A few months ago we reported on the election of the International Federation of Library Associations’ (IFLA) new President, Australia Christine Mackenzie.
The organisation’s 85th Conference was subsequently held in Athens. In the wake of the Conference’s scientific reflections discussed at the National Library of Greece’s Book Castle, located at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC), we sat down for an exclusive interview with Ms Mackenzie.
As the newly-elected President of IFLA, can you tell us more about the organisation, its character, mission and strategic direction?
IFLA, known as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, was founded in 1927 in Edinburgh to advocate for libraries, promote professional good practices and connect experts from the library field. Today, the organisation is located in Hague (Netherlands) and is the global voice of libraries. With the creation of a strong and united library field and empowerment of literate, participative and informed societies as its global vision, IFLA represents 191 countries and seven continents. Today’s strategic directions were launched in Athens via IFLA’s 2019–2024 strategy that outlines four key strategies or strategic directions. These aim at strengthening the global voice of libraries, inspiring and enhancing professional practice, connecting experts and empowering the field, and optimising the organisation’s potential.
As an international organisation, IFLA makes decisions about libraries’ futures at a global level. How useful is global policy making?
We need to have legitimacy to go to posts such as the United Nations, UNESCO, World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and support that IFLA speaks for all the libraries in the world. As a global organisation, we have status. Οne of the ideas we are working on is to bring cultural ministers of the Pacific together at a forum next year sponsored by IFLA to discuss the future of libraries. Having IFLA behind such initiatives really strengthens the case. It is a powerful advocacy tool to have an international status to build coalitions and support for libraries at a political level.
Your election as IFLA’s President raises Australian libraries’ profiles. What is the Australian library system like and what are its challenges?
Australia has fantastic library systems that are world standard. Australian librarians are very well represented in IFLA. Overall, the country’s libraries have been recognised worldwide for their services, going back to the Public Library of the Year Award. The first one was won by Craigieburn Library, and others have been shortlisted, Geelong Library and Heritage Centre and Green Square Library. Australian libraries are very well regarded and well known. Of course, no one has ever enough resources and unquestionably everyone could do with more. However, librarians are very good at doing a lot with not much money; they are practical and resourceful people. In Australia, librarians have recognised how important it is to create partnerships. Libraries work together with partners to deliver programs and services. The Library at Sunshine in Melbourne can be used as an example. It has many meeting rooms activated and used by community organisations. This library is running programs mainly in partnership with other communities and organisations. And many libraries have collections in languages other than English, including Greek books, magazines and DVDs and run programs about Greek culture and life.
As IFLA’s President, what are your aims and priorities?
My aim as the President of IFLA’s Governing Board is to strengthen the global voice of libraries by working together. I want to achieve the actions set out in our new strategic plan and in particular this year work on IFLA’s organisational structure. We need to ensure that our structure enables us to fulfil our strategy.
My presidential theme is “Let’s work together” and I want to strengthen partnerships with like-minded organisations that share our goal to strive for a sustainable future. I am also interested in addressing issues related to internet governance. Internet is providing access to information for everybody. To ensure internet remains a credible information resource is really, really important.
How did the 2019 IFLA Conference go and what did you think of the planning and its outcomes?
In 2019, IFLA’s conference was held in Athens and there were many Australians involved in its Standing Committees and professional units to present papers stating about what Australian libraries were doing. We were impressed with the conference; this has been a wonderful forum. Many people said that the conference in Athens was “the best conference ever” because of the wonderful Greek people, their hospitality and warmth, as well as the Megaron Building which was a great space. Having the exhibition amongst where the people are walking to added a real sense of activation to the space area. Having our cultural night held at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre was also an amazing experience! It was a wonderful night. People had the opportunity to visit the National Library of Greece and share the space with so many Athenians. It really felt like a real gathering place for the city. IFLA’s conference in Athens has just been a really great experience for us and we enjoyed being a part of it.