Tuesday 23 March 2021

International involvement...

The recent call for nominations in the 2021 IFLA Elections prompted some reflections on the past two years since the last IFLA elections.

For the unintitiated, IFLA is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions - put (very) simply, you might call it UN of the library world. They hold elections every two years, with vacancies from the top positions, such as President-elect and Governing Board roles, all the way down to special interest group standing committee members - and everything in between. But to the unintiated, not much of this will really make a lot of sense until you've been to at least one IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC).

I didn't consider running in an IFLA election until one of the last days of the 2018 WLIC, in Kuala Lumpur. I'd already found myself involved with the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group for a couple of years, which had been a good introduction to IFLA, both from the perspective of learning how IFLA works, and networking with similarly professionals.

It wasn't until late in the conference that I found myself sitting in the IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section's open session with the topic 'Library services: empowering people to develop their inter-cultural identities', featuring some really engaging and progressive presentations from around the world - in particular, one presentation that explored the lived experiences of library workers from migrant backgrounds. These were the kinds of conversations that I'd wanted to be able to have in the Australian library sector - but we don't - and all of a sudden it was clear to me that this was a circle that I wanted to be a part of.

I sought out a few members afterwards, and said, 'I wanna get involved. How do I do that?' and they said, 'Well, good thing you asked, because elections are coming up...'

Eight months - and one election - later, I was officially an elected member of the section's Standing Committee. It's been quite an experience so far. There are many things that I'd wished I'd know, and a few things that I certainly couldn't have foreseen (ie COVID-19).

Me (second from right) and my fellow committee members, at WLIC 2019 in Athens.

So, are you thinking of running for an IFLA Standing Committee this year? Here are a few tips that you might find useful:

1. Know why you want to get involved

When I started talking to the standing committee members, back in 2018, and told them that I wanted to get involved, the first question they asked me was 'why?' Big organisations like IFLA certainly attract their share of people who want to get onto committees for the prestige of having it on their resume - but aren't always proactive in taking the initiative. So, have a plan of what you'd like to contribute and achieve as part of the section. For me, it's always been about being able to facilitate conversations around multicultural workforces and library services, and share the experiences of library staff and users from culturally diverse backgrounds.

2. Show up and network

As I implied before, it's going to be hard to understand why you want to get involved unless you actually show up to the annual conference, and get to know the key players. WLIC is an amazing experience - if overwhelming at times - but my number one favourite thing about this conference is the people you meet, have amazing discussions with, and form collaborative partnerships and longlasting friendships. This social stuff is the essential glue that makes everything else work. Plus it helps you get elected if people know who you actually are.

3. Be prepared to do the work

Whilst these roles are elected, they are also volunteer positions, which creates almost a dilemma. On one hand, you're not being paid to do the work, which means that it's going to be less of a priority. On the other hand, you're in an elected position, and if you don't do the work, you're taking the place of somebody who might be a better fit for the role. Of course, it's easier said than done - especially when living through a global pandemic, so anybody can be forgiven for dropping the ball this past year!

4. Be aware of timezones

Speaking of work - unless you're fortunate enough to live in Europe or the USA, be prepared to be working some strange hours. I work with committee members who are rarely awake at the same time. Strangely, the most convenient time for getting things done is early in the mornings before work, because we can actually have an exchange. If we don't get the timing right, it can take up to 36 hours for three of us to organise and agree on a simple task. And living in the Asia-Pacific region, I will have the unenviable honour of taking the minutes at a meeting that will run from 12 midnight until 2am. I will be making sure that the record function on Zoom is activated, oh yes!

5. Stay motivated and connected

This has been a really hard one this past year. I have to confess that, for me, much of my motivation is centred around the fact that, each year, we all get to meet again in some amazing city on the other side of the world. I was even excited at the prospect of welcoming everybody to *our* side of the world - before plans for WLIC in Auckland were scrapped. But with last year's WLIC cancelled, and this year's conference going virtual - and, of course, worldwide pandemic disrupting everybody's lives - it's hard to stay motivated. Fortunately, I've recently found my own mojo again, and it's with things like elections, meetings and plans for an engaging virtual event, that we're starting to reconnect again, and remind each other of why we got involved in the first place. Little things like Zoom catchups between international friends also make a huge difference.

So, if you're thinking of running for IFLA elections - do it! But be prepared - it's the boy scout's marching song.

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