65th IFLA Council and General
August 20 - August 28, 1999
Code Number: 112-98-E
Division Number: 0
Professional Group: Opening Session
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 98
Simultaneous Interpretation: Yes
One year already… How many things have happened since last year ! We have worked at keeping IFLA running, visiting countries and member associations, and making progress on certain sensitive issues.
A new Secretary General
Keeping IFLA running, because, as you all know, in September 1998 our Secretary General, Leo Voogt suddenly suggested that he come to see me in Paris to talk about important business. You can all guess that the business in question was his departure. He wanted to leave IFLA to take a job in the book and publishing world in Amsterdam. Gone were the long trips - no doubt he had done a little too many of those - and gone was the international aspect.
You can imagine my first reaction of dismay at this announcement : Was there anything that we could have done to forestall this departure, and could we persuade him to go back on his decision ? It seemed we could not. Experience has taught me that when someone wants to go and leave the position he holds, it is fruitless to try and prevent him. If he stays, it is with reluctance, 'facing backwards', and that never gives good results.
So we had to accept the situation. Leo would leave on 31 December 1998. From that point we had to act fast. With him, and with the Executive Committee of the Board, we drafted the profile of the post of Secretary General of IFLA, drawing inspiration from various documents published by similar Associations, or by the United Nations (recommendations for the employment of a Secretary General by an International Non-Government Organisation). Then we needed to disseminate the job profile worldwide very quickly. I am pleased to say that we received 18 high-level applications, from all over the world (all the continents were represented). This is noticeably more than the number of applications received the last time, when Leo Voogt was appointed. I take this to be evidence of the vitality of the Federation, and of the interest which its members take in our activities. Drawing up a shortlist was difficult enough, but we managed to identify 5 candidates for a first interview. What can I say about the next stage, except that the choice was even more difficult ? In fact, each of these candidates could have been an excellent Secretary General ; the difficulty was to decide on one. For these interviews we had obtained the valuable advice of Mr Adriaan Staats, well known to our Dutch members for his formidable diplomatic skills and to us as a wise adviser for IFLA. Let me take this opportunity to thank him. Representatives of the IFLA Headquarters staff were also involved.
In the end we succeeded in reducing the list down to two final candidates. At the beginning of January, the Executive Board of IFLA held an extraordinary meeting (and consider that some members must travel a great distance to the Netherlands) for a last interview with the two finalists. You know the rest : Ross Shimmon, Chief Executive of the Library Association of the United Kingdom was named Secretary General of IFLA.
Unfortunately, leading figures such as he are not free straight away, and we quite understood the concern of the Library Association to keep him as long as possible… Apart from a lightning trip to attend the spring meeting of the Executive Board, Ross could only really join us in The Hague as from 17 May 1999.
Four months and a half without a Secretary General, right in the middle of preparations for the General Conference in Bangkok, in an election year : you can imagine the work that had to be completed during those months. Obviously, being fortunate enough to live in a country very close to the Netherlands, about every two weeks I was able to go and spend some time in The Hague, to encourage the staff, and in a manner of speaking 'direct' IFLA in a more 'hands-on' fashion than usual. I would like here to congratulate all the staff of IFLA Headquarters whose redoubled efforts, faultless teamwork and smiling efficiency ensured the smooth working of the Federation during that time. Not one complaint about the extra workload and responsibility, and close cooperation with the President : I think that deserves official congratulations, and I ask you to applaud them here for their dedication and commitment.
Finally Ross arrived, and of course he already knew a great deal about IFLA, having worked within it for many years. We are still convinced we made the right choice, and we want to encourage him in settling into his job. Just a thought for his wife, Pat, who has left her home, her country, her job, her family to become an expatriate. Thank you once again, Pat.
A worldwide programme of visits
Last autumn, it had been agreed that Leo and I would go to visit libraries in Italy, at the request of the Associazione Italiane delle Biblioteche. Leo, knowing he would soon leave, did not accompany me, and so it was that I travelled alone to Rome. Having discussed the matter with the President of the AIB, I had decided I would ask to visit libraries preferably in the South of Italy, a less favoured region whose library network is somewhat less developed and certainly less well known than the great libraries of the North (Florence, Venice, Milan, Turin, etc.). I therefore discovered the libraries of Rome, Naples, Salerno, Matera, Bari, Fasano, Cagliari and Palermo. I had not imagined the treasures - collections of early works, venerable manuscripts, incunabula - deposited in these libraries. On the other hand, the development of public library services still leaves something to be desired. I was very pleased to learn that, following my discussions with Mr Orlando Leoluca, the Mayor of Palermo, the City of Palermo had decided to open certain libraries on Sundays, in order to develop their role as an instrument of economic and social development.
And of course, among all these trips, after the resignation of our Secretary General, I paid about ten visits to The Hague to help IFLA HQ with its regular work and fulfill the duties of a President.
Last year, when presenting my Annual Report, I informed you that travel this year would focus on Asia. And indeed I have kept that commitment : between April and August, I visited successively Korea, Thailand, China and Vietnam. IFLA's involvement in the Asian continent is clear, and I must say that the responses everywhere have been extremely gratifying. Moreover, I would be hard put to single out the country that gave me the warmest welcome. Everywhere the hospitality, the interesting visits, the quality of meetings and interviews, the friendliness of the welcome exceeded all my expectations. I thank all the persons who helped to organise those stays, and who allowed me to discover the libraries of their countries. In Vietnam we even signed a Draft Protocol of Agreement with the Ministry of Education and Research, concerning the professional support of IFLA for the development of librarianship in that country. A last visit to the United States completed the picture (and the jetlag), but there also I was well rewarded for my visit to the Association of Research Libraries in Washington by a warm welcome and valuable discussions
Issues of substance
All these visits have not prevented me from taking part in or even initiating matters of substance.
Regarding external relations, having been invited to the Round Table of the International Council of Archives in Stockholm in September, I set in motion close cooperation with the President and Secretary General of ICA, by listing activities to be carried out jointly and by defining priorities. The first of these, professional training, will be given material form in a project managed by the Council of Europe, in which it aims to define the professional profile of the new information specialist of the 21st Century, and the appropriate training curricula. A conference will be held next autumn in Rome (Italy) bringing together specialists from libraries, archives and museums for in-depth discussions on the subject, and a project is underway to set up a University Summer School for training common to the three professions. All this is in the context of the work of the Council of Europe on social questions, the notion of citizenship, the fight against poverty and deprivation, and the labour market. A series of studies, therefore, in tangible areas, recognising the role of libraries as essential actors, and carried out in conjunction with other information and communication professionals. Naturally, the conclusions of these studies will be available to all (also to non-Europeans), and should help us make progress in enhancing the prestige and the work of libraries.
Still on the subject of training, I would just like to mention here a new Training Programme developed jointly with OCLC, and with its financial support, which will involve librarians in developing countries, starting in the year 2000. I will not say more about this Programme now, since it is planned to hold a press conference to present it more fully, and I do not want to divulge the information in advance. However, I can say that it is a Programme which we have been working on for the past year with OCLC, and that I am extremely satisfied to see it come to fruition, while at the same time hoping that other organisations will join us in supporting it financially so that we can widen the range of activities and persons involved.
Concerning standardisation, to which - as I said to you last year - I personally attach great importance, I would like to say here that IFLA has always participated especially in the work of Technical Committee 46, Sub-Committee 9 of ISO, and that we are satisfied with the progress of work on cataloguing, metadata, and international bibliographic formats. However, we have some concerns about the identification number newly created by the publishing community, the « Digital Object Identifier » (DOI) , and we are watching the situation very closely to ensure that this number will not prevent the wide distribution of the older numbering systems (ISBN and ISSN in particular), so that we do not have to change parameters in our automated catalogues. Library specialists are working on this question, and hope to be able to reach agreements with the members of the DOI working group.
In the area of relations with publishers, after the much admired presentation by Dr Götze (of Springer Verlag) at Amsterdam last year, a Task Force was set up to develop these relations and conduct negotiations which could lead to smoother relationships between the publishing community and the library community : in copyright matters of course, but also for sharing ideas on intellectual property, on the possibilities of cataloguing in publication with the two professions using the same metadata, and on electronic document delivery (with or without consortium agreements). This Task Force was chaired by Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, former Director of the Deutsche Bibliothek and a member of the IFLA Executive Board ; but following his recent appointment to head the Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, he had to resign both from the Executive Board and from the Task Force. We hope soon to be able to announce the name of his successor. This work has top priority, as, if we can hope to settle our differences with the publishers, then all the issues concerning electronic documents will become easier to handle, with consequent cost reductions.
Still on a technical issue : I am delighted to be able to announce that following the European mirror site for IFLANET in France, the Asian mirror site for IFLANET has been set up by the National Library of Singapore and is working smoothly and efficiently. You can see a demonstration at the National Library's stand in the exhibition hall.
A vision for the year 2000
IFLA as an institution has been in existence for a very long time (since 1927 !). As with any institution of this type, it is necessary from time to time to stand back and analyse the adequacy of existing structures to reflect economic and technological developments and the evolution of the library profession.
We therefore thought it appropriate, together with the Professional Board, to begin an examination of the Statutes and Rules of Procedure of IFLA. A certain number of decisions made in the past now appear to be either obsolete or inappropriate. The Working Group on the Revision of the Statutes and Rules of Procedure will present its report to you here. All sectors of IFLA have been consulted, and the proposals have already been discussed a first time by the Executive Board last winter. The question for IFLA is how to approach the next millennium with structures which are able to reinforce the effectiveness of its work and which encourage the convergence of its professional programmes.
Last year in Amsterdam, I told you that my priorities for IFLA were : training, standardisation, help for developing countries, and support for freedom of expression. The FAIFE Committee will report on its activities at this conference; but I can already say that IFLA will soon be a member of IFEX : International Freedom of Expression Exchange. A resolution on « Libraries and intellectual freedom » has just been adopted by the Executive Board and can be found in your conference bags. Full information on FAIFE activities can be found on the redesigned IFLA website: www.ifla.org
Concerning other subjects, you can see that the Programme followed has indeed fulfilled our commitments. We must carry this programme continually forward, so as to keep improving its results and to lead IFLA along the path of intellectual rigour and efficiency as we approach the new millennium. There will be no Y2K bugs either for IFLA or for its members, on the contrary : our work will be multiplied tenfold, and always focussed on helping those in greatest need. That will be our motto for the year ahead.
Translation by W. Roberts