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GSLIS at IFLA in Buenos Aires, Argentina GSLIS at IFLA in Buenos Aires, Argentina
In 2004 GSLIS, for the first time, held its own special event at the General Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. The following year, 2005, a different kind of activity took place in conjunction with the General Conference in Oslo. The primary organizers of these programs were Senior Fellow William V. Jackson for Buenos Aires and Professor Mary Wagner for Oslo. A report of these activities follows. — Ed.

In recent years the General Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has become a meeting where not only are papers presented, workshops held, and the Association’s business transacted, but also a period during which other organizations, institutions and groups take advantage of the gathering of several thousand library and information professionals to hold their own workshops, meetings, and other events [1]. Over the years a number of GSLIS faculty have attended these meetings, a partial reflection of the School’s on–going commitment to the international aspects of the field.

Against this backdrop, Dean Prudence W. Dalrymple suggested, in the winter of 2003–04, to Senior Fellow William V. Jackson, that the School might consider an “event” at the upcoming General Conference in Buenos Aires, being held for the first time in South America. Jackson, whose involvement with Latin American librarianship is long–standing and extensive (among other things, for the Quin–Centennial he had planned and edited a special issue of Third World Libraries, volume 3, number 1, 1992), realized that this was a great opportunity and enthusiastically agreed to explore possibilities with her. Over the next few weeks Dalrymple and Jackson talked over several possibilities for such an event (e.g., a short course, a workshop, a luncheon for library leaders, a general reception, a showing of videotape interviews of Latin American librarians). The goal was to make a modest contribution to inter–American library relations through enhanced contacts and better understanding of issues. Dalrymple expressed this notion as “cross cultural exchange” and the phrase stuck: the event which was to take place in Buenos Aires was named A Day of Cross Cultural Exchange.

In addition to these discussions, Jackson immediately contacted several leading figures in Argentine librarianship, all of whom not only welcomed the idea but offered some valuable suggestions as well. He also communicated with the Cultural Affairs Officer at the American Embassy in Buenos Aires to see whether it was planning a social or professional gathering. During this period, he and Dalrymple tallied the constraints on what GSLIS could do: the very full schedule planned for IFLA meetings and related activities, securing an appropriate venue, budgetary limits, and the difficulties of arranging an event in a city 5,000 miles distant from River Forest, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago; http://www.dom.edu/).

Taking all of this into account, Dalrymple and Jackson agreed upon the following parameters: a daylong event for about 50 people to be held as close as possible to the IFLA venue (the Buenos Aires Hilton Hotel and Conference Center), and Jackson was authorized to proceed with planning and arranging the event.

Fortunately it proved relatively easy to solve the problems of date and venue. Since the Dominican event (like many others) would not be within the official IFLA program, it seemed wise to schedule it earlier rather than later in the week and Tuesday, 24 August (the day after the official opening of the General Conference) was selected. Thanks to collaboration from Argentine colleagues, several venues were available, but the offer of the Central Library of the Catholic University of Argentina (Universidad Católica Argentina, UCA; http://www2.uca.edu.ar/) was accepted, because of its facilities (a lecture room with capacity of about 60 persons and an adjoining lounge area which could be used for registration and for coffee breaks) and its proximity (only a few blocks) to the Hilton complex. Library director Soledad Lago and her capable staff helped prepare for the event in countless ways.

To announce the event, e–mail messages went to as many potential participants as possible in both the United States and Latin America. ALA’s International Relations Office was helpful in furnishing names of U.S. pre–registrants. Later communiqués gave more details and invited recipients to indicate the likelihood of their attendance. Finally formal printed invitations (two versions, one in English and one in Spanish) went out in early summer; because of limited space they carried an “RSVP” note.

The event was to feature two lectures by Jackson, one for the Spanish speaking group, and one for the English speaking group. In connection with the general theme of cross cultural exchange (intercambio cultural), the topic for the latter group immediately suggested itself: an introduction to libraries in Latin America. Thoughts on the topic for the former group did not suggest something as obvious, but our Argentine colleagues requested a talk on recent developments in the five mega–libraries, because some had taken Jackson’s course on the these institutions a decade earlier [2].

From this point forward, most of Jackson’s efforts went to working with GSLIS staff in River Forest and UCA library staff in Buenos Aires on arrangements for registration, luncheon, coffee breaks, photographs, invitations and the like. Their assistance in all these matters (and others) did much to facilitate arrangements, and modern communication (e–mail, fax, and telephone) also helped.

Jackson arrived in Buenos Aires on 20 August and thus was able to work with the UCA staff the day before the meeting. Early on 24 August the UCA library staff, Dalrymple, and Jackson awaited the participants, and as each completed a very simple registration, he or she received a packet containing information about GSLIS, the current issue of World Libraries, a new flyer (in Spanish) on the Newberry Library (Chicago; http://www.newberry.org/) prepared for IFLA, and finally a new publication authored by Jackson with biographical sketches (in Spanish) of nine outstanding U.S. and Latin American librarians [3]. (Getting this quantity of materials — several hundred pounds — to Buenos Aires quickly and cheaply illustrates just one of the issues in arrangements — and after a number of inquiries to UPS, FedEx, and U.S. Postal Service, the answer was to bring it as excess baggage!)

A Day of Cross Cultural Exchange started with welcomes on behalf of GSLIS from Dean Dalrymple and on behalf of UCA from Director Soledad Lago. This was followed by Jackson’s lecture (in Spanish) on recent developments at the five mega–libraries of the western world (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, British Library, Harvard University Library, Library of Congress, and New York Public Library) with special emphasis on the enormous new buildings in Paris and London.

During the coffee break a raffle of three illustrated books (on the New York Public Library, Library of Congress, and Newberry) took place. The remainder of the morning session was devoted to discussion of and questions about space for very large libraries.

At noon the entire group moved to a nearby restaurant, where these participants were joined by those coming for the English language session in the afternoon. Although there was no formal seating arrangement, tables of eight allowed for a mix of Argentines, Americans, and those from other countries. The American Embassy, which co–sponsored the luncheon, was represented by Cultural Affairs Officer Martha Buckley. Everyone seemed to feel that here was a real opportunity for informal cross cultural exchange.

Following the luncheon, those present for the afternoon session returned to UCA, as did some librarians who had come for the entire day. Jackson’s lecture, entitled “Latin American Librarianship” was designed to provide an introduction to library and information service in the area and was organized geographically: Mexico and Central America, the Andean Region, the Southern Cone, Brazil, and the Caribbean. Following a coffee break, A Day of Cross Cultural Exchange ended with about 45 minutes of questions and discussion.

Thanks to the planning and preparation outlined above, this program of Cross Cultural Exchange went off without a hitch. Over 50 persons (from the U.S., Argentina, Canada, Chile, and Mexico) participated in all or part of the event. They included the presidents of the American and Illinois Library Associations as well as the Cultural Affairs Officer from the American Embassy. Judging by favorable comments heard at the end of the day (and later), the event was considered a great success.

A word on finance: direct expenses (mainly for travel, hotel stays, the luncheon and coffee breaks) came to several thousand dollars and were met through the GSLIS operating budget. Thus there were neither registration nor incidental fees for the participants.

Finally, one might ask “What were some of the lessons learned?” First, a special event held overseas requires a longer lead time that one held on campus. Second, the competition for delegates’ time during the General Conference of IFLA is keen, and this may limit the potential number who will attend. Third, utilizing Spanish and/or Portuguese for at least part of a program given in Latin America is truly important. Fourth, currency exchange rates for the U.S. dollar may make one venue considerably more expensive than another.

 References

1. Ross Shimmon, “International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions,” In: Miriam A. Drake (editor). Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Second edition. New York: Dekker, 2003; volume 2, pp. 1408–1417.

2. For information on the course see William V. Jackson, Las megabibliotecas, una bibliografia comentada. Austin: University of Texas; Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires, 1993.

3. William V. Jackson, Nueve bibliotecarios distinguidos. Chicago: COBLLA, 2004.

About the Author

William V. Jackson is Professor Emeritus, School of Information, University of Texas at Austin, and also Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Dominican University.
E–mail: wjackson [at] dom [dot] edu

© 2005 William V. Jackson

 

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