Milan's Warm Welcome: The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Sends Positive Messages Home about the World Financial Outlook

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Those who wondered why the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) would meet in Italy in the heat of August got their answer August 25, when the city of Milan opened its treasures to IFLA. At a time of year when half the city has left for vacation, it seemed as if the entire Duomo, La Scala, and the city's businesses and museums belonged to the world's librarians.

Among the delights was what was billed as a "social dinner," and by its description many delegates wondered how the local organizers were going to pull off a dinner at "all the major restaurants of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and surroundings" when IFLA conference registrants numbered over 3,000. But pull it off they did, with. Italian style. Registrants received a voucher good for a complete meal at a restaurant of their choice in the Galleria shopping arcade, a splendid iron and glass construction that was one of the first of its kind in Italy when it opened in 1867.

Following the dinner, the Duomo, Milan's massive cathedral, offered a free harp and violin (a Stradivarius, no less) concert. After the concert, IFLA-ites could stroll from the Duomo to Palazzo Marino, where two of the sketches of Leonardo da Vinci's Atlantic Code were on display along with digital versions of the entire work. From there they could take in the Monet show at the Palazzo Reale and stroll till midnight back to the shopping arcade, at the center of which was a well-guarded display of De Divina Proportione, dating from 1497 and containing sketches by Leonardo. All the while, a gigantic electronic billboard on the center square shone bright with "Welcome IFLA: "World Library and Information Congress."

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Global financial crisis

IFLA closed its 75th World Library and Information Congress August 27 with National. Organizing Committee chair Mauro Guerrini announcing that the five--day conference had attracted 3,931 registrants to Milan, 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 delegates gathered for the last word on how libraries worldwide are likely to fare in the short run. Panelist Michael Dowling, director of ALA's 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 ALA 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."

The biggest financial relief for IFLA came by way of Deborah Jacobs, director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Libraries Program, who confirmed that the foundation was presenting IFLA with a $1.5-million three-year grant for continued support of the federation's advocacy efforts.

"IFLA plays an invaluable role in the library community and its continued, success will strengthen libraries throughout the world," Jacobs said. "IFLA's efforts to promote vibrant libraries with information services and public access to the internet help open the world of knowledge, information, and opportunity to many more people. …