"My strength is that I am not alone in this big world," wrote Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. "The world and its people are no secret in my heart, no mystery in my science. "
Now generally acknowledged as Turkey's greatest modern poet, Hikmet died in exile in 1963, having spent over 18 years in one of those infamous Turkish jails many Americans have feared since they saw the 1978 film Midnight Express.
Hikmet's crime was free expression, for which - like writers and artists the world over - he paid a terrible price. But he was correct in the knowledge that he was not alone; the world, its people, and free expression are no mystery in library science either.
Against this backdrop of history, in a place where civilizations were born and died, most of the record 2,390 delegates to the 61st Council and General Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, Aug. 20-26 in Istanbul, assumed an almost ambassadorial role.
There to explore the conference theme of "Libraries of the Future," with the aid of simultaneous translations via headphones, delegates from 103 countries found a more-varied-than-ever assembly with whom to share ideas. "The attendance was a surprise to all of us," IFLA President Robert Wedgeworth told American Libraries. "There were 20 Mongolian librarians that no one had ever seen anywhere before," he said proudly, "and 210 new faces from the former Soviet republics.
However the diplomatic decorum that permits such global interchange was breached in Istanbul, if only briefly, when two American delegates circulated a resolution scolding various agencies of the government of Turkey" for, among other things, human rights violations against individuals "for ideas which they expressed in public forums." A watered-down reprimand was eventually presented to IFLA Council and overwhelmingly defeated, in apparent deference to the host nation's pride.
Open arms, receptions, networking
In "some of the most splendid and exotic venues in Istanbul," as Wedgeworth called conference activity sites, delegates practiced the true core program of IFLA: receptions. Lest a one conclude that IFLA is therefore frivolous, it is important to note that given the range of cultures represented in the federation - not to mention the range of political and religious conviction - it is essential to find common ground over and above a commitment to library service. Good food, good music, and hospitality fill the bill.
Among the receptions were a stylish outdoor soiree at the Ciragan Palace and a splendid affair at the Yildiz Palace hosted by the Ministry of Culture and featuring dancing, singing, a mini-bazaar, and a lavish spread of Turkish food. Open-air theater performances of Turkish folk music and a classical music concert were also part of the agenda, all infinitely superior to the tacky belly dancing shows that awaited those who ventured to the tourist traps of Istanbul.
IFLA is, perhaps above all, about networking and making contacts. Evgeny Kuzmin of the Russian Ministry of Culture, for example, reported that OCLC is exploring the possibility of establishing operations in Russia and is looking for Russian partners to develop a Cyrillic software program. David Buckle of OCLC Europe hosted a private cruise up the Bosphorus to give 140 OCLC users and potential users an opportunity to mingle.
Visits to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, the Topkapi Palace Library, the Beyazit State Library, and others, gave conferees an opportunity to hear from Turkish librarians on the job, and many American delegates found the Women's Library Documentation Centre - partly by the mere fact of its existence - particularly interesting.
Global free expression
In a paper titled "Istanbul as a Center for East-West Information Transfer in the Twentieth Century," Pamela Spence Richards of Rutgers University referred to "the city's critical role as East-West information transfer point" and observed that "there could hardly be a more appropriate site than Istanbul for the conference of an organization concerned with the dissemination of information. …