Attending the World Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations, 2007

By Sally Bickley

The Seed

I have been interested in international librarianship since I joined ALA in 2000. In addition to my New Members Round Table (NMRT) membership, I also am a member of the International Relations Round Table (IRRT). When I saw an announcement about the International Federation of Library Associations’ World Conference to be held in Durban, South Africa I daydreamed about being able to attend. My aunt grew up in Durban and spoke many times about its’ beautiful tropical climate.

After I saw the posting, I brainstormed reasons that could justify my attendance. Presenting a paper was out of the question, but a poster session was a possibility. After considering possible poster topics, I decided to do one on the New Members Round Table and how they assist people who are new to the profession. I sent my proposal to IFLA and two months later I received an email stating my proposal was accepted. The email included guidelines for creating and presenting the poster. The email made it clear that funding the trip to the conference was my responsibility.

The Process

The next step was finding funding. This would be an expensive trip. I began e-mailing colleagues in the IRRT. I contacted friends. I told my Library Director about the opportunity. I ended up receiving $500 in support from the Texas Library Association’s New Members Round Table and $3,500 from my library and university.

IFLA was becoming a reality. I began planning my lodging and determining my expenses. I became an expert in navigating the IFLA website. It was a wealth of information including listings of hotels to stay at and information regarding the local currency, the Rand and its exchange rate with the US dollar. My ALA membership allowed me to register at a reduced rate.

My husband decided to go with me. We raided our savings account to cover his travel expenses. International travel requires more work and more planning than domestic travel. Our administrative assistant did a great job with making travel arrangements and securing the necessary permissions (the University President had to sign off on my travel request). Dates became firmer, costs became clearer. I estimated costs based on dollars, but found out that the registration was listed in Euros. What an expensive learning curve!

The Poster

Preparing for international travel is one thing, but I also had to prepare a poster; something I’d never done. I read an article surveying new international librarians, and NMRT had just completed a survey of their members. I combined information from both sources and came up with “ALA’s New Members Round Table: Mentoring New Librarians into the Profession”. I used PowerPoint to create the poster and converted inches to millimeters to meet IFLA’s size specifications. I solicited opinions from my co-workers, made last minute layout adjustments and finally took it to the printer. We carried it on the plane in a cardboard tube.

The Trip

Everything sounds much calmer now than when it was actually happening. We had our passports, tickets, and transportation to and from the airport. Excluding the 40 hour round trip plane ride from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Durban, South Africa and back we had a great time. My husband got to surf in the Indian Ocean and many people were interested in my presentation. I talked with people about what NMRT did for new librarians and how other organizations could reach out to new librarians in their countries.

IFLA’s World Conference is smaller than either of ALA’s conferences. The exhibits hall hosted vendors appealing to the international community, as well as local information and crafts. The conference included several dinners and entertainmen venues, and there was ample opportunity to meet and talk to colleagues from other countries and learn about librarianship from their point of view.

We saw first hand the struggle in South Africa to overcome the schism of apartheid, and the struggle to provide basic services to its people. The government was torn between providing basic services such as electricity, water and housing, and funding education and schools. The library community was choosing between basic literacy and books, and access to the internet. South Africa’s new government is only 13 years old and is entering its 2nd election cycle. We could see the potential, but also the tremendous obstacles to improving the quality of life for the people.


Due to a late arrival in Durban, I missed the New Professionals meeting, and the conference orientation so I am still learning more about the organization and its operation. The sessions I attended broadened my view of the good libraries do worldwide. The challenge of teaching reading when there aren’t enough, or any, books in native languages, the challenge of printing books when there isn’t a publishing industry, the challenge of connecting to the internet with no technical support; these are challenges that many libraries around the world are working to overcome.


Loida Garcia-Febo, in “International Perspectives on the New Librarian Experience.”

Feliciter. Canadian Library Association. 2007 (2). Pp77-79. NMRT Membership Promotion, Diversity & Recruitment Committee, chaired by Jeannette Ho. Member Survey Report presented to the NMRT Board June 2007.