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Impressions of the IFLA World Congress

It’s Tuesday, August 12, and I am in the middle of the week-long IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Quebec, Canada.  All sessions are in the new and splendid conference center, which makes sure that meetings are easy to find, exhibits easy to visit, and friends easy to meetIfla_quebec_2008_007.  The Opening Session on Sunday featured speeches from Michaelle Jean, the Governour General of Quebec ,and other dignitaries, interspersed with cultural entertainment.  Actors represented characters from Canadian history, especially the battle that took place on the Field of Abraham (which we can see from our hotel window). A highlight was the singing and dancing by members of Canada’s First Nations, the country’s indigenous peoples.  In particular were two young Inuit women who practice a special kind of duet, where they face each other and voice both melodic and rhythmic sounds — and sometimes finished with laughter!

IFLA is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, and the Smithsonian Libraries is a member, which makes me a voting delegate.  But for the last 10 years, I have also become involved, first as a member, then chair of the Preservation and Conservation Section, then as a Division Chair overseeing the work of several sections, and finally now as Chair of the Professional Committee.  This group has responsible for overseeing all of IFLA’s professional program, the content of the Congresses, the work of the sections and their Standing Committees, the structure of this part of the organization, the publications and IFLANET.  So I have been attending program sessions and listening to member comments about their satisfaction with (or not) the CongresIfla_quebec_2008_020s. 

The IFLA Congress operates much like an ALA conference, only much smaller.  There are about 4,000 delegates, exhibitors and other visitors.  All of the standing committees from the 40+ sections meet before the Congress actually begins, so those meetings don’t conflict with programs.  There are program sessions, roundtable sessions, discussion groups, plenary sessions with special speakers.  At right is a lively, standing-room-only roundtable session focusing on how various countries are approaching reading and information literacy issues, a concern in both the developed and developing world.

Today I gave a paper with Connie Rinaldo, the librarian of the Ernsy Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard, concerning the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  We were one of four presentations in a program sponsored by the Science and Technology Section.  One of the other speakers was from the US Department of Energy, demonstrating the new program to provide open source scientific information in an easy to search format.  After our BHL talk, the promotors orf this enterprise approached me about the BHL joining in…..these connections are always great outcomes of conference participation and attendance.

The exhibit hall is filled with about 100 exhibitors, including the big companies like ElsIfla_quebec_2008_048eveier, Gale, 3-M, etc., but a number of smaller international publishers as well.  I find this area much easier to navigate than the enormous exhibit halls at an ALA, and somehow it seems easier to talk with the company representatives as well.  Food service is actually in the middle of the exhibit hall here, which keeps the traffic flowing.

I participated in a brainstorming session this morning with the President-Elect, Ellen Tise of South Africa, helping to flesh out her presidential theme "Libraries Driving Access to Information".  The current President’s theme is "Libraries on the Agenda," and her advocacy efforts have born fruit in many countries and will also be carried forward.  Sessions are smaller and it is a pleasure to contribute with colleagues from many countries, who have interesting, diverse views.

There is a great deal of national pride shown by the host country, so participants enjoy special cultural evenings and other offerings that showcase the country’s special aspects.  In this case, we are fortunate to be in Quebec during their annual Fetes du Nouvelle France, which means that people in 18th century dress were ambling around the city, special performances were held in city squares, and living history performances appeared rather spontaneously.  This is also the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, so there is a large sound/light show near the harbor and other special activities to enjoy.  Unfortunately, I seem to be spending every spare minute at the conference.

Nancy Gwinn


  1. Tom

    Unfortunately I couldn’t be on IFLA World Congress, I think that it was really interesting.
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  2. Cash Gifting

    thanks for all the marvelous info cash gifting thanks for all the marvelous info cash gifting

  3. With all that you posted how great the conference was, it doesn’t look like you ever got some free time to explore the area. Did that ever work out I hope?

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