The View from Sharjah 2016

Rich conversations and international perspective at SIBF/ALA Library Conference

November 15, 2016

The Expo Centre Sharjah, site of the SIBF/ALA Library Conference
The Expo Centre Sharjah, site of the SIBF/ALA Library Conference

Librarians from across the Persian Gulf, Middle East, and North Africa (MENA) gathered at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) November 8–10 for the third annual SIBF/American Library Association (ALA) Library Conference. The international professional development event supports ALA’s global theme, “Partnering to build stronger libraries worldwide.” Approximately 350 librarians took part in three days of programs, training, and networking in both Arabic and English, with translation provided.

The conference offered participants the chance to learn from international experts from the MENA region as well as from the US. In response to 2015 attendee feedback, the 2016 conference offered more interactivity and focus on specific topics, including in-depth facilitated discussion sections addressing how to build stronger library associations in the MENA region; the importance of research impact and writing for librarians; and successes, struggles, and challenges in school libraries and with reading initiatives.

The UAE Ministry of Education sponsored 100 school librarians to attend a preconference (one of three full-day preconferences) on teacher-librarians promoting independent reading through collaboration and creativity. This topic connected especially well with the UAE Cabinet’s declaration of 2016 as the “UAE Reading Year,” marking the start of an “integrated national literacy strategy and a framework to produce a reading generation and establish the UAE as the capital of cultural and knowledge content,” as well as the recently passed National Law of Reading, which puts legislative frameworks in place to support the development of reading and “to prepare generations that work toward excelling and achieving the vision of the UAE.”

ALA President Julie B. Todaro opened the conference with an update on ALA’s Libraries Transform campaign, addressing library transformation as essential to the communities we serve. Todaro, whose ALA presidential initiative includes training and highlighting “the expert in the library,” also led a session on how to integrate continuous learning with work.

Miguel Figueroa, director of the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries, provided the second day’s keynote on the importance of exploring the trends and signals around us, and how those point to preferable futures for our work. “The Sharjah International Book Fair/ALA Library Conference was an excellent reminder of the many futures libraries and information professionals will help create for their communities,” he said. “From literacy to tech trends, makerspaces in school libraries to artificial intelligence in academic libraries, there were many rich conversations with an invaluable international perspective.” One attendee told him, “There can sometimes be so much talk about the future, which is good and important, but it’s also so helpful to come together and remember the values that have been developed throughout our rich past. I keep thinking about the future, together with my colleagues who share our traditional values.”

The conference also offered 14 concurrent sessions and a poster session on a wide range of topics for all types of libraries. Groups gathered throughout the conference in the Librarians’ Lounge at the Expo Centre Sharjah. With the tagline “Read More,” the 11-day run of the 35th SIBF drew a record-breaking 2.3 million visitors to review and buy books and other materials from 1,681 publishing houses featuring approximately 1.5 million titles and representing 60 countries. “SIBF’s overwhelming success in attracting such huge audiences each and every day is a testament to the incredible efforts made by Sharjah in the cultural and literary sphere over the past 35 years,” said Ahmed Al Ameri, SIBF director and chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority.

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