Report from the IFLA Conference in Gothenburg

By Patrick Ryan – Secretary/Treasurer, Government Libraries Section.

Conference

IFLA 2010 logoGothenburg organisers did a spectacular job at such short notice. The venue was good, the organisation precise and responsive. There were 3,300 people from 128 countries and it never felt crowded.
The atmosphere was relaxed but workmanlike with plenty of seating, breakout areas and facilities for chat, tea and coffee. There was evidence of good planning from arrival at the rail station (an IFLA volunteer with a map) to quick and easy registration at the conference centre 30 minutes later.

All in a perfect city location, with the sun shining most of the time!

I thought this to be one of the better IFLA conferences. I found the Conference more engaged with the ‘big matters’ affecting librarians, librarianship and library users. The Conference took me away from everyday workplace activities into questions surrounding the value of our profession and the benefits we bring to organisations that need our help.

 

The Opening

Ellen Tise

Ellen Tise

From the opening session – Ellen Tise, President of IFLA set the scene on the value of information and its transition to the oral and visual environment – not just textual. ‘We need technology to access knowledge and more to the point knowledge perpetuates itself into greater knowledge by constant reuse’. ‘Use of knowledge increases its value as a commodity’. Any one of these statements, and others from the President’s address, is an essay topic, a cause for reflection on the contribution librarians make to society.

Jan Elliason

Jan Elliason

Jan Eliasson, former president of the 60th session of the UN Assembly, gave a passionate opening address, based on experience, where he really did set the scene and purpose to our work and lives. Quoting Bertrand Russell’s three passions – longing for love, searching for knowledge and pity for mankind, Eliasson summed up for me (with a little help from Russell) the vastness of human life and the small, but substantial, part each of us can play; not least as we pursue our professional lives. 

 

 Favourite sessions

A highlight for me at the conference was the Government Libraries, Law Libraries, Parliamentary and Knowledge Management Sections joint session on the information issues surrounding the Rwanda Genocide Commission; the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the US 9/11 Commission. The text of these sessions is well worth reading, not least for the detail eg, FOI does not apply to the 9/11 Commission but also for understanding of the underlying concern of ensuring longer term access to such material.

Jerry W. Mansfield, Chair of GLS, with other speakers at the Session 96

Image from Session 96

At the Law Libraries, Government Libraries and Government Information and Official Publications session – e-publishing was described as one of the keys to democracy with the observation that free access to legal information promotes knowledge of the law and empowers the citizen. Join this with another conference theme of information literacy (Information Literacy: Reference and Information Services session) where it was suggested we, as librarians, almost have a duty to impart our knowledge on information finding, and you can begin to get a feel as to just how important the librarian’s role is in the information and free world. This was almost a subliminal message of the conference and was underpinned to me when told later at a social event of the success Cornell University has in taking Human Resource students through an information finding schedule as part of their curriculum.
Image from Session 105

Image from Session 105

The Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) sessions, as always, proved interesting. At the offsite meeting, as well as giving the background and activities of FAIFE, there was a genuine feeling that attendees were contributing to FAIFE’s thinking when answering the question ‘what should FAIFE be looking at?’ and again, in discussing Facebook privacy, use of social media and politicisation issues within FAIFE. As the chair pointed out ‘when the issues are clear the objections melt away’.

 

Time and Stimulus

Gothenburg City Library

Gothenburg City Library

Conference gives you time to do things you don’t normally do. Evidence for this can be seen in another IFLA first for me – a visit to a public library! In this case, the Gothenburg City Library where, ‘there is always something happening’. It was like a retail space, restaurant inside the door, a ‘Dynamo’ room where people can ‘hang out’ play music, watch a film. Downstairs there was a busy reading room, and yes, a queue for the gent’s toilet – how rare is that in a library? Elsewhere the book displays, layout and breakout areas resembled a bookseller’s department store. All I needed was to be able to buy the stock as well as borrow – and why not? The visit really was instructive, the value imparted by the operation of this library alone reinforced the value of public libraries on the wider scale. Bearing in mind I am a government librarian it is good to think about  other sections now and then – a note in praise of the cross-section fertilisation to be had from attending IFLA conferences.

 

Government Libraries Section

Speaking of Government libraries brings me to the work of the Government Libraries Section. Our chief event over the year was the Mid-Conference in Barcelona which was a resounding success in no small measure due to our Information Co-ordinator who managed the event. The Ministry of Culture and Media of the Government of Catalonia and the Catalan Library Association sponsored the conference, called “Case Studies in Government Libraries” and held on April 22-23 in the Museum of the History of Catalonia. This event helped to begin growing a platform for Catalan government librarians.

Image from the Mid-Term Congress in Barcelona 2010

Image from the Mid-Term Congress in Barcelona 2010

Our ever-active Chair initiated the web publication of the Government Libraries Section “Mission and/or Vision Statements of Government Libraries Worldwide“. These were compiled in response to an initial request for assistance from two libraries who had been asked to produce such documents at short notice and needed them as a mechanism to define their value, activities and a reason for their ongoing survival. The Chair had assisted these libraries and had also begun the collection process of mission statements to ensure that similar help for other libraries would be available. The listing is jointly authored by the Section members, and it will be updated periodically. It is not intended to serve as a directory of current library mission statements but – rather – as examples that existed at a given point in time.
Jerry W. Mansfield and Miguel Navas-Fernández, from the GLS, presenting the publication during Session 130

Jerry W. Mansfield and Miguel Navas-Fernández, from the GLS, presenting the publication during Session 130

Mention should also be made of the Section’s publication,  “Guidelines for Libraries of Government Departments” which is now in the process of being translated into Spanish in time for the next IFLA Conference.

 

Social Life

No conference would be complete without a note on the social activities. My favourite has to be our Section’s evening social event, a three hour dinner cruise on the Göta älv, the river which runs through Gothenburg and out to the sea. A huge smorgasbord, with islands, water, boats and sunset.

My thanks to CILIP for its generous support in enabling me to attend.

 

PS.  A shadow was cast over recollections of IFLA at Gothenburg by the death of Bob McKee. It is a measure of his substance that so many people were shocked to hear of his untimely death and the number of tributes that poured in – he will be missed.

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