66th IFLA Council and General
Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August
Code Number: 136-107-E
Division Number: 0
Professional Group: Opening Session
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 107
Simultaneous Interpretation: Yes
President of IFLA
As every year, the time has come to sum up the various activities that I have been able to accomplish as President of IFLA.
Before speaking of my visits to librarians around the world, I would like to emphasise two essential lines of research and debate during the past year. The first, entirely internal to IFLA, was of course the work carried out on the revision of the IFLA statutes, and the revision concerning the Core Programmes. However I would not want to claim credit that was not due to me: it is clear that the excellent drafting of the new statutes submitted to you is primarily the work of our Secretary General, Mr Ross Shimmon.
But naturally the general outlines were drafted on the basis of the work of an ad hoc Consultative Group, and were discussed by both the full Professional Board and the Executive Board, before being sent to you.
The major idea underlying these statutes is undoubtedly to give IFLA a structure both more democratic and better adapted to the needs of the 21st Century. Organisations, like individuals, grow old. They also need, at regular intervals, a facelift, a new garb, a complete rejuvenation. That which was quite suitable in the 1970s is no longer suited to the year 2000, and the development of IFLA's membership requires better representation, a broader management structure, and better supported and stronger executive authority. We hope that the new structures will appear to you to be more appropriate.
Regarding the core programmes, our treasurer Derek Law already informed us some time ago about the need to review the core activities in the light of declining financial support and changing priorities. At the usual rate of spending, this year is the last in which we can fund these programmes in their present form. Things cannot continue like this.
Let us be clear: IFLA does not have the means to continue these programmes, and we would have gone "into the red" as from next year. It is true that these programmes are partly funded by certain national or university libraries, whose generosity, year after year, I want to publicly acknowledge. But that is not enough, and IFLA cannot provide the balance of the total cost. This situation, which is forcing us to look again at the structures of the core programmes, is also therefore the opportunity to go back to basics and think about the content of these programmes as much as their method of operation and funding.
Some libraries pay, and in addition host a programme, and provide one or more professional staff; some pay without hosting a programme; and some do not pay at all. Therefore, having determined the situation by a report on the contribution of national libraries (only the library of the University of Uppsala, Sweden, which hosts the ALP Programme, falls outside this category), we thought it necessary to cooperate with the Conference of Directors of National Libraries (CDNL) to try and propose a programme of contributions (in terms of budget, staffing, or other) which would be shared more equally among these libraries.
Mr van Drimmelen, Director of the Royal Library of the Netherlands, chaired the 'Group of Seven' members of the Conference of Directors of National Libraries, to help us come to an acceptable solution, based on preliminary proposals presented to them at last year's conference. I am delighted to say, that with the Group's help, we are very close to agreement.
Some Core Programmes will be able to stay as they are, as they are the only actors in their specific field. We are only starting to reflect on this question. Some programmes feel themselves directly threatened. I believe I can say clearly here that it is not a question of getting rid of some programmes at any cost, or of denying the importance of the role of the libraries which host and/or fund them. On the contrary, thanks are due to all these programmes and libraries for their outstanding work, their unfailing generosity and their continuing commitment. But there again, times are changing, and technical progress requires us to re-examine the content of our activities, in order to help libraries as best we can to rise to new challenges in a constantly changing environment. In this context, not to change is to stagnate, and thus to die. Libraries must prove their capacity to change, and the body that represents them, IFLA, must be the first to organise change. I want to reassure you that we will not change everything all at once, for the sake of changing, and jettison achievements and successes. But we cannot continue indefinitely to work according to old patterns, or else we will become slow and inflexible.
As for the more delicate problem of the future of Division 8, we are well on the way to finding a solution which will allow the developing countries to continue to work together, in accordance with their wishes, while at the same time - so far from marginalising them by confining them in a separate structure - will integrate them into the work of the Sections and core activities.
At last year's conference, the Working Group on the Revision of the Statutes made a number of recommendations. All except one found favour and have now been incorporated in the proposed new Statutes. However, the proposal to abolish the Division of Regional Activities (Division 8) was withdrawn, in the light of the debates during the conference. Instead, a new advisory group, ably chaired by Marjorie Bloss, was set up to explore the issues surrounding that recommendation and its withdrawal. That group has now produced a very helpful discussion paper, which I hope will result in firm proposals, following discussions at this conference and the wider consultation exercise. As the paper says, we are aiming at a "structure in which people can participate regardless of their geographic location. We want to reduce the barriers to such participation, recognizing that we can all learn from each other. We recognize the need and the value of IFLA's regional structure while, at the same time, enabling people in those regions to participate in the overall professional programmes of IFLA".
That is our ambition. I hope that everyone interested will contribute to the consultation so that we can come up with workable proposals.
As for my work dealing with IFLA's external relations, I would say the main theme this year has been consideration of the training of new information professionals, these "knowledge workers" as they are often called. Librarians, documentalists, archivists, museum specialists, all have common and overlapping competencies. To acquire these, common training should be envisaged, with specialised options according to different career paths. The development of the information society and relevant new technologies is closing the gaps between these professions. The management of records of archives and particularly of electronic archives of commercial firms and private societies, the management of image banks in museums, the notion of preservation and conservation, the storage and indexing of electronic or traditional objects, and searching for these data, are tasks common to all these professions. New methods of description - metadata / numerical identifiers - form the basis of the work of codification that librarians call cataloguing, but also of the daily work of related professions. New competencies are appearing, in step with the evolution of our professional tasks. In particular, I took part, this last northern winter, in discussions with the Council of Europe on cultural work in the new information society - after which a recommendation on the new professional profiles was drafted. It is to be hoped that this will be the harbinger of collaboration with all the professions related to libraries, not only for training more appropriate to the needs of a dramatically changing society, but also in the hope that this 'rapprochement' might enable the building of a new force in the information professions, to give us more weight, visibility and power, by improving our representation to the political decision-makers. We hope to continue our discussions in order to move in this direction.
Still in the area of training, this year will see the realisation of a project already announced last year. The first IFLA/OCLC Fellows from developing countries will be enabled to travel to the United States to undertake training in the practical applications of new technologies and visit numerous American establishments. Those fortunate enough to be granted this opportunity to improve their knowledge while discovering the libraries of the USA will then have to pass on their knowledge to their own countries, and we hope this will contribute to the improvement of training courses on the new information and communication technologies. More training, more standardisation, more compatibility and interoperability, this is the aim of my work for developing countries, as well as for others who may be further ahead in the use of technological equipment but who are not necessarily more effective due to wrong use of their resources. To work together with librarians ready to confront the difficulties of international cooperation, in order to help all countries find points of agreement and common programmes, that is our goal in improving professional training courses. IFLA sees this as a prime obligation.
Over and above this work of principle, I have also undertaken some professional visits. This year it was the turn of Senegal and Morocco, with special attention paid to their training organisations. I was welcomed in turn by EBAD (Ecole de Bibliothécaires et d'Archivistes de Dakar - the School of Library and Archive Studies in Dakar) which provides training for professionals from many French-speaking countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and ESI (Ecole des Sciences de l'Information) in Rabat which also runs many cooperative regional projects for the Arab countries of the Maghreb and possible a future regional office. In these two countries, librarians have an enlightened vision of their mission to provide training, and of the role of libraries in their respective regions. These relationships between IFLA and the main training centres in various regions of the world must continue to develop. The future of the profession depends on it.
Parallel to those visits, I also visited countries which are working on the preparation of future IFLA Conferences. Argentina, the USA, and Germany gave me a warm welcome (literally in the case of Argentina where it was 25°C hotter than in Paris!) and demonstrated quite remarkable efficiency and organisation. I met there some important local personalities, and also association members of IFLA who will be asked to contribute to the preparation of the Conference. Each country has its difficulties, its particular local situation, but also its treasures to be discovered, its commitment and its enthusiasm. Believe me when I say this augurs well for our future Conferences!
Before concluding, I would like to add that I have also, as each year, worked in liaison with UNESCO, the International Council of Archives, the International Federation for Information and Documentation, the International Council of Museums, and the International Organization for Standardization. This year, we have pursued our discussions with the publishers, and I have set up links with the International Book Agency, while the Committee on Legal Matters has continued its work representing libraries in institutions working on copyright, and the FAIFE Committee has played an extremely active role in supporting librarians working in countries where freedom of expression is not always respected. FAIFE also took part in a UN-sponsored mission to evaluate the reconstruction of library collections in Kosovo. We fulfil our commitments at all levels, for the greater good of libraries and librarians around the world.
I would like to conclude here on an optimistic note. For the first time since the payment system for IFLA's membership fees was set up, we have succeeded in finding a budget solution which allows us to announce here today a significant reduction in fees for Institutional members in the least developing countries. At the same time, we are proposing to apply small changes reflect increases in costs every two years, so as to avoid sudden drastic increases at irregular intervals. From now on, the least developed countries will pay a membership fee nearly 60% lower than other countries. This is real progress toward real democracy within IFLA, which will, I hope, allow countries in difficulty to continue in membership of IFLA and to benefit from all the advantages of membership. Despite their financial problems, they will be able to remain members of the library community and the greatest benefits of solidarity will be gained.
Those then were the main aspects of my work over the past year. I wish you all a useful and enjoyable conference, that brings together the guardians of books in the country of the Book, at the beginning of a new millennium…