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Were you inspired, surprised and empowered?

Were you inspired, surprised and empowered? Some reflections on the World Library and Information Congress in Helsinki 2012 and a look forward to Singapore 2013 from Andrew McDonald, Chair of the Academic and Research Libraries Section.

As the keynote speaker proclaimed during the rather fine opening ceremony at the 78th IFLA General Conference and Assembly ‘as the Olympics close in London, IFLA begins in Helsinki’. Although these are clearly rather different events, it is interesting to reflect on how both libraries and sport can inspire, surprise and empower people. This year’s World Library and Information Congress in Helsinki was a huge success and a rewarding professional experience which explored the theme; ‘Libraries now: inspiring, surprising, and empowering.’

It is pleasing to see the annual conference continue as a popular and truly international event. IFLA in Helsinki attracted some 5,000 delegates, rather more than Puerto Rico in 2011, clearly benefitting from the welcome support of numbers of librarians from the Nordic countries.

The opening ceremony was an uplifting but not too intense cultural experience; a good mixture of singing, humour and some important messages. The accomplished jazz musician in particular captured the extremely proud if slightly self-effacing cultural identity of the Finish, saying ‘we only perform in minor keys’. As you might expect in (arguably) the home of Santa Klaus, libraries in Finland have an enlightened and generous philosophy: all libraries are open to everyone and public libraries are regarded the living room of the people, especially children. This is an exciting time for libraries in Helsinki with a new public and university libraries right at the heart of the City. Indeed it was a privilege to have a tour of the outstanding new Helsinki University Library with its wonderful entrance, dramatic central light well and high standard of finish. The reading areas had a lovely range of contemporary and retro furniture.

As chair of the Academic and Research Libraries (ARL) Section, I concentrated on a number of priorities at the conference. I chaired our lively ARL Section Committee meetings and our well-attended ARL Section conference sessions. Taking part in IFLA officers’ training, euphemistically called leadership training, continues to be important for improving communication within the organisation. As always, the conference is a splendid opportunity for networking on an international scale, always with an eye on developing our activities in the coming years.

Our two conference sessions at Helsinki were great successes with record attendances and some good feedback from delegates.

Once again we joined with the Management & Marketing Section to organise our main session. Our theme was ‘Creating a culture for innovation and change’. We were keen to explore how library managers in different sectors had created a new culture within their libraries and institutions in order to facilitate significant innovation and radical change. The audience, which at times exceeded 400, were treated to six stimulating papers from high-profile library managers from national, research, special, state and university libraries in Australia, Kenya, Scotland, Wales and the USA. Combining the expertise of two Sections to create a session with broader appeal is one of IFLA’s real strengths.

This year we concentrated on research support in our Hot Topics session. Hot Topics continues to be a winning formula with short stimulating presentations from three international experts followed by interactive round-table discussions. We usefully covered transliteracy, the academic library cloud and meeting the needs of high impact researchers. Again our speakers were from around the globe; Australia, Germany and the USA. Feedback from the 350 or so attendees confirms how much they enjoy a session where they can explore topical issues together.

It was a particular pleasure to announce the winners of our grant competition during the Hot Topics session. This continues to attract a great deal of international interest within the profession with a record 34 high-quality applicants who indicated their particular motivation for attending IFLA often for the first time. As a result we supported the attendance of two young professionals from Argentina and Uganda: the third winner from Pakistan was unable to get the necessary funding to attend.

We contributed to a successful preconference Satellite Meeting on ‘Library’s efficiency, impact and outcomes: statistical evaluation and other methods as tools for management and decision-making’. This was lead by the Statistics and Evaluation Section and was held in Turku in Finland.

A number of new developments caught my eye at the hundred-strong exhibition. The first was ‘silence chairs’. These were comfortable airline-looking chairs with attractive glass and fabric surrounds designed for enclosing noisy activities, such as music and phone calls, and so can be deployed in quieter open areas of our libraries. Another was wireless charging for mobiles fitted to library tables. I also liked the mobile automatic book return and sorting units that are now available.

The ARL Section Committee welcomes the improvement in communication with IFLA HQ both in terms of policy and procedures. This is so important in a large and diverse membership organisation like IFLA. We look forward to several important new guidelines and financial rules. It is worth bearing in mind in all this how important it is to retain the goodwill of all the energetic professionals who volunteer their time to further the strategic aims of IFLA.

Our Committee is an active and inventive group of 20 or so library directors and senior managers from all over the word: Australia, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Namibia, Norway, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Let me share with you some of their thinking about our programme for Singapore in 2013.

We are planning a session on ‘agile management: strategies for achieving success in rapidly changing times’. Within this we would like to explore a range of challenges from the restructuring of HE and the growth of private institutions to new modes of delivery, the future of library content, new space, leadership and new roles. Current discussions with the Knowledge Management Section for a joint session are encouraging.

Our popular Hot Topics session will focus on the significant challenges for academic and research libraries in the Far East. Our intelligence suggests these include open access and content; the library as a live, intelligent and creative centre; research and discovery informatics; embedded subject librarian services; and, new paradigms for information literacy. We would love to hear from library professionals in academic and research libraries in the Far East about what is ‘hot’ and ‘topical’ for them at the moment. Please do get in touch.

So Helsinki did indeed demonstrate how libraries can be inspiring, surprising and empowering. The Academic and Research Libraries Section will play its full part in making the 79th IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Singapore an even greater success. We look forward to exploring the ‘infinite possibilities’ that ‘future libraries’ present and we very much hope to see you in Singapore next August.

Professor Andrew McDonald FCLIP FRSA
Chair, Academic and Research Libraries Section
Head of Newsam Library and Archive Services
Institute of Education, University of London, United Kingdom



Session speakers and committee members