Monday 21 August 2017

IFLA 2017 - First impressions

It's Monday night, and I'm in the city of Wroclaw, Poland, attending my first ever IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC). I've been wanting to attend IFLA since it was first announced that this world-class library profession event would be held in Brisbane... and then wasn't!

Flash forward to last year, when I had already made vague plans to visit Poland, and discovered that WLIC 2017 would be held there, and so my mind was set!

I arrived in Wroclaw last Wednesday, a few days early, so that I could attend IFLAcamp 5 - the satellite event of the New Professionals Special Interest Group. Running over two days, with the theme "Librarians are on the move", the first day consisted of a creative movement workshop and an unconference of discussions. The second day, a bicycle tour around the city of Wroclaw and some of its libraries.

The NPSIG people was super-friendly and welcoming - a perfect start to my first IFLA experience, and the cycling tour was a wonderful way to explore this beautiful city, and its exquisite library collections, engaging spaces and innovative services. And on Saturday, we decided to put together a librarian flashmob...

And then there was the congress itself. Before coming along, I asked Clare Mckenzie if she had any tips for attending IFLA, and she suggested that I attend some of the business meetings for the standing committees of different sections. I ended up sitting in on the Art Libraries meeting and the National Libraries meeting, and it was an insightful way to start to understand how the sections at IFLA operate. I also made some good connections with other art librarians, who became friendly faces in the crowds of attendees at sessions and the vendor exhibition.

But nothing could prepare me for the opening ceremony... I'd truly never seen so many librarians in the one place, and in the UNESCO world heritage listed Centennial Hall, the opening event was somewhat akin to a rock concert - complete with smoke machines, acrobats and all-singing-and-dancing performances, alongside speeches and a most fascinating lecture about the socio-political history of Poland. Only at an event like this, with over 3000 attendees, could such extravagance be possible at a library conference. And it was glorious.

In the last two days, I have already attended some truly stimulating events - from stories of tragedy and hope for libraries attempting to survive through times of crisis and turmoil, to keynotes about library trends and the how libraries and support the SDGs, and creating a united voice and global vision for all libraries around the world. And then there were some that I would never attended - such as sessions on cataloguing and subject access for law libraries - because I had also signed up as a conference volunteer (which I will reflect more on in a future post).

All in all, it's been an amazing experience so far. I've made many new professional connections, and reconnected with a few other familiar faces from the past. But most importantly, it's helped me maintain my sense of perspective as an international professional - something that I didn't realise I was yearning for since returning to Australia. My personal aim for the rest of this conference is to figure out how I can best maintain these connections and perspectives, once the event has finished and I return to Australia... To be continued!

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