When I was a Library Science student over twenty years ago, a professor once said to me: "If you ever get the chance, go to the IFLA annual conference. You won't regret it! It's very colorful and the experience is worth it."
I must admit that it was this recollection that prompted me to pack my bags and head for Boston. And it was indeed worth it. IFLA has more than 1,500 member associations in 140 countries. Probably because of the size of the host country, the Boston conference broke all attendance records. More than 5,300 information professionals and decision-makers were in attendance—2,000 more than the previous record.
It was exciting to be part of this group that represents trends and tendencies from all over the world, for this is where the future of library science lies. But even beyond the professional benefits, it was a most enriching cultural experience.
From a professional point of view, I went mostly to learn more about copyright issues. I thought it was a good idea to set myself a very precise goal, in view of the magnitude of this conference. That way, I would not be torn by indecision when I was selecting from a menu that offered 261 meetings and 27 workshops.
One session on copyright in particular caught my attention: "IFLA's Copyright Policy Statement: what it is and how to make good use of it."
The presenter, James G. Neal, Dean of the Johns Hopkins University Libraries in Baltimore, is a very gifted orator. He was captivating and to the point. In his opinion, intellectual property will certainly survive the digital age, in spite of the numerous complications involved. To learn more about the key issues raised by James G. Neal, I highly recommend his book, The Digital Dilemma, published by the National Academy Press of the US National Research Council.
Another mandatory stop for me was the IFLA discussion group on licenses. The two-hour discussion focused on an initiative to support free (or almost free) access to electronic scientific journals for developing countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the six main publishers of medical journals have started an initiative to give close to 100 developing countries, which would otherwise not have the means, a way of accessing vital scientific information. Information from close to 1,000 leading medical and scientific publications will be made available, via the Internet, to medical schools and research institutes in developing countries at minimal or no charge.
Scheduled to be launched in January 2002, the initiative will span at least three years and will be closely monitored for progress. Because they now understand the world of digital information better, the publishers are more comfortable with the idea of taking part in such a project. What I particularly liked about this discussion of the WHO project is the fact that it fits in so well with IFLA's international mandate.
In conclusion, IFLA was indeed everything I had hoped for culturally. Each day was capped by an evening of cultural activity. The most delectable—no pun intended!—was a typical American B-B-Q under the tent, with hamburgers, hot dogs and all the trimmings. Not all that exotic, you might say. But it was fun watching the puzzled faces of hundreds of guests from all over the world as they tried to figure out what on earth they were sinking their teeth into!
I hope that I too, like my erstwhile professor, have piqued your interest in the IFLA conference—in which case, we just might meet in Scotland in August 2002. Who knows?
Reprinted with permission from CISTI News, published by the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information. For more information, visit their website at: http://www.nrc.ca/cisti.