I have just returned from a four day visit to Iran which included: three cities (Tehran, Shiraz and Mashhad); 14 library visits; two presentations; and the opening of the fabulous new Mashhad Central Library. All this and the chance to meet with so many wonderful colleagues. What an opportunity!
During my visit I was often asked how public libraries in Iran compare to those in other countries. This is only natural, we all like to compare ourselves to others. I responded that it would be disrespectful of me to comment on this as, despite everything than was crammed in, my visit was so brief and the libraries I was able to visit limited. More importantly when we are comparing ourselves to others it is important to remember that we are all different. Our culture, history and economic situation make it difficult. As we would say in Australia ‘you can’t compare apples with oranges’ – they are two different fruits.
What we do all have in common is the enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism of our staff. I was humbled to be met with such hospitality and generosity of spirit and was deeply interested in the programs that have been developed to meet the needs of the communities that each specific library serves.
In my role with IFLA I am part of a group currently reviewing the IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto which was ratified in 1994. The Manifesto is important as it proclaims UNESCO’s belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women. It identifies the public library as being central to freedom and equity of access to knowledge and information for all people.
Over the next few months IFLA’s Public Libraries Standing Committee will be curating stories from around the world that demonstrate one or more of the Manifesto’s key missions at work. During my time in Iran I was mentally reflecting on how public libraries in your country deliver on some of these and how we could share this story.
In almost every library I visited there was a strong focus on services to children and young people, reflecting the importance of creating a nation of readers with the resultant benefits that this brings to the individual and to society. This ranged from inviting children’s spaces with storytime programs within the larger library, to the libraries which are only for children in Shiraz. I was honoured to be part of an awards ceremony at one of these libraries where the children and young people were recognized for many achievements. The pride and delight on their faces showed how they valued reading. Creating and strengthening reading habits in children from an early age and stimulating the imagination and creativity of children and young people are core to public library provision.
In several libraries I visited there was a strong focus on collections of cultural significance, newspapers, manuscripts and archival materials and the digitized collections at the Central Library of Astan Quds Razavi in Mashhad was breathtaking (as was the building!). In Shiraz I was able to witness Mission 8 ‘supporting the oral tradition’ first hand when a storyteller held a group of teenage boys rapt with his recitation of a traditional tale.
While these examples that can be liked back to the Manifesto provide a starting point for talking about public libraries in Iran what struck me most was the genuine interest in what others are doing and how we can learn from one another. This sharing of knowledge is a two way street. I returned to Australia with many ideas in my head of how we, the international library community, can work more effectively together and share our experience and expertise. I don’t necessarily have any answers – yet! I will however be discussing it further with my fellow IFLA Standing committee members in Finland this March. As we say ‘watch this space’!
Thank you again for having me in your beautiful country. I hope to return soon.