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IFLA 2009 Report

IFLA 2009 report
Ricardo Laskaris

Last August, I travelled to Milan, Italy to volunteer at the World Library and Information Congress: 75th IFLA General Conference and Assembly.

The entrance to the Fiera Milano Convention Centre

Although the conference itself ran for five days, I ended up volunteering for eight days, to accommodate training/orientation, pre-conference meetings, and various preparatory duties such as stuffing delegate bags.

“What? I have to *pay* for wi-fi access?!?”

The orange delegate bags, by Italian bagmaker Bric’s, were highly sought-after–so much so that on the last day, the extra bags were sold off for 10.00 euros apiece. The volunteers lamented that equal fashion consideration was not given to the design of their uniforms.

Volunteers populated the main lobby to welcome delegates.

All IFLA sessions were presented in English, with many offering simultaneous interpretation in the other official IFLA languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. This was very unfortunate for the monolingual Italian delegates. Still, almost everyone I met, including my fellow Italian volunteers, knew one of these as a second (or third, or fourth!) language, so it all worked out. This made group conversations very interesting, too, because group members naturally acted as simultaneous interpreters for each other.

The main auditorium – Open Access paper presentations

The best session I attended was titled, Open access to science and technology research worldwide: strategies and best practices and consisted of four paper presentations on this topic. Ulrich Pöschl, of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, presented a paper advocating wider adoption of the sort of “interactive open access peer review” process practiced by, for example, the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. In this two-stage process, traditional formal peer review is preceded by interactive public discussion and public peer review. (For more details on this and other sessions, see the full programme.)

Teatro alla Scala

The conference schedule left time for various social events, including a visit to La Scala for a “concerto lirico“–a selection of pieces from Rossini, Verdi, Mozart, and a few others. Other events included an evening on the town and visits to various libraries.

One of ten “cells” in the Central Library

One of the most interesting parts of the conference was my visit to the Central Interdepartmental and Science Libraries of the Milano Bicocca University. Along with the Medical Library, Bicocca University’s libraries hold approximately 150,000 books and 2,000 print journals, shelved according to the Dewey Decimal Classification system. The libraries employ 42 staff members, serve 30,000 students and 3,000 other community members, and registered a combined gate count of 900,000 in 2008.

View from Central Library, 2nd floor – individual study rooms to the left, current periodicals to the right (or “a sinistra” and “a destra“, as we say in Italian).

The Central Library was renovated in 2002, which saw much of the second floor get eliminated to create higher ceilings and more open space. Twenty individual study rooms were added for professors, researchers, Ph.D. students, and final-year undergrads. Tables of various shapes–round, rectangular, with and without partitions–were brought in to create space for nearly 500 study seats.

All library computers, including 40 in the Central Library, are limited to the library domain to prioritize library research; for wider Internet access, students bring their own laptops and connect to the campus wireless network, or go to computer labs outside the libraries.

The Libraries facilitate access to the Bicocca Open Archive, the university’s institutional repository <>.

Science Library – shared office

Although the Science Library was closed, two staff members were on duty, and one of them graciously agreed to give me a tour, including the staff areas. I admired the windows, and she granted that the Science Library staff were luckier than most in terms of their office design.

Science Library – Main floor, circulating collection

The main floor holds the circulating collection and a few computers. The lower floor holds current periodicals, but the students use the area primarily for quiet study. Bound periodicals are closed-stack, locked in an adjoining section.

The next IFLA conference takes place on August 10-15, 2010, in Gothenburg, Sweden, and I am already planning on being there.