This morning I was drinking a cup of hot tea and thinking about Fran. Fran was my mentor, my role model, and my friend when I was a young adult. She was the Polish cook at the church rectory in Berwyn where I grew up. I loved her like a grandmother and miss her since she passed away. She is on my mind because she was one of the kindest people I know, and she would have loved to hear about the last few weeks of my life.
I had the privilege of attending the IFLA Congress in Columbus, Ohio August 12-19, 2016.
I was a first time attendee and am still in awe of this extraordinary event. Not only was it information overload, but to experience so many passionate librarians from all over the world was the coolest experience for this library nerd. 145 countries and over 4,000 librarians came together to share information, research, and experiences about libraries (public, academic, special, and more). Picture a week of meetings, learning sessions, exhibitions, poster sessions, and networking from 8:00am until late hours in the evening. I was in heaven and hell at the same time. Heaven was being surrounded by librarians who were thrilled to exchange information. Hell was not being able to possibly attend all of the opportunities available to me or absorb all of the information presented. But, I didn’t want it to end.
Today I feel compelled to write about the people I met. In my first hours at the Congress, I met kind librarians from Indiana, Colorado Springs, and Buffalo. I was in a section at the First Timers opening session with Indiana librarians. They were so excited to be part of the Congress and were welcoming. A shout out to the nice Indiana man, Jos, who refuses to be in the social media world for representing all the librarians that have put their foot down on not joining the masses in the virtual world as they prefer the real world. I met several librarians from Colorado Springs. A huge thank you to Tim for setting the tone for my perfect first day. He was so kind to try to help me find a “First Timer” badge label, and then offered to give me his since we couldn’t locate one. I didn’t see Tim the entire week again until the elevator ride after our very last session of the week. Hopefully, I didn’t scare him when I screamed his name because I was so delighted to see him again. To Ophelia from Buffalo for choosing to sit next to me at the Opening Session, thank you for laughing with me. I’ve never laughed so much with a complete stranger. After we exchanged business cards, I realized she is an Outreach Librarian too. No wonder we connected! Throughout the Congress I met people from all over the world who shared their stories with me.
After the First Timers and Opening Sessions, I tried to find food and somewhere to charge my phone. The food in Columbus was good. But skip the food court at the convention center. Searching for a place to charge my phone, I met librarians from France, Ohio, Canada, and Nigeria. Just when I was about to give up finding a place to charge, I spotted one chair near an open outlet. There was a gentleman charging and using his phone. He happened to look my way and waved me over. Since the outlet was by his chair, I handed him my phone cord to plug in. This was the start of a comedy of errors with the cords not fitting, him losing his phone call, and my phone getting plugged in without his.
After I laughed and apologized, we introduced ourselves. Without realizing it, we spoke for a few hours about the Congress. It was good to be able to talk to someone who was having a similar experience of being a First Timer at the Congress, who was as excited as I was to be among passionate and educated people in our field, and who was genuinely a nice person. Christopher taught me more than he will ever understand. I haven’t spoken to anyone from another country in a long time. I realized I had stereotypes about the different cultures. Once I realized that, I opened my mind to learning instead of judging. His boss attended the Congress and she really opened my eyes to women from other cultures. Within 30 seconds she grabbed my attention and I liked her. Another librarian had joined our conversation. He was nervous about finding his way in town to attend other meetings. We both gave him the same advice (paraphrasing): Find a librarian to ask for help. Librarians are librarians wherever you go. And by extension, people are just people. People might have differences, but at the core we are just human beings trying to make it in this world. So to Christopher, Evelyn, and Indika, thank you for the fun, kindness, and insights you offered me. There are many more accounts of insights and kindness. A thank you to another Outreach Librarian, Wendy from Columbus. It was good to finally meet someone who has been an integral part of the ABOS organization.
Overall, I had wonderful conversations with some of the kindest people I’ve ever known. I met librarians who touched my soul. I have made some new friends and many new colleagues. Thank you again to all those who supported me in attending the Congress! I hope to continue my research on all I learned and implement new ideas wherever I can. I will be writing blog posts about the various topics covered at the Congress. I had no intention of attending another IFLA Congress. But after this life changing experience, I’ve already started dreaming about next year’s IFLA Congress in Poland.
~I’m here to help
Further reading and resources:
2016 IFLA Congress. Retrieved from: http://2016.ifla.org/
ALA. 2016. Getting involved in IFLA: Getting involved in IFLA: an intro webinar for U.S. librarians. Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/offices/getting-involved-ifla-intro-webinar-us-librarians
Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services. 2016. ABOS. Retrieved from: http://abos-outreach.com/
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. It is the global voice of the library and information profession. Retrieved from: http://www.ifla.org/about
OCLC: Awards and fellowships. Retrieved from: http://www.oclc.org/about/awards.en.html
President Barack Obama. 2016. Message from US President Barack Obama. Retrieved from: http://www.ifla.org/node/10732