IFLA Presidential Newsletter No. 4 September 2010
08 September 2010
It is with mixed emotions that I start this Newsletter. Whilst looking back at a very successful IFLA World Library and Information Congress 2010 in Sweden, we mourn the passing away of former IFLA Governing Board member, colleague and friend Bob McKee. Bob died on 13 August 2010 in Gothenburg, while he was attending our IFLA Congress. As a gesture of honour to Bob McKee, who meant so much to the international library world and to IFLA in particular, this Newsletter is partly in his memory.
To commemorate Bob and his contribution to IFLA, I have asked a few IFLA colleagues who have worked with Bob and who have known him for many years, to share their thoughts about Bob with us. I especially thank my IFLA colleagues for their warm and personal contribution. Once again, I would like to convey my heartfelt condolences to Bob McKee’s family, the CILIP staff and the many friends and colleagues around the world. May Bob’s spirit continue guiding us with IFLA. He will be sorely missed.
Looking back at the 2010 IFLA Congress
The 76th edition of the IFLA World Library and Information Congress and General Assembly, now three weeks behind us, has been a very successful event. The feedback we received from delegates indicated that this year’s Congress will go down in history as an outstandingly very well organized IFLA congress, with a friendly, inspiring and stimulating atmosphere.
The 2010 IFLA Congress has been a personal delight for me, especially since the conference theme, ‘Open Access to Knowledge – Promoting Sustainable Progress’ connected so well to my own Presidential Theme, ‘Libraries Driving Access to Knowledge.’ The Open Access ‘vibe’ went from the various pre-conferences, through the opening session, through the plenary sessions into the professional programme sessions. It grew as a topic of discussion and understanding among IFLA delegates and at the same time it was one of the leading topics in the conversations we had during Congress with IFLA’s esteemed Strategic Partners.
It was a great pleasure that at our library-focused congress, we were also able to include and host representatives from the Gates Foundation, the International Council on Archives, EBLIDA, UNESCO, CDNL, the International Publishers Association, IFFRO and EIFL. This Congress provided an excellent opportunity to strengthen the basis for future strategic cooperation.
The Congress attracted around 3500 delegates; more than 80 exhibitors provided us with an interesting and well-attended exhibition; over 160 sessions and working group meetings were held. And there were some 150 poster presentations.
In addition to the Congress programme, 14 satellite meetings took place and more than 30 libraries in Gothenburg and the wider region opened up their doors for spontaneous and guided visits. The Swedish National Committee has made a remarkable achievement in hosting and organising this Congress, especially bearing in mind the brief preparation time that has been available. It has been a great pleasure to experience this year’s Congress with its friendly and inspiring atmosphere.
To keep the IFLA Annual Congress at a high level and an attractive international event that cannot be missed, we constantly try to improve the congress programme and the congress facilities. The most remarkable and innovative feature of this year’s Congress was no doubt the provision of online conference news through the IFLA 2010 website. Wasn’t it a good sign that we had to upgrade the wireless access account because of extraordinary demand even before the Congress was completely under way?
More than 50 bloggers registered themselves, and wasn’t it great to read all the blog posts & tweets, browse the photos and watch videos of some of the major speakers—while the congress was taking place? Since the congress ended, the IFLA 2010 website has been updated with even more photo streams and a report on the closing session. There will also be an additional Conference News bulletin—fully dedicated to the Congress—issued later this year. It will be circulated on IFLA-L and be made available online.
During Congress, the President traditionally has an extra programme to follow. This year I enjoyed various meetings that I was able to attend briefly or for a longer period of time. To name a few: the Caucus Meetings at Tuesday 10 August; the ATLA meeting on Thursday 12 August; The National Associations Meeting, the Adopt a Student Programme Launch and the Global Women’s Fair, all on Friday 13 August. All of these are interesting initiatives with a high potential for networking and membership interaction. Meetings like these indicate why attending the annual IFLA Congress is the icing on the cake in experiencing international librarianship for so many librarians from all over the world. I sincerely hope that all delegates, including the many Grantees, first timers and new professionals we had with us in Sweden, experienced the same positive vibe of this year’s Congress.
To point out some highlights in the Congress week, I would like to mention here the launch of the Building Strong Libraries Programme, the launch of the IFLA World Report 2010 and of course the Update Session on Libraries in Haiti.
In the Professional programme the implementation of and the discussion around IFLA’s new Strategic Plan for 2010-2015 were prominent on the agenda. I hope that through the many discussions we have had in this week, this new plan will become a vivid tool to work with for the larger IFLA community.
The natural highlight at every IFLA congress is the General Assembly Meeting in combination with the Closing Session the following day. Where the Closing Session was as always a celebration of the congress with a warm shower of awards and honours, the General Assembly brought the more serious IFLA business into the spotlight. During the General Assembly a motion was accepted on the increase of membership fees for 2011. Two Professional Resolutions were received, one on IFLA’s position on the future activities related to the promotion of Open Access to Scholarly Literature and one on the presence of an exhibitor in the Congress Exhibition, who promote values contrary to the general values of libraries. In line with IFLA’s Rules of Procedure both Professional Resolutions were not tabled in the General Assembly and as required will be referred to the Professional Committee to handle.
All together, this year’s Congress was a notable celebration of IFLA’s achievements, Swedish Librarianship and Sweden’s contribution to international librarianship in particular and IFLA especially. I would like to thank everyone who worked so hard for, participated in, attended and supported the IFLA World Library and Information Congress 2010.
In Memory of Bob McKee (1950-2010)
Bob succeeded me as chief executive of the (British) Library Association when I left to become secretary general of IFLA in 1999. The LA was then in the throes of a controversial merger with the Institute of Information Scientists. Bob’s leadership and personal qualities were, I am sure, instrumental in the successful conclusion of the negotiations and the formation of CILIP. I know that he insisted that CILIP was to be a new organisation, not just an amalgamation of two long-established ones with very different histories, cultures and memberships.CILIP of today is a testament to his drive, conviction and advocacy. Not content with that, he went on to a major reconstruction of the governance of the new body, including its recognition of the vastly changed political situation when the United Kingdom devolved much responsibility to the administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He was a passionate believer in the value of libraries in the modern world, frequently acknowledged in standing ovations at the end of his speeches. He also ensured that, within the usual financial constraints, CILIP took every opportunity to make use of fast developing communications technology. His blog is evidence of that.
By the time he was elected to the governing board of IFLA, I had retired, so I had no direct experience of working with him. But I know from his occasional visits to us in Kent, from his emails and, perhaps, more telling, from comments from those who were working with him that he contributed with enthusiasm and influence to its work. Many were the references to his ability to sum up governing board discussions with clarity in order to lead to a decision.His ‘three points’ were renowned throughout the IFLA family. I know that he was greatly looking forward to retirement, not least because it would have given him the opportunity to take part in the Building Stronger Library Associations programme. I am sure that he would have been an inspirational trainer and mentor in that capacity. Alas this is not to be.
His most recent message to me was about looking forward to joining us to watch Kent play his team Warwickshire at Canterbury cricket ground next season. We were looking forward to a convivial time teasing each other about our respective team’s abilities and frailties. We would have followed this with an enjoyable meal, finished off with Bob drinking some of my wife Pat’s favourite whiskey! Alas this is not to be either.
My last message from CILIP was an invitation to Bob’s retirement party in October. The best we can do is to remember all the good times with Bob, resolve to carry on attempting to emulate his positive attitude to life and share his powerful belief in libraries with all who will listen.
Ross Shimmon, IFLA Secretary General, 1999-2004
Bob McKee bade us, the IFLA family, farewell in his inimical style: sharing his passion for our profession.
He was excited about his new role as one of the Core Network Group of facilitators for the IFLA programme: Building Strong Library Associations. Since July he had immersed himself in the two-part training workshops which were concluded during the 2010 IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Gothenburg with the e-learning module.
During the training sessions he was, as usual, unfazed by the steep learning curve: he welcomed the opportunity for transformation from a distinguished leadership position, on retirement, to being a facilitator of lifelong learning in an effort to enhance effective library associations, on request. When some of us voiced our anxiety and the fear of the unknown, Bob’s infectious spirit of enthusiasm was uplifting and encouraging: with his broad smile, arms held widely apart, his response was typical: "lifelong learning, guys! After all, we shall be facilitating team learning. We are not expert trainers, but facilitators: we learn from and with our Library Association colleagues and hold a mirror to ourselves, for mutual benefit!" Yet he masterly integrated his vast experience in library association management and strategic thinking to enrich case study presentations, during the training sessions.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Bob as a colleague and a friend for over ten years both within CILIP and in IFLA. His commitment to the advancement of our profession featured strongly in our discussions, ranging from issues on indigenous knowledge policy such as he had participated in, recently, in New Zealand with LIANZA, and general concern about the future of libraries and their funding worldwide. I have warm memories of his openness during discussions and counsel, as necessary, especially during 2003/2004 years at IFLA: marked by contributions towards addressing challenges we faced then and, together with others, enabling IFLA to soar to great heights on the wings of global citizenship and opportunity.
It is proper for us to express our deep sadness and convey our condolences especially to Bob’s family, CILIP President Biddy Fisher and Colleagues and the IFLA family globally, at this time of loss.
However, I cannot help but see, with my inner eye, Bob’s twinkling eye, smiling broadly, and saying something like: "I beat you to it guys: See you!"
May his spirit shine on for him and in memory.
Kay Raseroka, IFLA President 2003 – 2005
Bob McKee typified international librarianship at its best. Engaging, and never patronising, Bob worked with colleagues worldwide to promote our profession, the benefits it delivers to communities and its ideals. He was a tremendous collaborator, mentor and friend to many in his own country and beyond but especially across the IFLA and CILIP families. From developing a strategy to implement change to sharing a beer after a long day in committee work, Bob was also willing to share and support.
My own memories of him include the 2002 IFLA Congress held during a heat wave in Glasgow with its theme "Libraries for Life: Democracy, Diversity, Delivery", a theme which could sum up Bob’s priorities. They also encompass joint efforts to consolidate FAIFE, to reform the governance of IFLA and to promote the role of libraries. Always quick on his feet, Bob could take advantage of a situation as he did when he saw me sitting at the side during a debate on the ‘Danish cartoons affair’ and, without warning, publicly called on me to sum up that rich and controversial discussion. In similar good humour, Bob would perceptively focus the discussion on the core questions during Governing Board considerations of challenging issues, helping the Board to arrive at agreement.
In many ways, Bob was the perfect ‘association man’: he knew how to make organisations work and how to bring people on board to pursue common aims. By applying those talents to international library work on top of his contributions to public libraries and to librarianship in the UK, Bob significantly advanced our profession for the benefit of the communities in which we live.
Alex Byrne, IFLA President 2005-2007
I remember so well Wednesday evening (11.8. 2010) at Sjömagasinet in Gothenburg, when we were eating herring together, invited by IFLA President Ellen Tise. It was a wonderful evening and as always we could talk and laugh together. That evening Bob remembered a day in Berlin, when Nancy, Barbara, he and I worked together on the last draft of the new IFLA Statutes. He remembered the evening we spend together in a nearby restaurant, when he took the bottle of wine to pour it into our glasses and the waiter came, to tell him that this was his task to do. He was laughing at this attitude, always open for different styles but relaxed to take formal things not too serious. I also remembered that day, but more as a wonderful experience to work with him very hard and very effective but also very enjoyable.
I was looking forward to work with him in the new project Building Strong Library Associations. He was assigned to be the facilitator for Ukraine and I was assigned for Lithuania. We were thinking of organizing a meeting together and we were both looking forward to it. At the BSLA tech-training on Thursday morning (12.8.2010) in Gothenburg he was sharing a laptop with Kay and we were sending notes in Moodle to each other, to learn how to use this platform. He showed no sign of tiredness, but seemed to be full of excitement about his new plans after retirement.
It is so sad, not to see him smile again, not to be able to enjoy his witness and humor or to have the opportunity to spend another evening with him in the bar.
Bob McKee – he was a driving force in the IFLA Governing Board I chaired, always supportive, quick and clear with his famous three points: He could break down anything to three main points, so that everybody would understand and would be able to decide on it. A Great global librarian! A wonderful colleague and friend!
Claudia Lux, IFLA President 2007 – 2009
As the tributes to Bob all stress, he was a marvellously warm and generous person, and a clever, enormously knowledgeable and committed colleague. But maybe the tributes fail to draw sufficient attention to the rock solid academic and professional basis on which his contribution was built. Bob owed the refinement of his analytical ability to the experience of completing a PhD in literature. The famous three-point summaries of knotty problems were the product of hours of meticulous study and rigorous thought. Subsequently he had polished his wonderful communication skills as a teacher of LIS in Birmingham and was much loved by a host of former students.
Perhaps slightly unusually in the library profession his career had also included time at the highest levels of city administration in Solihull, West Midlands. There he learned to make the hard and possibly unpopular decisions that are in the end unavoidable in the professional lives of even the most lovable of people.
There was also another side to Bob that was seldom revealed. He carried with him the regrets and pain of bad decisions and unhappy situations in personal life. His empathy with others was demonstrated with total ease, but it had been hard won.
Most of all, however, we are likely to remember that Bob was fun, never happier than in a bar or restaurant, and always to be relied on as an amusing and informed contributor to conversation whether it might be on sport, popular culture or more serious academic or political subjects. To be with him was always a joy: he spread a little light wherever he went.
Paul Sturges, Chair of FAIFE 2003-2009
It is a rare person who you always look forward to seeing, hearing their views, and enjoying their company. Bob McKee was such a person. Over more than 10 years Bob and I have compared notes on association management, and shared our passion for IFLA. He was an excellent association chief executive and an inspirational leader within IFLA.
I was delighted that he was on the Governing Board for my first year as Secretary General of IFLA, and though the nature of our professional relationship then changed from fellow association executives to a more formal one of board member and CEO, we continued our mutual respect and long discussions about the challenges of managing professional associations. He always brought his wise counsel to Governing Board meetings, and previously to FAIFE, and was always supportive of Headquarters staff.
I was also delighted when Bob accepted my invitation to join us as a volunteer coach/core trainer in our Building Strong Library Associations programme after his retirement from CILIP – he was a natural choice to be a guide and mentor to those committed members in a participating library association, that person who will find a unique way to get you thinking about issues and coming up with creative solutions, that person who will let you all discuss and debate and then so simply draw it all together into three points and make the way ahead seem clear and achievable. And Bob said he could think of no better way to continue working within the IFLA family.
We shared birthday drinks at the IFLA Congress. We also indulged in the good humored banter that goes on between Australians and ‘Poms’, but he always refused to discuss the Ashes cricket!
Bob, it’s been a privilege to know you mate.
Jennefer Nicholson, IFLA Secretary General
CILIP has opened Bob McKee’s blog page for tributes. Tributes to Bob can be made publicly by posting a comment to this blog, or privately by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; Tributes and cards can be sent by post to: Mark Taylor, CILIP, 7 Ridgmount St, London, WC1E 7AE, UK.
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