How Columbus Lured IFLA Back to the U.S. After 16 Years

By Kelsey Ogletree, February 28, 2017

The last time the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) met in the United States, its general conference and assembly convened in Boston in 2000. Founded in Scotland in the 1920s, IFLA is an organization of library leaders that represents the library and information services profession around the world. When the opportunity arose for IFLA’s conference to move back to the U.S. in 2016, Pat Losinski, CEO of Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio, knew the time was now or never.

Columbus happens to have not only a great library sector, but also is headquarters to several major international suppliers of information vendors, including [library information service] OCLC,” says Losinski. Spotting the potential partnerships, he began working with the Columbus CVB to submit a lengthy application. Columbus ended up a finalist, along with Washington, D.C., and Seattle. From there, it was all hands on deck to “roll out the red carpet” for the site-selection team, says Losinski. It paid off: Columbus hosted IFLA Aug. 13-19, 2016. He shares the experience, which was anything but by the book.

How did Columbus woo IFLA?

The site visit was very personalized. Experience Columbus is good at this: From the time [a planning team] arrives to the time they leave, they are very attentive, down to the phrasing they use. It’s not “getting people where they need to be,” it’s “transporting them.” We had expert tour guides at the venues. We had memorable receptions and lunches that involved civic and business leaders who all knew what their role was in making people feel welcome. At the concluding reception, the president of IFLA said this had not been a normal experience for a site visit, and that it may have been the best one they’d ever had.

IFLA attendees represented 175 different countries in Columbus. How did you help make that possible?

Many libraries [in IFLA] are in emerging countries. We created a national fundraising effort to help defray travel costs for individuals who wouldn’t be able to attend without support. We set out with a goal of raising $200,000. Much to the credit of the person in charge, a recently retired librarian, we raised $440,000. That helped defray costs for 185 attendees. What’s remarkable is we had 3,000 applications for those 185 spots. If we had had more money, we could have doubled the number of attendees.

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