When free is not enough: what the International Librarians Network managed to achieve with zero budget, and what we did when we hit the limits

ALIA Library

Dalby, Alyson; McKenzie, Clare

ALIA Information Online 2015 Conference, 2-5 February 2015, Sydney: at the edge
The International Librarians Network (ILN) began as a way to help librarians develop an international professional network without having to travel overseas. Focusing on openness and relying entirely on freely available technology and volunteer time, the program was designed to reinforce the idea that ideas can cross borders and make us better at what we do. The ILN launched in 2013, free and open to anyone in the profession, and has facilitated connections for over 1500 people in 103 countries.
Unfunded and completely independent, the ILN was established using a suite of freely available technology to create and maintain an online profile. This included Gmail, Google Drive, Google Forms, Dropbox, Wordpress, Twitter, Facebook and AnyMeeting. In the development stage of the program these tools were sufficient, and their ease of use allowed the ILN founders to focus on the content and rapid development of the program, rather than requiring advanced technical skills. Combined with a network of volunteers, the ILN was able to have a positive impact on librarians around the world.
By early 2014, with the rapid growth of the program, the no-cost model that had served the ILN well started to hinder the growth of the program. As additional time was being spent to find and implement work-arounds to technical limitations, the ILN realised that free was no longer enough. The program needed to move beyond the limitation of free web-based tools and an informal business structure, but there was still no budget to do so. Early efforts to identify pathways forward were hampered by financial restrictions, a lack of transparency by service providers, and a confusing abundance of small scale commercial providers of services.
This paper will outline how the ILN used freely available technology to establish and grow, and what was achieved from this base. The paper will then explore the steps the ILN took to identify planning and development strategies for small organisations and projects that need to ‘do more with less’. It will pragmatically explore the limitations of ‘free’ and what to do when free is not enough, and show the role that small-scale strategic planning can play in helping small organisations or projects manage growth in a scalable and sustainable way.

Deakin, ACT: Australian Library and Information Association
International Librarians Network