IFLA 2010: Thursday

At this stage, I’m pretty grateful I have a Twitter account and notes to check what happened when, it’s all a bit overwhelming. Also, I would love to enhance these blog entries with photos (I am taking a lot of them at the moment), but I cannot get them off my camera at the moment. So there will be a photo round-up post or a flickr entry at some stage, but for now, you’ll have to put up with text-only entries.

Anyhow, back to business. Thursday saw me – as previously mentioned – getting on the wrong tram on my way to the conference venue. There are two trams that go to the venue, but for some reason, although they go in the same direction ultimately, you have to cross the road for one of them. Otherwise, you take the right tram, but in the wrong direction. So I was there a bit later than I had planned. At least I realised in time that I had taken the wrong tram!

The most interesting and moving session on Thursday was one on metropolitan and public libraries. Because there were so many attendants, they opened up the walls and had people sitting open-plan and on long tables, which in itself was pretty spectacular. The two talks I found really interesting was one by Ari Katz and Colin Guard of IREX on a library initiative in Ukraine called Bibliomist (Ukrainian for “library bridge”). Apparently, Ukraine has lots of libraries, but most of them are quite small and don’t have a lot of money. The session showed how they manage to provide services in this situation and what the international library community is doing to support Ukrainian librarians. A Ukrainian librarian talks about what is going on in the country in this video.

I always find it amazing how people find ways of providing library services in conditions like these. Adopting the concept of BookCrossing/Book Exchange to refresh library stock, for example, is an easy and cost-effective measure, and examples from around the world show that it actually works, that people respect their library enough to make this work. This has me thinking that perhaps, we often give our users too little credit in this respect.

The other talk I wanted to mention was by  Paul Whitney from Vancouver Public Library. He started off by saying that in previous times, libraries were all about the collections: when the library of Alexandria burned down, everyone was talking about the books that were lost, but nobody gave the slightest concern to what happened to the staff. Today, however, libraries are different: the emphasis is on human contact and on the library as a place. Whitney placed an emphasis on the importance of engaging and integrating the community. He also mentioned the concept of the library as a refuge and sanctuary. These days, the role of the library as a non-commercial public meeting place

is becoming increasingly important. The example he gave – the 24-hour, 365-days-a-year reading room in the Carnegie Library in Canada’s poorest post-code – was quite striking, and illustrative of exactly how much libraries can be and do for communities.

Vancouver Public Library – like every public building in Canada – was given an art fund when it was first built. Instead of spending this money on a big bronze statue in front of the library, they established an ongoing art endowment fund to bring all kinds of artists into the library: art exhibitions, performers, musicians, drama, etc. Since Canada is such a multicultural society, these artists come from very diverse backgrounds  within the community.  This serves to position the library as a welcoming public space. There is also the “Learning City Initiative”, which has different organisations in the city working together. Interestingly, this initiative nearly always meets in the library because, even though the library is part of the initiative, the place itself is seen as neutral space, representing everyone.

Whitney’s talk made a big impression on me because it showed exactly how much is possible if libraries manage to have strong relationships with the local government and other organisations working towards similar goals. It also brought home the notion that it should always be the library users that drive the service, that their needs are what libraries are all about. In these days of economic gloom and doom and growing despair within the library world, it is good to hear a talk like this, which illustrates how much can still be done and how important libraries are for communities.

After this rather exhilarating experience, I spent some time trolling the exhibition, learning about the Danish Union Catalogue, snagging freebies and being stupefied by the Scientology booth. Yes, you read that right. Well, it wasn’t Scientology itself, but New Era Publications, but essentially, much the same thing. I wasn’t the only one who was absolutely flabbergasted by their presence at IFLA, seeing as their goals are diametrically opposed to everything libraries and librarians are trying to achieve: There is a resolution under way to ensure that they and others like them don’t get booths next year. Huzzah!

No Night Spot for me on Thursday, at least not immediately after the conference: I just went next door to the Scandinavium instead, where I got to see one of my all-time favourites, the great poet and singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, who delivered a stunning performance. I had to make it home through the Swedish rain, but that was a small price to pay.

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