Monday 11 September 2017

Reflections on IFLA WLIC 2017

So, two weeks have transpired since I returned from my two-and-a-bit week trip from Australia to Poland and back. I've had to launch myself straight back into work, and have only recently managed to settle back into normal sleeping patterns.

Of the fifteen and a half days that I spent in Poland, seven of these were dedicated to attending the IFLA WLIC 2017 (that is, the International Federation of Library Associations' World Library and Information Congress), in the city of Wrocław.

I've been to quite a few conferences, but this one has left a lasting impression on me, in ways that other conferences haven't. Being a first-timer, I'm conscious of the fact that I haven't been able to fully process the sheer enormity of everything that this annual event has to offer, but here are a few reflections:

1. This is a conference for Libraries and Librarians, and they are doing a ton of awesome stuff. I think back to a recent GLAMR event that I attended, where one speaker declared that we need to stop using the terms Libraries and Librarians. If there's one event that really explores the breadth of this profession and the scope of what they do within every facet of society, it's WLIC. The wide range of topics and streams in the programme gave me plenty of food for thought regarding what my values are as a librarian, and the ways that I am currently specialising (i.e. as an art librarian in a National Library) and the ways that we, as librarians, need to further develop and focus our mindsets for the future, whether it's improving our knowledge and perspective on professional issues such as copyright reform, or becoming better advocates for ourselves and our communities. It's reminded me that this is a profession that is accomplished and diverse enough to easily fill six days of programming... plus satellite events!

2. This is a real International Conference. I heard stories of libraries and librarians from all over the world - from war-torn regions of Somalia and oppressive regimes in the Phillipines to public libraries in Scandinavia and the USA, and innovations in remote Indonesia. It's so easy to lose perspective of everything else when we spend our professional lives in a library workroom, or even at the reference desk. Furthermore, initiatives such as the IFLA Library Map of the World, collecting worldwide data on libraries, and sharing success stories related to the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), and the IFLA Global Vision strategy, create more of a united front for the library profession, on an international scale.

3. Sometimes, it is as much about sharing as it is about listening. At many of the sessions I attended, there would be a number of speakers giving a brief presentation, but then the session would be turned around to the audience, and we would discuss the wider topics in small groups, and then eventually present to the rest of the room. I really enjoyed this aspect of the conference - something that I'd perhaps like to see more of in Australian library events.

4. Volunteering is a great way to get involved. For the first time, the conference opened up the volunteer program to the international library community. This meant that I could sign up as a volunteer, and then attend the event for free. Considering that registration for the event cost close to $1500 (AUD), volunteering was a great way to make my attendance more affordable. It also gave me the chance to meet other people who were also volunteering. The only downside was that it's also a considerable commitment (a total of 24 hours) which meant that I wasn't able to attend some of the sessions that I wanted to attend. But as it turned out, my duties involved checking passes for sessions - some of which I wouldn't have thought to attend, but turned out to be quite interesting. Like issues for agricultural librarians, or metadata standards for law librarians. It's also meant that I've had a good "test run" for my first IFLA conference - and now I've got a much better idea of how to get the most out of the event in the future, where I will commit to putting up the big bucks for attending, and get a better return on that investment.

5. I'm still very much a newbie in this profession. So, I've been working in libraries since 2000, and as a professional since 2006, and I've done my time in the past in the ALIA New Graduate's Group to the point that, in general, I don't feel much like a new graduate anymore. But arriving at IFLA feels a bit like showing up to the first day at University after having spent the past thirteen years at school. It's next-level stuff, and you're back at the bottom of the pecking order, with all the international big-wigs in attendance. Fortunately, I was far from the only person in this position, and was fortunate enough to fall in with the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group (NPSIG), who ran the satellite event, IFLAcamp, and quickly became friendly familiar faces around the event.

And so, I'm already looking forward to next year's congress, which is a little closer to home, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! Australia was fairly well-represented in Poland, but I would hope to expect a much larger contingent where distance is less of a factor. It's been an experience that I would thoroughly recommend to any librarian, as developing international perspectives not only gives us an opportunity to learn from one another, but creates a greater sense of what librarianship is, as an international profession, and what we can continue to achieve in the future.

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