Experiencing IFLA: A Student's Perspective on Open Access and International Librarianship

by Amy Elizabeth Neeser

I am currently employed at the Germanic-American Institute, a non-profit cultural and educational institute in Saint Paul, Minnesota where I manage educational programming and the special collections library. My undergraduate work is in German studies and global studies. I am currently finishing my MLIS as a distance education student at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, focusing in information access and retrieval and international librarianship.

This past August, I was able to attend my first International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Annual Congress, held in Göteborg, Sweden. I would not have been able to attend this important conference and enhance my understanding of international librarianship had it not been for the generosity of the Council on Library and Information Resources and the Rovelstad Scholarship in International Librarianship selection committee. I would like to thank everyone involved for selecting me as the recipient of the 2010 Rovelstad Scholarship in International Librarianship.

Absolutely everything about the IFLA congress was more than I could have imagined. The opening ceremony included inspiring welcomes from Agneta Olsson, Chair of the 2010 World Library and Information Congress National Committee; Ellen Tise, IFLA President; Jan Eliasson, Former President of the sixteenth session of the United Nations General Assembly; and the Swedish musical legend ABBA. One important point that was established at the opening ceremony and resonated throughout the conference was that the country of Sweden embodies the open policy of international librarianship: from the free museums and festivals, to their open libraries, to the green city of Göteborg. My many experiences on this trip, both inside and outside of the 2010 IFLA Annual Congress, will undoubtedly resonate throughout my current and future academic endeavors.

The scope and magnitude of the IFLA Congress was initially intimidating, but I attended the newcomers' session which gave me an introduction to IFLA and helped me navigate the programs. The speakers suggested ways to get involved, gave an introduction to the exhibitions, and encouraged involvement in the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group. Furthermore, it was reassuring to see an auditorium filled with other first-time attendees. To help navigate the various sessions, IFLA's Professional Committee assigned each session to one of the following sub-themes: Open access and digital resources; Policy, strategy and advocacy; Users driving access and services; Tools and techniques; and Ideas, innovations, anticipating the new. While the majority of sessions I attended were in the open access and digital resources sub-theme, I enjoyed programming from each of the other categories as well. With sessions ranging from advocacy, to cataloging, to cultural heritage preservation techniques, I learned both practical and theoretical approaches to international librarianship. Attending the IFLA Annual Congress gave me a better understanding of the current topics and issues within the field. I met librarians from all over the world and learned about their experiences and individual circumstances; more importantly, though, I learned how they relate to me and how we can work together to better the field as a whole.

After the congress, I was able to further explore the beautiful countries of Sweden and Norway. I have always desired to go to this region, being of Scandinavian heritage, but never thought I would get the opportunity. I left Sweden energized and full of new ideas and ambitions to apply to my future academic and professional endeavors.