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64th IFLA General Conference
August 16 - August 21, 1998
Code Number: 090-97E
Division Number: VI.
Professional Group: Management of Library Associations
Joint Meeting with: Co-sponsored by the Dutch Librarians Association
Meeting Number: 97.
Simultaneous Interpretation: Yes
Can One Association Wear Two Hats : Membership Versus Advocacy ?
VVBAD (Flemish Library Association)
The advocacy work of library associations has received more and more attention over the last years. In his daily work, as executive director of a small library assocation in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, the author has experienced an incompatibility between membership and advocacy work. After a briefly review of the subject of advocacy he describes 7 tension fields : advocacy versus professional development, professional versus political thinking, the social basis versus the innovation, initiate versus realise, institutions versus individuals, tasks of the staff versus tasks of the elected officers and decision making.
The subject advocacy has received more and more attention over the last years, at least in this Round Table. As far as I know the "Guidelines for the management of professional associations in the fields of archives, library and information work" - the standard book on our work published in 1989 by Unesco - advocacy is not mentioned as a separate issue, although the spirit of it is present on almost every page. But from the mid 90's the issue of advocacy was on the agenda on the IFLA meetings of the round table.
When advocacy was addressed in these lectures and discussions, it was almost exclusively on the topic itself. Nobody doubts that advocacy was an important task for every library association. I also consider advocacy as very important. But over the last years I have experienced a growing conflict, or better, an incompatibility between daily work on behalf of the members and advocacy work. I am sure that some of my reflections are biased by the real situation in which I am working. The context of my experience is a small region in Western Europe, Flanders or the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. When I am talking of advocacy I will mostly refer to the lobbying work we do with politicians in a Western social democracy constitutions for the public library sector.
I consider advocacy as the translation of professional issues for decision makers.
There are two ways of advocating : a passive one and an active one. I consider them as complementary.
The passive advocacy is acting when one touches your interests, it is more waiting until something occurs and then acting.
The active one is initiating, is trying to put issues on the agenda.
The passive role of most library associations consists of the protection, the follow up, the study of the interests of the library sector.
The active could be more bottom up : be able to recognise the signals of your members and of society and present them to the decision makers
2. Tension fields - barriers
a. advocacy versus professional development
Our association is mostly active in the field of professional development. We organise about 20 study days, conferences or excursions a year. Without exaggeration I can say the association stands for quality.
The members of the board who are all active in the library field know what is going on and what topics are important or in the. And the staff is experienced in the organisation of events.
With advocacy the emphasis is no longer on the organisation of events but on lobbying work. And this requires a totally different expertise and know how from officers and staff. Knowledge of influencing, knowledge of the political world, knowledge of strategic political work is far more important than knowledge of libraries and their users. The board and staff have to gain this know how or/and have to be trained in this field.
b. professional versus political thinking
Politicians have a totally different outlook as cultural field workers than librarians have. We as librarians start from the intrinsic value of our work. A politician is interested in the strategic political issue.
The result is that it is almost impossible to talk with politicians. This is due to a different view on what is
important. I am not sure if this impossibility, this gap, only exists in Belgium. For a Belgian decision maker importance of an issue is judged based upon the strategic implications, the consequences for political power and their sustaining bodies. For a librarian the issue is the important thing, it is about professional standards, about intrinsic quality. This different approach almost absolutely quarantees failure for the non-politician.
The politician has an instrumental reason : he is not looking at the value in itself but on what he gains on the political field.
Another gap between the librarian and the politician is the short term vision of most of the decision makers. From the moment you start to think as a politician you are lost.
c. the social basis versus the innovation
If associations want to be involved in active advocacy they have to be innovative, they have to put issues on the agenda. They cannot wait until every member is at the same point, until all noses point in the same direction. They have to have a big mouth and use it.
In contrast, if you are a membership organisation, consensus is very important. You need to have as large a social basis as possible.
d. initiate versus realise
Where is the end of advocacy? When does it stop? Is the work over when the decision maker is on the same side as you or is that the starting point?
Isn't there a need to follow up? Doesn't the association need to be involved in the realisation of the goal because the group has the know how?
e. institutions versus individuals
Our association both works for institutions and individuals. The last years we notice that more and more institutions are becoming members because of our broad professional development offerings. But the concerns of the individuals are not always those of the institutions.
E.g. on issues as opening hours, work load, flexibility,… there is a big difference in view. As soon as politicians notice that there are different view points you are lost. (see also g. decisions).
f. tasks of the staff versus tasks of the elected officers
Advocacy is a hard job. It is not only very time consuming, but also an endless task.
Is the preparation, the take, the defence and the spread of the view a task for the staff or for the board? Does the board have enough time to do this job? Most of the issues raised are very complex. Are the elected officers able to study them all thoroughly?
There is also another issue. We know that power from Roman times uses the principle of "divide" and "impera" or "divide and rule". I have noticed several times that when an issue only had implications for a portion of the libraries, it was very difficult to have the others act in support of it. This is especially the case when the topic affects small libraries as they are not as well represented large libraries on most boards.
g. decision making
Who will decide what issues have to be addressed and what views have to be taken? Is this a job for the boards or the working groups or the members or those directly involved?
How can one decide? By majority or by consensus?
What views have to be represented? Who can represent these views , e.g. institutions? Is that the librarian or the stakeholder or political decision maker?
What about the views of those who are not members?
Who is going to represent the association during the advocacy work? What power do they have? How and when do they receive and give feed back?
In the Flemish Library Association, we have discussed these topics. And as it with most things in life, during the discussion we raised more questions than we found answers for. But nevertheless here are some conclusions we developed :
- Advocacy is an important task for our library association.
- We need a separate structure for this activity : a dedicated board and if possible staff assigned to this activity. We will examine the organisational form of other lobbying groups and try to adopt theirs to our situation.