UBC librarian assumes worldwide role

University of British Columbia's Ingrid Parent has taken on a new role as the world's head librarian.

Parent, UBC's university librarian, was made president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, the international body that represents the interest of global libraries and its users.

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"I was very honoured, I felt very privileged and I was very humbled," said Parent, who began her two-year term as president earlier this month, following her transitional two-year role as president-elect.

Parent, who graduated from UBC with a degree in history in the early '70s, is the first Canadian to head the global group, which was founded in 1927. "I am somewhat overwhelmed by the challenges that [libraries] face in many parts of the world," Parent said. "I have to speak on behalf of all of them, and not just UBC and Canadian libraries."

One of IFLA's current concerns is the restoration of libraries in Haiti following the massive earthquake in 2010 that destroyed many buildings and institutions. Parent went to Haiti following the earthquake and saw its effects first-hand. "What really inspired me was seeing school children in their uniforms, in their crisp uniforms, walking through the rubble to their schools," Parent said.

"It was just a roof and some walls," she said of the schools, "but there was that thirst for knowledge and identity."

The major issue in Haiti is restoring new buildings to sustain and preserve the books. But Haiti is not the only country struggling with the future of libraries. Finding the money necessary to maintain libraries is a global problem, Parent said.

"It's not enough for libraries to say we're a public good, we're a good thing," she said. "We need to demonstrate our value to the world."

Parent said she plans on spending her two-year term implementing a five-year strategic plan to ensure libraries remain vital to communities. The official theme of her presidency, as created by each sitting president, is "Libraries: A Force for Change."

At UBC, Parent has pushed for library digitization.

Since joining UBC in 2009, she's spearheaded the opening of a new digitization centre that transfers information from print to digital form. Its current projects include the digitization of some of the B.C.'s earliest newspapers. The digitalization of materials stem from efforts in preserving information that can sit on a shelf only for so many years because it physically deteriorates. A vast number of books in UBC's collection are kept in a "robot library" system, launched in 2005 as the first of its kind in Canada. It shelves about a million books and materials in four deep isles measuring 100 feet long, 65 feet high, and 45 feet wide.

A library is an ancient concept that is not going away, Parent noted.

"When I go home and think about what we did that day, I'm very gratified to see that there is progress," she said. "It's not the end of books, and it's not the end of libraries."

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