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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

How does EBLIDA promote the interests of libraries at European Union level?

Barbara Schleihagen,
Director
EBLIDA


PAPER

EBLIDA, the European Umbrella Association for Library, Information and Documentation Associations, was established with the purpose to become the European lobby organisation for the library profession. It was felt that some sort of organisation was needed to facilitate the communication among the associations and with the European institutions. EBLIDA was founded five years ago, in June 1992, and has since then followed its first and foremost objective: to serve and promote the interest of information professionals at European level. A few examples of successful lobby activities might give a better idea of the kind of work EBLIDA is doing as an association of associations. These examples will also illustrate what is necessary and helpful for the promotion of the librariansí interest on European level.

One of the main work areas, actually the one, why EBLIDA was originally established, is the complex problem of copyright in the electronic age. Fighting for the rights of the library community and library users alike, EBLIDA has become best known as the advocate in copyright debates. The most recent example of a successful action in this area was in connection with the proposals for a new Treaty to the Berne Convention, concerning copyright legislation on international level. EBLIDA was informed about the proposed changes at the earliest possible stage, as the organisation has an observer status in the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The next step was to inform as many of the members as thoroughly as possible on the implications of the proposals for the library community by a two-day workshop. During this workshop a common draft for a position paper was discussed among the members and further strategies on national and European level were suggested and discussed. The final EBLIDA position paper was written within a few days and sent to all members as common basis for their activities. During the time between the workshop and the final decision on the adoption of a new Treaty, many representatives of national library associations, as experts in the copyright field, sent the position paper to their government representatives, they wrote articles for their national newspapers, contacted their national journalists and gave interviews in their national radio stations. This was supplemented by EBLIDAís activities at European level. Two appointments were fixed with the responsible person at the European Commission to discuss in a small group of EBLIDA experts the dangers that the library community saw in the text as it was proposed. The position paper was also sent to all national delegations that were to vote on the new Treaty as well as to all Members of the European Parliamentís Legal Committee and Cultural Committee, and the national governmentsí permanent representations at the European Union. Later, when the conference which was to decide on the new Treaty actually took place, two representative of EBLIDA were present to continue promoting the librariesí point of view, virtually sitting in the corridors and in the lobby hall. By joining forces with IFLA and FID, the library lobby was extremely powerful and the results achieved quite satisfying.

The inclusion of a library focused plan into the European Unionís action plan for Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries might serve as another example of lobby work. During the regular searching for new developments in another important working area of EBLIDA, we came across a draft action plan for the implementation of the information society in CEE countries, which contained a lot of proposals for action but none for the specific support of the library community. We contacted the person at the European Commission, that was in charged of the draft action plan and explained the importance of libraries in this area. He asked for a written statement which was sent immediately. Some days later EBLIDA was invited to draft a specific part of the plan focused on libraries. This task was passed on to the European Commissionís Library Unit as being the specialist in the field. The overall action plan was adopted containing a library related part, and EBLIDA promoted the outlined ideas for cooperation in its publications. So far this specific library part of the action plan has led to a conference and to some proposals for EU projects.

There are many different ways to promote the interest of the libraries community, but there are some basic elements which we find essential for our work:

  1. The first step is to define the specific working area on which the lobby work should concentrate in order to focus attention and to increase the impact. Our special areas are copyright, culture, cooperation with CEE countries, and information society related matters.

  2. The next step is to watch closely new developments and to collect regularly information on what is happening in our field of interest. We use a daily press service, read through all kinds of material that comes in by mail everyday, visit regularly web sites of relevant institutions (bookmarks!) and follow-up latest developments by telephone. We have registered ourselves on all kind of lists, we asked for an observer status at WIPO and receive invitations for hearings at the European Parliament. It is of utmost importance to know as soon as possible what is going on to be able to react quickly in time. Only by doing this, we are able to hand in amendments in favour of libraries to Parliament reports before they are finally voted upon.

  3. It is even more important to identify the key people in our area, to know exactly the political framework for the decision making process and to keep in regular contact. We have build up a database of key people in the European institutions which is regularly updated. To many of them we send our monthly publications to keep them informed on library developments, or, in most cases, just to remind them of our existence. Furthermore we are in regular contact over the telephone to check latest developments in their working field. When it comes to lobbying for a specific item, we meet the key players personally to talk to them. If the attention is focused on certain key areas, it is easier to identify the key decision makers and to effectively target oneís actions. The database, carefully put together in a quieter working period, enables us to send out position papers and letters at very short notice and without major administrative work involved.

  4. Another important aspect is to get experts within the own association involved in the lobby work. Every association has a pool of potential experts in different fields, and they are indispensable when it comes to the drafting of position papers in special areas. Assembling experts under the umbrella of one association strengthens the position of that association and enhances its creditability. The easiest form is to establish ad-hoc working groups, like EBLIDA did to answer to the INFO2000 programme proposal or to react on the Intergovernmental conference. People want to get something in return for their involvement that keeps them convinced and interested. In the case of EBLIDA, members are regularly informed on lasted developments and funding possibilities via a closed discussion list on the Internet, and via monthly publications. The organisation of a strategy seminar like the one in connection with the WIPO discussion allows interested people to get directly involved and to gain influence on the policy development of the association. In the end, an association is only as good as its active members.

  5. Sometimes it is helpful and necessary to form alliances with other organisations to gain more weight in the lobby process. In the case of the WIPO discussion, EBLIDA formed a strong library group together with IFLA and FID. In the continuing copyright discussions we are seeking alliances with consumer associations, or organisations in the education sector.

  6. Position papers have to be drafted with the audience in mind and have to take account of the recipientís interests. In the case of the European Union, it is quite useful to know the priority areas of EU aims and to put libraries into this context. It is helpful to point out the role that libraries can play in supporting a democratic society with equal access to information or to describe how libraries can support the life-long learning effort of citizens.

  7. As soon as an association has established itself as a vital link between decision makers and the library profession, there is an increasing chance to be invited to speak on behalf of libraries at conferences, public hearings or open Fora. In the case of EBLIDA, we observe this snowball effect where one invitation leads to further invitations to other important events.

  8. It is extremely helpful to be able to use fact and figures from recent research to undermine a certain position. In future, it will be necessary to have more figures available on the economic and social impact of libraries.

Promoting library services at European level is certainly a special area of advocating library work. Nevertheless, basic rules are probably the same in many different areas, and the experiences reported above might also prove useful on national level.