Last year we had an email from Rima Kupryte who is the Director of EIFL (Electronic Information For Libraries) the not-for-profit organisation who work with libraries to enable access to knowledge in developing and transition economy countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. If you are not familiar with their work you can find out more from the About page on their website. But they run a number of library related programmes and provide licensing agreements that allow their member countries to get affordable access to subscription resources.
Rima was organising the EIFL 2018 General Assembly in Doha and asked if we might attend and bring along the Publishing Trap as one of the areas they provide training and support for libraries is in relation to open access. It was very short notice and clashed with an event we were already doing in Leeds, and practicalities meant it would have been difficult. However, we agreed to attend the General Assembly this year, in August 2019. It was sometime later in 2018 that we found out the General Assembly was going to be in Kyrgyzstan. My first instinct was to Google it, I’d heard of Kazakstan and Uzbekistan but not Kyrgyzstan and was a little concerned that it might be dangerous. From my research I found it looked to be a relatively stable country bordering China as well as several of the other ’stans’ and extremely beautiful and mountainous. With probably only a moment’s hesitation Chris and I agreed to attend, as it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to go somewhere off the beaten track but also to take our game to a really international audience.
The EIFL General Assembly is a relatively small gathering of the EIFL staff, some of the board members and the country reps from the EIFL members. You can see on their website the impressive number of countries in which EIFL work and this year was their 20th anniversary, so it was great to hear a run down of their history on the first day by Rima. Chris and I had first met Teresa Hackett who runs their Copyright and Libraries Programme at the IFLA off-site meeting on copyright education in August 2017 in Wroclaw, Poland. She attends WIPO lobbying for exceptions for libraries and education and runs as extensive training programme to build the capacity of librarians in copyright, to provide them with useful resources, to campaign for national copyright reform and other international activities.
We had three slots at the ‘General Assembly’ including a short introductory talk on day 1, the opportunity to participate in ’speed dating’ on day 1 and day 2 and then to run two parallel workshops for around 20 people each where they got to play the Publishing Trap. We were both a little jet lagged on day 1, but managed to do a fairly rousing talk before lunch about the need for a playful approach to copyright literacy, as a bit of a taster for the workshop on day 3. You can see the full programme for the event here.
The first morning also saw keynotes from Julia Barrett who is Head of Research Support at UCD in Ireland. She talked about their approach to developing digital research skills amongst researchers. She is also helping EIFL put together a framework for digital research skills. After lunch Colleen Campbell from the Max Planck Institute spoke about Plan S and the role of transformative agreements in accelerating the move towards open access. Both were excellent speakers and all the delegates gained a lot from their talks and then from the workshops that they each ran.
Having the opportunity to meet the delegates during the speed dating sessions on the first afternoon was really a highlight for me, if a little exhausting. Delegates came to our table in small groups (maximum of 3 or 4 people) and we got a chance to tell them about our work. We shared Copyright the Card Game, we talked about the Icepops conference and showed people the Icepops 2019 Annual, we spoke about a game developed by EIFL as a train the trainer session, which we’d first seen in Lisbon at the Creative Commons Summit. I also spoke about the CILIP Information Literacy definition launched in 2018 and it’s relationship to copyright literacy. The first afternoon was exhausting, I think we saw 8 groups in a relatively short space of time and the jet lag was really kicking in by the end. But being able to speak to people in small country related groupings was great, and gave us both loads of ideas about how we might adapt our games for an international audience.
On Day 2 we were actually free until the speed dating at 4pm and took the opportunity to visit the Ala Archa National Park to see some of the amazing mountains in Kyrgyzstan and to do a short hike. The scenery was breathtaking and the park is home to rare mountain lions and snow leopards. There are also golden eagles and masses of other wildlife. Seeing two red squirrels was about as exciting as it got for me, and Chris missed them both! We did however have lunch at a trout lake and find more yurts. It was exhilarating and meant we returned to the GA full of fresh alpine air ready for round two of speed dating, with just slightly wobbly legs from the climb / scramble back down the mountain.
On the third day it was our chance to properly do our thing and we led two largish groups of around 20 people each, to simultaneously play the Publishing Trap. We were fortunate to be in a relatively large room. Contrary to photo evidence we didn’t actually play it in a yurt on this day, although we did take game into a yurt to set up some photos! Playing with large, boisterous international delegates was a real opportunity to probably see how well the game held up to scrutiny. We are 80% of the way through redesigning the game so we are both well aware of a number of key areas that need fixing. However despite a few issues the game was generally met with a really positive response and we appreciated the candid feedback from the delegates. We were grateful to Teresa and Iryna from EIFL for each helping us to facilitate the game and to Louise for taking some fabulous photos! It has really spurred on our efforts to get version 2 ready for this autumn.
Reflecting on the EIFL General Assembly a week later I was really struck by the sense of community that exists in the network. I also really appreciated the care taken to look after delegates and guests. We were taken out for numerous wonderful meals with dancing, music and a chance to experience Kyrgyz hospitality. Our hosts from the American University of Central Asia really took care of us during our time in their country. We also had a lovely cultural programme on the last day visiting the State fine art museum and a shopping mall where we could haggle for Kyrgyz souvenirs, with help from our Kyrgyz hosts. Yes I did buy more bowls, which were beautiful and no Chris didn’t buy one of these hats although he was sorely tempted! It was a fabulous trip which gave me an even greater perspective on the impact that copyright, licensing and access to information has around the world. I’m really grateful to Rima, Romy, Andreas, Edvaldas and the rest of the the EIFL team for giving us the opportunity to be part of their wonderful network.