Tuesday, August 16, 2011

PL 42/11: Slow change at IFLA

Filed under: IFLA — Tags: — plinius @ 1:54 am

IFLA has many faces. In public, people who represent the organization speak about it in glowing terms. In private, they tell about the difficulties, the politics and the resistance to change.

I see the distance between the public and the private faces as a difficulty in itself. It is very hard to plan for change in a practical way if the membership only meets the Sunday face.

IFLA supports the freedom of expression. The organization itself rarely uses this freedom – to discuss difficult political, strategic and economic issues with its members. There are many insiders who want change. But they will not go public, except in vague and general terms.

Outsiders get hints and whispers rather than frank and realistic analyses. The undertext or metamessage is: keep quiet. Don’t rock the boat.

Embracing change

There may be wonderful discussions going on at the top-level meetings. I don’t know. I can’t know. The minutes from meetings do not include the arguments people use.

If the discussions are good, they could be conducted in public, so that members could learn from them. If the strategic discussions are more humdrum, this experience might also be shared. Then people who elect these bodies can support their work with good ideas from the outside.

Yesterday, Ellen Tise quoted Darwin. The survival of the fittest meant the survival 0f those who embraced change. Species do not choose to change. Organizations may choose: rapid change, slow change or resistance to change. If the environment is stable, slow change is safe. When the environment is turbulent, slow becomes risky.


Stiff and closed organizational cultures are defended because they are comfortable for people on the inside.  Disagreements remain within the family.  If our leaders keep silent in the public sphere (Habermas), they don’t have to participate in difficult political debates. I mean real public debate –  hack, slash and parry –  not a collection of responses that disappear inside the silo.

Argyris and Schon distinguish between “espoused theory” (the Sunday Face) and theory-in-action (the Weekday Face). The Sunday side of IFLA exalts transparency, inclusion, democracy, freedom of expression and the active promotion of change. The Weekday theory – the one that is practiced – stresses harmony, loyalty, rules, control, careful speech, and slow reforms that stays within the comfort zone.


Within IFLA it is hard to find the open clash of opinions that libraries are supposed to support. Part of this comes from the lack of continuity. Committees usually meet once a year, for a few hours only. It is impossible to conduct a reasoned discussion (on top of all administrative matters) in such a short time.

Now the web allows us to conduct such discussions throughout the year. We can also decide the precise degree of openness (or transparency) we will allow.  I hope IFLA will use this possibility to organize ongoing discussions of strategic concerns, encouraging people with different views to participate and to explain their views.  

This year IFLA has taken web-based communication much more seriously than before. Bloggers will get their own badge of honour and importance. I picked up mine today. Some of the central IFLA people have started to communicate through blogs and Twitter: Jesus Lau, Michael Heaney, Stuart Hamilton and Fiona Bradley. I look forward to more.

Much more.



1 Comment »

  1. […] PL 42/11: Slow change at IFLA. Change and resistance under digital conditions … […]

    Pingback by PL 17/13: IFLA voices 2013 | Plinius — Wednesday, August 28, 2013 @ 11:19 am

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