Forty-two years ago, more than 300 librarians gathered together on July 21, 1953 to inaugurate the First International Congress on Medical Librarianship. Since that meeting, seven International Congresses on Medical Librarianship have been held, the most recent in Washington, D.C. in May, 1995. The Second International Congress was also held in Washington in 1963, a decade later. Subsequent congresses moved outside the English speaking world, the Third was held in Amsterdam in 1969, the Fourth in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1980, the Fifth in Tokyo, Japan in 1985 and the Sixth in New Delhi, India in 1990. It was clear that medical librarians involved in the planning of the congress felt a commitment to learn about developments in the delivery of medical information worldwide.
The Seventh International Congress on Medical Librarianship brought the cycle back to its geographic beginnings. The theme of the meeting, "Health Information for the Global Village," reflected the enormous change in the medical library profession since the First Congress was held in 1953. When the Second Congress was held in 1963 in Washington, the theme was, "fostering the development and improvement of medical library service throughout the world." In 1995 at the Seventh Congress, the theme was, "health information for the global village." Language reflects development and thought, and it is interesting to note in the thirty-two years between 1963 and 1995, "medical libraries" had evolved into "health information" and "the world" had become "a global electronic village." Yet the core purpose on these congresses remains constant - the improvement of health worldwide through access to information.
Two keynote speakers at the recent Seventh Congress emphasized the theme of the congress, libraries, health and human development: the first keynote speaker, Dr. George A. O. Alleyne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization, stressed the importance of health for human development and dignity. The second keynote speaker, Dr. Donald Lindberg, Director of the National Library of Medicine, Washington, D. C., engaged the audience at an early point by the title of his talk, "The Modern Library - Lost and Found." He brought back the idea of the library, linking it to the modern, and emphasized the important role that librarians will play in the medical library in the future, in doing the things they have always done well - using their lexical skills to organize electronic information, providing access to information resources, training and teaching, and maintaining their expertise in areas of copyright and censorship. The international audience was given a positive vision of the future of medical librarianship that carried through the days of the Congress.
The theme of "Health Information for the Global Village," served the Congress well by linking together the themes of the four plenary sessions. Plenary session one, "Technology Empowers All in the Global Village," presented the promise of a global electronic, linked information system and the reality of telemedicine. No one in the audience will forget Dr. John H. Bemmel's presentation on the multi-media patient record, work he has undertaken at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Plenary session two dealt with the content issues, in particular, with access to information on HIV/AIDS and women's health. Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oslo, Norway, Dr. Astrid N. Heilberg's galvanizing presentation on the health of women in the developing and the developed world made graphic to many the great gap between women in the developed and the developing world and the desperate plight of many women in the developing world. Plenary session three brought to the program the educational issues and the changing role of medical librarians worldwide. This topic was a very personal and immediate one for members of the audience, and Rachael Anderson, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, gave reason for optimism in her presentation, "Changing Health Sciences Librarian for a Changing World." In the fourth and final plenary session, the unity of the three earlier themes, technology, health, and education for the profession, was brought together to present a common professional vision of international health science librarianship. The international membership of this concluding session, Dr. Shmuel Penchas, Hadassah Medical Organization, Jerusalem, Israel; Merlita Opena, Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, the Philippines; and Dr. Joseph J. Uta, University of Malawi, emphasized that our common professional concerns can overcome any geographic separation.
In addition to the keynote speakers and plenary sessions, the Congress provided an opportunity to eighty-two authors from twenty-seven countries to present papers during contributed paper sessions organized on twenty different topics. Poster sessions provided yet another means for twenty-five authors to demonstrate their work and contribution to medical librarianship. The knowledge contained in the poster and contributed paper sessions demonstrated a common knowledge base of medical librarians worldwide. The willingness and ability of these authors to express themselves in English, the official language of the Congress, and to write in what in many instances was their second or even third language, demonstrated the worldwide commitment to the advancement of medical librarianship. Each registered participant received a paper copy of Health Information for the Global Village, Proceedings of the 7th International Congress in Medical Librarianship, Washington, D. C., May 10 -12, 1995.
The International Organizing Committee had worked for more than four years to plan the Seventh International Congress and the creative, dedicated planning of the Chair of the Committee, Lois Ann Colaianni, was evident in many details of the meeting. Lois Ann Colaianni was assisted by a co-chair Dr. Theodora Oker-Bloom of Sweden, and by members of the Committee from nineteen different countries. The creativity of the meeting was demonstrated through holding the International Congress in conjunction with the ninety-fifth annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. Dr. Fred Roper, President of the Medical Library Association, reminded delegates that a conjoint meeting had also been held in 1963 when the Medical Library Association and the Second International Congress had been held in Washington. This joint approach offered many advantages, an enlarged number of exhibitions, common use of facilities such as poster session areas, and enriched access to continuing education opportunities. Even social events benefited from this sharing! MLA delegates said "goodbye" to colleagues at the same party where delegates to the International Congress were saying "welcome."
The value of International Congresses on Medical Librarianship was identified by Susan Crawford in a contribution delivered during the Seventh Congress. She answers the question of what has been accomplished by congresses by identifying the development of personal networks among colleagues as a significant benefit. Other identified benefits include the development of national and regional library networks, the reporting of medical library and information activities, and the education and training of medical librarians worldwide. The Seventh International Congress achieved these objectives and more. It demonstrated the adaptability of the profession in the developed and the developing world - the ability of librarians to use technological innovations in a variety of creative ways and in a plurality of settings. Few medical librarians could have predicted, when planning for the Seventh Congress began in 1990, the improvements in medical information delivery. Resources on the Internet delivered in real time over broad band telecommunications networks were then only future plans in the mind of the most creative librarians. Today, at the Congress, librarians demonstrate powerful resource developments across international boundaries. The challenge of delivery of health information has been overcome, but health care delivery, economic and social well being, and literacy are still beyond the reach of many citizens of countries represented at the Congress. The future challenge to the field of international medical librarianship may well be in teaching, not only in teaching information skills, but in using knowledge to promote physical and psychological well being.
The Role of IFLA in the International Congress on Medical Librarianship.
IFLA established the Section on Biological and Medical Sciences Libraries in 1977, and its founder and first chair was the late Irwin Pizer. The new Section provided a permanent structure, which was able to provide continuity between International Congresses. The Section has continued to act as a bridging committee in the intervening years. The Section has an important role to play in the selection of the International Congress site, and this competition was held in the year preceding the congress to allow the invitation to the next international meeting to be extended formally. This was done with traditional British eloquence by David Stewart of the Library of the Royal Society, London, who extended an invitation to converge in London in the year 2000.
First International Congress on Medical Librarianship. London, UK, 20-25 July 1953.
Second International Congress on Medical Librarianship. Washington, D.C., United States, 16-22 June, 1963.
Third International Congress on Medical Librarianship. Amsterdam, Netherlands, 5-9 May, 1969.
Fourth International Congress on Medical Librarianship. Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 2-5 September, 1980.
Fifth International Congress on Medical Librarianship. Tokyo, Japan, 30 September - 4 October, 1985.
Sixth International Congress on Medical Librarianship. New Delhi, India, September/October 1990.
Seventh International Congress on Medical Librarianship. Washington, D.C., United States, 10-12 May, 1995.
First Congress: To Survey the Current Position and Activity of Medical Libraries Throughout the World, in the light of their different origins and varying advances.
Second Congress: To Foster the Development and Improvement of Medical Library Services throughout the World.
Third Congress: World Progress in Medical Librarianship.
Fourth Congress: Health Information for a Developing World.
Fifth Congress: Medical Libraries - One World: Resources, Cooperation, Services.
Sixth Congress: Medical Libraries - Keys to Health Information.
Seventh Congress: Health Information for the Global Village.
Groen, Frances. Building bridges: the role of the Medical Library Association in international affairs. (President's Page). Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 1989; 77(4): 391-392.
Pizer, Irwin A. The International Congress on Medical Librarianship - Thirty Years of Evolutionary Change. IFLA Journal 1985; 112:106-119.