Arriving in Ohio through the John Glenn Columbus International Airport, I was immediately greeted by the welcoming faces of volunteers for the International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions annual conference. It was telling in this facilitation of welcoming comfort that I was at a slightly different conference. This realization was doubled when I walked toward the shuttle bus to the city of Columbus and was met with a cacophony of different languages: Arabic, Chinese, German and many heavily accented variations of English. Amazingly, the universal complexities of figuring out public transit maps were made easier as groups aided each other in guiding each person through the process of ordering a ticket through a stand-alone kiosk. While this all occurred before I even stepped foot into the Greater Columbus Convention Center, I tell it because I think it sets the stage for how truly exciting and innovative a space like IFLA can be. If it is not clear by now, IFLA serves the function of providing a meeting space for librarians globally. In the past the conference has been to cities like: Cape Town, South Africa; Milan, Italy; and Bangkok, Thailand. Obviously, travel to these places is not feasible for a lowly doctoral student, so when I heard it was in Columbus, Ohio I could not pass up on the chance.
As a moving image archivist who studies the relationship between gender and information organization, I was hesitant that my work would not fit within the sometimes narrow umbrella of librarianship. Yet, being bold I applied to present a paper on this topic as it relates to linked open data and was accepted! Still hesitant about my place a conference like this, my attendance immediately shifted such dread. While it falls under the name of librarianship, IFLA takes a broad understanding of what that constitutes. Though I only attended the conference proper for a single day, the types of persons present were as varied as the field of library and information science itself. I walked through poster presentations and listened to panels that included the work of health informatics specialists in Asian and Oceanic countries and information organizers working at agriculture libraries in Uganda. I even listened (admittedly a bit lost) to a presentation on engaging in the social web in the Chilean National Archive, which was delivered entirely in Spanish. IFLA’s annual conference served as a space for an international discussion to happen on some of the most pressing issues facing information management and distribution as things like the internet makes such connections appear seamless. While, it is never a safe practice to make universalizing statements about individual practices, it was still amazing to see how cultural institutions engage with aiding those in need similarly around the world. For example, the recent natural disasters hindering folks in Louisiana have made libraries emerge as a place of comfort and safety in a time of need. In a similar vein, while exploring the poster presentations at IFLA I was able to engage with two librarians at a Swedish institution, who were taking it upon themselves to use their library to aid and help the high surge of Syrian refugees to their country. This project included the librarians teaching classes about learning Swedish and practicing skills like sewing. Similarly, any initiative discussed or explored in posters and presentations were met with both global suggestions as well as unique examples to institutions within nations. Take for example my presentation. While I was talking about the dangers of moving too quickly to embrace linked open data without talking about gender inequity in the language, the questions I received explored the larger issues of moving image accessibility within institutions. An individual inquired as to how I thought visual accessibility mattered in terms of providing subtitles and descriptions for those with auditory and visual answers. Responding with uncertainty, the person provided me with suggestions both to their institution in Spain as well as larger projects undertaken by the United Nations regarding such accessibility. While, I have had such nuanced conversations with colleagues, hearing such topics breached within a conference space was new and wholly welcomed. IFLA’s annual conference is not simply a meeting of information professionals from around the world, it is a chance to take the field forward and move with much needed expediency.
I find it fitting that this IFLA conference occurred simultaneously with the Summer Olympics, because each time I watch the games, I am amazed at the camaraderie between countries and the chance to learn about places I would shamefully be unable to identify on a map. When walking the rooms of the convention center, I was able to encounter pop-up meetings between African information professionals and engage with Indonesian archivists. I am not sure where else I could expect such a thing to occur. IFLA 2017 is slated to be held in Wroclaw, Poland. Though I am not sure about my ability to attend at the moment, the thought of how to make it happen is certainly front and center in my mind.