Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 9 — October 2002
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IT Report from the Field •
The 68th IFLA General Conference and Council
The library federation celebrated its 75th anniversary in Scotland, the country of its origin 
by Jim Ashling

Glasgow, Scotland's steel-gray skies cleared in mid-August to allow the 68th IFLA General Conference and Council to proceed in unaccustomed bright sun and warmth. The auditorium of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre on the banks of the River Clyde is known locally as "the Armadillo," but in these perfect conditions it resembled a giant shining crustacean that had drawn itself out of the water to bask in the sun's rays.

IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) celebrated its 75th anniversary at this year's conference with a return to its country of origin. The federation draws its membership from more than 40 nations, with a total representation of some half-million library professionals. The annual event offers an opportunity for delegates from around the world to debate library and information issues of the day and to see an extensive display of products in the accompanying exhibit hall. 

This year's theme was "Libraries for Life: Democracy, Diversity, Delivery" with the sub-theme "Building on the Past—Investing in the Future." The event was managed by CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), an organization formed this past April through the merger of the U.K.'s Library Association and the Institute of Information Scientists. 

The sessions were designed to stress the importance of having highly skilled people deliver effective and efficient services; supply citizens with the tools required to navigate a rapidly growing and increasingly complex information environment; and help organizations and decision makers find, evaluate, and use information effectively. These issues were taken up by Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, during his address to the conference. He urged Scottish libraries and librarians to place themselves at the heart of their local communities and work to empower people. 

With over 3,500 delegates attending the conference, the opening session was packed during Irish poet Seamus Heaney's keynote address. Heaney, who was awarded1995's Nobel Prize in Literature "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth that exalt everyday miracles and the living past," is also acclaimed for his powerful translation of Beowulf. He underlined the themes of the conference and included a call for the protection of libraries in totalitarian states. 

The event's themes were further illustrated in a welcoming poem by Edwin Morgan, Glasgow's poet laureate. Following references to Elzevirs, Rabelais, and Jorge Luis Borges, the poem concludes with a clarion call to: 

... unlock

Your word-hoards, 
take heart and take stock

Of everything a library can do

To let the future shimmer 
and show through.

IFLA presents an excellent opportunity for speakers to give the same amount of attention to issues that affect remote or disadvantaged regions of the world as they do to the latest developments in library technologies in wealthier countries. Thus, the difficulties of online access to information resources in Algeria and Zimbabwe and the potential for e-democracy and e-government in Canada and Sweden can easily appear in the same program. 

Of particular interest locally was Resources for Learning in Scotland (RLS), a project to digitize material that celebrates the country's social, cultural, and industrial heritage. RLS is supported by a grant from the U.K.'s National Lottery New Opportunities Fund and is managed by SCRAN (Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network). The project will create a Web-based searchable and downloadable collection of such diverse materials as music, film clips, circus posters, and Fair Isle knitting. The public may access these resources through licensed public libraries and schools, or at home with a license. A limited no-fee service will also be available for home access. 

Exhibit Hall

The sold-out exhibit hall had a floor space of 10,000 square meters and featured booths from more than 120 exhibitors. With plenty of no-conflict time and various receptions, the aisles were generally busy. Exhibitors expressed satisfaction with attendee quality and quantity, as well as with CILIP's organizational support. The event delivered a good balance of exhibitors across product categories as library management and equipment suppliers were equally matched by online information providers and traditional book publishers. This show is not dominated by the huge corporate booths that you would see at conferences such as ALA, SLA, or Online Information. Nonetheless the likes of Elsevier, ISI, and OCLC were well-represented alongside national libraries, nonprofits, and smaller or local-interest exhibitors. 

A popular attraction in the exhibit hall was a model children's library. Built by a partnership that comprises the British Council, CILIP's School and Youth Libraries Group, and Demco Interiors, it featured the best of U.K. library design and children's publishing. Outside the hall, the latest in mobile library facilities was demonstrated in the parking lot. 

Given the good attendance, the mood among most exhibitors was upbeat, but there's still an air of caution abroad. Many have spending under tight control and express worries that an economic upturn may not come for at least another year. 

Elsevier Partnership

In an industry update session, Elsevier Science CEO Derk Haank announced his company's groundbreaking agreement withKoninklijke Bibliotheek (KB), the National Library of the Netherlands, that names KB as the first official digital archive for Elsevier journals. The library will receive digital copies of all Elsevier journals that have been made available on the company's ScienceDirect Web platform. This comprises approximately1,500 titles that cover all areas of science, technology, and medicine. The archive will ultimately exceed 7 terabytes of data. As new journals are added to the Elsevier list, they will be included in the archive. In addition, Elsevier is in the process of digitizing the older issues of these journals, going back whenever possible to volume 1, number 1. All of these digitized backfiles will also be deposited with KB. The agreement provides the assurance that should Elsevier go out of business, access will still be supplied for all digital material, including journals that are only available in electronic form. 

KB will make the journals available on a current basis to all who visit the library and are permitted access to the collections. In addition, should there be a problem that renders ScienceDirect inoperable for a long period of time, KB would be part of the interim service system. Finally, if Elsevier or a successor ceases to make these journals available on a commercial basis, KB would provide access to all on a remote basis. 

IFLA conferences are truly international in their content, speakers, exhibitors, and locations. Next year's event will be held in Berlin, followed in 2004 by Buenos Aires,Argentina. With Oslo, Norway; Seoul,South Korea; and Durban, South Africa booked for the following 3 years, cities have until November 1, 2002, to file an "expression of interest" to host in 2008. 

Jim Ashling runs Ashling Consulting, an independent consultancy for the information industry. His e-mail address is

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