Iran’s Participation in IFLA 2018 – An Overall Report

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Saleh Zamani:  IFLA’s 84th World Library and Information Congress (WLIC 2018) concluded its week-long annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 24th -30th August 2018. The Congress this year witnessed the participation of over 3100 delegates and 387 volunteers from the 122 member states and 70 exhibition stalls. The actual work of the Congress involved more than 500 speeches and 247 plenary and specialized sessions. The annual meeting draws the attention of libraries and interested librarians across the world. The Iranian delegation, mostly composed of librarians, participated actively in the Congress and its general discussions and technical deliberations.

This year’s participation in the IFLA annual Congress was preceded by a good preparatory process. In addition to preparatory meetings within National Library and Archives of Iran, a special coordinating meeting for the Congress was organized jointly by the International Relations Committee of the Iranian Library and Information Science Association (ILISA) and the International Affairs Department of the (NLAI).

The meeting, held on 15 August 2018, was also attended by Iranian information science specialists. Fariborz Khosravi, ILISA President, presented a report on Iran’s participation in previous IFLA meetings, and emphasized the importance of the annual Congress as a very useful and educational forum for learning and experiencesharing, and encouraged the members of the delegation to ensure making the best use of the event, especially through active participation in the specialized-technical meetings.

A number of the members of the delegation, as well as other participants, also shared their personal experiences of participation in IFLA meetings and events in previous years. In the course of the meeting, Mahboobeh Ghorbani, expert at the NLAI Research Department, briefed the audience about the efforts made for the selection of NLAI by IFLA as a green library.

Following the return of the delegation from Malaysia, a meeting was held on September 2nd at the National Library, where the members of the delegation spoke about their respective activities – and achievements – at the Congress, including through the presentation of papers and posters, engagement in technical deliberations, and exchange of views on issues of mutual interest with IFLA officers in various departments and other delegations.

In the collective judgment of the delegation, this year’s participation in the IFLA Congress was quite successful and represented a better collective performance as compared with previous years, and a more solid base for future work. The following section attempts to capture the most salient aspects of this participation.

1.IFLA 2018 provided the Iranian delegation with the opportunity to gain a fuller and better understanding of the Global Vision strategy, including its emphasis on the social responsibilities of librarians and the new technical opportunities in the field of librarianship and information science. It opens a new – in fact, novel – horizon for librarians. Given the fact that Iranians had not been active in the initial stages of the preparation of the Global Vision, it appears that the traditional concentration of Iranian librarians on technical aspects of the profession have, as a consequence, caused them to somehow neglect other aspects. Active participation in the 2018 Congress and its discussions on various aspects and provisions of the Global Vision did in fact serve to expose them to such other issues as free access to information, commitment to promotion and expansion of literacy, digital innovation, enhanced role in the society, a stronger sense of flexibility and openness to change, and the increased emphasis on the need for the preservation of the ‘Memory of the World’. This new and deeper familiarity with the provisions and content of the Global Vision could be expected to serve as a turning point in the development of Iranian librarians’ approach to the profession and its dynamic and changing horizons.

2.Within the overall framework just discussed, IFLA 2018 also served to sharpen the Iranian librarians’ attention and sensitivity to the question of gender; that it should not be allowed to act as a barrier to social progress. The session on the role played by women in the leadership of IFLA during the past decade, including sharing of personal experiences, highlighted the important role women can play in different areas of librarianship. Notwithstanding the quite significant presence and participation of Iranian women as librarians, their managerial role happens to be limited and insignificant. It appears that IFLA 2018 came to have a positive impact on the way Iranian women librarians perceive and view their field and profession. This new awareness and sensitivity can – and should – strengthen their resolve to work for assuming higher-level managerial positions.

3.The 2018 Congress also served to emphasize the need for Iranian librarians to pay higher attention to librarianship more as a ‘profession’ than merely as a field of ‘knowledge.’ Traditionally in Iran, academic aspects of librarianship have received higher attention and focus as compared with the professional aspects. The sessions addressing this dichotomy at IFLA 2018 served to be quite informative and educational for the Iranian librarians.

4.The 2018 Congress also gave the Iranian librarians the opportunity to gain a better picture of the link between Block Chain Technology and librarianship, as well as of various digitalization techniques. Participation, for the first time, of some Iranian librarians as ‘volunteer’ for executive activities in IFLA meetings was quite a novel experience in actual participation in chairing and directing international meetings.

5.Active participation of NLAI officials in the meeting of the CDNL heads at IFLA 2018 gave them the unique opportunity of direct exposure to discussions on new library management experiences and the emerging challenges. The session also served to lay the grounds for increased interaction with other national libraries, especially at the regional level.

6.The 2018 Congress also facilitated easy interaction and dialogue between Iranian librarian and their counterparts in a wide range of countries across the world. The meeting with IFLA President, Glòria Pérez-Salmerón, gave the Iranian delegation the opportunity to follow-up bilateral discussions – and agreements – during her visit to Iran earlier in the year. On the sidelines of the IFLA meeting, NLAI officials also concluded two MoUs of cooperation, respectively with the National Library of Malaysia and the Boris Yeltsin Library of the Russian Federation.

Moreover, and as a concluding remark, it should be pointed out that this year’s active participation in the IFLA Congress can also help NLAI to provide a fuller picture of IFLA and its activities, the Global Vision in particular, to the librarianship community in Iran. Various librarianship communities in Iran, particularly public libraries, especially in remote and less developed areas of the country, need to receive a better and more focused education as regards the merits and advantages of cooperation with IFLA, and how to better utilize its huge potentials in various fields and areas. Much more needs to be done in the area of public outreach and awareness-raising, with particular focus on strengthening the links between librarianship and the society at large, including as regards the Global Vision’s emphasis on the imperative of taking distance from direct influence of governments. To this end, reliance on the conceptual framework and effective pursuance of the rich and future-oriented provisions and guidelines of the Global Vision, as a useful working tool, will be found necessary and helpful.

It is hoped that the promotion of a better image of IFLA at the national level, and particularly among the country’s ‘community of librarians’, will help enhance their position professional and career in the society. Strengthening of the public sphere and civil society will certainly help this process.

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