IFLA Closing Day Puts Focus Back on Global Economy

September 3, 2009

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) closed its 75th World Library and Information Congress August 27 with National Organizing Committee chair Mauro Guerrini announcing that the five–day conference in Milan had attracted 3,931 registrants, 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 World Library and Information Congress delegates gathered for the last word on how libraries worldwide are likely to fare in the short run. Panelist Michael Dowling, director of the ALA 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 the American Library Association 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.”

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. The IFLA Executive Board had already emphasized in a statement issued in IFLA Express during the conference in Milan, 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 and that Southeast Asia and Oceana has been designated as the chosen region for the 2013 congress, opening the door for Malaysia, runner up in the 2010 competition originally won by Brisbane.

U. S. delegate receives an IFLA Scroll for outstanding service.U. S. delegate Barbara Tillett receives an IFLA Scroll for outstanding service.

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 paraded on stage, including Special Libraries Association Executive Director Janice Lachance, new chair of the Management of Library Associations Section.

IFLA Governing Board member Bob McKee, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the U.K., gave a vote of thanks to the Milan organizers in passionate Italian, to much applause, followed by the passing of the gavel from Lux to incoming IFLA President Ellen Tise of South Africa, whom Lux called “a role model activist for libraries.” Tise promised to continue the momentum of her predecessors: “Through all of these moments in its history, IFLA has endured and stayed faithful to those who preceded,” she said, announcing her theme as “Libraries Driving Access to Knowledge.” Knowledge is the key to success, she stated, and “equitable access to information is a fundamental right of all people.” She said that the way to protect that right is for librarians to be fully engaged in the lives of their communities. “We must be concerned about the public good, the principles of equality and human rights for all,” she concluded, and that is especially true for “those whose working environments are not as privileged as ours.”