Remember taking field trips to visit the dinosaur fossils at the Museum of Natural History in New York City with your 6th grade class?  I had no idea how much I missed going on field trips until I started going on a few as part of the MLIS program at Rutgers.  One of these was the end-of-summer trip to the World Library and Information Congress—the annual conference organized by the International Federation of Library Associations.  Did I mention this trip is international?  Look for a special topics course called International Librarianship on the summer session course list and dust off your passport because this conference usually boasts a heavy Rutgers constituency and you don’t want to be left out.

This year, the conference was in sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Ok, so you might not always need your passport.)  Next year, it will be in Helsinki, and in 2013, the conference will travel to Singapore.  Now that I’ve whetted your travel appetite, you’re probably wondering, what the heck is IFLA?  I have to admit, I didn’t really know the answer to this myself until I was at IFLA a couple of weeks ago.  It turns out, librarians love to organize—not only books, but they also love to organize themselves—and this love of organization has led some of them (several thousand of them, in fact) to organize on an international level.  Simply put, IFLA provides a forum through which to share concepts and best practices, innovate, and explore ideas.  But it is the context within which this exchange takes place that makes IFLA seem like the ALA on steroids.  Because IFLA seeks to set standards for the profession at an international level, it has a momentum, a voice, and a global reach that has the ear of such high-level international organizations as UNESCO.  Where else would you be able to sit next to the National Librarian of South Africa at a panel discussion on disaster relief presented by the National Librarian of Haiti?  Or check out the new augmented reality iPad apps being developed by the Bavarian State Library in Munich?

The conference lasts a full week in mid-August and packs quite a heavy schedule.  Expect full days of simultaneous programming, exhibits, poster sessions, and socializing that begin at 8:30am and end at 5:30pm or later.  IFLA’s structure includes committees, sections, and special interest groups who are responsible for the content and programming of the conference.  You can pick and choose sessions and events according to your own interests or professional background.  At this year’s conference, I was able to attend sessions on copyright and fair use, innovative design of academic libraries as well as sessions discussing barriers to information access, indigenous knowledge, and multilingualism.

On Tuesday evening, the host country organizes a cultural event, and this year, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company magically turned the convention center into a beautiful night club that was reminiscent of the colonial architecture of Old San Juan replete with live music, an ample dance floor, and a finger-licking spread with an open bar to match.  The last day of the conference is reserved for library visits to local school libraries, special libraries, academic libraries, public libraries, and the National Library.  This is a really special opportunity to see what libraries are like in other parts of the world.  The conference organizers also do a good job of arranging for tours and other fun touristy activities for anyone who needs a break from the conference.  And trust me—by Wednesday, you will need a break.

By now you’re probably asking, so how much is this all going to cost?  I won’t lie—this is not a cheap field trip.  Luckily, there are a few ways to minimize the damage to your bank account.

  • Students who enroll receive a $400 scholarship to help defray the cost.
  • Course registration includes an additional course fee of $600 that is used to book hotel rooms for all students attending the conference.  The course organizers book a block of hotel rooms early in the year in order to negotiate a lower rate, and students might need to share rooms.
  • Register for the conference early.  Although IFLA provides a student rate for registration*, this discounted rate is still rather steep and tends to increase as the conference date approaches.  *reflects prices for 2011
  • If you’ve got any frequent flyer miles, this is the time to redeem them.  Make sure you book your flights early, and that all your travel documents (VISA, passport, etc) are current and up-to-date.

Don’t forget to pack some business cards and a language dictionary.  I hope to see you in Helsinki!

Miraida Morales, SCARLA co-president