Every year librarians from around the world travel hundreds of thousands of combined miles to form the Brigadoon-like nation that is the annual conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). In Buenos Aires, August 22-27, a total of 3,361 librarians from 121 countries assembled, earphones clamped across their heads, to usher in a new era of leadership with a decidedly non-European edge and a respectful but vocal distrust of U.S. and U.K. domination.
Long seen as a conservative, largely British-led organization, IFLA has evolved in recent years into a federation with an agenda dedicated to free expression, freedom of access to information, and the propagation of democratic values in developing nations whose libraries must take charge of their own destinies without the funding that Western nations take as a given. Visibly at the helm during this World Library and Information Congress were IFLA President Kay Raseroka of Botswana, presiding over her first IFLA conference, and new IFLA Secretary General Ramachandran Rasu of Singapore, at times struggling with the enormity of their task.
Topped by a slate of speakers predominantly from Latin America, the six days of programs and meetings at the first IFLA conference (out of 70) ever held in South America sent a message that if the federation is to survive and thrive, members must embrace a more equitable sharing of the financial responsibility for the organization, and American delegates must understand the economic and cultural differences that make IFLA's very existence a diplomatic balancing act that often resembles the United Nations.
Given the history of Argentina's relationship to the United Kingdom, it was no surprise that the politics of this IFLA conference were different. Speakers delivered their lectures mostly in Spanish, with simultaneous …