More than 3,000 library and information workers from at least 112 countries gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, in August for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institution's (IFLA) 81st World Library and Information Congress. The theme, "Dynamic Libraries: Access, Development and Transformation," is one that resonates for libraries around the globe, not just in developing countries. No matter our location, culture, or political climate, we need to demonstrate the value libraries add in "eradicating poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and ignorance." Issues of education, economy, health, freedom, and human connection may be of varying degrees of severity depending on where we are, and approaches to those needs may also need to be customized to fit local contexts. However, an open, inclusive international exchange among librarians will always provide us with new ideas, knowledge, and connections to take back home with us.
The weeklong conference also allowed attendees a glimpse at the rich history of South African librarianship, from 1818 when the first South African Public Library was proclaimed by Lord Charles Somerset, "to place the means of knowledge within the reach of the youth of this remote corner of the globe," to the current countrywide network of libraries that serve as essential hubs that nurture South Africa's young democracy. Half-day and all-day tours gave participants a chance to visit national, public, township, academic, and special libraries --including the archives of Robben Island, the prison that held Nelson Mandela as well as many anti-apartheid activists. Nelson Mandela’s spirit was present throughout Cape Town and the conference, including this project to knit/crochet 67 blankets in commemoration of his birthday. Librarians enjoyed picking up a set of needles for a respite from the bustle of the exhibits and sessions.
American Libraries' blogger George Eberhart has written a series of posts from the conference, from the dazzling opening ceremony, through the insightful sessions and posters, exhibitor events, the music and dance-filled cultural evening, and the more professional moving and shaking that occurred among attendees throughout the week. You can read those here: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/author/geberhart/