By Rashidah Begum Fazal Mohamed
For a long time all I knew about Poland were some of the brilliant people it had produced who had influenced the world far beyond the boundaries of their country – Marie Curie discovered radium and other key elements; Frédéric Chopin, composer and pianist; Nicolaus Copernicus, astronomer and mathematician; and Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel Prize-winning novelist. I had never heard of Wroclaw until it was selected to host IFLA WLIC 2017 and my decision to attend it gave me the most number of memorable experiences compared to the dozen or so IFLA WLICs I have attended in the past.
First memorable experience: The keynote lecture titled “Where were you going, Poland (before you were so rudely interrupted)?” was mesmerising. Professor Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski told the story of the long and rich history and culture of Poland. Starting with the 16th century he recounted Poland’s turbulent history that caused much suffering – political upheavals, wartime destruction and natural disasters. But each time there was recovery. Poland was described “as a nation undaunted by adversity”. The impact of the elements of continuity and change in Polish history and culture can be seen today in Poland. It has finally found stability and a chance for development. The story of Poland as presented by Professor Butterwick-Pawlikowski was a very inspiring story and added a valuable dimension to our understanding of the places we saw in Wroclaw and its people we interacted with during the WLIC.
Second memorable experience: The venue of the Congress was Centennial Hall, recognised as one of the greatest architectural achievements of the 20th century. In 2006 the Hall became a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Hall, which can accommodate up to 10,000 people was the venue of most of the IFLA WLIC programmes including the exhibition and poster displays. It was mainly one level and also very close to other buildings that were the registration and meeting venues. All were connected by broad walkways and surrounded by gardens and eating places. The vast amount of greenery in the area was very unusual for a conference venue, and it was a joy.
Third memorable experience: A visit to the penitentiary library (detention centre) in Wroclaw. It was organised by the IFLA Section for Library Services to People with Special Needs and was outside of the other library visits organised by the WLIC National Committee. The visit ended with a performance of prison theatre “Jubilio” by four prisoners. As a gift, I presented the library with a copy of Lat’s Kampong Boy.
Fourth memorable experience: A chance for Malaysia to be on centre stage. We shared a booth with IFLA and the Malaysians were kept busy interacting and engaging with the hundreds of visitors who came to our booth. Malaysia was literally on stage – twice – at the closing session. First was to receive the Best IFLA Poster 2017 award for The Buggy Ride @Perpustakaan Raja Tun Uda Library, Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia by Sabariah Sayuti, Mastura Muhamad and Noor Jasmin Jumhar. This was a tremendous achievement as the competition was very great. There were 188 posters from libraries throughout the world including those in USA, Europe and Asia. The second time was when the Malaysian representative from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture went on stage to deliver a welcoming address to all to attend IFLA WLIC 2018 in Kuala Lumpur. The whole 50-strong Malaysian contingent joined him on stage at the end of his presentation.
Fifth memorable experience: There was a sense of urgency about ensuring that the impact of librarians and libraries is more visible to the world. This was talked about in many of the sessions. More and more libraries, especially public libraries, are making sure that they are part of national legislation and local laws and regulations. This was also reflected in IFLA’s activities such as those on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the launching of the IFLA global vision initiative.
Last memorable experience: the ease with which we could move around the conference venues and the hotel and all the other cultural attractions in Wroclaw. We were given free rides on the train and trams but most of us did a lot of walking as every part of Wroclaw was connected seamlessly and everything was close to each other.
All in all, a wonderful week of professional camaraderie amidst a calm but modern city with a beautiful heritage.