Sunday, August 17, 2008

PL 26/08: IFLA from below

Filed under: IFLA — plinius @ 11:32 pm

Organizations are just as pretentious as people.

They like to present their best face – all cream and strawberries – to the public. As if every week consisted of seven Sundays.

Nobody is really fooled. All experienced librarians know the difference between rhetoric and reality, frontstage and backstage, dining room and kitchen.

IFLA is no exception. Cooperation and conflict, struggles and alliances, politics and power – are part of the process. But the written documents produced by IFLA and its many bodies reveal very little about the discussions and the clashes that occur. You have to talk with insiders to understand the dynamics of the organization.

This is, I hope, about to change. The new IFLA web – to be launched in 2009 – will encourage much more independent comment and discussion.

It is high time. The explosive growth of blogging means that the process of democratic debate has already started. Yesterday I made a list of IFLA bloggers.  Today I quote some of their remarks.

Quips and quotes

We all have an international audience.  I thought for international audiences, the performance should involved more music and dances — things that don’t require language skills as a prerequisite to appreciate.

Which brings to mind: this is something libraries must consider as we upload content to YouTube. It’s something I’ve mentioned before.  On the Internet, your audience is International.

You might as well market your library globally. Of course libraries should consider their primary audience first. If a French library puts up a video for its users, obviously they’d use French. But it would be an excellent marketing tool if you provide English subtitles, or in the title or blurb, for a video in YouTube.

Conference opening ceremony. Ivan Chew.

That evening was the Cocktail Reception – which was enormous.  I imagine the largest of mafia weddings would look something like this reception.  A few other GSLIS folks and I went out for dessert instead.

As I’ve often found before, these simple small group conversations are often the most enlightening parts of a conference like this.  We had a long talk (over delicious sweets and lattes) about i-schools and library-schools.

One of the women from GSLIS knew some of the history behind the i-school migration in the U.S. and hearing that background was eye-opening for me.


I’ve met some terrific professional gurus, as well as promising young library students who will soon be entering the profession. The students I’m meeting are eager to join the profession and make their mark – I love it!

This actually leads me to a session I attended this evening: “Mind the gap: bridging the inter-generational divide” which was presented by the New Professionals Discussion Group. Sounds promising, right?

WRONG. This session was all about recruiting young professionals to join library associations. We were a captive audience – and all that was presented was how important it is that we join associations so that we can be mentored and groomed and introduced to the right people. I’ve been to a number of sessions over the past several days, and this is the only one where I felt I was being patronized.

As a final note, I would like to say that this experience is really an education. What I am really enjoying is the multicultural aspect.

To see the excitement from a librarian in Croatia because they finally implemented an online catalogue in 2007 is amazing. That some of these librarians are facing much greater challenges than we are here in North America is really eye opening. It’s incredible.

Last night the Public Libraries Section of IFLA launched a new IFLA professional publication, Public libraries, archives and museums: trends in collaboration and cooperation, which linked very nicely with this morning’s meeting between the IFLA Executive Committee and representatives from other major international organisations in cognate fields.

The key theme to emerge was convergence – between IFLA and the Conference of Directors of  National Libraries; and between the library domain and the scientific domain, the cultural domain, and the museums/archives domain.

More work will be done on this as the key international agencies continue the dialogue – but, as Ian Wilson, National Librarian and Archivist of Canada, pointed out, many major institutions are well ahead of professional bodies in embracing convergence. We need to find a modern form of professionalism which will transcend the boundaries and barriers of traditional professional domains – and this something that CILIP is working on already.

Not quite the end. Bob McKee

It`s been a great opportunity to attend the conference courtesy of CILIP (I know, too many acronyms; this one is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals).

I`ve only been at one of IFLA`s conferences before this one and it was in Glasgow.  Don`t get me wrong; it was just as good a conference (in fact, it might have been better) but there`s an extra something being in a different country.

I`ve been to some excellent sessions but for me the best bit has been meeting librarians from all over the world: a lecturer from Nigeria, school librarians from Norway, a health services librarian from New South Wales and a university librarian from PEI amongst many others.


I’m at the IFLA 2008 conference in Quebec City, and just got out of the first meeting of the FRBR Review Group. Here are some notes for those of you who couldn’t be here. I’m writing this on my Eee in the lobby of the convention centre, so forgive me for hyperlink skimpiness.

The meeting began at 8:30 AM in a room that was as far away from the entrance to the convention centre as seems humanly possible. Chairs were set up in the room and there was a table for the Review Group members to sit at … but the chairs all faced away from the table. About eighteen observers were present so we all had to turn our chairs around to face the table, which left us staring at the backs of half of the Review Group.

the FRBR Report is vague on exactly what a Work is, which makes it hard to discuss aggregates. Lots of nodding at that. He said there were three approaches to thinking about modelling:

  • work of works model: there’s a hierarchy of works, for example a journal is a work made up of other works
  • manifestation of works model: an aggregate is not a work in itself, it is a manifestation of works
  • work of parts model: the simplest but least attractive intellectually; a collection of novels by a writer is a work, and the novels are just parts of it.

The three models are incompatible, but they all have advocates. In a report (not available online, I don’t think) they tried modelling different aggregates with each of the three models to see how they looked.


My first day of IFLA was fantastic–attended sessions on statistics & measurement, access to genealogical & archival data, and library partnerships. I think what I’m enjoying most, besides the mostly excellent presentations and good speakers, is that these presentations are giving such a broader world view than a session at TLA or ALA.

TLA and ALA are valuable, and certainly relevant in a “close to home” sense, but these sessions keep nudging my brain into those “ah-ha” moments of remembering that no, the entire world does not operate like the United States. It’s refreshing and encouraging and exciting and a little wild to wrap the brain around sometimes. …

One interesting tidbit I took from one of the morning speakers… He’s from a public library in Norway where they are hand-gathering statistics on how people use the library, whether they are performing activities in groups or alone, and how long they spend on each activity.

What really interested me is that they count “computer activities” separately for those on the library computers, and those who bring their own laptops (as well as those who work at each type of computer alone or in groups). I hadn’t ever thought of counting laptop vs. library PC use separately before, although it seems obvious now.

(Of course, now that we’re also checking out laptops, that brings a potential third category for UNT to track.)

Bienvenue from Quebec

The final session I attended was Metropolitan Libraries with Public Libraries.

There was a talk on the Canadian Project “Working Together” and also the Sengkong library system in Singapore.  The Canadian project focused on making services relevant and visible for socially excluded populations.

What do socially excluded people want and need from the library, the library needs to be an advocate for all.  In Singapore, advocacy is a way of life.  Instead of continually asking the user to come to the library, bring the library to the user.  Get out in the community, get out from behind the desk.

Day 5 of QC and IFLA

In my conference bag, I have a 200 page program, printed in French and English, a CD-ROM version of the program with the conference papers, all sorts of maps and tourism information, a small spiral bound notebook, and other ephemera.

It really is a lot of paper, but truth be told, with something this size, it’s felt good more than once to have a bag full of information on paper. The pen that came with the notebook is amazing, I will post a picture shortly.



  1. Thanks for this, Tord.

    About the new IFLAnet, I don’t think the new site (with the new blogging tools) will encourage more independent discussions. The really independent discussions are likely to be individual librarian blogs outside of IFLA net.

    I’m thinking, maybe the librarian bloggers should organise our own get-together at the next IFLA. I’ve never been sure who are the librarians blogging at IFLA (I’m only aware of your blog) but clearly you have links to quite a few other like-minded librarians :)

    Comment by Ivan Chew — Monday, August 18, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

  2. […] IFLA from below […]

    Pingback by PL 27/08: Pictures from IFLA 2008 « Pliny the Librarian — Tuesday, August 19, 2008 @ 3:21 am

  3. […] Etter mange offisielle taler og traktater, er det forfriskende å lese noen personlige kommentarer. […]

    Pingback by P 194/08 « Plinius — Tuesday, August 19, 2008 @ 3:41 am

  4. […] PL 26/08. IFLA from below […]

    Pingback by P 197/08: En liten IFLA-indeks « Plinius — Friday, August 22, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  5. Hi Ivan,

    and thanks for the comment. I do not believe technology as such is the answer – but it may be part of the answer.

    Much will probably depend on the climate of discussion within and around each section. But I get a bit of encouragement from ALA.

    The “techies” at LITA will blog, of course. But the PLA blogging represents more of a CHANGE, I think.

    And yes – let’s try to gather some bloggers in Milan!

    Comment by plinius — Friday, August 22, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

  6. Recently I re-read Erving Goffman’s THE PRESENTATION OF SELF IN EVERYDAY LIFE–a book that was required reading years ago in my undergraduate sociology course.

    All public behavior involves an idealization–the difference between the ‘public’ and the ‘private’. Goffman notes that, for this reason, public behavior is literally a “ceremony–an expressive rejuvenation and reaffirmation of the moral values of the community.”

    The acting, performing, staging, stage management, role-playing, cues, props, scenery, setting–all of it–is necessary.

    Comment by Ray Lyons — Friday, August 22, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

  7. Hi Ray, and thanks:

    I was actually thinking of Goffman – he refers for instance to waiters who change behaviour the moment they leave the frontstage restaurant for the backstage kitchen.

    But the restaurant kitchen is also a public place – with a looser form of acting. Slapstick, perhaps?

    I agree that all social behaviour involves some role-playing. But too much ceremony is counter-productive.

    IFLA, I feel, might be more effective if it became (even) more playful.

    Comment by plinius — Friday, August 22, 2008 @ 9:18 pm

  8. […] IFLA from below […]

    Pingback by PL 33/08: Presentations and conversations « Plinius — Sunday, August 31, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

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  10. […] 26/08. IFLA from below . The grass has mouths as well as […]

    Pingback by P 55/11: Nye navn i IFLA « Plinius — Wednesday, April 6, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

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