IFLA in Kilter: International Conference Attracts over 4,700 to Glasgow, Scotland. (Special Report)

By Kniffel, Leonard | American Libraries, October 2002 | Go to article overview
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IFLA in Kilter: International Conference Attracts over 4,700 to Glasgow, Scotland. (Special Report)


Kniffel, Leonard, American Libraries


The lit-up computer screen is now our symbol of knowledge and power, "omnipresent and omniscient as the eye of almighty God in days gone by," said Nobel Prize--winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney in his keynote address to some 4,765 library and information professionals from 122 countries at the annual conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in Glasgow, Scotland, August 18-24.

Many of the 220 conference sessions grappled with the dilemmas and challenges created by computer omni-science, such as intellectual-property rights, digital preservation, and open access to the Internet.

Playing with the conference theme, "Libraries for Life," Heaney noted that "in the first place and in the last resort, libraries are for dear life also." Both writers and librarians are "involved in a holding action," he said, looking for ways to hang on to the world's creative output. Heaney observed that librarians are having to reinvent themselves in ways that can scarcely be imagined.

Presiding over the conference, IFLA President Christine Deschamps of France noted, "Few professions have managed to make the new technologies their own as we have, have managed to adapt so effectively, have made such good use of technical progress to create products, formats, and standards."

Assessing the Information Age

In a talk titled "Flaming Intimacy: Information and Identity," British Council board member Gerard Lemos observed that the Internet has fundamentally redrawn the way in which people can organize themselves, for both peaceful protest and terrorism. In depth and perception, however, technology has a long way to go in keeping up with human beings, he said. Ultimately, it "brings enormous potential to do good if people like you can help us to manage information in real time, across the whole system, and in a way that is practitioner-focused, not solely for the benefit of theoreticians."

Talking about "indigenous knowledge" and "Western ways of knowing," Martin Nakata of the University of South Australia's Aboriginal Research Institute, posited that the Internet has eliminated some barriers and has been embraced by many indigenous peoples. "The global push to describe and document indigenous knowledge is gaining momentum," he said, "without any commensurate interest in the epistemological study of indigenous knowledge systems."

"The library is the last bastion of possibility," author Anne Fine said, and "the sense of real welcome now extended to the child" is the most dramatic change in libraries she has seen in her lifetime. Children need librarians, especially in an information age, she said, because they do not have the skills "to distinguish between the sensible, the outlandish, and the simply mad."

Five-year IFLA Treasurer Derek Law of Scotland, outfitted in a kilt, said he had been boosting Glasgow for his entire term, and was pleased to report that "things are looking positive on most fronts," especially corporate support. He joked that he had to be "very parsimonious, indeed very Scottish," in his management of IFLA finances.

Displays of cultural prowess

In addition to the working sessions, IFLA 2002 offered attendees many tastes of the culture and customs of the host country, including a concert at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, sponsored by publishers John Wiley and Sons, a reception at the Glasgow Science Center with full hands-on access to the facility, and a reception at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh, followed by a full-scale military tattoo outside Edinburgh castle, where IFLA-goers joined throngs of Brits as kilted bagpipers and military units from around the world displayed their musical and marching skills.

Founded in Edinburgh in 1927, IFLA returned this year to the United Kingdom for the first time since 1987 to celebrate its 75th anniversary and produced a short history of the federation (written by Donald G.

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