Americans Kick Off IFLA in Milan with Caucus

August 22, 2009

The five-day 75th IFLA General Conference and Assembly in Milan, Italy, began for most delegates on Saturday, August 23, with a caucus. These dozen annual one-hour pep rallies, bewildering to beginners who don't know quite what to expect from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, are designed to update attendees on issues specific to their region. Grouped by language (and there are three for English speakers: U. K., Canada, and U. S. A.), these caucuses are an opportunity to get the inside scoop, so to speak, on what the international agendas are for the various library associations and institutions represented in IFLA. ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels. American Library Association Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels played emcee for the U. S. caucus, introducing key representatives from American associations that are part of IFLA. Nancy Gwinn, a member of the IFLA Governing Board, talked about her work in helping to streamline IFLA´s governance and conferences. She noted that the revamping of the federation's website was the best of all the recent changes that have taken place within the organization. Barbara Ford, also a member of the Governing Board, reported that so far 3,200 attendees had registered for the Milan conference from 136 countries. She urged American delegates to take advantage of the opportunity to "meet at least five" of the some 340 Italian delegates in attendance and to visit local libraries. Nancy Gwinn also raised the question that was on every IFLA delegate's mind: Why was the 2010 annual conference moved from Brisbane, Australia to Gothenburg, Sweden? Tactfully, she explained the discussions that went into the decision but said that it was essentially an economic one. It costs some 2 million euros to hold the IFLA annual conference, with the host country required to raise at least 600,000 euros from the government or corporations in that country. The current economic crisis made it impossible for the Australian librarians to do so. She said that the runner-up in the bidding for the conference, Malaysia, was considered, but the dates were not available. Gwinn also said that the cost of travel to Australia would have jeopardized registration revenue. It was not a decision made lightly, she said, noting that most IFLA members, including herself, had been looking forward to visiting Australia. U. S. delegate and IFLA Governing Board member Nancy Gwinn. James Neal, representing Columbia University, asked Gwinn about what fundraising problems Puerto Rico might be facing as 2011 host for the IFLA conference, and what other equally cash-strapped associations and institutions might be able to do to help. Gwinn replied that the Puerto Rican organizers had assured IFLA that the money could be raised. She added that, contrary to rumors that last year's IFLA in Quebec City had lost money, "it came out fine."

Gwinn also noted that the IFLA Governing Board was working hard to ensure that when cuts in the conference program had to be made, they would be made last to the cultural events that draw so many attendees to the host country. Tomorrow morning's Opening Ceremony will, according to the program, "showcase the traditions of Italian history."