Magazine article American Libraries

New Players, IFLA Veterans Contemplate Global Access in the New World Order

Magazine article American Libraries

New Players, IFLA Veterans Contemplate Global Access in the New World Order

Article excerpt

Bursting with optimism and hotel space after hosting the Olympics in 1992 Band celebrating the Columbus quincentenary that same year, Barcelona was an appealing site for the 59th Council and General Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), held Aug. 22-28.

Librarians from the United States were prominent both in numbers and leadership roles. Eighteen of 141 major papers were presented by Americans, about 20 Americans were elected to committee posts, and more than 200 registered for the conference. Americans also contributed some firsts:

* Youth services advocate Lucille Thomas of Brooklyn orchestrated a preconference seminar on the development of school libraries. As she reported to attendees, part of the seminar's value was making it clear that school libraries are on the IFLA agenda, and that all librarians need to be aware of the significance of school library service to youth.

* John Day of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., provided what was reported as the first sign language interpretation at an IFLA meeting. Listening to the translator through headphones, Day had to sign the presentation almost simultaneously--a special achievement appreciated by deaf and hearing-impaired attendees as well as those who find just listening to simultaneous translations difficult.

* Robert Doyle, who directs the U. S. Information Agency--funded Library Fellows Program, was on the move throughout the conference, getting support from U.S. associations, as well as organizations from other countries, for the development and publication of guidelines on twinning programs. Noting that such initiatives "encompass a variety of agreements and arrangements between two libraries in different countries," Doyle observed that "as these types of relationships are quite diverse, it has been a challenge to develop common objectives and procedures." Doyle's experience with the USIA program has convinced him of the value of exchanges and mutual support across national borders in librarianship.

* Robert Wedgeworth of the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign presided at the meetings as president--the first non-European elected to the post in 60 years. He also assisted with many of the duties IFLA Secretary-General Leo Voogt would have performed. Wedgeworth stepped in after Voogt ran fruitlessly after a purse-snatcher operating in front of the secretary-general's hotel, and ended up falling and injuring his leg and wrist. Wedgeworth's 14-year tenure as ALA executive director was no doubt useful as he carried out the dual role. He also took the lead in insisting on better security in areas frequented by IFLA participants.

The class of 19 months ago

"The Universal Library: Libraries as Centers for the Global Availability of Information" was the theme for the conference. Shifting political boundaries and allegiances limited attendance from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, but librarians from those countries and from developing nations frequently stressed the need for more recognition of libraries as such centers. At a session for editors of library periodicals, concern focused on the problems professional journals face when funding by governmental agencies is withdrawn or severely curtailed, and libraries and librarians are experiencing difficult economic times. While those problems are not unfamiliar to U.S. librarians, they are more severe where there is no tradition of more diverse support--and a whole new generation of librarians is moving into positions of leadership.

At one reception, I met Igor S. Filippov, the youthful director of the Russian State Library in Moscow, and I asked him how long he had been in his job. "Nineteen months," he said. "And so it is for all of us," one of his administrative colleagues said later. "We all began 19 months ago."

These new players on the international scene are coping with their newness in many ways. …

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