New Report Portends Global Societal Trends, as IFLA Continues in Singapore

August 21, 2013

It’s designed to assess “the impact of new technology on our global information environment,” said IFLA President Ingrid Parent, introducing the new IFLA Trend Report August 19 during the World Library and Information Congress in Singapore. Commissioned in 2012 and involving social scientists, economists, business leaders, educators, legal experts, and technologists, Riding the Waves or Caught in the Tide? examines “high-level societal trends,” challenging library professionals to be aware that: (1) new technology will both expand and limit who has access to information, (2) online education will transform and disrupt traditional learning, (3) boundaries of data protection and privacy will be redefined, (4) hyper-connected societies will listen to and empower new groups, and (5) the global information economy will be transformed by new technologies.

As the world’s leading global library organization, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) undertook the study to provide its membership with a basis for discussion about advancing libraries as learning centers for the communities they serve. Parent noted that every new technology raises new questions for the profession. Google Glass, a wearable technology that allows people to record exactly what they are seeing with a camera that attaches to their glasses, is a new challenge to privacy, she said. Trend Report encourages librarians to ask such questions as, “We can translate it, but, more to the point, do we understand it?” and “What is simply information and what is truly a record?” IFLA secretariat Jennefer Nicholson urged WLIC delegates to discuss and disseminate the report widely.

The IFLA congress continued with a program titled “Exploring an Ebook Future,” during which Dan Mount, one of the Trend Report authors, asserted that “consumers want access to any digital content any time, anywhere, on any mobile device.” Book publishers, he said, are facing a transformation and their business model should address, not try to resist or control, consumer expectations. Representing the International Publishers Association, YS Chi asserted that “the book isn’t going anywhere,” and the ebook is not a threat but an opportunity. “Fail often but fail early,” he advised. Both speakers agreed that publishers and libraries should unite over a mutually beneficial objective: “to develop a culture of reading.”

ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels updates IFLA delegates on ALA's ongoing dialogue with ebook publishers. Photo by Carlon WalkerAt the same program eight panelists, representing every continent, talked about ebook licensing policy, principles, and issues around the globe. Speaking for the United States and Canada, American Library Association Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels said ALA took a proactive approach and contacted publishers, asking them to come to the table and discuss their refusal to allow libraries to lend ebooks as well as their attempts to limit circulation. He presented a balanced view of the legitimate concerns of both librarians and publishers. The panelists noted that trade and scholarly publishers use very different business models; while the public library market is a small part of the trade publishing, academic libraries are virtually the entire market for scholarly publishing. At the end of the program, Paul Whitney of Canada presented IFLA’s newly developed e-lending principles.

At the annual UNESCO session, panelists discussed the Vancouver Declaration, which was released in January and formulated during a September 2012 conference in Vancouver, Canada, to address issues of preservation and long-term accessibility of digital documentary heritage. Ellen Tise of South Africa talked about the urgent need for action in Mali, where 4,203 rare items have been burned at the hands of the Taliban. “Some cannot be replaced,” she said. “They are gone forever.” When that happens, she added, “the whole of humanity is deprived of a part of itself.” Ismail Serageldin, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, delivered an update on the World Digital Library, which has 180 partners in 81 countries. Serageldin described it as “a library initiative that values quality over quantity,” emphasizing that it is curated by experts and the “slice and dice approach is no way to approach cultural preservation.” Panelists also discussed IFLA’s “cultural heritage disaster reconstruction” initiative, which advocates having a conflict and disaster prevention plan in place and is attempting to create a new “risk register” to identify cultural heritage at risk around the world.

Davi Zaia (right), secretariat of public management for the Saõ Paulo State Government in Brazil, accepts the 2013 Access to Learning Award of $1 million from Deborah Jacobs, director of Global Libraries for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Photo by Carlon Walker

At day’s end, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced the winner of the $1 million Access to Learning Award. Deborah Jacobs (right), director of Global Libraries for the foundation, revealed that this year’s recipient is Access Saõ Paulo, a program of the Saõ Paulo State Government in Brazil. Access Saõ. Paulo is bridging the nation’s stunning gap between the rich and the poor, she said, by building technology stations in libraries and other high-traffic public areas to bring the internet and computers to the state’s 42 million inhabitants and to train staff to operate them. Technology “is not very good if you don’t know what to do with it when you have it,” Jacobs explained. Accepting the award was Davi Zaia, secretariat of public management, saying in Portuguese through an interpreter that it “gives us a lot of pride, encourages us, and makes us believe in the vocational component of the program.” Bill Gates Sr. congratulated Access Saõ Paulo via video and said he was “astounded by the creativity of the organization.”

The IFLA congress continues through August 23 in Singapore with a total of 224 sessions bringing together some 3,500 attendees from 120 countries. 

LEONARD KNIFFEL is a writer and librarian living in Chicago. He is former editor and publisher of American Libraries, and his latest book is Musicals on the Silver Screen (Huron Street Press, 2013). He can be reached at lkniffel[at] or on his blog at