I'm writing from the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Gothenburg Sweden. It's Saturday, Aug. 14, with only one more day to go.
The opening session on Aug. 10 featured His Excellency Jan Eliasson, President of the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly while he was Sweden's Ambassador to the United States (and a Gothenburg native). A tall, handsome and courtly man, I met him in the hotel elevator the day before! Speaking about "The Power of the Word—Communication and Access to Information in a Globalized World," he gave a compelling example of how he was able to negotiate the release and save the lives of 60,000 people caught in the middle of the Sudan civil war. Neither of the warring parties would agree to a "cease-fire," which would have allowed for the safe removal of the people, but both agreed to establish a "humanitarian corridor." The change of words accomplished the same thing. He issued a strong call for establishing global knowledge, widely and fairly distributed, which supported the Congress theme of "Open Access to Knowledge—Promoting Sustainable Progress."
Three plenary sessions, all at 8:30am, drew large crowds. Henning Mankell (above), internationally famous Swedish mystery author, emphasized the need for literacy and education as a means of giving children an identity and dignity as individuals. (By the way, although his mysteries are the most well-known, he has written other novels and children's books). He has seen how the street children of Mozambique, where he has spent many years, long for this and without it are doomed to short, miserable lives. Hans Rosling, said to be one of the 10 best speakers in the world, demonstrated his facility in an entertaining, yet serious, correction to what most people think of as the developing world. In fact, they are catching up with—and sometimes surpassing!—the developed world in terms of lower family size, better health, women's education, lower child mortality rates. Most people carry old ideas of there being a vast disparity between the two. Their economies are also improving, but they need more education, literacy and libraries. Finally, Sture Allen, member of the Swedish Academy and former Permanent Secretary, described the history and process of awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature. Listening to these speakers has been a highlight of this conference.
I might add that this has also been the week of the Gothenburg Cultural Fair, with large stages set up along the main Avenue and a host of heavy metal, rock, lyrical, gospel and other music featured every evening. The Gothenburg City Library has offered an IFLA Night Spot every evening till 1:00am with beer, wine and soft drinks for conferees and a place to network and meet friends. While I'm no longer on the Governing Board, I did speak yesterday at a Presidential Session on the theme of convergence of libraries, archives and museums and also helped to staff the ALA booth in the exhibit area for several hours on Wednesday. Once you have gotten to know people, an IFLA conference is a splendid way to increase global understanding of issues and learn from those in other countries. I recommend it!
—Nancy E. Gwinn