Last August I attended the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Lyon, France. My sincere thanks to the John Campbell Trust for awarding me their conference grant which enabled my attendance. It was by far the largest conference I’ve attended with some 4,000 delegates from all around the globe. Indeed the international perspective offered by IFLA was one of the most valuable benefits I gained. It was often difficult to choose from amongst a packed and very interesting programme, but the two main tracks I followed were sessions on school libraries (sector I was working in at the time) and the IFLA Trend Report. This post will cover the school library related sessions – apologies for the length!
I attended the School Library Section standing committee meeting (chair, Barbara Schultz Jones, University of North Texas) which was a great opportunity to meet school librarians from around the world and hear about the activities of the Section. They are working on a set of international guidelines for school libraries with UNESCO (more on this later) and want to work on broadening access to their publication Global Perspectives on School Libraries (DeGruyter Saur, 2011) which is currently only available in print at steep academic prices. This sounds like an absolutely fascinating book but lack of digital access and the high price point is a barrier for many (including me!).
Another session I attended was entitled ‘Libraries creating content for/with children and young adults’ and was co-sponsored by the Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section and Literacy and Reading Section. The most fascinating paper was delivered by Michael Kevane (Santa Clara University) on creating picture books in Burkina Faso. Over the course of the presentation, my impressions went from negative to completely enthralled! He started by describing the lack of books, especially African books, in rural Burkina Faso and how his charity Friends of African Village Libraries wanted to provide books. I thought this was a narrow approach – why do libraries only have to be about books? The group began producing simple photo books using volunteers on the ground who took pictures and wrote about local people’s stories and issues in French, the language of education. These books quickly became the most popular items in the libraries. Kevane described how the books improved literacy by introducing specialised language (e.g. stories about trucks or gardening) and were actually incredibly practical and educational, for example one book was about a man building a latrine. They are now holding training sessions for local authors and illustrators and have established a multimedia centre. This brilliant project is supporting literacy and sustainable development and serves as a useful model for others.
I also attended a School Libraries Section session reviewing their IFLA/UNESCO School Library Guidelines, which are currently being drafted. Each round table had a chapter to read and review. I was on the Evaluation and Advocacy chapter table. During the lively discussion, participants remarked that whilst we felt we were being highly critical of the existing draft, this was actually a very helpful process for the authors as it provided feedback and perspectives from an international audience and saved them a lot of work. This session demonstrated the unique value and impact of IFLA. I was asking another school librarian based in Dubai why we needed another set of guidelines as I knew several that already existed in the UK, clearly this was duplicating effort, right? He said, yes, but in developing areas they may not have a strong national association or any guidance at all, so the publication of the IFLA/UNESCO guidelines addressing school libraries internationally would be an invaluable resource for these places, and only IFLA with its international membership could produce such a document.
One final school library session to highlight was ‘School Libraries on the Agenda: Advocacy Initiatives from Around the World’. Three interesting points from this session: first Mette Hendriksen Aas (Fagforbundet) who talked about how a trade union is advocating for school libraries in Norway because they help produce educated, literate citizens. Second, we heard of some victories in South Africa from Genevieve Hart (University of the Western Cape). Two organisations there, the National Council for Library and Information Services and an NGO, Equal Education, have successfully lobbied the government over the past few years to take action for school libraries on a platform of equal access to information. This has resulted in the Education Department publishing school library guidelines and a 10-year plan. Third, Ross Todd (Rutgers University) sounded a novel clarion call proposing that school libraries should base their advocacy on evidence and social justice.
The social justice note was a thread throughout the conference actually. For example the Burkina Faso picture book project mentioned above, and also in a project in Cambodia called Open Development Cambodia. There was a need for a central portal to access information, data and news in the public domain because development was being stymied by this information vacuum. ODC focuses on economics, environmental and social development and they employ a team of Cambodians to facilitate open access to information and transparency in the public and private sectors in the country. Clearly libraries across all sectors have a role to play in issues of social justice such as providing open access to information.
Next week I will look at the IFLA Trend Report sessions in part 2 of my conference round up.