Iranian LIS congress: A Historical Review

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Mohsen Haji-Zeinolabedini | Organizing scientific forums is an important index of a science community and an essential factor in creation of communications and bonds among the practitioners. This becomes particularly significant when we come to fields of study like librarianship and information science which are communicative in nature. Accordingly, Iranian librarians from long ago have invested massive efforts in holding professional forums and conventions and have tried to use these event to not only create strong relations between the practitioners of the field, but also introduce and promote new concepts and topics of their fields.

In 60s academic education of librarianship found currency in Iran. This was followed by formation of civil and state-run organs which in an unwritten way undertook the mission of science communications. Iran’s Association of Librarians, Children’s Books Council, Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (IIDCYA) were among the entities that incorporated holding conventions, meetings and workshops in their routine agenda.

These organs reached the peaks of their activities in 70s before the victory of the Islamic Revolution. they had fully developed within a decade of their foundation. A quest into when the first no-nonsense librarianship conventions were held in Iran the first reported librarianship and information science convention in Iran was held in 1971 under the title of “The Seminar of Librarian Education Issues for Country’s Schools and Leaning Institutions (Fatahi, Bagloo, Akhshik, 2014, p.296). One of the most important conventions held in 70s was the “Congress of Associations of Public Libraries of Iran” which took place from 17 to 20 November, 1973 in the Central Library of Parke Shahr in which over 450 librarians and administrative officials from across the country participated to mark “the Week of Books”. On aggregate, seven conventions where held in Iran by 1979.

However, Revolution-induced inflammations and turbulence slowed the trend of most scientific and cultural initiatives. Participatory librarianship activities were no exception in this respect and could not return to their desirable course of progress for several post-revolutionary years. As a result of closure of Iran’s Association of Librarians, expansion of ideological issues, closure of universities due to Cultural Revolution and a paradigm shift informed by revolutionary policies, cultural and scientific programs were put on second burners. This was aggravated by intellectual divisions among which stalled the development of any serious scientific momentum. However, in 1980, a seminar on “Studying the Issues and Problems of Scientific Documents Centers for Documentation, Current Needs and Necessities” was organized in Tehran.

The 80s in Iran was characterized with Iraq War against Iran and its subsequent financial and intellectual constraints. Furthermore, In that period, the number of librarianship graduates and professionals was very small. After the re-opening of universities, associate and master’s courses which had been initiated before the Revolution were again reintroduced. At the end of 80s, the librarianship bachelor course was again restarted. Despite all the difficulties, a number of conventions were organized in this decade, the most notable of which were “Seminar of books and librarianship” (1980), “Technical Archives (past, present, future)” (1986) and “the First Medical Librarianship and Information Science Seminar” (1988).

The 90s marked the growing expansion of librarianship and information science conventions. 21 conventions and events were held in this time period. After the end of war (1980-1988) and the country’s struggle for reconstruction, a stronger need was felt for information and scientific resources which prompted a surge in the field of librarianship and information science. This decade experienced the formation of Medical Librarianship and Information Science Association followed by the institution of National Librarianship and Information Science Association of Iran in 2000. Also, National Library of Iran (NLAI) expanded its activities and was promoted as an independent entity working under the supervision of the President’s Office. Moreover, introduction of librarianship and information science PhD courses coupled with expansion and promotion of scientific activities of librarianship and information science highlighted a stronger need for organizing scientific conventions and gatherings. These diverse and wide activities called for conventions to comment, criticize, reform and usher in novel approaches. For this, academic librarianship conventions were held on several occasions with diverse themes, the most notable of which were “the Seminar on the Role of Information Science in R&D” (1993, NIOC), “The First Seminar of Librarians of Iran Planning and Budget Organization” (1995, Bandar Abbas), “the Fourth International Congress of Librarians and Information Scientists” (Tehran, 1995), “the International Congress of Books and Libraries in Islamic Civilization” (Mashhad, 1995) etc. Most of these conventions were organized by academic libraries, Planning and Budget Organization and NLAI. Although these conventions were not regularly organized by a single organ, it created interesting sparks which created the platform for many subsequent scientific conventions and events in the next decade. One of these conventions was “the Convention on Application and Development of Computerized Lists in Iran Libraries” (Mashahd, 1999) which set the tone for many scientific orientations in 2000s in Iran.

2000s in Iran was the pinnacle of the activities and in many cases the maturity of scientific conventions in Iran. Quantitatively, 57 public and scientific conventions were held in the field of librarianship in 2000s in Iran. Iran’s Librarianship and Information Science Association (ILISA) started its activities in earnest in this decade and regularly organized monthly science-topical meetings. The articles presented in this convention were published in form of three books. Iran’s Librarianship and Information Science Association efforts as the steering entity of this field sparked the formation of a number of volunteer professional and students groups. Before the formation of ILISA, only one organization had to carry the executive burden of organizing a convention which would place massive pressure on the workforce of that organization. However, ILISA promoted participatory organization of conventions and events through identification and coordination of capable and volunteer forces and formation of active, administrative groups. For this, ADKA as “the Union of Scientific-Student Associations of Librarians of Iran” was set up which created a very successful profile in holding student-based conventions and events. Specialism and organizing specific, detailed conventions were the hallmarks of the conventions held in 2000s in Iran.

At the turn of 2010s and with growing number of post-graduates and the return of specialists who had been studying abroad on scholarships, it was revealed that changes were needed in the approaches of conventions as simple gatherings towards events with focus on the latest global and local findings and development. Subsequently, the feverish passion of holding numerous general, non-specific, quantitative conventions gave way to quality conventions which were focused on learning as their foundation pillar. Also, the experts found out that the quantitative growth of scientific conventions was excessive and bordering on redundancy.

To tackle this issue, ILISA as the non-governmental organ in charge of librarianship and information science of the country decided to employ a different methodology to organize conventions. Later, ILISA assigned students’ conventions such as ADKA and progressive universities like Alzahra University to take care of smaller conventions and went about the creation of the Great Congress. This Congress which was set up in 2015 is not solely confined to librarians and covers all information experts like those working in archives, computer, IT etc. the diversity of themes and the extensive scope and coverage of the Congress has created a forum for exchange of ideas and expertise and maintaining a specialized discourse. As a result, the Congress has been greatly welcomed by its target audience. More than 1000 individuals participated in the third stage of the Congress in 2016. Many theme and ideas were for the first time sparked by this Congress and they are now gaining momentum as part of the mainstream movement of librarianship and information science of Iran.

One of the major flaws of librarianship and information science conventions in Iran is their disjointedness. In other words, many institutions or volunteer organs decide to organize single conventions with almost no follow-up edition in their own field of specialty or interest. Of regular conventions one can mention Alzahra University’s Student Conventions, EDKA conventions and the Biennial Convention of Children’s Literature organized by Children’s Books Council. Of regular conventions which now have ceased to exist one can mention those organized by Iran’s Planning and Management organization which started in 2000 and regularly held up to 2008. Non-specificity is another shortcoming of librarianship and information science conventions held in Iran. In other words, we are yet to have a specialized convention that focuses on a thematic topic and annually follows that theme or its divisions. We hope that the congregation of general, small conventions in the Congress lays the platform for specific, continued conventions which could go on for several years.

Works Cited:

  1. Haji ZeynolAbedini, M (2010). The collection of articles presented in ILISA conventions, the third volume, 2004-2006. Tehran, ILISA, Chapar Publications
  2. Haji Zeynol Abedini, M (2006). The collection of articles presented in ILISA conventions, the first volume, 2000-2002. Tehran, ILISA
  3. Haji Zeynol Abedini, M (2004). The collection of articles presented in ILISA conventions, the second volume, 2004. Tehran, NLAI
  4. Ali Mohammadi, D. and Haji Zeynol Abedini, M (2010).Information organization: novel approaches and solutions: The collection of articles presented in annual ILISA conventions. March 7 and 8, 2007. Tehran , Ketabdar Publications, ILISA, NLAI
  5. Fattahi, R, Rajabali Bagloo, R and Akhshik, S (2014). A look at the past, present and future of librarianship and information science in Iran. A look at the formation, achievements and challenges and information and information science expansion. Shiraz, Regional Center for Science and Technology Information Sharing.
  6. Moradi, N (1972). Public Libraries, People’s Universities. Letters of Iran’s Librarians’ Association, No.3. P1-3, retrieved at https://goo.gl/X9UZdD

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