My IFLA WLIC 2012 Experience

Each conference experience is unique. A huge event such as IFLA World Library and Information Congress, is not an exception. On this ocassion, María del Carmen Díez-Hoyo, member of the IFLA Government Libraries Section, gives us her impressions gained from the last congress held in Helsinki.

Exhibition Area. Photo by Jonas Tana. Source: IFLA HQ at Flickr

Three years have passed since I had been to an annual IFLA meeting. The 78th annual conference took place in Helsinki, August 11th to 16th. It is a Nordic city, a kind city, beautiful and with pleasant weather, at least during the conference. It also enjoys good public transportation: trains, tramways, buses and subway. The conference’s headquarters was a huge convention hall, teeming with 4000 librarians, the usual suspects at these events, colorfully tagged with their names, institutions and countries. Regarding identification, it would certainly be much easier for everybody if we didn’t have to bow down in order to see who it is we are standing in front of, as many may consider it rude. This could be solved with shorter strings, which would avoid awkward look-up-look-down maneuvers. It is only a suggestion. A colleague I talked this over with offered a simple solution: a knot shortening the strings. Thank you, wherever you are! Unfortunately, I never got your name!

Re-reading the program, I believe the keynote and plenary speakers were the best moments of the conference for me. Also, the formal and casual encounters with colleagues are always a pleasure and very useful.

On Sunday the 12th, at 10,30, the inaugural ceremony enabled us to enjoy the personal and deservedly dramatic testimony of forensic dentist Helena Ranta, which moved the audience into becoming convinced of the testimonial importance of such small things as people’s teeth. She showed us that through her study we could obtain information regarding global events such as wars, historical situations, conflicts which undermine human rights, and other more general aspects. Her contact with death made her value and respect life and the culture of humanity. The destruction of culture is also a form of genocide.

Immediately afterwards, the Finnish composer and pianist Liro Rantala offered an upbeat and marvelous short concert. I did not know this jazz musician, though he apparently is celebrated for his refined contemporary music, blended with a tanguista streak. I found him so delightful and original that I bought three of his albums for my Madrid collection. This was not an easy task, for he was sold out in many of the city’s stores -surely due to all the conference attendees having the same impulse as I had.


National Library of Finland. Source: Wikipedia

Away from the conference center I attended session 87  in the National Library of Finland, so I could learn more on how to market old digitized collections. As they saying goes, it was “music to my ears” to hear again about the magic of library space (each one with its weaknesses) and a tremendous shock to learn how fragile, how ephemeral, many of the contemporary materials are which arrive at libraries. Even books themselves disappear before our eyes!!! Laila Osterlund, Daryl Green, Dennis Moser, Julia Walworth and others were the speakers. I was told a surprising story regarding the National Library of Finland: when Turku was still the capital, a huge fire took place in 1827, destroying much of the city and most of the books in the library’s predecessor. A semi-mythical figure (Matti Pohto), supposedly a vagabond (at least that’s what I understood), spent years collecting private libraries door-to-door, which would serve as the basis of the National Library of Finland’s predecessor. His remains are buried in the institution’s garden, under a gigantic book-shaped stone. There is yet more: the librarian who told me this (I know he was a librarian because of his tag, though I never was able to read his name) told me that Pohto died by someone’s axe. I have not verified this version, because this was a conversation between two non-native English speakers.

Note: Because I attended this session, I missed Peter von Bagh, Finnish film historian, film director, author of several books and, last but not least, director of the Finnish Film Archive. Some other time, I guess.


The President’s theme session was of great interest to me. At 9,30 Inga Lunden of the IFLA Governing Board, chaired a panel which included Finnish reporter (Hanna Nikkanen), the president of the Swedish Pirate Party (Anna Troberg) -“do not take crap from politicians” for starters-, and Chris Coward from Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA). Hanna, with due respect to the environment, indulged in the social responsibility of enterprises, and a vision of libraries as nuclei of social development. This last part was taken up by Chris Coward, who told us of TASCHA’s on-going projects in Romanian libraries. Anna Troberg did not only insist on her first idea, but also encouraged us to “not take crap from the editors”, in reference to the problem between libraries and ebook editors, and what everybody should be doing about it. I will refrain from jesting about her party’s name and her approach to this problem. Nonetheless, I do believe that editors have to change their position, and how they are doing their business.

At mid-morning I went to Promoting global access to law: developing an open access index for official authenticated legal information. Part 2: Europe. In this joint session (Library and Research Services for Parliaments, Government Libraries, Law Libraries, Government Information and Official Publications Sections [GIOPS]), I listened to the presentations of Juha Raitio and Aki Hietanen, regarding how the law is actually made in Finland, and also the connections between the national legislations within the EU, and how this is a labyrinthine fit with the general legislation generated by the EU itself.

I had to leave the session half-way to attend a caucus meeting of Spanish-speakers, but I was able to return to the Q&A part, which turned out to be statements regarding the digitalization of all publications with legislation, either finished or in the process, on behalf of several countries.

Cultural Evening

The day ended with a “Cultural Evening” in a seaport building which had been remodeled into dance halls. Food, drinks, music — the Finns were good hosts. They are always kind, trying to understand our universal version of English, always smiling.


Siva Vaidhyanathan at WLIC 2012. Source: IFLA HQ at Flickr

In his fight against he Google dragon, Siva Vaidhyanathan (another plenary speaker) embarked us on his personal battle with his arguments, which included abundant words which we librarians like so much: the “sacred space” that is the library, our role as defenders and disseminators of knowledge, the hurried digitalization…is this the best we can do? He proposes a Human Knowledge Project led by the UNESCO and based on the cooperation and coordination of librarians and libraries. I must confess I really enjoyed this presentation. Even though all librarians know how difficult it is to carry out cooperation projects, perhaps this can change in the near future, we will see. These projects are ideal on paper, but they take long to crystallize into reality. It is true that the circumstances of libraries have changed much. When Google Books started to negotiate with libraries offering a free digitalization, most lacked any such project. Right now, in these years, no library of any importance lacks at least part of its books in digital format. If coordination and cooperation could be achieved between them, a huge digital library could be formed. Too ideal? Could UNESCO coordinate?
That same day, in that same room, Mr. Vaidhyanathan spoke again, regarding the privatization of cyperspace…and Google.

I also attended Session 184 Libraries inspiring and facilitating change towards sustainability-Environmental sustainability and Libraries Special Interest Group, which included interesting papers on the construction of libraries (the buildings), and the factors that influence them: physical environment, climate, social and library environments, even by using instruments and computer programs designed for other purposes, but applicable to libraries. It is interesting that perhaps the Guidelines (IFLA Guidelines) used for public libraries (e.g. books per inhabitant, reading position per inhabitant, etc.) during their development in the 1970s and 80s, could be rewritten with new characteristics and demands. Daniel Cherubin offered a very interesting presentation regarding the libraries which could obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification – independent third party verification that a building, home, or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in areas of human and environmental health.. Unfortunately, this paper is not available on-line.


1st Standing Committee Meeting – IFLA Government Libraries Section. Photo by Pavel Kiselev

Another one of the joint Government Libraries Section sessions was with the Law Libraries, GIOPS, and Libraries and Research Services for Parliaments Sections.  Within it, I listened to Xiaohua Zhu, who highlighted the privatization of sources for case law in the USA. There, in order to obtain information on the legislation process, one must pass different stages: Primary legal information, Secondary legal information and case law. One of the problems of the commercialization of legal sources is that each enterprise involved in that world has a citation and classification system which must first be learned in order to understand the documentation. Therefore, one must not only pay a subscription, but also learn their particular way of organizing information. I also had the chance to listen to the presentation regarding the United States Federal Depository Library Program, established since 1813 but nowadays under some financial duress. Greece’s tragedy -pardon the pun- is also having a severe effect in public libraries there. Anna Mastora explained that the 77 government libraries, specialized in different subjects and open to the public, had been created mostly via donations, though even their own institutions disregarded them. Later,  Johanna Meltti explained the 2012 project for government libraries in Finland that is part of her own master’s dissertation based in the centralization of the 10 libraries in 12 ministries. The integral system (UNLIB) will have a unified catalog with the 90,000 books held in the libraries and their clients are only the staff of the ministries. Electronic materials are acquired in a centralized way.

That same morning there was the session Empowering library users to solve problems: our stories organized by the Social Science Libraries, Government Libraries and Law Libraries. Maybe it was because the themes libraries/users/information needs would be brought back to the front, or because the subjects were truly varied, but this session I found very useful and entertaining. Papers with bibliography, citing Maurice Line…Good, we were on the right state of mind. “We, the librarians”.

The presentation of Susan Gardner Archambault described a practical case study which, though not so novel in and of itself, it had provided substantial improvements for the users of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles (California). Questions posed in on-campus information counters were analyzed using Social Sciences programs such as SPSS. Results produced the following categories of queries: directional, technological, on library materials, etc., which served to improve the signaling within the library. The same methodology was used to select new scanners and color printers. Do we want to improve our service to users? Why not ask them what they want?

Sebastian Nix, of the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung library, told us of the survey they conducted in Fall 2011 among their readers and researchers, in order to improve their service. Out of 100 questionnaires which asked about the thematic classification and other catalog characteristics, the expansion of electronic resource licensing, the usability of their web page or the amount of photocopy machines deemed necessary. Questions were total, global and detailed. The results led to a virtually-new library, designed to meet user’s preferences.

Another institution which prides itself in user-friendliness and adaptability is the network of 29 libraries of the Government Adinistrative Training Institutes (ATI) of

3 Responses to “My IFLA WLIC 2012 Experience”

  • Thank you for attending the session and sharing your experience.
    As I have already pinpointed in our communication earlier, I need to make a correction concerning the research content of our paper since it does not report on results from 77 Greek libraries, as mentioned above.
    Our paper reports on the situation of Greek Government libraries in general but presents specific results for a limited group of them. In fact, it was the limited availability of data for Greek Government libraries that motivated our research. So, we are only starting to collect all the significant information and are not quite there yet. Hopefully, we will have the chance to present more in the future. In addition, the main point of the paper is the suggestion of creating a network (consortium) for Greek Government libraries, towards which we are working right now.
    I hope this clarifies the content of our contribution. For more information, please, consult the full paper available here

  • To Maria del Carmen — your well-chosen photos add to an obviously engaged and energetic report of the Congress experience. Each experience is unique and it’s so valuable to see IFLA through the eyes of a colleague. Warmest thanks to you. Ann Okerson

  • Miguel Navas-Fernández

    Thank you María del Carmen, this is a very interesting reading!

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