The IFLA Public Libraries Standing Committee visit Oodi Helsinki in March 2022.

Entries for PLOTY, or to give it its full name the 2022 IFLA/Systematic Public Library of the Year Awards are now open. Applications close on 29 April. Established in 2014 these Awards were developed to celebrate libraries which have been built in new or re-purposed buildings in the preceding 12 months. For the 2022 Award this covers the period 1 January – 31 December 2021.

This inspirational, international competition focuses on six assessment criteria to find the public library which best combines open and functional architecture with creative IT solutions and has included both digital developments and local culture. The award ceremony will take place at the IFLA’s Annual Congress (which this year will be in Dublin, Ireland 26-29 July) with winning library receiving $US 5,000. Systematic is the proud main sponsor of the award.

As an officer of IFLA’s Public Libraries Standing Committee I was strongly involved in the development of the Awards and was a member of the Jury from 2014 until 2019. Australia has always punched above its weight in these awards which has always given me great pride in what we have been able to achieve and also in how skilled we are in being able to tell our story.

The whole process has come a long way since the first jury met in Copenhagen in the summer of 2014. The early awards were supported by the Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces (don’t you just love that as a name for a government department?), and I was the only non-Dane on the adjudication panel having flown in the afternoon before en route to an IFLA WLIC satellite meeting in Birmingham. There were some amazing libraries but the unanimous winner was Craigieburn a branch of Hume library Service in greater Melbourne. At that stage I hadn’t visited the Craigieburn Library and crossed my fingers that we were making the right choice. Once I did I knew we had been right. There were bigger libraries in the mix and more expensive ones but Craigieburn had that magic mix that suited its community and got it just right.

A handshake seals the deal. Martin Brrochner-Mortensen from Systematic and I shake on the sponsorship deal watch by fellow jury members Leikny H. Indergaard and Jakob Guillois Lærkes

Over the following years the Awards became more sophisticated and the judging process more streamlined. Systematic came on board as a sponsor for the 2018 Awards after discussions the previous year. They are passionate about libraries and highly supportive of the profession. The Awards are now also a partnership between 3 IFLA Professional Units – Public Libraries, Metropolitan Libraries and Library Buildings and Equipment.

Narok Library, Kenya

During my time on the jury I saw and visited some amazing library spaces. Each winner was totally deserving but there were always certain entries that tugged on my heartstrings. Perhaps my favourite was Narok Library,  located about 150 kilometres from Nairobi in Kenya, which plays an important role in informing and bringing together the community. The population consists mainly of Maasai herdsmen who, at times, visit the Library with their flocks of cows and goats. Enclosed lands have been established around the Library to enable the herdsmen to read as they look after their herds. The Library works closely with the Ministry of Agriculture to give technical advice on livestock farming to help the Maasai people. This simple library was evidence of a library which met the needs of its community.

Who will be the winner of the 2022 Award? Now that I am no longer ‘in the tent’ it will be as much a surprise to me as it is to the entrants and the audience. I will be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the announcement and looking forward to a time when I can visit the Public Library of the Year. In the meantime watch the little video above from 2021 to give you a taste of the competition.

PS. When we made the long drive from Orange to Melbourne en route to the Spirit of Tasmania and our new life in this state we went through Craigieburn. ‘Where’s this?’ said my husband, waking from a quick nap. Its where the first IFLA Public Library of the Year is I said with pride, looking around to see if I could find it amongst the buildings that had sprung up since my visit in 2015. I must have let my attention slide for a little too long and I missed the speed camera. A few weeks later I received a fine from Victorian Police, location – you guessed it, Craigieburn!

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