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Havana - 1994!

The warm and enthusiastic hospitality shown by our Cuban hosts of the 60th IFLA General Conference will long be remembered. From 21 to 27 August 1994, and indeed for several years preceding the event, the capable and dedicated members of the Havana Organizing Committee did their utmost to make this the successful conference it was, in spite of its being held at the time when the departure of thousands of emigres by raft and boat captured the headlines.

The difficult economic circumstances did not prevent our Cuban hosts from offering some innovative features to this conference: for the first time papers were available on floppy disk for participants to take home; Mundo Latino produced a videotape of the highlights of the conference and copies were available for purchase in any video format; but, most important, Luis Mourelos and his colleagues from the automation department at the Biblioteca Nacional "JosE Marti" demonstrated the capabilities of the Internet by creating the first IFLA ListServ, thus providing delegates with information before the conference and providing opportunities to communicate with colleagues while at the conference...and as can now be seen from browsing the Internet Post-Havana, from reports circulating about the conference.

To help proclaim their solidarity, colleagues from Barcelona, the venue for the IFLA Conference in 1993, urged IFLA colleagues via the Internet "to help overcome the difficult economic situation in Cuba that directly affects the national library system". It established a Commission, "A Cuba con Libros" to coordinate its own efforts. This was followed by e-mail messages from all over the world asking what medical supplies, computer equipment and other materials were needed. Colleagues in Havana responded and also set up their own Committee to collect donations of all kinds, and to ensure that they were widely dispersed.

Other assistance to the conference included the support offered by local firms and the support traditionally given by IFLA Patron Sponsors. However, all conferences need paper, and the contribution from Caribbean Paper, located in Sweden, which donated one million sheets of paper provided by its branch office and mill in Cuba, did much to help provide the needed documentation.

Conference attendance was impressive: 938 delegates from 80 countries; 433 Cubans; 71 accompanying persons; and 65+ exhibitors. The US delegation again headed the list of foreign participants with 116, followed by Spain with 63 participants, and Russia with 62.

This being the first IFLA Conference ever held in Latin America and the Caribbean, 26 countries sent delegates, their numbers totalling 187, not including those from Cuba. To emphasize the dedication of members who attend IFLA Conferences, Robert Wedgeworth traced the journey of Executive Board member Sun Beixin, who flew from Beijing to Tokyo to Seattle to San Francisco to Houston to Mexico City to Havana - a trip lasting 72 hours!

The auditorium of the Palacio de los Convenciones was filled to capacity for the opening ceremony. Marta Terry, Vice President of the Havana Organizing Committee and Second Vice-President of IFLA recapped the process of bringing IFLA to Havana, which began in 1980 in Manila when Cubans first attended an IFLA Conference. "IFLA has opened the world to us", she said, and "the conference is tantamount to breaking the blockade in our professional field".

Armando Hart Davalos, Minister of Culture, honored delegates, not only by his words at the Opening Session - "The world we Cubans have dreamed of and continue to dream of can only be realized through libraries and culture" - but also by participating more fully in the conference than any minister at an IFLA Conference ever has, even attending several sessions.

Cuban poet, Cintio Vitier, whose extensive work as a critic and essayist is considered among the greatest in contemporary Cuban literature, delivered the plenary address. Though not intended as poetry, his speech at the session reads as fluently as if it were poetry. Looking back at his childhood years and the years after and drawing examples from them, he stressed- the values, objectives and responsibilities of the information and library profession and the role it plays in the social and economic context. It is his conviction that poetry (creation) ought to become the centre of planetary society. the way it is already the centre of the universe in which we live. "Musing the starry sky should be enough to convince us that there is justice. It is the duty of all human beings of good will to work intimately and publicly to ensure the existence and reign of this justice in the world. Justice is beauty. Beauty is always- creation."

In his Presidential Address, Robert Wedgeworth highlighted Cuba's great successes in raising the general education level of its people and wiping out illiteracy through its own efforts. He also announced the establishment of the IFLANET, with the technical assistance of a new IFLA sponsor, Silver- Platter Information Inc., and coordinated by the IFLA Core Programme on UDT (Universal Dataflow and Telecommunications). IFLANET will facilitate communications with and among its members, committees, Sections and Divisions. The next step will be the creation of an IFLA document server (IFLADOC) which will make available basic information about IFLA, IFLA newsletters and conference papers and other documents.

"Eventually", he said, "it is expected that IFLANET will transform IFLA into a worldwide communications network for libraries and librarianship that will transcend the barriers of time, place and level of development that separate us today."

On the professional front, the Conference theme, "Libraries for Social Development" was addressed in 187 papers, with 36 translations into Spanish provided by the Havana Organizing Committee. IFLA officers, responsible for obtaining translations into other IFLA languages, arranged for 40 English translations, 34 French translations, 11 German translations, and 06 Russian translations. Significant contributions, both quantitatively and qualitati- vely, were made by Cuban librarians, 62 of whom were speakers at the confe- rence. The guest lecture series this year featured the National Librarian of Venezuela, Virginia Betancourt, who spoke on activities of ABINIA (Asociaci- on de Bibliotecas Nacionales de IberoamErica) in Latin American cooperation in 1993. In addition, there were 57 open sessions, 16 workshops, and 37 poster sessions. The success of the open sessions and the workshops were partially due to the excellent facilities and the helpful staff of the Palacio, the on-site work of the 200+ volunteers, and the excellent preparatory work done by the Havana Conference Organizers. Delegates also apprecia- ted the simultaneous interpretation service organized by the Palacio de los Convenciones, the first time in many years that the IFLA team of interpreters (now disbanded) was not used.

A Pre-Session Seminar on "Libraries for Literacy in Socially and Geographically Isolated Communities" was held in Matanzas, Cuba, from 15 to 19 August 1994. The Seminar attracted 28 participants from Argentina, Brazil, Botswa- na, Colombia, Cuba, Curacao, El Salvador, Fiji Islands, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, Trinidad, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Support was received from UNESCO, the Cuban Government and authorities in the City of Matanzas.

Cuban musicians, singers and dances at conference receptions (and at the opening and closing sessions - another IFLA "first" which we hope will be continued!)) contributed to a conference described by President Wedgeworth as "sabroso" (pleasant and delicious).

Beginning with the opening of the exhibition on Sunday, 19 August with food and dance for all participants, other events included the splendid reception sponsored by the Government of Cuba at the Salon de Protocolo "El Laguito" in a beautiful wooded area in the Miramar district. The National Theatre of Cuba was the site for the Cultural Gala, where an unforgettable performance by the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba performed a sampler of Cuban culture, demonstrating the excellent quality, technique and broad experience of the internationally renowned troupe. ASCUBI (Cuban Library Association) held a reception at the Biblioteca Nacional JosE Marti" with professional dance performances, dancing for all participants, and an arts and crafts exhibit. The Government of the City of Havana rounded out the social programme with a dance and reception at El Capitolito, where the Schola Cantorum Coralina, also performed a delightful programme of Cuban, Latin American and universal choral music.

The exhibition area included product presentations, book signings, fashion shows and Cuban films (40 events in all), and offered several snack bars and "sitting out" areas. Over 20 foreign exhibitors and 60 Cuban exhibitors were on hand to provide an overview of the products available. The IFLA booth, staffed by Eveline Berghuis, from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Netherlands, was also attended on a rotating basis by officers of Sections and Round Tables who were available to answer questions about their projects and activities and to display some of their publications.

That international professional contacts were truly strengthening can be illustrated by the action of delegates when they returned home. Some IFLA officers are arranging for sponsorship for Cubans to attend the IFLA Conference in Istanbul, others will send materials and books to librarians they met. In his closing remarks to the havana Conference organizers Leo Voogt stated: "I look forward to working with you and your colleagues to maintain the momentum that this conference has created in effectively supporting the development of librarianship in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Further information regarding IFLA activities can be obtained by contacting IFLA Headquarters at: IFLA@ifla.org

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