The Americanization of IFLA

By Kniffel, Leonard | American Libraries, October 2001 | Go to article overview

The Americanization of IFLA


Kniffel, Leonard, American Libraries


BOSTON DRAWS RECORD CROWDS AS AMERICANS GREET GUESTS FROM 150 NATIONS

I was international week in Boston August 16-25, when a record 5,573 people gathered from 150 countries--from Angola and Bulgaria to Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe--for the 67th annual conference and exhibition of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

The record turnout, which marked the federation's first return to the United States since its 1985 meeting in Chicago, surprised organizers, who had expected 4,000 attendees. All but seven IFLA member nations were represented, and over 1,300 Americans registered for the conference, arguably the single most significant annual international library event in the world.

Every IFLA conference takes on the trappings of the host country, and this year's flavor was unquestionably American, from the cookout menu at the gala reception at the Boston Public Library, to the gospel singers at the opening session, to the shopping mall that connected the Hynes Convention Center to the conference hotels. The Americanization of IFLA also meant more programs in English and more problems for the translators, who frequently signaled from their isolation booths that they could not keep up with fast-talking, slang-and-acronym-spewing American speakers.

IFLA President Christine Deschamps of France and ALA President John W. Berry used the conference venue to clinch a five-year cooperative PR venture between ALA and IFLA. The deal will turn the "@ your library" Campaign for America's Libraries (AL, Aug., p. 6) into a Campaign for the World's Libraries. The new project was unveiled at the opening session, where Deschamps exclaimed, "Melvil Dewey, nous voila!" We are here.

The new campaign features a logo in the five official IFLA languages (English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian), said Berry, and is designed to showcase the unique and vital roles played by public, academic, school, and specialized libraries worldwide. One of the messages of the campaign, he said, is that "libraries bring you the world."

Unlike most host nations, however, the United States offers no government financial support for the conference. Instead, said conference cochair Gary Strong, director of the Queens Borough library in New York, the organizers had to raise over $1 million to pull it off. "That's got to be a record for library fundraising for a single event," he said during the American caucus. The national organizers included the American Association of Law Libraries, Association for Library and Information Science Education, Association of Research Libraries (ARL), Medical Library Association, and Special Libraries Association, as well as ALA.

"It took five years of time and energy," added cochair Duane Webster, executive director of ARL. Not bad for an organization with, according to Treasurer Derek Law of the United Kingdom, an annual operating budget of $747,000 for its headquarters in The Hague.

The organizers also raised enough money for 83 fellowships to bring attendees from developing countries who otherwise would be unable to attend. Denmark's DANIDA, the Danish agency for development assistance, sponsored an additional 30 fellowships. The IFLA fellows were assigned to volunteer mentors to help them make their way through the conference, supported by a tour desk and translation center staffed by a group of multilingual local volunteers.

Among the 259 conference sessions were the keynote address by author Jonathan Kozol and lectures by Librarian of Congress James Billington, American University law professor Peter Jaszi, and Laurence Prusak, director of IBM's Institute for Knowledge Management.

The author of several books about poverty, Kozol gave a bitter indictment of the failure of public education in America's poorest areas and contrasted those failures with successful educational efforts in many other countries, from Norway and Sweden to China and Cuba, calling the situation in the United States "socially and economically enforced apartheid. …

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