My first International Librarians' Conference: IFLA WLIC 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

When I received the notification on my e-mail that I qualified for a Participation Grant from the National Library of Malaysia to go to the International Federation of Library Associations, Inc. - World Library and Information Congress 2018 (IFLA WLIC 2018) in Kuala Lumpur, I was surprised. I was excited but also nervous about the possibility that I might have to go alone. For those who don't know, IFLA WLIC is the biggest and 'most international' librarians conference in the world, with delegates worldwide from various institutions, schools, libraries, and library associations.

There's a story behind this. Last year's IFLA WLIC was in Wroclaw, Poland. One of my good friends from CPU Library Science, Christian Acevedo, had gone and also toured in Europe. I was inspired by his IFLA experience, so when there was a call to apply for a participation grant for the 2018 conference, I just did so without really expecting anything. I figured that this year was in Malaysia so it would be a lot cheaper and nearer since it's still in Asia anyway. After a few months, they were already sending out their acceptance announcements to others who have qualified or the grant. Well, I figured out I might not have qualified so I just let it go. Then come the last week of July, I was in Taiwan for a short study program, people from the National Library of the Philippines (they were handling the grant processing) e-mailed me again that two people backed out and they were opening the two slots to other applicants.

They required me to fill out an application form, and I was so torn whether to still apply or not. I was about to reply that I might not be able to go. After a long debate with myself, I just sent out the filled-out form. I said to myself that this is a very rare opportunity. I can think about the logistics later if I do get accepted. July 31, I got the acceptance letter. The National Library of Malaysia would sponsor my registration (which is 500 euros) and the rest is my expense. But the amount of 500 euros, around $580 or 31,000 pesos, is still a big amount and would be a waste. I wouldn't have afforded the conference without the grant.

Even after I got accepted I was still stuck thinking if I should go or not. I asked some of my foreigner friends in Taiwan who have been to Malaysia, and they encouraged me to go. If not for the seasoned travelers I knew there, I wouldn't have the guts to go alone. They said that I wouldn't have a difficult time in Malaysia as almost everyone speaks English and it's generally affordable. I was in Taiwan then, and I had managed to go around Taipei on my own the last week I was there. So I said to myself, if I could get lost and find my way back here in Taipei, I can do it anywhere! I went back to the Philippines from Taiwan on August 8th (I was there since June), and on August 23rd I set off to Kuala Lumpur again.

I will write more about the traveling experience in Malaysia in detail on the next blog entry, but this blog is more about my IFLA experience in KL.

The conference lasted from August 24 to August 30. The conference website and app is very useful and informative, and it contains everything you need to know about staying in Malaysia and going around the conference. I was impressed with how they handled an international conference, everything went so smoothly. There were many simultaneous programs and you can choose what to attend using the app. It was so confusing what to choose since all topics were interesting!

First, I had to figure out how to get to the conference venue which was in Kuala Lumpur Convention Center. This is near the Petronas Towers, a popular landmark of KL and Malaysia. It's the tallest twin towers in the world and was once the tallest building in the world until Taipei 101. I was so impressed with the conference venue!

My view of KL from my hotel room

Registration area

Conference kit!
Opening session performance

Malaysia Tourism Center where the Cultural Evening was held

Memorable Sessions 
The first session I attended was the Newcomers' Session where those who are attending the conference for the first time are introduced to IFLA and the Congress. After that was the Opening Session where we were welcomed by the IFLA leaders and since the Congress was in Malaysia, there was an impressive dance performance.

One of the most-attended sessions was on the topic "Librarian Fashion: What does the way we dress say about us?". It was interesting because it showed what librarians wear, and also talked about places where traditional fashion is still being used. They even talked about librarians' hairstyle.

Here are some interesting topics I attended:

  • How to get Research published in the IFLA Journal
  • Sanctuaries in the City: the public library as a safe space
  • Social networks - looking for the next big thing in libraries and social networks
  • Reference and Information Services shifting gears
  • Collaboration in LIS education in developing countries using social media
  • Libraries transform to transform their communities

There was also a Cultural Evening in Malaysia Tourism Center, where we had a dinner and tasted the best Malaysian food. They also had cultural performances for IFLA delegates.

Different publishers, library associations, book dealers, library-related businesses, and libraries had exhibition booths presenting their services. There was the poster session where we could interact with the presenters and different organizations. I like the freebies like bookmarks, postcards, and other useful stuff, and the free coffee.

Overall, I'm thankful for the opportunity of attending an international conference for librarians. If there is another opportunity in the future, I would definitely grab it. My only regret is that I wasn't fully aware of the range of activities before and after the conference, I would have made the most of it. Like before the conference, there were 'unconferences' where groups organize special activities.

I also felt that our own PLAI National Congress is at par with IFLA WLIC with the topics presented and the quality of presentations. We are still behind on technology and we could learn a lot from IFLA WLIC on the logistics of a conference, though I can see how much PLAI has improved. Though in an international conference, you also become aware of the best practices and problems encountered by librarians and information professionals in other countries. You have the opportunity to meet other librarians all over the world, and also the chance of experiencing the culture of another country.

IFLA WLIC 2019 is in Athens, Greece, and for now, I am not attending (let's just see). I do hope that I will be able to attend IFLA Congresses in the future!

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