Pasilia, Helsinki, Finland. These first two days at the grand pow-wow of the world’s leading librarians has been intense and great, and has also come with a small learning curve. Yesterday, 11 August 2012, was the first day of the congress, although still technically a pre-conference day (unbeknownst to me). All of the sessions that looked interesting title-wise (Rare Books & Manuscripts, Cataloguing, etc. etc.) were followed by the initials “SC” in the congress booklet (referred to locally as “the WLIC Bible”). Upon entering my first session on cataloguing at 09:30 yesterday morning, I realized that “SC” meant “Standing Committee” and that the session was open to witnesses of the meeting of different IFLA section meetings. This was, at first, a bit jarring, as I had come prepared to listen to papers on policy or strategy, and instead I got to witness decision making in action. I quickly realized what was stated in the New Comers’ session this morning by past IFLA President Alex Byrne:
“IFLA’s WLIC is a place where a large international federation comes together to do most of its business”
After witnessing both the SC meetings of the Cataloguing section and the Rare Book & Manuscript section, I can say that I am very impressed at how these groups work. Both of these meetings were carried out in English, a second or third language for the majority of the participants, and were full of technical jargon and high level strategy planning. It’s quite obvious that the majority of these sections are used to conducting their business via e-mail, as long and seemingly uncomfortable pauses in conversations were just pauses to allow members to process the problem or information at hand.
This was all brought home this morning in the New Comer’s Session and the Opening Session of the conference. Today, Sunday, was the real first day of the congress, with the official opening of both the congress and the trade exhibition. This morning, as the ins and outs of IFLA and attending the WLIC were explained to us it began to sink in how global and high-level the work being done by IFLA and its sections is. This was solidified by the Opening Session, a grand stage-spectacle featuring local musicians (left), a keynote speaker with a very strong and grave message, and perhaps the best advice given so far to delegates, by the President of IFLA, Ingrid Parent:
“Think globally, act locally”
After the New Comer’s session I met a Finnish Public librarian by the name of Antti, and our conversation seemed to encapsulate all of these ideas. Antti is the librarian for a public library in a suburbian, ex-industrial town 60 km north of Helsinki. Myself being a Rare Books Librarian, our professional worlds couldn’t be farther apart. However, we managed to have a sustained conversation about libraries (public and academic) in Finland, Scotland and America. It turned out that the town Antti works in isn’t too dissimilar to the Rust-belt suburbs that I grew up in: it’s an old town, built on the forges of metal factories that has seen most of its business exported elsewhere, the town, and its library has literally had to redefine itself in the past 20 years.
The conversation I had with Artii this morning, and with other delegates throughout today, really displayed just how international this congress is, and not just international, but international and happy to be here. I’ve never head so many languages in one place, not even London; but shouts of recognition of old friends and laughter, real, genuine laughter sound the same no matter where you come from.
I’m looking forward to giving my paper tomorrow at the off-site meeting of the Rare Book & Manuscript section at the National Library of Finland, and hopefully can follow up with a blog post later this week.