Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Winter 2000

Conference Reports

65th Annual International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Conference
Bangkok, Thailand

Julia Gelfand
STS Representative to IFLA

Last month, August 20-28, 1999, I attended the 65th Annual International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The theme of this year's conference was "On the Threshold of the 21st Century: Libraries as Gateways to an Enlightened World." It was the first conference of my four-year term as STS Representative to the Science & Technology Section of IFLA. This was my second IFLA conference, and, just as I remembered from nearly a decade earlier, the experience was one of enormous hospitality from the host country and great emphasis on global issues. This was the first time in many years that IFLA had met in Asia, so it was a unique event in the history of the organization. The census of the conference was that approximately 2,250 delegates from nearly 120 countries participated, and the largest delegation came from the U.S., with 310 followed by the host delegation from Thailand with 305 librarians. This was an important year because IFLA held its biennial elections for new leadership. The conference was one of the most festive as its trade show was among the largest with nearly 100 exhibitors.

The opening ceremonies were memorable and the royal family participated. Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn opened the conference and delivered a keynote session on literacy and technology as we prepare for the millennium. There was wonderful entertainment in the form of Thai dancing following her address. As a psychologist, she appeared particularly interested in the conference, and returned the next day to visit the exhibits and attend some sessions. The Princess hosted a full dinner for all attendees which was a very special treat.

As a new member of the Standing Committee on Science & Technology, I was in a learning mode of the ways that IFLA conducts its business and meetings. This committee is composed of four members from the U.S., who, like myself, represent professional library organizations, and members from the U.K., Norway, Finland, Germany, France, Sri Lanka (unable to attend), Russia, Sweden and Canada. There is great interest in trying to attract more members from the developing countries, but economics and political reality restrict those possibilities.

The Division hosted a very good program on "Scholarly Communication, Sharing Resources and Publishing Trends" which featured three speakers, all Americans: Dr. Robert Stueart from Simmons College, who had worked in Thailand rather recently, Duane Webster, Executive Director of ARL, and Milton Wolf, Senior Vice-President of the Center for Research Libraries.

There was a wonderful field trip to King Mongkut's Institute of Technology, North Campus about 40 minutes north of Bangkok. The theme of this day was to introduce librarians to electronic resources. This institution is planning a new library but was able to host us in a computer instruction laboratory, give us tours, and feed us a wonderful Thai meal. About 40 librarians participated and it was clearly one of the conference highlights.

One of the traditions of IFLA is having a day of field trips in addition to activities a division hosts and arranges. I was lucky enough to visit Thammasat University Library in Bangkok. Established in 1934, it has nearly 30,000 students and offers academic programs in all disciplines as well as law and other professional degrees. The library has collections in both English and Thai and has a very interesting building, with a subterranean feature of four floors underground. Print and media collections showed evidence of much use as the academic term was in session, but there was little evidence that computers play an active role in user access to that collection or to Internet resources for learning and research. Many Thai universities are part of a consortium that has implemented Innovative Interfaces OPAC system.

IFLA program sessions were plentiful and I attended some wonderful sessions on library instruction, art libraries, library automation and was always trying to decide when I would do my sightseeing. Bangkok as a city was a serious competitor for one's time. There was so much to do but it required planning and determining what mode of transportation to take as street traffic appears to be congested regardless of the time of day or night. The trip was the first time I had much exposure to Buddhism. Numerous features and activities of Bangkok made this trip memorable: visits to the Royal Grand Palace, the Winter Palace; the blend of the new and old architecture; seeing Buddahs in every position sitting, reclining, sleeping and made of a many materials (gold and bronze especially) and in a variety of sizes of WATs; watching the working activities on the Chai Praya River and the many canals connecting to it; going to different neighborhoods; the markets at day, night, floating and in very fashionable shopping malls; the wonderful and exotic crafts made from local woods, silks, and other natural elements; the incredible delicacies of food and the smells found everywhere. IFLA special events programming did not disappoint as post-conference trips to the original royal palace at Ayutthaya and my taking an optional trip to Chiang Mai in the north, added a dimension to my impression of Thailand. Personally, my journey through the rainforest on an elephant was among the highpoints. Thailand is a progressive country, with a very active royal family always trying to improve the living conditions of its people. Education and culture is highly promoted, and the genuine warmth of the people was detected in every transaction.

For information-sharing with colleagues from around the world, IFLA is the pulse on international librarianship. Next year, the 66th annual conference will be held in Jerusalem, Israel, August 13-20, 2000. The Science & Technology Division has already planned a very exciting program on leadership and automation in library systems and will have a field trip to Haifa with library visits to the Technion and to Haifa University.


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