IAML Congress Diary #4: A volunteer’s reflection (UK)

The following Congress Diary is by Tom Kearns (London Borough of Camden Library Service):

I had been eagerly looking forward to Congress since being invited to join to Organising Committee as a kind of voice for public libraries. Early in the Committee’s life I became a member of the Social Committee under the capable leadership of John Wagstaff.

Although I cannot claim much of a part in setting up the social events programme, I was pleased to be able to assist in their running, once Congress got underway. First off was the Pre Congress tour in London, when my skills navigating the perils of travel by London Underground during what was a busy period, were used. It was wonderful to get a chance to meet arriving delegates and deal with the occasional query about where to store left luggage. The day was furthermore made superb by the great welcome and informative talks afforded delegates at the tour venues, namely the British Library, Barbican Music Library, and the Handel Coke Museum. For me there was an element of nostalgia in visiting all venues, but I was pleased to note the many things that may be of possible use to me working in public libraries, even allowing for the fact that I do not deal with audio material any longer.

Saturday saw me heading to Cambridge for the event itself. My living accommodation, Sidney Sussex College was right in the middle of things and I was interested to see somewhere that Oliver Cromwell was a student there at some point in his career. In the mornings one had a larger-than-life size portrait of Queen Elizabeth I staring down at one, which added to the sense of history for me. As the mornings of my stay passed, I made acquaintance with some more Congress delegates who were also staying there.

Sunday afternoon saw me helping with Registration of delegates who were arriving in force, some with their wheelie cases, which in what I suppose was an odd way, added to a sense of something big and “international” for me. Wonderful for me too was the number of familiar faces from my days as a member of the UK-Ireland branch Executive Committee arriving to register.

Monday saw me attending part of the Programme proper – about a subject still very close to my heart, how music can add value to the service we provide in public libraries and how we can ensure that music provision in some ways can be continued and updated in contemporary settings. The session was headed Designing the music libraries of tomorrow. The panel consisted of representatives from The Municipal Library of Prague, Tampere public Library and Odense Music Library and they gave us a wonderful picture of what can be achieved if approached with determination. The “can-do” attitude shone through clearly. Attendance at the session provided me with the inspiration to put one such idea into practice recently in Kilburn Library, part of the Camden Library service in North Inner London.

On Tuesday John and I led a large group of delegates and accompanying persons on a wonderful tour of Cambridge Botanic Gardens. We were graced with three expert guides.

Wednesday morning saw me attending another part of the “working” programme, the announcement, and presentations of our UK-Ireland Branch Excellence in Music Libraries awards. The Awards have been running for a few years now and is a great way of rewarding Libraries and individuals in their efforts to provide effective and relevant services to people who come to us for help, education and enrichment. We had presentations from an expert panel representing some of the winning institution, followed by a useful discussion afterwards.

On the Wednesday, I joined Tour Leader Helen to help lead the day trip to Anglesey Abbey, a fascinating and superbly chosen place to visit. As with our visit to the Botanic Gardens the day previously, the guides there were excellent, knowledgeable, clear and welcoming, everything people expect of us Librarians nowadays too!

Following the day trip, my formal involvement with Congress23 ended, but I was happy to receive some snaps of the final dinner held in King’s College Dining Hall on the Friday evening. It looked to be a grand affair. Congress23 was my first introduction to what we regularly call “big” IAML and certainly I can say for me anyway, it was a wonderful experience. The location in my favourite English city Cambridge helped but so also was the opportunity to meet with colleagues from a variety of work settings, all dedicated to music promotion. I loved hearing their stories. While it is unfair to highlight but I especially enjoyed meeting members of the Italian delegation. I mentioned earlier also how interested I was to hear about the de Falla Archive, helped of course by meeting people from there during one of the enjoyable coffee breaks. It was also useful for me to learn about the present ways of delivering sheet music to people who use our libraries and has provided me with amble material to make suggestions to anyone who wishes to learn of modern ways of delivering music to those who appreciate, enjoy and play music.

A word of thanks from all of us must go to Margaret and all the members of the Congress committee who worked so hard in the run up to the Congress and equally hard during the week, keeping wheels oiled and sorting out the unexpected.

The fabled networking has yielded some concrete results in the form of a promise given by me in a downtown Burger King to attend our UK & Ireland Branch Annual Study Weekend next year.


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