IFLA Assembly Learns Streamlining Works, Finances Stable

September 3, 2009

The General Assembly of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions met August 26 during the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Milan, Italy. Formerly known as the Council, the General Assembly has been re-engineered to reflect a swifter, streamlined IFLA, with an emphasis on the core activities and priorities of its active members.

IFLA President Claudia Lux of Germany convened the Assembly, numbering one voting delegate (delegates are allotted according to organizational membership status) over the 68 required for a majority (although there were probably four times that many observers in attendance). Lux reviewed the new IFLA structure, as adopted at last year’s conference in Canada, and talked about strengthening relationships with other organizations, notably the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Committee of the Blue Shield, and UNESCO. She noted that IFLA membership is growing. “It has never been easier than now to be a member,” she said, thanks to the work of the IFLA staff at its headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. The congress daily newsletter, IFLA Express, is now available in all seven of IFLA’s official languages—as was simultaneous translation during the congress—English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Russian, and Arabic.

IFLA Secretary General Jennefer Nicholson pointed to a new IFLA annual report and to a continuing emphasis on advocacy for libraries as central to the federation’s mission. The revitalized IFLA website continued to draw praise from delegates. She noted that IFLA is constantly in pursuit of sources of stable funding to supplement membership fees, which constitute only 40% of the budget; registration fees for the congress provide only about half of what the five-day event costs. The total IFLA annual budget is a mere 2.1 million euros. Nicholson also noted that part of the reorganization of IFLA meant viewing professional groups with “a life-cycle approach.”

IFLA Treasurer Gunnar Sahlin of Sweden reported that the federation’s “financial situation is stable” this year, as it was last year, but “we can see some clouds on the horizon” due to the “global financial situation and its impact on libraries and IFLA.” He praised the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for supporting IFLA’s advocacy efforts. “A solid financial situation is a good basis for facing the challenges ahead,” he noted.

Representing the American Library Association in Milan are ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels, Office for International Relations Director Michael Dowling, and ALA President Camila Alire, all of whom gave presentations at one of the 218 sessions that constitute the congress. Alire was one of four panelists at a Women, Information, and Libraries Discussion Group program titled “Libraries Creating Futures for the Women of the World,” hosted by IFLA President-elect Ellen Tise of South Africa. Fiels emceed the American caucus and attended a panel titled “Management of Library Associations: Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning,” organized by Sylvia Piggot of Canada, which also featured former ALA president Barbara Ford of the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign’s Mortenson Center for International Library Programs. ALA President-elect Roberta Stevens of the Library of Congress was also in Milan for IFLA.

The Assembly agenda included a moment of silence in memory of IFLA members who have died since the last congress in Quebec, and that included ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Judith Krug, who served on IFLA’s Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE).

Also noted at the Assembly was the election of Ingrid Parent of Canada to the IFLA presidency. She will serve as president-elect during Ellen Tise’s two-year term. U.S. delegate Donna Scheeder of the Library of Congress was one of 10 elected to the IFLA Governing Board.

Meanwhile, some of the IFLA delegates disinclined to sit through the General Assembly attended what must be an IFLA first: an international soccer tournament featuring four teams of librarians—one from the Bavarian State Library in Germany, one made up of Italian librarians, one from the Catholic University in Milan, and an international team made up of IFLA delegates from different countries.