Sinikka Sipilä’s road to the top of an international organisation is a good example of the Nordic career progress model. There is no money, power or nobility in her family.
Three years ago, Sinikka Sipilä, Secretary General of the Finnish Library Association, was elected President of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). She was elected not only for her personality, but also about the views that she represents. These were summarised in the so-called President’s Theme. Sinikka’s theme was “Strong libraries, strong societies”.
The President’s work, statements and actions focus around this theme. Above all, it means lobbying and making presidents, ministers and experts aware of the significance of libraries.
Country girl conquers the world
Sinikka Sipilä’s road to the top of an international organisation is a good example of the Nordic career progress model. There is no money, power or nobility in her family. She is a country girl from a small village called Hauho. The local municipal primary and lower secondary schools provided children with access to the world of education. The first steps in internationalisation were taken in the form of foreign penpals. The idea of popping over to a European capital for a weekend would have been like planning a trip to the moon.
It is, therefore, no wonder that Sinikka Sipilä emphasises people’s individual right to education thereby to the general good of the whole community regardless of their financial or social backgrounds.
Refugee Camp Librarian
Sinikka Sipilä worked in the City of Hämeenlinna Library for several years.
She completed her Master’s thesis on prison libraries in 1990, and at that time, she decided to put her idea of trying something completely new into practice.
A refugee camp maintained in Tanzania by the anti-apartheid organisation ANC had a library funded by Finland. Sinikka decided to go and work in the library, serving refugee children and their families.
“Before I left for Tanzania, I was especially concerned whether the black people who had suffered from the apartheid policy would accept a white woman working in the library. The reality came as a surprise. In everyday life, the colour of your skin did not matter. We lived in the same building with refugee families and shared life with them. This helped us understand each other. Of course, there were some conflicts between people. That is quite normal. Sometimes, you just had to bite your tongue. A Besserwisser attitude did not get you anywhere.”
The art of not interfering unnecessarily is also something that Sinikka is known for among the Finnish librarian community. Rather than telling or ordering people to do things, Sinikka expects people to be able to settle their disputes through dialogue and mutual understanding.
“As President of IFLA, I aim at getting everybody involved in decision-making. I am not a politician, but the issues that I deal with are political, as well. For instance, talking about democracy does not promote equality in all countries. Therefore, I often speak about enablement. You have to be able to present a matter in a manner that makes others at least consider it rather than oppose it outright.”