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WLIC 2019, Athens Greece


Gloria Perez-Salmeron, me, Gerald Leitner

The IFLA annual congress is always a wonderful time to learn new things, meet new and old friends and progress our agenda. This year in Athens was extra special for me, as I became President.

The venue was the Megaron Athens International Conference Centre, and it had a great buzzy atmosphere. Nearly 3,300 librarians from around the world participated in person and many more joined the live streaming of the major sessions. It was a real gathering of the tribe!

It is such an exciting time to be involved in the work of IFLA. Our new strategic framework 2019 -2024 was launched during the congress and it is time now, as our Secretary General reminded us all week, to go from vision and strategy to action, and I am expecting a challenging and very rewarding two years ahead.


Business meetings

The first round of the Professional Units’ business meetings was held on Saturday prior to the opening day, at the Athens College, which is a beautiful campus in the suburbs of Athens. I was pleased to have been able to introduce myself to many of the hardworking standing committee members. The 1,200 volunteers who make up these committees are the lifeblood of IFLA, without them IFLA would not exist. The Committees were busy working on their action plans to bring to life the new IFLA Strategic Framework. Congratulations to the incoming office bearers and committee members and warm thanks to outgoing members for your contribution to the work of libraries.


Opening session

The Opening Session was a wonder of modern and traditional Greek dance and a powerful keynote speech by Dr Loukas Tsoukalis, Emeritus Professor at the University of Athens, and President of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, who warned that the stakes are high as “the geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting” and we need to move to a more “multipolar and hopefully multilateral world order with common rules.” He highlighted the big challenges – climate change as an existential threat; the regulation of information technology; and the risks and opportunities of artificial intelligence and biotechnology. He concluded his speech saying that global Interdependence requires common rules and joint management, and political systems and inclusive societies that are free, informed and confident enough to engage with others. He said that libraries and librarians are ideally positioned to help safeguard our future by advocating for the common good.


President’s session

The President’s session celebrated the work of Glòria Perez-Salmeron’s two years as President. In particular, her success in engaging the Latin American countries, and the Buenos Aires Declaration, where Ministers of culture and their representatives from 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean affirmed their commitment to the UN 2030 Agenda, and to the power of libraries and access to information to achieve it, was celebrated.


Public Library of the Year Award

It was a very exciting and close result for the Systematic Public Library of the Year award this year, with four strong contenders, including Green Square Library in Sydney and Christchurch Library in New Zealand. LocHal, the new library in Tilburg The Netherlands gave an impressive presentation, and the winner was Oodi, the new Helsinki Public Library.


President elect session

My President elect session had the theme of collaboration and there were excellent examples provided of cooperation between libraries, library associations, government and industry. Eight speakers were asked to describe a project or undertaking that involved collaboration and what the challenges and impact were. We heard about library cooperation in Estonia, where the National Library is introducing seamless access to all libraries; public and law library collaboration in Canada to solve resourcing issues; library associations working together to deliver continuing professional development in the MENA region; library association cooperation for political impact in Africa; politicians working with community and libraries in Aarhus; ideas on how we can better engage politicians at IFLA WLIC; the impact of WorldCat, the world’s biggest library catalogue; and the benefits of acknowledging vendors and suppliers as real partners. Table discussions revealed great stories and ideas about how we can more successfully collaborate. Jane Grace was awarded the best story by Erik Boekesteijn - to the question “what stops us collaborating?” she answered “ourselves.”


Meeting with Pacific Libraries Network

I was pleased to be able to host a meeting of representatives from Pacific Island countries including the National Librarians of Australia and New Zealand and other conference participants from the region. We discussed how to progress the work of the Network and how to raise the profile of libraries in Pacific nations.


Cultural night

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre was the host of the most marvellous Cultural Night which gives all conference goers the opportunity to relax, celebrate and enjoy the local culture. Great food, modern and traditional music and a wonderful atmosphere ensured a very happy and enjoyable night for all.


Embassy party

ALIA organised a reception at the Australian Embassy residence which was hosted by Mr Jon Philp, the Charge d’affaires and sponsored by Taylor and Francis. The links with Greece and Australia were emphasised. More than one Athenian taxi driver told me Melbourne is the largest Greek city outside of Greece. It was a great night full of catching up with old friends, making new ones and generally having a good time.


Closing session

The closing session was a time to acknowledge the contributions of those receiving honours and awards. Two people received Honorary Fellowships - Donna Scheeder, who was IFLA President 2015-17 and Deborah Jacobs, who has made an awesome contribution to the library field and also to IFLA, through the Legacy Grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Recipients of various other awards were also celebrated. The announcement of Rotterdam as the host for 2021 was made, and the Dublin Conference Committee invited us to their vibrant city for the 2020 congress. The closing session ended with my first address to the Assembly. You can find it here.


Governing Board 2019-21

The Governing Board 2019-21 including President elect Barbara Lison, was introduced to the members at the Closing Session. We had our first meeting on Friday 30 August, where we discussed the Governance Review project which we will be working on intensively for the next year.


It was a wonderful congress in Athens, and I am looking forward to Dublin 2020 very much!

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