Author: Hal Kirkwood, Bodleian Business Librarian, Said Business School, University of Oxford. President, Special Lib Assoc. 2019 and BIR Editorial Board member
In August I attended the World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) in Athens, Greece. It was my first ever attendance at this global meeting of librarians and information professionals with over 3000 attendees from 140 countries. IFLA is a rather complicated organization of strategic programmes, sections, divisions, and special interest groups with the purpose of representing the interests of library and information science services and their users. The development and support of libraries and librarians around the globe is a key focus of IFLA activities.
The Congress was an interesting and engaging event with its theme of Dialogue for Change resonating throughout the keynotes and sessions. Starting out with the Newcomers Session I learned about the ins and outs of the Congress; the ability to sit in and observe any meetings; and the scope of all of the different entities within IFLA. The sessions I attended consisted of a mix of business meetings and content-focused presentations. Focus on the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) filled the programme over the course of the weeklong event. It was fascinating to see librarians from all over the world presenting on the many common challenges that libraries struggle with collection development, information literacy, technology impact, and costs while at the same time presenting on very unique situations due to geographic, cultural, or political factors. From protecting cultural heritage to providing offline access to the Internet to supporting disabled library visitors to dealing with the variety of global copyright regulations, the variation went on and on.
One of the most impressive events held during the Congress was the poster event with almost 200 posters presented covering such a wide array of topics and issues. The scope and scale made this an information rich event to attend and showed off a tremendous level of experience and creativity. Browsing through the rows of posters and hearing each presenter explain their challenges and solutions put the diversity and depth of information professionals on full display. Many of these librarians should consider taking their ideas a step further to write a full article on their experiences, struggles, and solutions. The information profession will be the better for it if they were to share their accomplishments.
An amazing cultural event was held at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center for all of the attendees. The event included a variety of food and cultural entertainment all at an amazing center that houses the opera as well as a portion of the national library. The building itself is a stunning architectural achievement with gorgeous views of the coastline along with extensive gardens to walk through that are integrated into the overall design of the building. It was truly something to be experienced.
Two of the most notable actions to come out of the IFLA Congress is the Library Map of the World and the Ideas Store. The Library Map of the World https://librarymap.ifla.org/ is a data-rich graphical view of libraries and library statistics around the world. An additional layer includes specific stories on how libraries are connecting with the UN’s SDGs to meet local development needs. It is a very interesting project that can only benefit by additional libraries and associations joining in to provide access to broader and deeper data. The Ideas Store https://ideas.ifla.org/ is a growing collection of ideas about libraries and information literacy to inspire and instigate action. The Store allows you to filter by Opportunities, Idea Groups, Countries, and Regions to explore the 1200 ideas currently available.
Attending IFLA was an eye-opening experience in seeing what so many information professionals and librarians are working towards in their own regions, countries, and libraries. The expansion and increased access to information will inevitably create greater opportunities for multitudes of people around the globe. If you have the chance consider attending an upcoming IFLA World Congress to see the true scope of libraries and librarians.