Every five years, the world’s medical librarians gather together to discuss our profession, to hear and see the latest developments, and to exchange news and ideas. The 9th International Congress on Medical Librarianship was held September 20-23 2005 in the city of Salvador, state of Bahia, Brazil. The theme for the program was "Commitment to Equity" I presented a paper on a research project entitled docMD: document Mediated Delivery.
The conference was set in a very scenic area of the country. The people were friendly and the atmosphere was very laid back. During our 12 day stay in Brazil we were struck that we did not encounter one rude person. This included the airports! People that did not speak English, and there plenty of them, generally worked with us and we were able to get by, although some of our food orders we not quite as expected. Negotating sales from market vendors was also a challenge since reading Portuguese and hearing it are quite different. Spanish speaking people were generally able to follow Portuguese, but even they commented that Brazilians spoke fast for them.
Many attendees, however, commented that the conference planners were overzealous in their efforts to protect attendees. For example, at one night time event we were escorted in groups by police from our buses through the old town area to the event site. We were only allowed to leave in large groups, again with police escort. Perhaps they were simply trying to protect us from the various street vendors that were very agressive in their marketing approach.
Attendees became fearful that the city was very dangerous. Like any larger city (Salvador has a population of 2.5 million) there are certainly issues with personal safety. Many Brasilians I talked to afterwards indicated the use of escorts was extreme. While I appreciate the planners concern, this approach set the tone for both the city and the meeting. Some attendees did not want to venture outside their hotels accept in large groups.
The conference itself was plagued with logisitical issues, from the lack of translation services to transportation. Many of the issues may have resulted from the fact that most of the conference planning fell on the shoulders of one very overworked individual and her staff. I give her all the credit in the world for pulling the conference off.
About 3/4 of the paper presented were in Portuguese or Spanish. With no translation services available I was unable to understand what was being discussed almost all of the time. At the same time, 3/4 of the attendees were unable to understand what I said. While this may be typical of internation conferences, it was frustrating, especially after all the time and energy it took to get to the conference.
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