The seventh Sharjah International Library Conference ran November 10-12, in an all-virtual format. A total of 830 librarians from 53 different countries, as well as 126 exhibitors, participated, according to Jon Malinowski of the Combined Book Exhibit, one of the organizers.
The theme of the event was "Challenges faced by librarians and libraries during the New Normal." It opened with a keynote Zoom lecture from American Library Association president Julius C. Jefferson Jr., a section head of the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress. Jefferson said the focus for the ALA during the pandemic was on maintaining the safety of patrons as libraries reopen as well as helping libraries provide more remote services.
He discussed going on a virtual listening tour to libraries across the geographic center of the U.S. and reaffirmed the need for more libraries in rural communities. Jefferson noted that in Indiana, for example, the Indiana Library Federation extended public library Wi-fi to parking lots this year to help patrons who may have been unemployed or lost connectivity. "I believe we come out of this stronger than ever...with a new sense of energy, to be connected and with a better sense of the services that our patrons need," said Jefferson.
Michael Dowling, director of the international relations office at the ALA, felt the virtual format for the conference, which featured a dozen speakers over three days, was an overall success.
"Though the pandemic did not allow everyone to get together in Sharjah this year, it was great to bring together librarians from around the world online to connect and share how to they’ve been responding to support their communities in these challenging times," said Dowling. "The virtual format allowed many who have never attended a Sharjah International Library Conference to join the Forum. The fact that there were librarians joining in from all time zones showed the desire to hear best practices not limited by borders.”
Dowling added, "It was interesting to see that each presentation saw the challenges thrust upon all by Covid, but each focused a lot on the possibilities and opportunities for librarians and librarians to come out at the other end stronger and more connected and more visible to their communities.”