IFLA 1991: Libraries and Culture
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions attempted to conduct its 57th Council and General Conference, August 18-24,1991 in Moscow. The conference theme was "Libraries and Culture: Their Relationship." Little did attendees know as we left our various homes that we would be eyewitnesses to history in the making. Attendees would witness a coup d'etat and its failure in less than 72 hours and live through the emotions of uncertainty, electric excitement, and fear. Those intrepid souls who "stuck it out" also witnessed or joined in jubilation and celebration. One SLA member, who shall remain nameless, was seen sharing a bottle of vodka and loudly proclaiming vive la liberte with citizens celebrating at the barricades some hours after the coup's failure.
Conference hosts did everything they could to maintain a semblance of normality although the conference site was only two blocks away from the Russian Federation Building where most coup action took place. Unfortunately, most attendees were far more interested in events in the street than the programs at hand. Other attendees were more interested in leaving than either the programs or the events in the street.
Attendance at meetings was down, numerous speakers made arrangements to leave before their programs took place, other meetings were changed, and the ending Council meeting was cancelled due to the projected lack of a quorum by that time. Many of us returned home and became instant celebrities and media stars as we gave our eyewitness reports. Numerous accounts of the non-IFLA events will have been published by the time this report appears, so I won't waste valuable space with remembrances of what will no doubt be very old and stale news.
A full third of the 1,500 attendees from 67 different countries were Soviet librarians from all across the republic (as it was pre-coup), providing an excellent opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of the Russian information scene. The American delegation numbered about 150, of which at least 25 percent were SLA members. The special libraries influence was evident in the numbers who are members of IFLA Standing Committees and Round Tables. Many familiar faces were seen in the conference center and at other events. Social events also provided an opportunity to network with colleagues from around the world and to commiserate on our quite similar challenges in obtaining and providing information in our respective institutions.
The American delegation was hosted by FAXON at a lovely, and well-provisioned reception at its Moscow office. Thus began a round of social events which continued even while historic events were taking place in the city. Attendees enjoyed a reception at the State Central Concert Hall along with a performance of Romeo and Juliet by the Moscow Classical Ballet, viewed the wonderful art collections at the Pushkin Museum during a private opening, ate and drank themselves into oblivion during a joyous reception at the Palace of Congresses in die Kremlin--only hours after the failure of the coup--and tried to keep from spilling wine and food in the world famous wood-paneled reading room of the Lenin Library.
This IFLA conference included the biennial meeting of the Council at which delegates transact the business of the organization by electing officers and voting on other important matters. Fortunately, the first council meeting took place on Sunday some hours prior to the coup. For the first time in many years, two Americans were elected officers of IFLA. Robert Wedgeworth, Dean of Columbia's School of Library Service, was elected president. He is only the second American to serve as president in IFLA's 64 years of existence. The first and previous American president was elected in 1931. Robert Stueart, Dean of Simmons College's Graduate School of Library and Information Science, was elected to the IFLA executive Board. Our own executive director, David Bender, was also a candidate for the Executive Board. …