Sunday, August 31, 2008

PL 33/08: Presentations and conversations

Filed under: IFLA — plinius @ 6:48 am

Big conferences feel like mass media. The centre speaks and the masses listen.

Participants at poster session.

The staple  menu at IFLA consists of spectacular openings, a few plenary lectures. long series of presentations, occasional panels, a few questions from the audience – time allowing, and a rousing grand finale.

This conference format represents a tradition. It is not a result of popular demand.

Participants tolerate – but do not love – the large formal meetings. When I speak with other delegates, or read the more spontaneous blogs, their personal preference is clear.

People prefer small groups, personal encounters, free and easy conversations, lively debates with time to spare – in short,  professional fun and games.

Let me quote three comments from participants in Quebec

Lectures are interesting, but meeting people is even more valuable.

At first I found it frustrating that I didn’t have time to attend all the sessions I would have liked to have seen, but looking back, it was really the one-on-one conversations I had that made the conference such an educational experience.

Things I learned last week

… the conference was interesting, but I think (and another delegate told me she’d been told) that about 10% of the value of the conference is in the sessions – the real value is in the networking and the people you can meet. I

talked to lots of really interesting people, and am very glad I went – presenting my poster was a great opportunity, and the people I spoke to were very supportive and interested in my work. …

I would go back to IFLA if I was involved in the organization’s activities, but I don’t think I’d go back otherwise unless I was presenting something.

Ceci n’est pas un blog

I think just about every country / continent was represented and it made for a wonderfully diverse and inspiring conference.

I also got to co-present one of my papers on ‘public libraries and web 2.0 technologies’ and sit proudly in the audience as David McMenemy presented another paper that I’d co-authored    …

And I’ve made lots of contacts too…which was a bit surreal at times…to actually meet the people that I’ve spent the last couple of years citing in papers;  …

I’d recommend to any new researchers out there trying to build up a reputation in the sector to sign up for future conferences…

I’ve uploaded the Powerpoint presentation on public libraries and web 2.0 onto Slideshare.

Travelling librarian returns from Canada.


Can we make the conference less formal and more user friendly? Focus on encounters rather than presentations?

The presentations – slides, pictures, sound files, video – should stored on the web, anyhow.

I say with Obama – yes, we can! It will take work, will, and a bit of chutzpah. And patience. The elephant moves slowly.

IFLA leaders want strong agendas, foreful advocacy and more effective action. The stately waltz of bureaucracy is not the best way of achieving such goals. But I have hopes for the next few years at IFLA.

Some sections are experimenting with more energetic and playful gatherings. Blogs are amplifying the voice of ordinary participants. Photos and videos make IFLA more visual. Words are linked to faces and bodies.

If markets are conversations, as the Cluetrain Manifesto states, then meetings are conversations. A fortiori.

Spring is in the air …




IFLA needs to recruit

The more  unconventional sessions (including brainstorming session and Global Literacy and Readig Fair), I found most interesting, because they provide quick and direct connections to other people, getting to know new faces and to share ideas in small working groups.

I would like to experience more Discussion Groups. These are a kind of precursor to normal IFLA sections. I was only in the “New Professionals Discussion Group”. It was not very different from normal sessions with the audience and made presentations. …

IFLA needs new blood.

That was noticeable not only at such events as the newcomer session or the New Professionals Forum, but also in several other sessions, from personal talks and from some of the speeches in the regular programme.

Edited by Plinius from a Google Translate version.


Die eher unkonventionellen Sessions (u.a. Brainstorming Session und Global Literacy and Readig Fair) fand ich am interessantesten, weil man dort in direktem Kontekt zu anderen Leuten schnell neue Gesichter kennengelernt hat und in kleinen Arbeitsgruppen gut seine Gedanken austauschen konnte….

Gerne hätte ich mehr Discussion Groups erlebt. Das ist eine Art Vorstufe zur IFLA-Sektion. Ich war nur bei der “New Professionals Discussion Group”, die sich aber nicht sehr von normalen Sessions mit Publikum und Vorträgen unterschieden hat. …

Die IFLA braucht Nachwuchs.

Das hat man nicht nur bei solchen Veranstaltungen wie der Newcomersession oder dem New Professionals Forum gemerkt, sondern auch in diversen weiteren Sessions, persönlichen Gesprächen und einigen Reden im Rahmenprogramm.

lessons learned – IFLA

Bob McKee is clear:

…  engage with the next generation – go where they are (like, online, using social media), listen to what they have to say (because they’re our future), support and empower them (through role modelling and capacity building), and give them a space where they can be in charge (like CDG/AAL).

My own contribution was to suggest that associations should “practice euthanasia” – put a time limit on all offices so that the oldies have to push off and the newbies have to step up.

Headlines from Quebec



  1. Hey

    Thanks for quoting me on your blog. I had a brilliant time at IFLA but your blog piece reminded me of something that did irritate me slightly at the conference…

    I was surprised by the amount of people commenting on how young they thought I was. Now, I’m not that young, I’m 31…perhaps in terms of the average age at IFLA I was one of the younger attendees? I don’t really mind when people comment on my age, but what I do take offence to is when they assume that I am inexperienced and dismiss my comments. Both I and a colleague experienced this on more than one occasion. I wonder if any of the other ‘younger delegates’ experienced this also?

    That said, such comments were from a minority of people and I met lots of others who were more than happy to chat, share ideas, exchange business cards etc…and that’s what I’d like to remember about my first ever IFLA; the enthusiasm from other librarians about my research into social value, the energy in the speakers rooms, the friendly atmosphere at the social evenings and at the coffee stand in the trade hall…and of course the many e-mails that I’ve received since arriving home, from librarians all over the world, keen to develop research interests, or just taking a few minutes to say hi and to check I arrived home safely! Made me realise how lucky I am to be part of such an exciting, dynamic and caring profession!
    Christine Rooney-Browne

    Comment by The Social Librarian — Monday, September 1, 2008 @ 9:37 am

  2. Hi Christine,

    and thanks for your response.

    Being somewhat grey and grizzled myself – at 66 – what strikes me at IFLA is the number of participants near my own age. The congregation is old.

    Whether it is getting older than before, I do not know. I am five years old – starting with Berlin 2003 – in terms of regular IFLA participation.

    I don’t think there is much of a bias against young professionals as such. But the system of recruitment favours – unintentionally – the old work and war horses.

    Those who want to go every year must have substantial travel support from their organizations. To sit on a section committee, you should be able to attend five meetings in a row.

    That sort of finance is – in most cases – only available at the senior level of library organizations.

    Today, this is more of a problem than in the past, I believe – since IFLA needs to master a different and demanding digital environment. Here, people born after 1970 (say) have an advantage.

    Scholarships for young librarians will provide great experiences and lots of stimulating contacts. But IFLA is basically governed by the “regular crowd”.

    Getting younger people into leadership positions will – as Bob McKee suggests – require a different approach. A stronger web focus – “web-supported cooperative work” – may help.

    Comment by Plinius — Monday, September 1, 2008 @ 10:13 am

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