Thursday, 11 September 2014

IFLA Lyon : the volunteer experience

From 15th to 22nd August I was lucky enough to attend the 80th IFLA World Library and Information Congress in France. The poor inhabitants of Lyon saw 4,000 librarians invade their city for a full week - but they were pre-warned: there were signs everywhere!

How did I manage to get myself there? Simple: I applied to be a volunteer and was selected (ok, for that to happen, I have to admit that being bilingual French-English was a great help) That meant that in exchange for helping out four half-days I could go to the rest of the congress for free! Brilliant.

Being a volunteer obviously means attending training (in my case watching the videos and reading up) before the conference and having duties once you're there: arriving a day earlier for the last instructions, being on time for your shifts even if they start at 7am, staying at your post for several hours at a time... But it also meant being part of a big family of people wearing sky-blue gilets (congress participants affectionately nicknamed us "the Smurfs"!) - a family of almost 300 people, a third of whom were staying in the same student residence, a very sociable family whose members organised two very well-attended tours of Lyon or suggested a different bar to meet in every night.

It was the second time I attended a conference as a volunteer (the first time being the ABF congress in 2012) and I would definitely recommend it. Not only is it a very affordable way to participate in an event of this scale, but being part of such a group makes it more friendly and less intimidating - even if you go without knowing anyone it won't last for long!

original picture: CC-BY-SA Guillaume Gast
So yes, there was a good atmosphere at IFLA Lyon; I talked to librarians from France, the UK, Italy, Romania, Canada, the USA, Malaysia, two different central-African countries (but unfortunately I can't remember which ones), Australia, Brazil... People were generally happy to be there and to answer questions about libraries in their countries.
The Lyon Tourist Office also helped make it a great experience: all congress attendees had free travel on public transport and free entry to most city-centre museums (though personally, the only building I visited was... the hospital's dental emergencies service. Never mind!)

In the next few posts I will tell you about:
  • what I learnt about IFLA through attending a standing committee meeting, a caucus and the newcomers' session;
  • the little things that struck me from all the different sessions I attended;
  • and hopefully, tell you about a debate I attended which led me to propose a session on a similar topic at Library Camp UK 2014.

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