Sharjah: The vital role of libraries in society in the face of rapid technological development is the main topic in focus at this year’s American Library Association (ALA) Conference held at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).

During the opening of the conference, which is the only ALA event to be hosted outside the United States, Ahmad Al Ameri, chairman of Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), said: “We have in Sharjah a strong belief in human-centred communication and believe in the pivotal role of libraries as bridges and as keys to open the vaults of knowledge.”

This year’s SIBF/ALA Conference includes 26 activities featuring 300 experts from university, public, school, government and private libraries from around the world.

Speaking during his keynote address at the event, James Neal, president of ALA, said the most important role of libraries was the work that they do to support public interest, saying that users depend on them to maintain those core information values and to fight for them in the public arenas.

He said that libraries should stand firm in the face of increasing scrutiny on their value and cost-effectiveness from funding organisations.

“There is a tendency in many libraries around the world to apply the concept and techniques of Return On Investment — ROI. It’s insane. We need to stop. Too often we don’t know how to conduct ROI research, too often we are providing simplistic presentations and documentation to the government organisations and the universities we serve and they see right through this. We need to be much more focused on good stories and on effective qualitative information that helps demonstrate the value and impact we bring to our communities,” he said.

Following the opening addresses, the programme got under way, with Wednesday’s schedule including the topics like ‘Empowering Local Innovation in Public and School Libraries: Thinking out of the Box,’ ‘School Librarians of the Year: Sharing Stories, Lessons, and Keys to Successes’ and ‘Public Libraries Transform the Arab World.’

Commenced in 2014, the partnership programme between SBA and ALA aims to evaluate the challenges and opportunities for libraries and archiving services in an age of increasing digitalisation and technological advancements.