by Scott Dalessandro, MLIS
At the risk of stating the obvious, Seattle is less formal that the East Coast where I grew up. I still feel new to the area, so I had trouble deciding what to wear to the soirée that kicked off the recent IFLA Metropolitan Libraries Section conference hosted by Seattle Public Library. I had a good idea that my old blue L.L. Bean fleece probably too informal (I still don’t own anything from REI), so instead I threw on some clean jeans, a black shirt, and a sport jacket and hopped on the bus.
IFLA is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. For those who speak information, think of it like a ‘meta-ALA.’ This particular event ‘collocated’ metropolitan library leaders from all over the U.S. and world. Titled “The Changing Face of Metropolitan Libraries: Inventing the future, but anchored in the past,” the conference had three major themes. Those themes were: ‘Libraries and Architecture,’ ‘Staying Relevant,’ and ‘Serving Special Populations.’ Two of the keynote addresses during the week were delivered by the iSchool’s own Joe Janes and Mike Eisenberg.
I can’t state how relieved I was to have worn that jacket when I got to the Narver Reading Room on the tenth floor of the shiny downtown SPL branch. There, a number of finely dressed folks were recovering from jet lag and enjoying drinks and the city skyline. The jacket also came in handy later when I found myself sitting with these same folks, eating a tasty dinner of stuffed skirt steak, spanakopita, and Israeli couscous near the 4th Avenue entrance. I guess even librarians break the rules sometimes.
That first evening welcomed conference delegates from around the world with style and hospitality that continued throughout the week. After mingling with conference attendees and a number of familiar faculty and student faces from the iSchool, a venerable cadre of Seattle and IFLA leaders greeted the crowd. Drinks in hand, we made our way to the ground floor auditorium where library rock star Stephen Abram delivered a thought-provoking keynote address. In self-acknowledged Late Show style, he gave a Top Ten presentation about the coming changes libraries will be (and are now) facing. Topics included MySpace, XML, and how libraries need to keep up with the rest of the world (and Google) to stay relevant. I hope that his presentation will eventually be posted on his blog, Stephen's Lighthouse.
Much of the six-day conference was taken up by a variety of presentations, each of which touched on one of the three themes. Several iSchool students had the gracious opportunity to participate by introducing a presenter and facilitating the question and answer session that followed. For my part, I introduced Antonia Arahova’s presentation titled ‘E-Reference and E-Learning.’ Ms. Arahova works in the National Library of Greece and is also the Head of Libraries and Archives of The President of The Greek Delegation in the European Union. Ms. Arahova’s presentation discussed the development of library programs and services for countries in the European Union, specifically about electronic collaboration between countries and their libraries. He argues that as borders shrink and more information is shared, librarians need cross-cultural and language knowledge in order to provide information services to patrons. To get an idea of the other presentations, check out the conference schedule.
The conference wasn’t all work, though. A full week of sunshine was perfect for the visitors, who took tours of King County and SPL branch libraries, ate Chinese food in the International District, toured WebJunction, and got a guided tour of the newly opened Seattle Art Museum downtown. And of course, it wouldn’t have been a library conference without the swanky black and green nylon tote bags everybody received.