2 Nov 2015

IFLA WLIC 2015 Cape Town Peer support from around the world -- IFLA first timer’s view

Guest post by Asta Ojala Information service assistant Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK) Hämeenlinna, Finland asta.ojala[at]hamk.fi

IFLA 2015 Cape Town. My first time in IFLA congress and my first time in Africa. Needless to say, I was excited! I’m a new professional from Finland, my name is Asta and I work at Häme University of Applied Sciences as an information service assistant. I graduated in library and information services a bit over a year ago but have been working in different libraries for a few years already. Somehow I’ve never attended IFLA congress before, and now with a full time job as an information service assistant and some allocated funding for international affairs from my institution I was finally able to go. And to what a destination, to the beautiful Cape Town! I couldn’t have been happier.

The conference theme this year was “Dynamic Libraries: Access, Development and Transformation”. All the conference presentations were linked to this theme and it was particularly thanked to be a top choice for a congress held in Africa. I agree.

As an IFLA first timer I didn’t know anybody at the congress beforehand and was excited to go and see what IFLA WLIC would be like and who I’d meet. The congress was warm and welcoming from the beginning. At the newcomers session that started my congress we were told about the congress outline and program and what to do and expect from the congress. We were told we’d be welcome to all the sessions, even to the business meetings as long as we’d be kind enough to ask and introduce ourselves! The most valuable part of the session was the mingling at the end where we could meet other newcomers and share our newcomers’ excitement. It was nice to see I wasn’t the only one coming to the congress on my own, it looked like most of the newcomers were there by themselves.

If possible, I felt even more welcome after the congress opening session. At the opening session we were welcomed back to where we all come from: To Africa, to the mother land, to the mother city. I was overwhelmed! I also enjoyed the music, especially when the choir performed us the Circle of Life by Elton John! Cape Town is a true melting pot of all cultures and among all the welcoming words we were advised to be considerate about the two ends of characteristics of Cape Town, the western one and the developing one.

In Finland, even in remote areas libraries and library services are known to people and are more or less highly used. Finnish kids learn to read and write at school, but for example in South Africa, not everybody does. I think this was one of the biggest outcomes of my Cape Town IFLA that we really need to make use of our privilege to read, write and learn!

Another personal outcome for me was meeting the lovely people of New Professionals Special Interest Group! A group of other new library professionals, what a perfect match for me. From the group I’m looking forward to peer support as a new professional even though we all work in such different areas in libraries in our countries. It’s interesting for me to learn to know what it’s like for new professionals in other countries to apply for jobs, if there are jobs and what do employers think of new professionals, for example.

To point out one of the conference sessions I’d like to mention the “Role of Library and Information workers in a Time of Crisis” where I learned to know about IFLA’s contribution to rebuilding libraries in crises areas, for example after a natural disaster. I also learned about the Ideas Boxes from Libraries Without Borders, which are boxes that transform into bookshelves and furniture. The boxes are packed with books and other material and a group of librarians will build up a pop up library for example to an area affected by humanitarian crisis.

There were so many interesting sessions at IFLA WLIC 2015 that one couldn’t possibly attend all the ones he or she would have liked, at least I couldn’t. Many of the congress guests told me they found the workshops and poster sessions to be the most interesting and rewarding. This was because of the possibility to discuss about the specific issue you’re interested in directly with the speaker or the specialist of the subject. This is why my next IFLA will look a bit different to this first one: I will attend all the NPSIG meetings from the beginning, this time I only learned to know about the group. I will join one of the workshops, which I didn’t get to do this time, and I will go and see some of the presentations by my Finnish colleagues, I can’t believe I missed them this time!

What I remember most about IFLA is the good atmosphere of action and cooperation.



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