The picture is included in the IFLA Express Team photo set.
The event was exciting, enjoyable and very well organized. Speaking personally, I met lots of old friends, got to know many interesting people, was re-elected as statistics secretary and will assist Clara Chu – the successor of Anna Maria Tammaro as chair of Division Four – as division secretary.
But as an organization freak, I’d like to focus on IFLA as such.
Voice your views
IFLA describes itself as the trusted voice of the global library community. I think that is correct. Internationally, IFLA is a strong voice for freedom of expression, for free access to information, for social and economic equality, for development and for human rights in general.
Voice is important. Voice means the will and the ability to speak up. Voice means heated debate and deep disagreement as well as friendly discussion and peaceful dialogue.
Internationally, IFLA is well aware of this. Internally less so. Communication between central bodies – such as IFLA Headquarters and the Governing Board – and the section officers and members takes a rather bureaucratic form. As an organization IFLA has developed a culture that tends to avoid even well-intentioned and constructive criticism.
The problem is structural rather than individual. Conflict is part of life. It is hard for voluntary and idealistic organizations, with small and overworked staffs, to develop and sustain good conflict management skills. Rules and guidelines, which can be decided by committees, replace the ebb and flow of public debate. In its documents, IFLA asks us to implement decisions rather than to analyze and question.
One week a year
Democracy is more than elections and committees. The formal structures are only the skeleton. Substantial democracy depends on on-going discussions about contested issues. But from a political or civic point of view, IFLA is only in session for one week once a year. The rest of the year only the central bodies work with the organization as a whole.
For the people involved, bureaucracy may seem practical in the short run. It hampers the development of IFLA in the long run. Getting to understand the organization, so as to make a meaningful contribution as an IFLA citizen, is hard work.
In 2013 I was part of a group, with a basis in Division Four, that produced a report on (internal) IFLA communications. The IFLA Dialogue group did not meet formally in Singapore, but from our informal discussions – and twittering – the interest is still strong. The IFLADIAL Report was discussed by the Professional Committee and has been published in English, Spanish, French and Arabic on the IFLA web site (PDF).
The Professional Committee (by the way) is not separate from the IFLA Governing Board, but a permanent committee drawn from the Board members. The five division chairs are members ex officio.
Young voices are seldom heard – for structural reasons. Young people stay away. I would guess the average age of IFLA participants is above fifty. Being 71, I feel very much at home, unfortunately …
I appreciate experiments with World Cafes, twitter tags and excellent photos from IFLA Express (see picture). The main conference format is still backward- rather than forward-looking. “Presenting papers” should not be the default, but an exception granted to exceptional presenters. Use the web for information and meetings for brief presentations + discussion. The fit between room size and audience is often poor.
When we look at the presentations, there is a marked gap between our multilingual principles and our monolingual practice. This year, 97% of the lectures and papers were in English, 2% in French and 1% in Spanish.. Singapore has Chinese as its main language. No papers were presented in Chinese, Arabic, Russian or German …
Could we experiment with full sessions in other languages – but without expensive simultaneous translation?. Could we have World Cafes with language specific tables?
Money, money, money
The high cost of participation excludes most librarians beyond rich countries or big libraries. Their voices are lacking. Some of us speak for them, but I would rather listen to them than represent them. I imagine a low-cost package (minimal conference fee; cheap lodging: hostel/dormitory/couch-surfing + active support/mentoring) – in addition to the standard package.
What do you think?
Could members of the Professional Committee and the Governing Board say something – personally, informally, spontaneously – about their experiences, suggestions and wild ideas about these issues?
- PL 18/13: Proposals from IFLADIAL. More dialogue, transparency and personal visibility
- PL 17/13: IFLA voices 2013. Reflexions on the Singapore conference
- PL 16/13: IFLA citizens. Democracy is more than elections
- PL 14/13: Election platform for Singapore. IFLA officers are up for election every two years.
- PL 37/12: Professionally speaking …. New IFLA blog
- PL 36/12: Unevenly distributed. IFLA culture and social media
- PL 35/12: What to do when nothing happens?. All chiefs and no Indians
- PL 33/12: From San Juan to Helsinki. That was the year that was.
- PL 73/11: IFLA asked to reduce fees. Conducting open debates about difficult issues is a sign of strength and maturity.
- PL 45/11: Deep change at IFLA. New IFLA president Ingrid Parent wants IFLA to support change
- PL 44/11: IFLA blogs by language. Close to forty blogs – but not so much activity.
- PL 42/11: Slow change at IFLA. Change and resistance under digital conditions …
- PL 41/11: Going to IFLA.NDIA. A cultural report on arrival