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Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
IFLA in Oslo: a voyage of discovery
Using the image of a Viking Longship, this year’s IFLA conference invited us to embark on a “voyage of discovery” – a new millennium journey through the information world of ideas, imagination and knowledge to parallel the age of exploration a thousand years ago when Nordic seafarers journeyed across the globe. The conference also invited us to experience modern Norway – a country celebrating the centenary of its independence and rightly proud of a society based on human rights, intellectual freedom, democracy or a decent livelihood for all its citizens.
I have to declare an interest. I like Norway and some of my best friends are Norwegians. I found the little book on the airport bookstand in Oslo called How to use a Norwegian very funny (that’s funny as in amusing, not funny peculiar). There’s something about the Norwegian attitude to life – intellectual and cultural but also convivial and light hearted – which I really enjoy. And my professional links with the library community in Norway go back many years – indeed one of my first published articles, back in 1981, was in the Norwegian professional press (look it up in LISA if you’re interested …).
So I was looking forward to IFLA in Oslo. I expected a strong focus on the importance of libraries in the information society, high standards of professional practice, and plenty of opportunity for convivial networking amongst the international library community – all of this reflecting the “three pillars” of society, profession and membership which shape the current strategic direction of IFLA.
And that’s exactly what I got. The ways in which the values of Norwegian society align with the ethics of the library profession were clear in the satellite meeting on censorship which I attended at the Nobel Institute, in the erudite paper from Professor Francis Sejersted on “Freedom of information in a modern society” in the opening ceremony, and in the excellent (and very well referenced) plenary address on “Culture, knowledge and power” by Hilde Frafjord Johnson, Norway’s Minister of International Development. The high standards of our professional practice were evident not just in the specialist sessions of the professional conference programme but also in the more general sessions – in the New Professionals Discussion Group session where my colleague Julie Robinson talked about the practicalities of international job exchange; in the sessions on Copyright and Legal Matters where my colleague Barbara Stratton talked about the international agenda for intellectual property; or in the FAIFE (Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression) session on “Libraries and human rights” chaired by Paul Sturges, Chair of the IFLA FAIFE Committee and also of CILIP’s Freedom of Information Panel. And there were plenty of opportunities for informal networking across the IFLA membership – or indeed with colleagues from the UK especially at the reception hosted by CILIP’s President Debbie Shorley in the very elegant surroundings of Gamle Logen one of Oslo’s oldest and grandest houses.
Informal networking was greatly facilitated by warm weather and a city with plenty of places to eat and drink in a relaxed atmosphere with convivial company – and by the excellent social and cultural opportunities provided by the Norwegian Organising Committee. The evening at the open-air Museum of Cultural History was particularly enjoyable and the outdoor balcony of Stratos – a nightclub which became the “IFLA Nightspot” for the duration of the conference – provided a welcome late evening rendevous. It was brave of the Norwegian organisers to plan outdoor events but libraries in Norway are the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs so maybe they were relying on divine intervention. As it was the weather stayed fine and the 3,000 raincoats which were allegedly in readiness remained in their warehouse.
Of course the annual IFLA gathering is not just a conference – hence the rather grand title of “World Library and Information Congress” which the event has been given in recent years. It is also a major international trade exhibition, an opportunity for the professional Sections and Core Activities of IFLA to carry out their Committee work, and a key annual milestone in the governance of IFLA with meetings of the Council and the Governing Board.
This year I celebrated my birthday while taking my turn to staff the CILIP exhibition stand – and enjoyed a surprise birthday party of coffee and cakes from those wonderful people who form “team CILIP” at the annual World Congress. I also met CILIP members from all over the world at our exhibition stand – not surprisingly when you realise that CILIP has members in 95 different countries including both the outgoing IFLA President (Kay Raseroka from Botswana) and her incoming successor (Alex Byrne from Australia).
This year I also became a member of IFLA’s Governing Board – my thanks to anyone reading this who voted for me in the IFLA elections a few months ago. The new Board gathered for a day-long meeting with new IFLA President Alex Byrne in the chair on the Saturday after the World Congress had formally ended. With a new President of a new Governing Board – and a new Secretary General, Peter Lor – IFLA is very much an organisation in transition. The “three pillars” provide a strategy framework but IFLA now needs to look in detail at its finances, its business processes, and its governance. In time honoured fashion, Working Groups were established and reports will be written for the next meeting of the GB (as we IFLA insiders call it) at IFLA HQ in the Hague in December. I think being a member of the GB is going to be very much a “voyage of discovery” about the inner workings of IFLA. I hope my experience of managing a professional association will be of some use as the GB works to discover what the future activities, resources and statutes of IFLA might look like.
Five years ago at the IFLA conference in Jerusalem the announcement was made that Oslo would be the venue for IFLA in 2005. I had spent much of that conference with Norwegian colleagues (some of the time on the West Bank but that’s another story) and I enjoyed their celebration party at the Jerusalem Hotel after the announcement. Since then I’ve had several conversations with members of the Norwegian Organising Committee as they – like those of us who helped to organise IFLA in Glasgow in 2002 – became part of that very special group of IFLA insiders: people who have been part of the Organising Committee for an IFLA conference or Congress. Because of these personal connections I was particularly pleased that IFLA in Oslo proved to be a very successful and enjoyable event at which some of the Big Themes of our profession – linking our work to human rights, intellectual freedom and the concept of an “open society” – were explored. The Norwegian “voyage of discovery” was a fruitful one – and now we journey on, to Seoul in the Republic of Korea for WLIC 2006. Korea successfully hosted the Olympics in 1988 and co-hosted the World Cup in 2002. Now they’re going for the big one – see you there.
Bob McKeeChief Executive of CILIP and a member of IFLA’s Governing Board