The 2017 edition of Cyclo-Biblio makes a stop at the Palais des Nations

CYCLING FOR KNOWLEDGE: The 2017 edition of Cyclo-Biblio makes a stop at the Palais des Nations by Cristina Giordano, UN Library at Geneva

The day is 19 June 2017, it is hot and sunny. It is a Monday and the beginning of an extraordinary heat wave in Geneva.
Around noon, UN Security officers open the gate known as « La Fenêtre », an entrance to the UN compound that is usually closed, to let in a colourful group of cyclists in yellow and orange vests. They arrive in small groups, climbing the Route de Pregny under the sun. After the compulsory identity checks, these unusual visitors get on their bikes and ride through the Ariana Park, escorted by a Security Land Rover, watched from above by the UN drone.
Ringing their bells, they make a joyful entrance into the parking lot in front of the building of the UN Library. Mr. Pisano, the Chief Librarian, comes to greet them, he too on his bike. Colleagues from UNCTAD, UNECE, ITC, IBE and various UN entities also join in the welcome. After parking their bikes, the group quickly spreads on the nearby lawn and forms a circle around the fountain of the Armillary Sphere, waving at the drone that keeps flying around, filming and taking pictures.

Who are these special guests? Diplomats supporting the cause of sport and slow mobility? In a way, yes, they are ambassadors, but of a special kind. They come from different European countries. Most of them are from France, many are  from Switzerland, but also from Belgium, Spain and Finland. They are all professional librarians and they are on an advocacy tour called « Cyclo-Biblio ». According to the definition of the organizer, the dynamic Lara Jovignot, of the Lausanne Municipal Library, « Cyclo-Biblio is a librarians’ conference on bikes ».  The initiative originated in Finland, where the concept was developed in 2011 as « Cycling for Libraries ».  Lara Jovignot liked the idea so much that she decided to import it into the French-speaking libraries’ world. This year Cyclio-Biblio celebrates its fourth edition with a tour of the Leman Lake. Lara has organized three of its four editions. The 2017 programme includes the visit of 21 libraries and almost 300 kilometres of road over one week (18-24 June 2017).  More than 70 people are taking part, and the waiting list was much longer.

But why do so many librarians feel the need to take the road and go to such an effort?
« Ten years ago », says Antoine Torrens, one of the participants and vice-president of CFIBD, the International French Committee Libraries and Documentation, « we were not even sure that libraries would survive. Nowadays we know they will, but we need to figure out how they will change and adapt to the new realities ».  Biking is an original way to meet colleagues, users, local administrators, maybe even politicians, in order to explain that « libraries are not only about books », stress their role and importance, exchange professional experiences, share best practices, and learn from each other. It changes the way librarians are perceived and draws the public’s attention to their role as dynamic innovators.
Lara herself is a perfect example of this: a former UN Library intern, she has left her very own mark on the institution by creating the first online resource guide ever (on disarmament) and teaching her colleagues how to make more.
No wonder she decided to include the UN Library in the Cyclo-Biblio tour this year. It is a great opportunity for the cycling librarians to discover an amazingly rich and diverse collection, which includes: the League of Nations’ unique archives, UN documents going back to the very beginning of the organization, rare books such as the first edition of Montesquieu’s « The spirit of the laws », official documents from most countries of the world, books on international law and economics, treaties and constitutions, but also databases,  ebooks, online resource guides…Let’s face it, you do not see often such a complete specialized collection, with a time coverage exceeding more than one century. Is there a better place to learn about the challenges ahead?

The UN sustainable Development Goals, also known as Agenda 2030, are the topic of Mr. Pisano’s presentation to the cycling librarians. In particular, he stresses how the 17 goals and 169 targets for a better world are interrelated and the importance that knowledge plays in their implementation.
« Never before has knowledge been such a vital asset for the international community”, he says, “In an era of accelerated technological change, great opportunities present themselves with a fast pace and humankind needs knowledge to make wise choices. The knowledge accumulated by the UN system in 70 years of multilateral policy making and action is fundamental for the success of Agenda 2030.”  How can libraries fit in this ambitious plan?
“Our Library, together with other UN libraries and resource centers,” Mr. Pisano continues, “has a central role in mobilizing this knowledge by making it discoverable and shared in countries engaged in realizing the SDGs. That’s why we have started categorizing our resources in a way that facilitates the sharing of knowledge in support of Agenda 2030 and other global policy frameworks that will shape the world for future generations.”
Ms. Ruth Hahn-Weinert, Chief, Library Services, gives more details, presenting two concrete examples of the engagement of the Library in favour of the SDGs : the creation of a new resource guide, totally free on the Internet, that embraces conceptually and substantively the full sustainable development agenda captured in the 17 SDGs.  The Library team has curated knowledge assets in categories matching the 17 SDGS to point researchers to UN and non-UN resources. The Library also took part in the Geneva Hackathon 2017, an event of a new kind, where technology is used to mine for information and to create new meaningful relations among data.

The cycling librarians listen with attention. It would be nice if the conversation could evolve into a questions and answers session, but time flies, our guests have to get back on their bikes and continue their tour (destination for the day: Coppet).
« The UN Library has been the longest stop in our tour », says Lara.
For a good reason, we think. We have so much to offer and we are happy to share it with our colleagues. We hope they will keep a special memory of their visit and they will spread the news that our Library is there to promote research and knowledge at a high level, but at the same time, it is open and welcoming to everyone, according to noblest ideals of our organization.

Learn more about Cyclo-Biblio:
Cyclo-Biblio on Facebook:
UN Library resource guide on SGDS: