Friday, August 14, 2009

Archived posts: IFLA 2008, days 1 and 2

Theme: "Libraries without borders: Navigating towards global understanding"
Attendance: Approximately 4000 delegates from 150 countries (at right: in the registration hall)

Pre-conference events
I attended the IFLA Section for Public Libraries Standing Committee meeting on Saturday, August 9th. As this was my first IFLA congress, and my first IFLA section meeting, it was interesting to see how the governing structures of the association work, and to meet people. Approximately 20 section members attended the meeting, and we introduced ourselves, so, for a newcomer like myself, it was nice to have an immediate group of friends at the congress. I got to know many of these section members over the next few days, and it was reassuring to have people to say hello to in the halls! I also had already corresponded at great length with Section Chair, John Lake, regarding the IFLA publication co-authored by Barbara Clubb and myself, and published by the Public Libraries Standing Committee, so it was great to finally meet him in person.

The meeting itself covered housekeeping items (approval of minutes, Chair’s report, report on the pre-conference Navigating with youth event in Montreal – a great success organized by Suzanne Payette from Brossard Public Library, a suburb of Montréal) and also covered the various programs at this congress that were being organised by Public Libraries Standing Committee members. This gave me a good overview of some upcoming events (which were of course in the program, but it’s nice to get a personal perspective on them!). For instance, one member of the section strongly encouraged first-time IFLA congress attendees to go to the Newcomers session the following day, Sunday. The launch of our IFLA publication, “Public Libraries, Archives and Museums: Trends in Collaboration and Cooperation” was also discussed. Barb, John and I planned the agenda for the evening, and Barb and I briefly summarized our report to section members. We discussed possible ways to continue to gather information from libraries, archives and museums about partnerships: since this information is constantly changing, the report could be almost constantly updated. I suggested using an online tool such as a wiki, similar to the Best practices section of the IFLA website, to keep track of projects around the world and allow professionals to upload information about their own work.

Section members also discussed future plans for section-organised programs at the 2009 congress in Milan. Torny Kjekstad, past Chair of the section, also reported back from the IFLA Governing Board and Professional Committee regarding recent changes to the IFLA structure. IFLA contains 8 Divisions, under which various sections (such as this one, the Public Libraries section) are grouped. For instance, the Division entitled Libraries Serving the General Public includes the following Sections: Public Libraries, Libraries Serving Disadvantaged Persons, Libraries for Children and Young Adults, School Libraries and Resource Centres, Libraries for the Blind, Library Services to Multicultural Populations, and Metropolitan Libraries. The IFLA Professional Structure Review Committee concluded in a 2007 report at the previous congress that, “while Divisions can and do add value, the present arrangement of Divisions is overly complicated, administratively burdensome, is no longer logically structured, and does not meet the need for clarity and collaboration in the organization.” The Committee recommended four Divisions (instead of 8): Library Types, Library Materials, Functions and Services, Support for the Profession and Regions. Under the new structure, each section would be assigned to a division. Some Sections in the current Division entitled Libraries Serving the General Public would now fall under other Divisions. The Public Libraries section would fall under “Library Types.” The new structure is intended to minimize bureaucracy, “facilitate a robust, growing IFLA,”facilitate regional interests, improve communication, enlarge the pool of leaders and participants, etc. The 2007 report about this is here.

The final portion of the meeting reviewed ongoing section projects. These were fascinating to hear about: in fact, we got to see a project “come alive” since a librarian from Burkino Faso was actually at the section meeting. She works for the national library in her country, and they have applied for funding through the section’s Caterpillar Project. The Caterpillar Project helps African librarians deliver library materials to remote communities (using folding boxes). Another project in the works is a revision of the Public Library Manifesto; the revision will focus on “10 ways to make a library work” and is being undertaken by three members of the section.

IFLA Opening Ceremony
Ack. What can I say to do this justice? The opening ceremony was pretty spectacular, and made me feel pretty patriotic. Think of it as being similar to the Olympics Opening Ceremony, only minus the pyrotechnics. The simultaneous interpretation (at left) was also pretty cool.

IFLA's opening ceremony featured:
  • First Nations dancers from the Wendake community (The Hurons-Wendat of Wendake, a Native tribe originating in the Georgian Bay area that migrated to communities near Quebéc beginning in the 1600s)
  • Inuit throat singers (their performance @ IFLA was very popular with delegates, who were talking about it throughout the conference, and it was actually uploaded to YouTube)
  • A storytelling performance
  • A speech by Dany Laferrière (Québec novelist, essayist, poet and journalist, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
  • Speeches by Her Excellency, Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, Claude Bonnelly, Chair of the Organising Committee, Marguerite Blais, Députée de Saint-Henri_Sainte-Anne (Parti libéral du Québec) et Ministre responsable des Aînés, Denise Trudel, a city councilor for Québec and Claudia Lux, IFLA President. Mme. Jean described librarians as “gardien(ne)s de la mémoire du monde” and reminded us that, without librarians, new information technologies are merely an empty shell. She also described libraries as “a vital space to all possibilities, all dreams, and all hopes.” Ms. Lux described libraries as being places providing access to information, ideas and creative works, but as also having “an element of recreation […] and reflection.” Claude Bonelly spoke about the theme of the conference, stating that “full recognition of diversity is the key to helping us navigate the path to global understanding.” Mme. Blais saluted “the library professionals who spread the virus of reading, knowledge and culture.”
  • The presentation of an honorary doctorate to Ismaël Serageldine (at right), the director of the Biblioteca Alexandrina in Egypt (continuing the legacy of the ancient Royal Library of Alexandria, which was said to hold a copy of every book ever written, and was destroyed before the Renaissance – exact date disputed!), by Laval University, in Québec. This was the part of the ceremony that I most enjoyed. This is Dr. Seregeldine’s 22nd honourary doctorate! Dr. Seregeldine was described as a humanist, whose causes included equal rights for women, and is often described as “the most intelligent man in Egypt.” His credo, as written on his website, is “the world is my home; humanity is my family; non-violence is my creed; peace, justice, dignity and equality for all is my purpose; engagement, rationality, tolerance, dialogue, learning and understanding are my means. With outstretched hands we welcome all those who share these beliefs.”
On the same day, I also attended the beginning of the Newcomers session, which I had been told was very informative, but I found it kind of basic. It also included a lot of info about Québec as a destination, and conference-going in general. The IFLA Secretary-General gave an outline about IFLA, 2 members spoke about their experiences, and the group visited the exhibition together. Since I had learned a lot from the section meeting the previous day about IFLA structure, and am a seasoned conference-goer (just kidding! But I am fairly competent…), I decided to leave for another session I was quite interested in, about art libraries.

Session title: Art Libraries-Advancing cultural and social diversity through global partnerships: the art library’s role in a world without borders

1. Don’t fence me in! Reconsidering the role of the librarian in a global age of art and design research by HEATHER GENDRON from Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA.
Heather spoke about the various roles a librarian plays, especially in the art world, and describes her role within a “knowledge-seeking” environment as a “knowledge-counselor”. She proposes this definition “as way to explore the concept of librarians working in a “knowledge-seeking environment” as opposed to the more traditional “information-seeking”. In this role, she says, she is not just teaching students how to find information, but she is “counseling them in their own process of knowledge-seeking.” Heather also called for more research to be conducted in the library science world about “how artists and designers seek data, information, and knowledge.”

2. Artist as activist: The Ohio State University Libraries and the Columbus Museum of Art project to promote collections, outreach, and community learning by AMANDA GLUIBIZZI, The Ohio State University, Ohio, USA.
Amanda’s presentation was really interesting, especially in light of some of the community art partnerships I had researched for the IFLA publication about library/museum/archival collaborations. Amanda spoke about the new President of the University, who said in a recent speech, "I intend for The Ohio State University to become nothing less than the new land-grant university to the world." Thus, their focus would be on more outreach and a greater awareness of the larger community outside the university. In other words, as Amanda said, “employees at all levels of the institution [were] expected to promote OSU and its programs to people outside of the school.” One of the results of this focus was the “Artist as activist” project: OSU librarians teamed up across departments, and the project involved the Fine Arts Library, the Theatre Research Institute, the Cartoon Research Library, University Archives, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Technical Services, and the Veterinary Medicine Library (the neutral member of the committee and the project coordinator for initial stages). This group then identified three topics upon which to focus contributed materials and programming: the welfare of children, civil rights, and artists’ responses to war. They chose these topics because they “hit close to home in Ohio,” one of the poorest states in the United States, with a large African-American and immigrant communities, and one of the states hardest hit by casualties from the United States’ military activities. They set up exhibit space in “recovered downtown space owned by the university,” and are committed to “intergenerational interaction” and lifelong learning. The librarians involved will perform multiple roles: contributing to the exhibit with materials, acting as story-keepers (involving digital storytelling, library-sponsored blogs to allow visitors to the exhibit to share their own experience, storytelling stations at the exhibit itself to share on-the-spot experiences) and acting as liaison to get other organizations involved. Amanda gave a lovely example of possible impacts of the exhibit: imagine grandparents visiting the exhibit with their grandchildren. The exhibit might spark a memory that they have of living through a war, which they then might share with their grandchildren and even the staff. She spoke about “art as impetus for memory.” She also added that part of the librarians’ role would be to archive these stories to develop an oral history of the region and to protect it for future researchers.

3. Creating visibility: discovering artists archives and ephemera at the National Gallery of Australia Research Library by JENNIFER COOMBES and JOYCE VOLKER, from the National Gallery of Australia Research Library
Jennifer Coombes spoke about the James Gleeson Oral History Collection at the NGA Research Library. Gleeson (Australia’s leading surrealist painter) interviewed 98 Australian artists in their studios in the 1970s to discuss their works that had been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia. The recordings are available online through the NGA Library, and are accompanied by 2000 reference photographs of the artworks and transcripts of the interviews. The interviews often “provide personal insights into how the art works were created and their enduring influence on Australian society.” The collection has been inscribed into the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register 2008 as being of significant Australian cultural heritage.

4. Cultural heritage – the art library cuts across borders in Sweden by KERSTIN ASSARSSON-RIZZI of The National Heritage Board in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Vitterhetsakademiens bibliotek (The Library of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities) has partnered with the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, the National Historical Museums (the Museum of National Antiquities and the Royal Coin Cabinet), Stockholm University and the Swedish National Heritage Board to develop physical and virtual services. In 2005 a network was formed by seven libraries in Stockholm to improve the quality of library services to research in the humanities. In 2007, a new search engine, enabling cross searching of major databases covering various aspects of the Swedish cultural heritage (including an image database) was developed. Kerstin spoke about this project at length, and gave some interesting examples. She searched for information about a certain Swedish castle, and found extensive information, including fully-catalogued images. Another project recently initiated is an online catalogue for Swedish musems, K-Samsök. More info about that is here but alas, not in English.

N.B. Also, at this session, I was able to meet Jonathan Franklin, Chief, Library, Archives and Research Fellowship Program, National Gallery of Canada. This gave me an opportunity to network with another Ottawa librarian, and invite him to the launch of our IFLA publication (especially relevant since the publication concerns museum programs!).

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