Librarians without borders: IALL 2023

By: Amy Duxfield
Kaitiaki Whare Pukapuka | Research Librarian,
Te Tari Ture o te Karauna Crown Law Office,
Wellington, New Zealand
IALL bursary recipient 2023


From start to finish, I had an absolutely incredible time at IALL 2023. The Local Planning Committee put together a wonderful conference, with a packed programme of presentations and excursions. It would be impossible to cover the whole conference in one blog post, and I didn’t take nearly enough photos to capture this amazing experience, so this is my top 5 highlights of the 41st Annual Course (in no particular order).


International humanitarian law

Having spent lots of time referring to the ICRC Commentaries on the Geneva Conventions when I studied IHL at law school, I was keen to hear from Ellen Policinski about the ongoing project to update these. The discussion of how to account for changes in state practice, the changing nature of warfare, and linguistic shifts was fascinating.

The presentation from Professor Marco Sassòli regarding IHL in the ongoing war in Ukraine was also a major highlight. Prof Sassòli was eloquent in discussing some of the major contemporary challenges in IHL, such as the distinction between ius ad bellum and ius in bello, the difficulty (but necessity) of accepting the neutrality of humanitarian action, and the need for all parties to a conflict to respect IHL.

Finally, the presentation from Annyssa Bellal on the From Words to Deeds project was incredibly thought provoking. The idea of looking at the practice of non-state actors for conformity with IHL, and working with those groups to uphold IHL, is timely, given that the majority of conflicts in the 21st century involve non-state armed groups.

Figure 1: clockwise from top R, a copy of the original UN Charter; Amy Duxfield (second L) and other attendees outside the UN; the Alleé des Drapeaux at the UN.

Excursions: UN Library and Archives, ICRC Museum, Olympic Museum

Like any international relations nerd, visiting the UN in Geneva has been on my bucket list for years, so it was amazing to get to visit the Palais Des Nations (even if it was under renovation) and the UN Library and Archives. The ICRC Museum was a deeply moving experience too, especially the collection of artworks made by detainees and prisoners of war, as well as seeing the sheer volume of index cards used to connect families with POWs during WWI.

I was also really excited to visit the Olympic Museum on the Optional Day to Lausanne. The collection is incredible, spanning the full history of the Olympic games, both ancient and modern. I never expected that they would have such an extensive collection of ancient Greek artefacts. It was also wonderful to see items from the modern games’ 100+ year history, including the first Olympic flag, the torches from various games, and sporting equipment used by Olympians over that time.

Intellectual Property 

Two intellectual property themed presentations were an unexpected highlight for me. I wasn’t aware of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee’s work on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore. New Zealand has been undertaking its own very long reckoning with the contribution of traditional knowledge and indigenous genetic resources to scientific research, and how the state can better protect the rights of the indigenous Māori to their traditional knowledge. I’m very curious to see what the ultimate outcome of the Intergovernmental Committee’s work will be, especially whether the conference is successful in negotiating a legal instrument governing the use of indigenous genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with those resources.

The presentation from the IOC’s legal counsel at the Olympic Museum was another unexpected highlight. This included hearing about how the IOC uses licensing and trademarks to fund the Olympic Games, and how it enforces its IP (including some surprising insider information about exactly what is and isn’t trademarked…)

Figure 2: clockwise from top R: the oldest Red Cross flag; index cards used to reconnect WWI POWs and their families; a tea set carved from fish bones in a POW camp.

Location, location, location

Geneva was a wonderful city to host the conference, both for its history and connection to multilateralism and international law, and for its compactness. It was ridiculously easy to get around, either using the excellent public transport, or just on foot, and felt very safe. I know the LPC can’t control the weather but it was also wonderful to get to experience this gorgeous location in summer weather! 

Attending a conference in Geneva was also personally very special. My dad attended a number of ITU conferences in Geneva when I was a child, so it was special to “follow in his footsteps”.

Meeting so many incredible librarians from around the world

Of course, the real highlight of any conference is getting to connect with other legal information professionals, and IALL 2023 delivered. All the databases and textbooks in the world can’t replace the value of professional networks and knowing someone who just might be able to help you out when you’ve got a curly question in their jurisdiction. Thank you all for being so welcoming!

Figure 3: clockwise from top L: view of Lac Léman from the Court of Arbitration for Sport; Lausanne Cathedral; the oldest Olympic Flag; ancient Greek artifacts relating to the ancient Olympics.


All in all, IALL 2023 was an unforgettable experience, which I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to attend. This was my first chance to attend an international conference, and only my second in-person library conference (thanks Covid!). Coming all the way from New Zealand (30+ hours of flying, each way), I couldn’t have attended without the support of the Regular Bursary from IALL. I sincerely hope that this won’t be my last IALL conference, and I’ll be doing my best to persuade more New Zealanders to join IALL. Who knows, maybe we’ll eventually be able to host one down under?

My sincere thanks once again to the LPC for organising this incredible event, the Scholarship Committee for giving me the opportunity to attend, all the wonderful speakers and presenters, and of course my fellow attendees –  it was an absolute privilege to meet so many wonderful librarians from so many different countries, and I hope I’ll see you all again in the future!

And if you’re ever in Wellington, feel free to get in touch:

This Blog contains entries by members of the International Association of Law Libraries on issues germane to the Association’s areas of focus. Views expressed in an individual entry only represent the views of the author, and not those of the International Association of Law Libraries or the author’s employer.