IFLA: Putting Action into the Philosophy of Libraries

By Kelly Grogg posted

As a student of library and information sciences, it’s easy to get caught up in the philosophy of librarianship. Between discussions on Foucault and Raganathan, it’s not difficult to find oneself in a universe that seems devoid of any practical application. And while these philosophies are an important foundation for every librarian, it’s amazing to see how so many librarians from around the world, with varying access to a library education, have centered around one foundational tenet: libraries exist to serve their users.  

I was able to see this firsthand earlier this month. Through the Rovelstad Scholarship provided by CLIR, I was able to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, to attend the International Federation of Library Association’s (IFLA’s) annual World Library and Information Congress. This opportunity hardly seemed real, and the experience only became more surreal as I found myself surrounded by librarians from all over the world who were all interested in collaborating at an international level. 

As a former Peace Corps volunteer and an aspiring librarian, I knew I wanted to somehow combine my love for international policy and development with my passion for the services libraries provide. Until a few weeks ago, I had very little knowledge of how to do that. However, through attending the World Library and Information Congress, I was able to see how librarians are making their impact felt, not only in their towns and countries, but also on an international level. 

From the librarians in Germany providing top-tier services to incarcerated men, to the librarians in South Africa using their public libraries to provide early literacy skills to children in some of the poorest parts of the city, these librarians are truly making a difference. These are only a few of the examples of the librarians I met who work within their own communities to change lives every day. 

The World Library and Information Congress provided a forum for these great minds to come together and share what they are doing in their communities. However, it wasn’t just the sharing of these stories that was inspiring, but also the discussions that took place after the presentations. It was incredibly heartening to hear a librarian from Namibia talk about how she also wanted to start providing library access to inmates in her area, and to hear how a literacy program in Cape Town inspired a potential program starting in Croatia. All of these librarians were coming together not only to ask “What have you been doing?” but also, “How can we do that, too?” And of course, being librarians, these questions were answered with the question, “How can we help you with that?”

It was this series of questions that reminded me why I started working in libraries in the first place, and reaffirmed the importance of the work we do. While the programs libraries provide might not single-handedly bring an entire community out of poverty, they are making small differences along the way, creating ripples that can be felt across the world.

I have certainly felt the impact of these great librarians, and I can’t wait to share what I have learned in my classes and in my first job after graduation. I may not know exactly where I’ll be next year, but through my experiences at the World Library and Information Congress, I feel ready to take some of the things I learned and start creating some ripples of my own.

 Kelly Grogg is a library and information sciences student at the University of Iowa.