Conference Report: IFLA Rare Books and Manuscripts Section

The National Library of Finland (Wikimedia Commons)

Librarians from around the world gathered for the annual IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Helsinki, Finland (August 2012). Since 1928, IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) has provided the opportunity for colleagues from public, academic, and special libraries to exchange ideas, forge connections and professional development. The 78th conference also showcased Finnish culture, history and cuisine with a special cultural evening in Wanha Satama (the Old Harbour) and through a local tour group’s in-depth tours of Helsinki and environs. More than 4,000 participants and visitors attended the week-long conference at the Helsinki Exhibition & Convention Centre.

As part of the IFLA conference, but on a much smaller scale, we participated in the Rare Books and Manuscripts section, an offsite meeting in the National Library of Finland, a stunning library of Neoclassical architecture designed by C.L. Engel in 1836 with a modern rotunda added in the early 20th century by G. Nyström. The building’s three main halls, including two that house the library’s reading rooms, connect to the rotunda and various exhibition spaces. The library is an integral part of Senate Square Complex, connected to the University of Helsinki and directly facing the Cathedral entrance.

Held in one of the library’s seminar rooms, the rare books meeting proved so popular that extra chairs were added to accommodate the almost 80 attendees. It was a lively and affair with 8 presentations on the theme of Marketing of Rare and Special Collections in a Digital Age over the course of the day. Rare book colleagues from Oxford, the University of Saint Andrews, the University of Wyoming, Southern Methodist University (Texas), Uppsala University, and the National Library of Scotland presented talks as varied as the use of social media, to concerns related to exhibition displays, and the role of student as tour guide. Our presentation discussed a case study of an innovative approach to interacting with exhibitions and teaching students about rare books and collections at McGill University.

The main session was followed by a poster session and refreshments in the basement of the National Library. One was also able to explore the exhibition of beautiful European manuscripts titled, Treasures of the National Library of Finland. The poster session and exhibition provided a glimpse at Finland’s fascinating history, as well as an opportunity for  in-depth discussion with conference participants.

Helsinki’s history is visible throughout the city, particularly through its potpourri of architectural splendor. With a population of just over 600,000, Helsinki’s history is comparatively short to many of its European neighbour cities. The architecture displays the varying trends of yester-year with those of the modernist movement of late 20th century. Thankfully Helsinki was saved from the bombing campaigns of the First and Second World Wars and thus was able to maintain its pre-20th century buildings and churches. The city also highlights a number of daily and weekly markets, including a large flea market where tourists can buy trinkets of Lenin (who lived in Helsinki for a period of time) and the USSR’s fabled sickle and hammer design. Finally, Helsinki’s waterfront is a tourist destination of its own  – the central market square, the Kauppatori, is bordered by Helsinki City Hall to the North, and the splendid Russian Orthodox church to the south, sitting high on a natural rock formation and overlooking the incoming and outgoing seafarers. Suomenlinna, an island fortress in the Baltic Sea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a short ferry ride from the market square.

Text previously appeared in MOQDOC, Newsletter of ARLIS/NA MOQ.

By: Jennifer Garland, Rare Books and Special Collections and Sean Swanick, Islamic Studies Library

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