IFLA 2009 Special Report: Milan’s Warm Welcome
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions sends positive messages home about the world financial outlook.
Posted Fri, 10/23/2009 - 11:57
Those who wondered why the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) would meet in Italy in the heat of August got their answer August 25, when the city of Milan opened its treasures to IFLA.
At a time of year when half the city has left for vacation, it seemed as if the entire Duomo, La Scala, and the city’s businesses and museums belonged to the world’s librarians.
Among the delights was what was billed as a "social dinner," and by its description many delegates wondered how the local organizers were going to pull off a dinner at "all the major restaurants of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and surroundings" when IFLA conference registrants numbered over 3,000. But pull it off they did, with Italian style. Registrants received a voucher good for a complete meal at a restaurant of their choice in the Galleria shopping arcade, a splendid iron and glass construction that was one of the first of its kind in Italy when it opened in 1867.
Following the dinner, the Duomo, Milan’s massive cathedral, offered a free harp and violin (a Stradivarius, no less) concert. After the concert, IFLA-ites could stroll from the Duomo to Palazzo Marino, where two of the sketches of Leonardo da Vinci’s Atlantic Code were on display along with digital versions of the entire work. From there they could take in the Monet show at the Palazzo Reale and stroll till midnight back to the shopping arcade, at the center of which was a well-guarded display of De Divina Proportione, dating from 1497 and containing sketches by Leonardo. All the while, a gigantic electronic billboard on the center square shone bright with "Welcome IFLA: World Library and Information Congress."
Global financial crisis
IFLA closed its 75th World Library and Information Congress August 27 with National Organizing Committee chair Mauro Guerrini announcing that the five-day conference had attracted 3,931 registrants to Milan, along with 228 volunteers and members of the Italian staff, 128 exhibitors, 34 press, 30 interpreters, and assorted other guests, for a total attendance of 4,496. A jubilant Guerrini noted that local media had paid attention to the conference, and its "great success" is a sign of the vitality of libraries, "especially during this global financial crisis." Preceding the closing session, at a special panel session on the global economic crisis presciently organized by IFLA President Claudia Lux of Germany, some 50 delegates gathered for the last word on how libraries worldwide are likely to fare in the short run. Panelist Michael Dowling, director of ALA’s International Relations Office, emphasized that the involvement of library advocates and lobbyists was going to be essential to funding, as it was in the United States when the e-rate became law, giving publicly funded libraries and schools a small but significant slice of telecommunications revenue. He noted that ALA is leveraging the rising demand for library programs and services to make the case for funding.
Panelist and member of the IFLA Governing Board Zhang Xiaolin of China agreed, saying, "This is an opportunity to expand our social responsibility, to put collections and knowledge to use." The biggest financial relief for IFLA came by way of Deborah Jacobs, director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries Program, who confirmed that the foundation was presenting IFLA with a $1.5-million three-year grant for continued support of the federation’s advocacy efforts.
"IFLA plays an invaluable role in the library community and its continued success will strengthen libraries throughout the world," Jacobs said. "IFLA’s efforts to promote vibrant libraries with information services and public access to the internet help open the world of knowledge, information, and opportunity to many more people." The Gates Foundation also presented its annual Access to Learning Award in Milan (see sidebar).
IFLAs to come
At the closing session, debate over the cancellation of the scheduled 2010 IFLA conference in Brisbane, Australia, was put to rest with the presentation of an official invitation to Gothenburg, Sweden, which stepped in as a replacement when the Australian organizers realized that they could not raise the funding required to host. IFLA’s Executive Board had already emphasized in a statement issued in IFLA Express, the congress daily, that "there were no contractual costs or penalties associated with this decision." Agneta Olsson thanked the Australian delegates for their graciousness and for the opportunity to host an IFLA conference in Gothenburg, while the rest of the Swedish contingent cheered to the tune of Abba singing "Take a Chance on Me." Then came the announcement that Helsinki, Finland, had been selected to host IFLA 2012. Puerto Rico will host in 2011.
U.S. member of the IFLA Governing Board Nancy Gwinn presided over a brief awards presentation that included Newsletter of the Year, which went to the Section on Literacy and Reading. Gwinn noted that IFLA section newsletters are "almost all electronic and more and more sophisticated." Among the awards was the presentation of the IFLA Scroll for outstanding service to the federation to, among others, Barbara Tillett of the Library of Congress. Newly elected members of the Governing Board and chairs of Professional Committees were introduced, including Special Libraries Association Chief Executive Officer Janice Lachance, new chair of the Management of Library Associations Section.