My book “Information Literacy and Cultural Heritage: Developing a model for lifelong learning” has now been printed and published.
I wanted to reflect on how the ideas in the book took shape over a period of years, during my involvement with IFLA, serving on the IFLA Document Delivery and Resource Sharing (DDRS) Standing Committee for the period 2003 – 2011, and Chairing the Committee for the period 2007 – 2009.
It really was an exceptional and rare privilege, and I remain eternally grateful to Professor Peter Lor (who was the National Librarian of the National Library of South Africa (NLSA) at the time), for nominating me in the first place to serve on the Committee, and to the Chairperson of the Board of the NLSA at that time, Professor Rocky Ralebepi-Simela, and to John Tsebe, current National Librarian, for supporting my work on that Committee during that period of time.
While my primary purpose and focus was on issues of Document Delivery and Resource Sharing, and I enjoyed very much working with the wonderful, professional people on that Committee during that time, what was simultaneously occurring as I attended IFLA conferences, ILDS (Interlending and Document Supply) conferences, and mid-term business meetings in various countries is that I was exposed to a variety of cultural heritage institutions and their collections. Apart from the privilege of being able to work directly with so many truly wonderful people from around the world, who had a variety of language and cultural backgrounds and yet we managed to work together so well, and in such a good and friendly spirit, each host would show us cultural highlights in their country, and the sheer thrill of learning about all these different cultures was one I wished I could share with everyone.
I realised how museums, archives and libraries, through their collections, could be powerful catalysts in not only providing access to these collections, be they online or in physical form, but should really be catalysts for bringing these collections ALIVE to the general public. They should provide courses that could give the average citizen, who does not have the time or the resources to enter the privileged world of formal education through institutions, a way of benefiting from free choice, lifelong learning courses that teach both information literacy skills, and cultural heritage awareness at the same time. Many museums, archives and libraries all have programmes, of course, but not with this particular combination, and not in combination with each other. So my book is about how to do that.
I am indulging here in some reminisces of my travels and the highlights that made deep, lifelong impressions on me and are imprinted in my memory, and continue to shape my view of the world.
My first ILDS conference was in 2003, in Canberra, Australia, and I nervously presented my first ever paper to an international audience at this conference. I did already have extensive knowledge of Indigenous Aboriginal Australia, and it was wonderful to spend time after the conference revisiting that most beautiful aspect of Australia.
Pictured above: The entrance to the NLA in Canberra, Australia, 2003.
In 2004, my first IFLA conference took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I was instantly in love. The Latin American culture had me hooked – the passion, the tango, the very high levels of literacy and reading, the love of culture, and the sheer vibrancy of the people. Also, most refreshing, was the lively and at times heated political debates, which really added life to the sometimes very dry and serious forums. Not everyone approved of this, but I for one absolutely loved it, it brought librarianship ALIVE. I have to say that the Buenos Aires conference remains the one closest to my heart.
Pictured above: Tango in the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2004.
In 2005, in complete contrast, my next IFLA conference was in Oslo, Norway, and I was most intrigued by the Norwegian Cultural Heritage village, which had very convincingly reconstructed Norwegian life in past times. So from the hot-blooded passion of Latin America, I now experienced the gentle and benevolent Nordic disposition.
Pictured above: A scene from the Cultural Heritage village in Oslo, Norway, 2005.
Next, I attended a mid-term business meeting in February, 2006 in Rome, and that was heaven! I was already familiar with Italian culture, as a family member had married a member of the South African Italian community, and I was exposed to pasta, passion, and the art of life from a very early age. But Rome was incredible – surrounded by ancient walls that had stood there for centuries, exquisite street fresco art everywhere, having access to the best coffee in the world, and feeling the sheer history of the city, still in present time, was incredible. But MOST incredible was the privilege of a lifetime, when our kind hostess, Assunta Arte, managed to arrange for us to have a tour of the Vatican Library. As we entered Vatican City, and stood waiting outside the Vatican Library for our official representative to take us on the tour, nothing could have prepared me for what lay inside the stone edifice. We were not allowed to take pictures, and could not wander off, which we of course respected, given the rare privilege we were having. We were shown through the main reading rooms, some of the stacks, and shown some of the treasures. The sheer magnificence of the art on the ceilings and walls, the sculptures, the furniture, and of course, the collections, was THE memory of a lifetime, and one I am forever grateful for. It usually takes a long time, and an application process which is thoroughly vetted, and often not approved, before one can enter the Vatican Library, and so, my gratitude to my friend and colleague, Assunta, remains forever.
Pictured above: A random fresco on a Church, St Peter’s Square, and Committee members waiting outside the entrance to the Vatican Library, Rome and Vatican City, 2006
In August 2006, it was time for a completely different cultural flavour, when I attended the IFLA conference in Seoul, South Korea, and here, we were exposed to the beautiful culture of Asia, and there was a Buddhist sanctuary and temple right across the road. The Seoul IFLA conference organizers also produced the most beautiful, inspiring song for the IFLA conference, and it was a heartwarming conference, where the hosting was outstanding, and we were all made to feel like honoured and special guests. Such kindness, such grace, and such exquisite culture!
Pictured above: A display at the National Library of Korea (South), and a scene from the Buddhist temple. Seoul, South Korea, 2006.
In February 2007, it was back to Europe for a mid-term meeting, this time in Lisbon, Portugual, and our colleague Elisa Soares was the kind hostess. We held our meetings at the National Library, and enjoyed a tour of the beautiful buildings in the region.
Pictured above: A sculpture in a church in Lisboa, Portugal, February 2007.
IFLA 2007 took place in Durban, my home city where I grew up, in South Africa, and it was such an honour to return the favours granted to me by my Standing Committee colleagues over the years, and be able to be the hostess to them for a change, arranging for a local cultural experience for them on one of the evenings. It was also the Conference where I was elected as Chair of the IFLA DDRS Standing Committee for the term 2007 – 2009.
Pictured above: the ICC in Durban, South Africa, August 2007.
In October 2007, my first duty as Chair was to co-host the IFLA Interlending and Document Supply conference, held at the National Library in Singapore, and there I had the immense pleasure of working with Gene Tan, and many others. I loved this conference, and the cultural evenings arranged for us included exposure to the main cultural influences in Singapore – Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and European. The Singaporeans were outstanding hosts, and took care of us really well. The people of Singapore are beautiful, and I was really, really impressed with the National Library of Singapore itself. It is a beautiful, people friendly building, aesthetically pleasing, a hive of activity, and was “the place to be” for Singaporeans. Everyone in Singapore knew of the National Library of Singapore, it was the place to go. And the theme of this new, transformative library was: “Knowledge – Imagination – Possibility”. The whole concept was brilliantly conceived, and designed to last into many future generations. I definitely left another piece of my heart in Singapore.
Pictured above: The National Library of Singapore, and a scene from the cultural evening in Singapore, 2007.
In February 2008, our mid-term meeting took place in the beautiful French Town of Nancy, at INIST, and was hosted by our colleague, Jacqueline Gillet. I stayed in the historic old quarter in Stanislov Square, and visited the many art and cultural centres in the town. When our business was concluded, we took the train to Paris, for an extensive tour of the Biblioteque Nationale, and that was truly inspiring. I also took some time to spend rather a lot of time at the Louvre, and absorbed the magnificent collections of art there, leaving France with a whole new respect and understanding for the immense contributions of the French to our global cultural heritage.
Pictured above: Ornate sculpture in Stanislov Square, Nancy, the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris, and the Louvre in Paris. February 2008.
In February 2009, our next mid-term meeting was held in Hannover, Germany, which was appropriate as we were in the final stages of planning for the 2009 ILDS to take place in October, later in the year, in Hannover. This time, we were kindly hosted by Uwe Rosemman, and his wonder-worker marketing staff, headed by Nicole Petrie. It was a pleasure to absorb the German culture and art, and also the sobering history, and to admire how far Germany has evolved from that past. It was an absolute pleasure to work with Uwe and his team who were the very personification of professionalism, efficiency, and friendliness, and our ILDS conference held later that year in Hannover was a wonderful success, with both the programme being praised for its innovation, and the cultural events being pleasing to the delegates. (A later survey confirmed this).
Pictured above: The TIB in Hannover, February 2009, and two scenes from the ILDS conference in October, 2009.
In August 2009, the main IFLA conference took place in Milan, and I was thrilled to return to Italy and see a different aspect of it. There were many places of cultural interest to visit, and again, it was a pleasure to interact with professional colleagues around the world. I handed over my responsibilities as Chair at this conference, grateful for the opportunity I had been given by my colleagues.
Pictured above: The entrance to the IFLA conference in Milan, and a sculpture on the shores of Lake Como, Milan, Italy, 2009.
My final IFLA conference was in Gotenburg, Sweden, 2010, and it was fitting for me to end my IFLA activities in this Nordic country which is the home of so much enlightenment, scholarship, culture and art. I absolutely adored the Swedish people, who were such kind and generous hosts, and again, I was very, very grateful for the privileges I had been given over the years.
Pictured above: Entrance to the IFLA conference held at the Gothia Towers, and a sculpture in the streets of Gothenberg, Sweden, 2010.
In closing on this trip down memory lane, I can truly say that the book would never have happened, had I not had these experiences, and the ideas in the book are my way of giving something back to the profession, which I hope will add value to it. I also acknowledge my debt to the NLSA who supported me throughout this time, as well as the University of Cape Town’s Library and Information Studies Centre, when I started doing Honours through them in 2010, and had the opportunity to do a research project, which was essentially a literature review that lead to the beginning of the formalising of the ideas. At that stage, I had only been looking at developing a contextually relevant model to teach information literacy and cultural heritage at one institution. However, when Chandos approached me after I had left the NLSA to write a book, this necessarily expanded to provide a contextually fluid model that would be applicable internationally, and able to be adapted to any cultural and political context.
Thank you for indulging me this long, but I did feel this was essential contextual background, in terms of personal experiences that shaped the intellectual concepts that developed and evolved in the book.