Interview: Evgenia Vasilakaki, in charge of volunteers coordination for the IFLA conference in Athens

Evgenia Vasilakaki is a Greek librarian. As a member of the Greek national committee for IFLA WLIC 2019, she was coordinating the Volunteers commitee for the incredible Athens conference and has accepted to answer our questions!

Can you tell us a little about you? For instance, where do you work?

I currently work at the National Library of Greece as a project manager. I hold a PhD from the Department of Information & Communications, Manchester Metropolitan University, on Human Computer Interaction and Users’ Information Seeking Behavior. I was a lecturer on contract basis for the last 8 years at the Department Archives and Library Science and Information Systems of University of West Attica.

Evgenia Vasilakaki

You were a member of the Greek National Committee for the organization of the WLIC 2019 in Athens. How did you get involved in that organization?

My involvement in the organization of IFLA WLIC2019 started three years ago when the Association of Greek Librarians and Information Scientists along with the National Library of Greek bid for the congress. I was then a member of the Greek Host Society responsible for putting together the bid and making all the arrangements for it. In December 2017, when it was announced that Athens will host the WLIC2019, I was assigned the coordination of volunteers committee and thus I was trained in Kuala Lumpur in August 2018 for the management of volunteers. From September 2018 to August 2019, I coordinated the volunteers’ committee responsible for the volunteers management whereas during the congress I coordinated the group leaders and volunteers.

IFLA WLIC 2019 Voluteers group leaders

We had met you in Kuala Lumpur in 2018. Was it your first IFLA conference? What is your strongest memory of that conference?

I attended the WLIC2018 in Kuala Lumpur to be trained for the management of volunteers and it was my first IFLA WLIC participation. Unfortunately, I did not have time to attend the various sessions, but I do remember the enthusiasm during the opening session and the newcomers session that had almost 1000 participants.

The announcement about the WLIC 2019 being held in Athens was made in December 2017, later than usual. What was the hardest part of the organization from your point of view?

Time! We had less time than the rest of the organising countries to prepare the different details of the congress. However, we had the valuable assistance of IFLA and the KIT company. Also, internally, the three co-chairs and the members of the subcommittees worked closely together, and I think teamwork was what ensured the final success of the congress.

IFLA conference in Greece was a very successful one, but we know that the organization of a librarians conference can be quite stressful. What was your greatest fear this year?

We were very optimistic about the outcome of the congress and I think we kept this positive feeling and point of view throughout the preparations. I am not saying that there were no stressful moments, we had quite a few 😊, after all the congress hosts 3.500 delegates every year, with gold sponsors, numerous exhibitors and you cannot even start to imagine how many things could go wrong; but I believe we all focused on how to deal with every challenge, finding the best possible solution with the support of IFLA and KIT.

You were in charge of the volunteers for the 2019 conference. Can you tell us how the recruitment of volunteers works?

The management of volunteers is a project on its own, with several tasks and subtasks. The recruitment is just a task that entails several other steps like creating and posting the call; deciding on the number of volunteers needed; on the type of volunteers (i.e. students, professionals, retirees, internationals); working at the same time on finding funding, accommodation and going through the selection process and announcement of the results. Assigning volunteers to specific posts and finalising the shifts was a real challenge. In the end, we had almost 200 volunteers from 30 countries, 11 group leaders of 35 different posts and each contributed on average 25 hours. We are really thankful to our volunteers, they did so much, most of the time without even being specifically asked for.

Evgenia Vasilakaki and the other 200 volunteers at the Closing Ceremony

What would be your advice for a librarian who applies to take part in an IFLA conference as a volunteer?

In IFLA WLIC 2019 we were honoured to have international volunteers that were also presenters in sessions and/or poster session. These volunteers got to experience the congress both as an attendee and a volunteer, and had the opportunity to make the most of the congress: network and socialize as an attendee and get a knowledge of the logistics of such a big congress and create bonds and be part of a team with other volunteers. I think it is a unique experience and we were lucky to get almost 60 international volunteers.

As an organizer, you probably couldn’t attend many sessions or events at the WLIC this year. Nevertheless, what is your best memory of the conference?

Indeed, I was intensively involved in coordination and thus I could not attend any of the sessions. However, my strongest memory is not a memory per se but more like a feeling: I would always remember and cherish the feeling of excitement and enthusiasm that volunteers were feeling – you could see it in their eyes and behaviour throughout the congress – and the determination to create memorable experiences for WLIC 2019 delegates!

Volunteers at the WLIC 2019 Closing Ceremony – CC-BY-SA IFLA HQ

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