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61st IFLA General Conference - August 20-25, 1995

Presidential Address

Beyond the Limits of Space and Time

Robert Wedgeworth

In a world divided by ancient and modern conflicts, ravaged by natural and man-made disasters and humbled by its relationship to the universe, the General Conference of IFLA convenes once again to ce lebrate the world of knowledge and information.

Istanbul, The city on the Bosphorus made famous as the meeting point of Europe and Asia, and Turkey, rich in archaeological treasures that link our civilization's past to the present, provide a splen did venue for the 61st IFLA Council and General Conference.

Our theme, "Libraries of the Future," allows us to reflect on both the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead. As we generate excitement about new programs, new technologies and fresh ideas , let us not forget the millions of people around the world trapped in a world of ignorance due to illiteracy and poverty. Our Conference Organizers have attracted an outstanding number of participa nts and a wealth of stimulating papers that will spark much discussion in the days and months ahead. The social and cultural program featuring some of the beautiful sights and sounds of this great c ity also await you. We hope you will enjoy it.


For libraries and librarians these are most interesting times. The entire chain of relationships that have sustained twentieth century libraries and librarians from author to bookseller to user is b eing transformed by economics and technology. Increasing costs of information resources and increasing types of information resources that can be acquired by libraries place increasing demands on li brary funding sources that are either stable or declining. Although the growth rate for new books in North America and western Europe has been modest since 1970, the growth in serial publications ha s been more dramatic. In spite of a decrease in new titles appearing since 1980, half of all currently active serial titles were first published in the last twenty years. In the past two decades on line databases have increased from around 300 to over 9000. Electronic information resources currently cost two to four times their print alternatives.

Authors and scholars are increasingly suspicious of libraries as they fear that new information technologies threaten their control over their works. While photocopying remains a concern there is mu ch more concern about proliferating computer networks that allow millions of users to share access to a given work. Maintaining the integrity of the original work and assuring a fair market for copy righted works are frequent topics of discussion among authors and publishers. Librarians, on the other hand, try to use whatever legal means are the most effective in providing access to information . These different perspectives have resulted in a shaky balance of the rights of authors against those of users in the making of copies for educational and scholarly uses.

An emerging issue threatens to destroy that balance with respect to electronic information resources. These products or services (CD-ROMS and database services) are sold subject to the agreement to a license, or contract, that states the terms and conditions of use. In some cases, these licenses are more restrictive than the applicable laws. For example, a legal database that is available to faculty but not to students. Or, a geographic database that allows a user to print the map, but not the accompanying statistics. Many of these license agreements were originally intended for commer cial uses and have simply been applied to educational institutions without modification. Librarians are just beginning to recognize the need to read the license carefully and ask for modifications w here necessary. Library communities are just beginning to recognize the need to join information providers in developing license agreement that are appropriate models for our users.

Who are our users? Traditionally, libraries served a literate user who voluntarily came to the library. Broadening the library's public to include reluctant readers and even non-readers is an impor tant agenda for school and public libraries in many countries that challenge the education and training of librarians to adopt new skills and strategies. Spanning the spectrum of users from those ju st being introduced to the world of information and ideas to those who demand a higher level of assistance in the process of identifying, locating and evaluating information taxes the resources of ev en well funded library communities.

Perhaps the most dramatic change our library communities face is the rapid pace of technological change stimulated by telecommunications and the existence of international computer networks. The abi lity to communicate with repositories of information remotely, that include text, data, images, sound and even full motion video, has transformed the role of libraries as major sources of information and archives of the records of our culture.

Preserving the records of human culture and making them available to those who want and need them continues to be the primary mission of libraries and librarians. How we meet these challenges to our ability to carry out that mission is of major concern to IFLA and defines substantially the work of its member groups and its Core Programs.


Since the 1991 Conference in Moscow, IFLA has surmounted a number of obstacles to its progress. It has survived serious losses to its association membership due to political and social changes in ce ntral and eastern Europe and the continued economic recession in many developing countries. Nevertheless, we can boast today of the largest total membership in IFLA history and the broadest represen tation of institutional members ever.

In order to meet the needs of libraries and librarians in the developing world, IFLA's response has been a new core program, Advancement of Librarianship in the Third World (ALP), adopted in 1990 for an initial period from 1992-1997. The support of this program and its focal point at Uppsala University has just been extended by the Nordic country sponsors. This represents a significant trainin g component which added to the work of the core program on the Universal Availability of Publications (UAP), sponsored by the British Library, provides a major support program for developing country libraries.

The deterioration of library and archival materials, recognized for some time as a threat to the future of many library collections has found substantial encouragement from the UNESCO program, "Memor y of the World", dedicated to the protection and preservation of the world's cultural heritage. In the past year our Core Program and international focal point for "Preservation and Conservation" (P AC) has been reorganized and revitalized with new leadership at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Together with the Core Program on Universal Bibliographic Control and International MARC (UBCIM) , based at Die Deutsche Bibliothek, IFLA has reasserted its traditional strength in bibliographic standards and extended its assistance in identifying those methods that will prolong the life of libr ary collections.

IFLA's strength as an organization is only as strong as its ability to attract and support its members interests. Since 1992 we have absorbed increased costs through the astute management of our Sec retary General and the additional support that our new IFLA sponsorship program has attracted. This year for the first time since 1991 we have increased funding for the Professional Program. Howeve r, we still must attract additional members, sponsors and grants to carry out even the modest program expansion plans of the sections and divisions.

Changes in the IFLA community are both daunting and stimulating. Ambitious redevelopment plans we saw being carried out in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan this year were very encouraging. The re-edu cation of librarians, the search for new sources of library support and the enthusiasm of library users are admirable signs.

At the same time the restructuring of libraries in North America to meet new economic realities and the demands of technological change continues at an accelerating pace. From the national libraries to the smallest school or public libraries fewer materials are being acquired, fewer librarians and staff are being employed while the number of users increases. Managing scarce resources in the fa ce of enormous opportunities to expand and develop library and information services is a constant theme being played by libraries throughout the world.


Four years ago when I asked the Council to choose me as your new President I said that IFLA's programs must be brought to meet the needs of our most remote members and that I understood the need for the IFLA Conference to serve those who attend as well as those who must remain behind.

Based on the work of our Cuban colleagues at the 1994 General Conference and supported by the work of the core program on "Universal Data Transfer" at the National Library of Canada, IFLA has success fully launched its effort to become a more inclusive community. More than one third of the papers to be presented at this conference have been available via the Internet prior to the conference and the remaining papers will be added for the international library community to use.

Basic documents describing IFLA, its history and organization, its member sections and divisions and future conference locations and themes are also available. For the first time IFLA is available t o anyone with an Internet connection. Last year when we announced the plan to develop an IFLA list/serv and document servers We anticipated the concern that some members would not be able to access these services.

Already we can envision active committees and sections conferring over the Internet, sharing documents and discussion across the boundaries of space and time zones. We can envision a much broader IF LA community provided that we can overcome the important barrier of access to an Internet connection.

Although Internet use is growing exponentially, its use in developing countries still lags considerably. According to Nicholas Negroponte, there will be about one billion people with access to the I nternet by the year 2000 compared to his guess of 20 to 30 million at the end of 1994. The fastest growing networks are in Argentina, Iran, Peru, Egypt, Philippines, Russia, Slovenia and Indonesia i n that order. Thirty-five per cent of the host processors for Internet connections are outside North America.

Goodman cites a number of impediments to the spread of Internet capability in the Third World. Government laws, policies and practices, for example, monopoly given by the Caribbean nations to the Ca ble and Wireless company that Dunn considers to have made these nations more dependent on foreign investment and foreign expertise. Another impediment is the lack of technical expertise and the domi nance of computer interfaces that assume that the user is technically literate and an English-speaker. A third impediment is cultural perceptions of the benefit of its use. Is it just to allow thos e in the south to talk to those in the north? For example, Goodman suggests that the almost fifty predominantly Muslim countries are not well connected in proportion to their national wealth. In ea rly 1994, of the 15,000 networks on the global Internet only 42 were in Muslim countries and over half of those were in Turkey and Indonesia. Other imbalances noted by Goodman are a bias toward urba n populations, a bias toward the sciences when there are enormous resources for the humanists and social scientists, and finally the networks tend to favor men over women, even though once women are connected they tend to be more active users than men. Goodman concludes that, while cost is a factor, the structure and capacity of local telecommunications infrastructure seems to be an even greate r inhibiting factor.

Having launched IFLA into the electronic age, we now will need to develop adequate programs through the ALP , UDT and the member sections and divisions to help the membership cultivate the kinds of a lliances and relationships that will lead to greater access to the Internet by libraries throughout the world.

The advantage of these developments is not just to libraries but to all of the constituencies that they serve. As I noted last year in announcing this initiative, there is little hope that we will b e able to command the necessary resources to replicate library collections as we know them throughout the developing world. However, there is a more realistic chance that Internet connections and ag gressive programs for resource sharing can extend library and information services over a much wider segment of the world's population than we have ever reached. The challenge is ours to accept.


Ten years ago at the 1985 IFLA General Conference, former Librarian of Congress, Daniel J. Boorstin reminded us that the world of culture and ideas is an indivisible one.

"The world's cultures -- and the culture of books -- may be defined by language, by traditions, by historical movements. But they are not bound by national boundaries. Ideas need no passports from their place of origin, nor visas for the countries they enter. All boundaries in the world of culture and ideas are artificial and all are doomed to be dissolved."

In 1989 at the General Conference in Paris IFLA made a commitment to the protection of freedom of expression by adopting Article 19, and related principles. Since then we have not determined the exa ct nature of IFLA's commitment to freedom of expression nor how it is to be carried out.

This conference will launch a series of discussions and presentations on the worldwide dimensions of freedom of expression issues led by the head of the Article 19 group, Frances D'Souza. The IFLA Executive Board has approved the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee to guide discussion of the issues, to consider options for IFLA and to report at the 1997 General Conference in Copenhagen on re commendations for an IFLA program that will guide the IFLA membership in their efforts to support and promote freedom of expression and freedom of access to information.

Throughout this century librarians have developed the infrastructure, the techniques and the programs to bring information and knowledge to users. The mission of libraries in pursuit of this goal re quires that we insist that culture and ideas belong to the world. That each individual has a right to know of the world's culture and ideas, and that librarians and libraries are one of the principa l guarantors of access to the world's cultures and ideas.

Our struggle to revitalize libraries and librarianship is not about techniques and finance. It is essentially one of values. We must be able to persuade governments, business, education, religious and civic leaders of the value of libraries as educational institutions that stimulate and inspire learning; that libraries are information access agencies that improve the quality of decision-making ; and that libraries can contribute substantially to the improvement of the quality of life at all ages.


Dunn, Hopeton, "Caribbean telecommunications policy: fashioned by debt, dependency and underdevelopment," MEDIA,CULTURE AND SOCIETY, v.17 (1995), 201-222.

Goodman, S.E., Press, L.I., Ruth, S.R., Rutkowski, A.M., "The Global diffusion of the Internet: Patterns and Problems," COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM, v.37, no.8 (August 1994), 27-31.

Negroponte, Nicholas, BEING DIGITAL. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

July 20, 1995