IFLA: Going beyond Libraries in Puerto Rico

By Ojala, Marydee | Information Today, October 2011 | Go to article overview

IFLA: Going beyond Libraries in Puerto Rico


Ojala, Marydee, Information Today


The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) held its 77th World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in the Latin American region Aug. 13-18, 2011. For U.S. attendees, the venue in San Juan, Puerto Rico, provided the convenience of meeting in a U.S. territory, where there was no need to change money or go through customs. However, only about 2,500 people attended the 6-day meeting, far fewer than the figures from the last 2 years. Whether the decrease was due to the venue or the general economic malaise is anybody's guess.

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Conference sessions focused either on the conference theme of Libraries Beyond Libraries: Integration, Innovation and Information for All or on the presidential theme of outgoing IFLA president Ellen Tise tackling Libraries Driving Access to Knowledge. Many sessions focused on actual projects, such as e-skills in African parliaments, capturing indigenous agricultural knowledge, coping with budget reductions, the value of practicums in Peruvian library science education, and collecting born-digital materials.

Subthemes of multiculturalism, preservation of cultural heritage, and transformation by digitization emerged during the conference. The "beyond libraries" concept surfaced in sessions where museums and archives took center stage. One session, on the political and constitutional status of Puerto Rico, featured two local lawyers who didn't mention libraries at all.

Afterlife of Texts

The well-attended opening session featured an intricately structured discourse on the history of print and the migration to electronic texts, titled The Afterlife of Texts: When Paradise Is an Internet Site. Fernando Pico, S.J., history professor at the University of Puerto Rico, sermonized about the importance of digitization to historians. Although some works become canonized, he says others enter the "four levels of hell for books." He delivered his lecture/sermon rapidly in Spanish, which interpreters struggled to translate adequately.

The plenary sessions introducing the other 3 days of the congress proved to be less popular than for Pico with small audiences. On Monday, Trevor C. Clarke, assistant director general of WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), credited IFLA's persistent activism with making library concerns front and center in the international copyright debates. On Tuesday, Mayra Santos-Febres, a Puerto Rican author and University of Puerto Rico professor, voiced her concerns about literacy in Puerto Rico, told of her belief in the power of books, and celebrated the role of librarians in promoting reading. The final plenary speaker, Luis Molina-Casanova, filmmaker and professor at the University of the Sacred Heart (San Juan), discussed film as part of information literacy and showed clips from some of his own films. …

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