Reflections from IFLA WLIC 2018

Lim Siu Chen is the recipient of the LAS Overseas Professional Development Sponsorship in 2018, and attended the 2018 International Federation of Library Associations World Library and Information Congress (IFLA WLIC) held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Self Introduction

My name is Siu Chen and I am a Librarian at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Currently I work in the Education Services and Learning Innovation department. I would like to thank IFLA and the Library Association of Singapore for the generous grant, enabling me to attend the Congress. I would also like to thank NUS for giving me the time to attend the Congress. The 2018 conference was held at Kuala Lumpur. Coincidentally, the “Kuala” in Kuala Lumpur means “confluence”, which is also what I experienced at the conference – a confluence of ideas when attending sharing sessions by respected library and information professionals from different aspects of libraries around the globe.

Reflections and Memorable Moments

Role of Libraries in Transforming Societies

 The Opening Session, with the speeches by IFLA President and Secretary General, emphasized the role of libraries in transforming the society in which they serve. Libraries, IFLA Secretary General Gerald Leitner said, had the potential to build “literate, informed and participative societies”. This point was reiterated by IFLA President Glòria Pérez-Salmerón, who advocated that libraries “are the motors of change, and we are ready. Ready to move up a gear. It is our duty and our opportunity.  Because societies are better, fairer, stronger and more diverse for being shaped by libraries.”

The Lively Body of Scholarship and Discussion of Copyright Law in the Profession

Learning from examples of other countries where copyright law is the subject of lively scholarship was both eye opening and encouraging for me. It gave me a glimpse into how copyright education is promoted and developed in a community.

For example, I was very impressed by China’s National Science Library’s (“NCSL”) copyright project.  The copyright project had goals to:

  1. Help Chinese librarians better understand copyright
  2. Help libraries take full advantage of the granted rights
  3. Help libraries identify, evaluate and reduce the copyright risks
  4. Provide guidelines for implementing library services

To meet these goals of promoting copyright education, awareness and advocacy, the NCSL undertook a few actions:

  1. Organized a Fair Use week in collaboration with the Library Society China and Peking University Library. Seminars conducted included “Copyright Issues in the Practice of Library and Information Services” and “Fair Use of Digital Information Sources”.
  2. Published a “Practical Guidebook on Copyright for Chinese Librarians” displayed and outlined. The guidebook contained chapters on practical issues sorted in accordance with library business workflow.
  3. Participated in the “Connected Copyright Network”, which was a directory/discussion group for librarians throughout China. It was a place where they could discuss issues, and included copyright experts from LIS and law research.

This is a short summary of the other notable legal and copyright related talks:

  1. Talks on how to read licenses, what to do and not to do when negotiating licenses with publishers and licensing challenges today in terms of negotiating with a consortia, manpower skills and emerging technologies.
  2. “Legal Capability: Law as a Life Skill”, chaired by Law Libraries Section Standing Committee Chair Sarah Poulin of Vancouver’s Justice Education Society, showcased programs in the United States which assisted people with acquiring the capability to deal with legal issues in everyday life.

Information Literacy Standing Committee Meeting

I also had an opportunity to attend an IFLA Standing Committee meeting on Information Literacy. These meetings are occasions to discuss policies, projects and trending topics (amongst others). It was a very inclusive and well-attended gathering, and even non-members at the meeting were encouraged to participate.  For example, everyone in the room brainstormed for possible information literacy topics for IFLA 2019 and we were then asked to participate in a poll to determine the more popular ones. This gave me in a sense a ‘behind the scenes’ view of IFLA as I was able to see the mechanics of how IFLA makes plans and puts them into action.

At the Standing Committee Meeting on Information Literacy

IFLA Trend Report

This session was memorable to me as it addressed the very important questions of:

  1. How can libraries prepare better for an uncertain future shaped by various trends?
  2. Can scenario planning help?
Slide from the IFLA Trend Report Talk

The trend report was relevant to me because it dispelled many assumptions that librarians and information professionals make as they go about doing their job. For example, patrons sometimes do not know what they want and we may not necessarily always know how to meet their needs. Acknowledging this in our profession will help us to adapt quickly when new information emerges. My personal takeaway is that libraries should be more iterative in our development, and that in addition to making long term plans, we should also be prepared to respond to our changing environment and adapt as necessary. More on the IFLA trend report can be read here.

Social and Cultural Events

In addition to the conference programme, there were social and cultural events to be enjoyed at the congress. For example, a trip to the top of the KL Twin Towers:

View from the top of the Kuala Lumpur Twin Towers

We were treated to a wonderful performance arranged by the IFLA WLIC National Committee with performers in traditional costume:

Dance Performance at IFLA WLIC 2018

Although this was not my first visit to Singapore’s neighboring country Malaysia, I really enjoyed seeing Malaysian culture from a visitor’s perspective.

Do you have any tips for future first-time participants at IFLA?

Newcomers Session

You should definitely attend the Newcomers session. It provides an overview of the key elements of the congress, interpretation of key sessions, and other useful tips on how to make full use of your time e.g.:

  • An explanation of what “lightning” talks involve.
  • Tips on how to approach speakers after their sessions were also given –  approach them and converse, tell them what you liked about their presentation, ask them questions or let them elaborate on it.
  • The various digital communication platforms (IFLA website, WLIC website, Social Media Platforms)

These details are especially useful when attending a congress as large as IFLA, where the programme involves numerous sessions and many of them running concurrently. A snapshot of the IFLA WLIC 2018 timetable illustrates this:

Snapshot of IFLA WLIC 2018 Timetable


Try not to get overwhelmed by the massive size of the conference. You can read up beforehand to decide which sessions to attend, but don’t feel the need to stick rigidly to it! You may just stumble upon interesting talks that expose you to different aspects of librarianship. For me, I veered off my plan to attend mainly information literacy and legal related talks. I ended up in sessions totally unrelated to what I had intended and found myself enriched by the diversity of perspectives I was exposed to. For example, I attended the “Open Session: Empowering Scholarly Communication Transforms Societies”.

Panel Discussion at the Scholarly Communications Session

Final Notes

IFLA WLIC 2018 was packed full of lively discussion from both practice and academic communities in the library and information science field. I was excited to attend such a large conference to expose myself to the diversity of the profession, and the IFLA congress certainly exceeded my expectations. It truly is a great opportunity to meet and hear from fellow colleagues from across the globe. Given the opportunity, I would definitely attend again and would encourage anyone else to do so too.