very powerful way to change the world, because, like we said at that time, libraries are closing all over the world but why not build one and people thought that that was a very good idea, so, so yeah, that was great.

And crowdfunding seems like a very librarian kind of idea, that we’re sharing resources and working together for a common goal.

I think it, I think it is and also you had Eric Hellman and Andromeda Yelton from Unglue.it on the show early on and what they are doing with Unglue.it is, I think, I’ve written about it and I call it the most democratic book project that I know of because it really is an idea that we like as librarians, isn’t it. It’s just that the book’s free, but it’s also, crowdfunding is also hard because you need the right story that really talks to people if you want to go out and get the funds because it’s, yeah people, some people give a lot of money, some people give a little and you really have to, to get a lot of people to give if you want to reach your goal. So, so it is very much library thinking, but it’s also hard because you need the right, the right project and the right story.

Right, right, yes, I think, especially things like building a library in India, that’s a pretty easy thing for people to wrap their heads around and support.

Yeah, yes, yes.

There was another project that you were involved in that I thought sounded really fun and that’s the, it was the Cycling For Libraries project?

Yeah, that was, that was a lot of fun and they have done it twice now and they’re doing it again this summer, but the first Cycling For Libraries and that was the first on conference for cycling librarians in the world. They cycled from Copenhagen, Denmark to Berlin in Germany and on the way if you cycle from Copenhagen to Berlin you will pass through the area where my library is situated.

Oh neat.

And it is a big area, so, so they were here for two days and I read about the project and I don’t, I think it was on Twitter that I read about the project and I was thinking, well if they’re going to go this way they will pass through where I am so I got in contact with Hamas and Yuka who were the organizers and a couple of very great guys from Finland and said, “Well, I know that you’re coming over to look at the route and we could meet up and I can show you my library and we can talk about if we can contribute in any way to this, to this thing.” So they, yeah, when did they much like today because it is the winter time here in Denmark. I met up with them and we discussed the project and it came to that that we host it for two days and make part of the program for the two days. I made a small session also with Buffy Hamilton Skyping in and made some idea generation about the future of libraries, because, yeah, I thought that if you have almost a hundred bicycling libraries from all over the world, librarians from all over the world, it’s an international think tank and how often do you have that passing through your area and visiting your library.


So, you always talk about the future of libraries, but here I think it was very relevant to ask so many different people from so many different countries and so many different library types how they thought about the future of libraries. So, so that was the program here and we had a social evening with the, some food from one of the restaurants owned by, the chef, one of the chef’s that founded Norma which has been awarded the best restaurant in the world for three years in a row. So, that was really something and, and the food was great and we had a very nice evening, so. And it was so much fun and the next day I, I cycled with them to, to Rostock in Germany and so I was with them for almost 3 days on that journey all in all and then I returned to Denmark, so I wasn’t gone with them to Berlin, but. But I’ve been meeting up with a lot of these people, other places, at conferences afterwards and it’s, it’s a great way to, to work with a network like we talk about before, it’s another way to talk if you’re in front of a person or and also if you’re bicycling for 10 days next to a person you, you connect in another way. So, I think it’s a very important project and it’s lots more than, than bicycling next to librarians because it’s a knowledge network too and I think, I think they do so much cool stuff on that conference.

And how far of a route is that, do you know from Copenhagen to Berlin?

Oh, I could get in trouble, eight hundred and a little bit more kilometers, almost 900 kilometers I guess.

And how long was the route that you rode along with them? Not that long I guess?

[laughs] That was , that was not so much, it was 30 kilometers or something.

So you’re nearer the German border?

Yeah, yeah, very, very, much, yeah. The train to Hamburg where I met Justin last year at the British spring is about three hours from here, including a ferry, it’s for about 45 minutes, so it’s pretty close.

And were you already a cycler before that or?

Yeah, I cycle to work every day and it’s only 4 ½ kilometers, but yeah. I’ve always cycled a lot so it was not, it was not new to me and I didn’t have to do some heavy training before the trip. [laughs]

And I was also interested to hear about a project you mentioned when we were talking about doing this interview of, that I went and researched then afterward because I hadn’t heard of it before, the Read, Watch, Play? That you’re doing with, that some libraries are doing from various countries. Can you tell me a little bit more about that project?

In 2012 it was the National Year of Reading in Australia and I read about it and I thought it was so cool to make a year the National Year of Reading, and I really liked the perspective that they had that reading is so broad that you can, of course, read a book, but reading is also reading tweets, or reading blog posts, but it could also be playing a game because you don’t want to limit how you, how you read in that project. And then what they did was that they did some blog posts with themes and once a month they had a chat on Twitter with the hashtag for National Year of Reading and I participated there in the chat a couple of times because it, it was in the evening I guess in Australia there, so it was a good time for me. I could take the time to contribute a little bit to it and learn about how they were doing this because I thought it was very cool, so. And they, they thought it was very fun that people from other places in the world took part in this because it was a national Australian project. And they wanted to, to keep on doing something like that here in the new year 2013 and they asked if my library wanted to be a partner and also libraries from New Zealand and Singapore are involved in this, so. Actually, today I have a blog post up on the Rereading theme here for January about Bob Dylan’s “Time Out Of Mind” album so I guess you can read an album too and I wrote a little blog post about that. And.

I’ll include a link to that in the show notes, so people can read that.

Yeah, thank you. So, so, so what we’re doing is that with the reading groups that we have here, we will ask them if they have any thoughts about the topic and we’ll try to make the global local and think well people reading about this theme in Australia and we will share what our thoughts with them and they will share their thoughts with us, but it could also just be, yeah making an exhibition of books within this theme and it’s, it’s very practical stuff and it’s fun to do so, yeah, so it’s a very good project.

Yeah, it’s really neat and I think it’s really important that, I was talking about this to a few other people recently, it’s really important I think that we do embrace all this new technological things, but we don’t want to give up the fact that libraries are about reading quite a bit. Like you said the definition of reading can be pretty broad, so it’s not like we have to get rid of e-books, or get rid of Twitter, or get rid of any of those kinds of stuff. That kind of stuff kind of counts as reading so we can embrace that as well.

Yeah, yeah, definitely.

The last project I wanted to ask you about before I got into some more general questions was you’re working on doing a variation on the 23 Things project of your, you’re doing 23 Mobile Things?

Yes, yes we are. We’re doing that at my library at the moment and it’s on iPad Mini and it’s a learning project for the staff here and I hope that when we’re done with it that we will have learned a lot about how to use this technology, so we will be in a better position to answer all the technology questions that people have and we will try to broaden it out afterwards also to the members of the community here. So, it’s kind of a two-step thing, but, again we’re working with Australia here so there will be an English version of the 23 Mobile Things that the State Library of New South Wales in Australia will, will make and it’s Mylee Joseph that I also worked with in Helpless week in libraries that are working on this in Australia with some other people there. So, it’s, it’s a very good project and also Michael Stevens also involved in this and we will write a blog post for Tame The Web soon together about the project. He is doing some research on the project, so, so it’s very local, very global too and I’m looking forward to the English version and the people can, yeah, use the stuff that we’re using right now. We’re on, I thing 4, thing 4 this week and it’s Dropbox, so, so it’s live here.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing that too because that’s what, that’s a lot of what we’re, the training that we’re doing with our staff now is about learning all these mobile things because we need to understand it because that’s what our patrons are coming in and asking about, so.

Yeah, and I think that that’s a very good point for why I think that it’s worth working with these global things because people ask the same questions, people. What I think that I’ve learned is that libraries are so alike all over the world and we, yeah, we provide access to information and, and we guide people in information and we do that everywhere and it’s so much fun to hear that, that you experience the same thing at your library that we do here, that people ask more and more of these questions so, so you’re doing the same stuff and yeah and that’s great that we can inspire each other on how we get answers.

Yeah, it’s one of the great things about social media is it provides this, I mean before it was much more difficult to be in touch with people from other countries, so this provides us with this great tool for staying in touch and sharing ideas.


Are there any other values that you think librarians throughout the world share? Like, is there some core thing that all libraries, obviously there are differences between countries of how libraries are going to work, but is there some core that you think we all share?

I think that there is a core that we all share and you also said that we shouldn’t give up the reading part and yeah, it’s kind of a difficult question to answer. At the first, the first IFLA that I was to in Gothenburg in Sweden, there it hit me that there was so many people from all over the world, all working for the same cause that is libraries. I think that was probably what I learned most at that conference, just walking around there, there were 3,000 librarians from every country you can possibly imagine and. So when I say that we’re working for the same cause it is that the donkey driven libraries in India that people crowdfunded, we are buying a library project yeah and in Africa, yeah, they get information and learning out there to people in their community. That’s what we’re doing at my library, that’s what you are doing at your library. So maybe we have different tools, maybe we use a lot of more technology than they do, but basically we do the same stuff, so we just use different tools. So I think there is a core there and I also think that a lot of the developments right now too, yeah. To change libraries because society’s changing and technology is changing, that, that we’re facing the same challenges there and we answer them in different ways because we get different ideas and that is where we can learn from each other. So I can translate something that you do to a, to work in my community and some of the things you do I can’t and that’s okay.

Right and some differences are not even countrywide, I mean not even international-wide because I mean there are things that would work for, I mean I’m near Atlanta in the US so there are things that work for me that would not work for people who live in Seattle or New York.


So, it’s not even within the country, your communities are all different, so I think all libraries know that they have to be responsive to their own individual community and also, I mean we work at public libraries, but you know academic libraries have to be responsive to students and things like that, so. I was going to ask, in the US we’re still, we’re digging ourselves out of our economic recession and I know Europe has been hit just as hard with a series of economic crises.


How do you think and how do you think libraries can show their worth in times of economic hardship like this? What can we offer to our communities in these tough times?

I think that we, we have a lot to offer our communities also in tough times. I think that, I think that the, that learning is a very important core area for libraries and it, I think that it has always been that, but, but it’s hard to get the word out there. So what I really want is to, to show people that if they have a need for, for learning something they should think of their libraries first and that could be in a recession people need new skills and we have a big role to play there. Also, we provide inspiration in many different ways and we should keep on doing that as well, so. I think that, yeah, I think that libraries are more important than ever because when the amount of information is getting bigger and bigger all the time, they will be even more need for the people that are the best to navigate in information and that is libraries and people, people need that very much in a recession too.


They don’t mention they need the right information.

Right and it’s a shame that a lot of times some people think that as we get more technology that we would need libraries less, but I think it’s actually that we need libraries more because now there’s so much more information out there you need somebody to filter that information for you.

Yeah, yeah, I couldn’t agree more.

So, what are your hopes for the future of libraries? Where do you think we can go from where we are now? And how do you think we can grow?

I think that, I think that, that it, it’s a very good question. My hopes for the future of libraries is that, that we get to tell the story of all that we can do so that people will listen and hear it, because when you say that a lot of people think that you need libraries less because of all the technology, I think that we’re losing a lot of people on that account and also a lot of people that we never get to be users of the library in the first place and that’s a shame. I think that is, that’s one of the biggest challenges is that, is getting the word out there why libraries are more important than ever. I’m very much inspired by David Lankes that you have had on the show also and he said that the greatest threat to libraries are lack of imagination and I guess that he’s right about that, so. I think that we need to reinvent some stuff, but I also think that it’s right that we should focus on a lot of the things that we’re already doing and then, yeah I just don’t know how to get the word out there better, but my biggest hope is that people will know how much their libraries are actually doing for the community, so.

Who else in the library world is an inspiration to you?

Oh yeah, because I had a feeling that you might, might ask me this question, so.

Have a long list?

So long, a long list and you know there will be people that I, that I’m inspired by but cannot mention because we’re on a time schedule here. But I mentioned a couple of them already. Buffy Hamilton and Michael Stephens, yeah, and all the people from both the Bi-Annual library team and Help This Week in library team that I get to know so well and are great inspirations. Justin, Annette and Andromeda, yeah, and also, yeah, I just mentioned David Lankes and the guys from Finland from Cycling For Libraries and also the German Zukunftswerkstatt network that I’m part of, some great librarians there doing so inspiring stuff, trying to move libraries forward, so. Yeah, there are so many good learning opportunities there.

Yes, that’s the fun thing about doing this show is that I get to, I get to figure out who I’m inspired by and then I get to ask them to be on the show and talk to them for an hour, so. [laughs]

Oh yeah, yeah, I understand. Also, in Australia also, Ellen Forsyth was one of the people behind Read, Watch, Play so you should get her on the show too, that would be great.

Alright, well Jan, thank you so much for talking to me for the show, I think, I hope everybody learned a lot about non-American libraries and things we can all earn from each other.

I hope so too, thank you very much for having me, Steve, it’s been so much fun.

And can you tell people how they can find out more about you online?

Yes, I am very active on Twiter on @janholmquist and I have a blog that I write on occasion at Janholmquist.wordpress.com and also I have an About Me page where you can find the things so it’s About.me/janholmquist.

All right Jan, thank you very much and we’ll talk to you again soon.

Thanks Steve.

Thanks, bye bye.