Like big airports, big conference centers all feel alike. They are vast structures built to accommodate thousands of people – for a short time. The architecture is modernistic: an eclectic international style for a mixed international audience. The Puerto Rico Centre has two sweeping external “roofs” (right) covering the building inside.
There must be a central auditorium with room for thousands of people. Addressing the plenary (I had a chance in Beijing 1996) is a strange experience. Any discussion is impossible, of course. When two thousand pairs of eyes stare at you, you are in the performer’s position.
Some of the great musical artists – Sammy Davis rather than Bob Dylan – are still able to create a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Some politicians have the flair. Most are way too focused on being important.
Bob McKee, who died suddenly last year, had the capability: having fun and sharing it – in the limelight. He would have been a good stand-up comic. Our recent presidents from Africa, Kay Raseroka from Botswana and Ellen Tise from South Africa, share this capability.
Battleship at sea
The IFLA system is slowly changing for the better, but it remains a complex and boring bureaucracy. The people manning, or rather womanizing (is this the correct word?) this mighty battleship are not boring. All the presidents (and candidates) I have happened to met, have been vital and interesting people.
Sinikka Sipila won the most recent contest. She’ll be president elect 11-13 and president proper 13-15. But her Mexican contender, Jesus Lau, was also an outstanding candidate. He is also twittering constantly in English AND Spanish – a good example to follow …
Good change-oriented people both of them. Like Ellen Tise. The ship is just SO hard to turn around.
IFLA is changing, but the world around IFLA is changing more rapidly. Technology and economy demands change. Mobile access to any text of interest transforms the operating conditions of libraries, schools, media and – in fact – of all organizations. The Cloud is Coming to a place very near you.
IFLA’s problem is not information, but participation. In a socio-digital world people expect to be listened TO and talked WITH (not talked AT) .
Since 2.0 interaction is becoming the norm, it needs no name of its own. Ordinary people and ordinary institutions use electricity as a matterof course. We do not speak about electric versus non-electric organizations.
IFLA is over-aged and under-staffed. The IFLA structure means that it is very hard for young and enthusiastic people to reach positions of power. The barriers against new entrants who want to influence affairs are formidable. The organizational politics, in this friendly little corner of human activity, are slow, hidden and personalistic.
The Cuban revolution was made by young people. Lots of people sympathised with it. Castro and his brother clinging to power sixty years later are less appealing. He seems to say: I AM the Revolution …
Bureaucracy is safe
IFLA’s principles are excellent. It is basically a force for good. But the organization hampers its own work by rigid rules and its attitude to knowledge and public debate. Insiders know but do not speak. Outsiders speak (up) but do not know. Political correctness works a wet blanket.
The blogging and twittering has opened a small window in the brick wall. IFLA has been encouraging blogging for the last couple of years. Blogging started spontaneously long before that. IFLA did not lead – it adapted. Better late than never, sure. But I’d prefer IFLA to lead rather than to trail. “We are great because we try to catch up” is not a strong slogan.
This year’s IFLA Express page is much more up-to-date than last year’s, however. Here it is posible to follow parts of the IFLA process seen from below, through quirky human eyes and interests. I’m there, as Pliny (English) and Plinius (Norwegian). And on Twitter, of course.
The opening session starts in an hour, in the big auditorium, Afterwards there will be paper presentations (a dying art form), in the dark caverns – or lecture halls – that take several hundred people. I’ve seen this five years in a row.
The web makes the old conference structures seem archaic. What has IFLA learned about meetings during those years?
There will be more interaction in the smaller rooms where committees, working groups, volunteers, and so on meet. The corridors and coffee places are full of interesting people talking, planning, gossiping before, after and during all other events.
IFLANDIA is in session.