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IFLA World Library and Information Congress 2013: A Tale of Trends

By Molly Schwartz

The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) World Congress is always an exciting place to be. There is a pervasive feeling of optimism that right here, right now, 3,500 library and information professionals from around the world are creating a roadmap to solve the toughest information questions of our age in a convention center in Singapore sitting on top of a shopping mall. But, as I manage to pull my head out of the dizzying whirl of impromptu brainstorming sessions, serendipitous introductions, hurried chats, tiger beers, henna tattoos, and meetings conducted on water taxis, I am able to distill the content of the 2013 IFLA World Congress in Singapore into two overarching themes: comprehensiveness and cultivation.

As the world undergoes technological revolutions and large-scale upheavals in the ways information is created and communicated, we have an unfortunate tendency in the library profession to get stuck among the weeds. That is to say, we get so wrapped up in addressing small, immediately pressing issues that we fail to see the big picture and chart a long-term course for ensuring that information is openly findable, accessible, and usable (which is, after all, the core purpose of our profession). But this is changing. It is clear at this year’s IFLA Congress that the international library community is committed to countering widespread problems with comprehensive solutions and, importantly, to cultivating the future generation of library professionals to do the same on an even broader level.

On the morning of Monday, August 19, the second official day of the Congress, IFLA president Ingrid Parent announced the debut of the IFLA Trend Report, a dynamic document intended to track high-level trends in society and to address how they will affect the information environment. The report currently highlights five major trends: (1) technologies limiting and expanding access to information, (2) online education, (3) privacy and data protection, (4) hyper-connected societies, and (5) new technologies. It is a living document that will not only update information professionals, but also be shaped by them as they download it, share it, and contribute to it through an online account that can be created at . Many at the Congress expect that it will help information professionals preemptively account for changes in society and strategically shape the ways that they impact the information environment.

While leaders in the library field and international coalitions try to tackle comprehensive reforms, there is a general recognition that we must be bringing up a generation of new professionals who can inherit this work and take it to the next level. As the incoming convener of the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group (NPSIG), I have witnessed firsthand the enthusiastic support across the international library community for activities designed to cultivate a new generation that is prepared to drive the field from a strategic vantage point. Through webinars, training sessions, and unconferences, NPSIG is focusing on developing a rising cohort of professionals that is resourceful, creative, and able to advocate effectively and succinctly for an open information environment.

As part of the effort to foster this future generation, many initiatives have been designed to help new library professionals see information trends in a global context. Three enterprising Australian librarians, Kate Byrne, Clare McKenzie, and Alyson Dalby, created the International Librarians Network (ILN) peer mentoring program to help librarians develop international networks and improve their skills. After launching the pilot round in February 2013, 55 participants from 11 countries signed up for ILN in three weeks. There are multiple scholarship opportunities through associations like CLIR, CLIP, and IFLA to help students and first-timers attend the IFLA Congress. The IFLA International Leaders Programme is designed to get current leaders in directly engaged at the international level.

IFLA as an organization and the Congress as an event are crucial to executing a comprehensive approach to future challenges in the information field because we can’t succeed alone. Even as the conference hall I sit in is a-buzz with plans for future collaborations and coalition-building, a growing consensus is building that to effect real change we will need to form partnerships with outside professions. To impose artificial professional categories and insulate ourselves from the wider world is worse than getting tangled in the weeds—it’s fertilizing them. Libraries, user experience, law, publishing, academia, knowledge management, politics, tech, social media—the list goes on: the barriers are name-deep. We’re all operating in the information field, we’re all facing the same questions, we’re all seeing the same trends, we’re all looking for solutions. It’s time to acknowledge that the jungle of weeds is our own creation and once we stand up to survey the landscape we might find a way out.

Molly Schwartz is a Library of Congress National Digital Stewardship Resident at the Association of Research Libraries. A recent MLS graduate from the University of Maryland’s iSchool, Molly is a co-convener of the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group. She was CLIR’s 2012 Rovelstad Scholar.

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