Cycling for libraries The first cycling unconference for librarians

On May 28th 2011 a new type of professional event for library professionals begins. Instead of a conference hall or venue, it takes the form of a bicycling trip from Copenhagen to Berlin. The event ends in Berlin 7th June. Softly rolling through the 650 kilometres of beautiful Danish and German landscapes, the inter- national group of 100 colleagues will discuss libraries, and librarianship itself from a unique point of view: from the saddles of bicycles. Librarians are venturing outside their normal habitat in the library, out into the world.

To get a better chance of self-evaluation and reflection, it is sometimes best to jump out of the everyday context. Often the best, most meaningful innovations and discussions do not happen in steering committee meetings, in routine work at the circulation desk or even at a presentation in an auditorium. Every once in a while something completely different is needed. The Cycling for libraries unconference is a tool for this. Veteran cataloguers, wellestablished librarians, new professionals, directors, students, designers, temps and teachers alike will mount their bicycles and head for the road.

We, the organizers have nostalgized about the origins several times. Originally this was a suggestion for a private bicycling tour with a couple of colleagues, Jukka Pennanen and Kai Halttunen. But it got out of hands very quickly indeed, as the idea spread and more people got excited by the concept. It was soon apparent that this would be first and foremost a professional event of a deeply international nature, for a network of open-minded colleagues. By chance several independent initiatives merged and sooner than we realized, this Cycling for libraries concept was born.

At that time it was summer 2010, and the annual (76th) IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) was going to take place in Gothenburg soon. We had a little group who had announced that they would be bicycling from an IFLA satellite conference in Borås to the main IFLA conference in Gothenburg. This naturally evolved into what would be a conceptual demo of the much wider Cycling for libraries concept and the planned Copenhagen-Berlin tour in the summer of 2011. After some brainstorming, we quickly contacted Danish and German libraries and asked if they would still have some second-hand library catalogue cards lying around. Within a few weeks we received several thousands (thanks to everyone who sent us some), and manipulated hundreds of these catalogue cards by printing information on them and laminating them, turning them into so-called ‘spokecards’.

So, we took our concept with our 800 spokecards to IFLA in Gothenburg, and ran out of them! This was a clear signal to us that we had an interesting concept at hand.

Already at IFLA in Gothenburg we had discussions with colleagues from Germany and elsewhere on cooperation in the arrangements. One major feature is, that the Cycling for libraries group will arrive into the massive 100th Deutscher Bibliothekartag jubilee conference, which starts on 7th June 2011 in Berlin.

In September 2010 Jukka Pennanen and I travelled from Copenhagen to Berlin in a rental car to get an idea of what the bicycling route is like. And we were truly astonished; the views are absolutely stunning and the famous Berlin- Copenhagen Radweg is so well maintained! Of course we met with some Danish and German colleagues, and have been organizing things ever after. Needless to say, organizing a tenday bicycling tour for 100 people, with professional content is more work than we anticipated. But it has been fun and I am proud to say that we have an enthusiastic, motivated, international network of people making this happen.

Between the time of writing (late January 2011) and publication of this article (April 2011) a lot has happened. Most notably the registration for the Cycling for libraries event has begun on the website ( and participants have started prepping up their physicalfitness (though it must be emphasizedthat Cycling for libraries is a relaxedtour, not a bicycle race).

As mentioned above, the Cycling for libraries event is not just about bicycling. It is primarily a professional event, an ‘unconference’. Naturally local libraries and librarians will be visited, there will be new types of workshops and other happenings. The discussed themes include the many connections in which libraries are connected to the society around them, Open Data, and the content of librarianship itself. A project like this will surely draw attention outside the profession too. The Cycling for libraries unconference is a challenge to gather pro-active, expressive and innovative librarianship and exhibit it.

I know there will be trouble and challenges ahead, but I have no doubt that the participants will benefit immensely. This will not be just another conference among many, but a memorable experience and we will be refreshed both mentally and physically when we return back home. This is a unique opportunity for employers and employees alike, surely worth the invested time.

From a Finnish and Nordic point of view I want to contribute to a strengthening of the connections to our German colleagues, connections which once were strong but have now unfortunately largely diminished. Direct, informal and personal networking in an unfamiliar situation is a good method for underpinning connections, I believe. I also have high expectations for the workshops, where the network of organizers will be importing new, innovative and task- oriented methods for working together with our local colleagues. Other programmes include interesting video screenings, presentations, meeting with local politicians, discussions… and barbeque.

To join up and register for the Cycling for libraries event, or to get more detailed information see our website at and meet us on Facebook (search for ‘Cycling for libraries’), Twitter (hashtag #cyc4lib), Flickr (cyc4lib) or send us an email (see the webpage for contact).

I warmly welcome you to take up the challenge and come join the Cycling for libraries unconference. Let’s get the wheels rolling!

Mace Ojala
Project Designer and Implementer
Turku City Library
mace.ojala AT

Project Designer and Implementer Turku City Library