Purpose – This article presents a brief overview of the proceedings of IFLA’s 78th General Conference and Assembly, held in Helsinki, Finland from August 11-17, 2012. It highlights the major themes addressed at the conference, taking note of the growing prestige of the meeting as internationally acknowledged fora, not only for librarians and information science specialists but also for publishers, journalists and media professionals. Design/methodology/approach – The author had the good fortune of attending IFLA-2012 and took advantage of the opportunity to purposefully take down extensive notes, collect copies of the presentations and papers rendered and gathered information from colleagues on issues dealt with at simultaneously held sessions which he could not attend, with a view to grasping the overall theme of the specific presentations. The conference website has also been consulted to obtain factual information in support of this article. Findings – This year’s IFLA General Conference and Assembly, as usual, attracted thousands of library and information science professionals an irrefutable proof that IFLA has proved itself as a prestigious international institution dedicated to the promotion and development of the discipline. In addition, the conference also served as a venue for professionals and businesses in publishing, journalism, the film industry and public media to participate in and showcase their novel products and services. Practical implications – Emerging themes in librarianship and information services, including open access, Linked Data, inclusiveness, the future of library design, outreaching to local communities, and contemporary library challenges in view of changing times were raised and extensively deliberated upon. It is expected that delegates would apply the lessons thus learnt and apply best practises in their day-to-day activities in their specific areas of expertise. It is also hoped that the networking of professionals at such an international event would foster viable future collaborations. Originality/value – The theme chosen for IFLA-2012 “libraries: inspiring, surprising and empowering” reflects the importance, for library and information professionals, of envisioning a more dynamic, interactive, attuned and even enjoyable role for libraries of the 21st century and beyond.