Closed doors damage trust

28 nov 2022 • 5 min

SURVEY Limited transparency and poor communication. Biblioteksbladet’s survey shows that the turbulence is raising questions among IFLA members in Sweden.

The questions

1) Is IFLA a transparent organisation? 

2) Do you have a good understanding of the cooperation between IFLA and the SIGL Foundation?

3) Do you have confidence in how IFLA is led?

Karin Grönvall. Photo: Annika Clemens

Karin Grönvall
Head of the National Library of Sweden.

1) Due to its size and scope, we have to take into account that there are several levels and structures. I feel that the work on committees, and cooperation between the committees, is transparent. On the other hand, the Board has not been able to convey the sense of security, determination and transparency that the organisation’s members have needed and should have received during a turbulent time. 

2) What has been clear is that the Chair stated publicly that SIGL was created in order to minimise the taxes paid on the funds that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed. The connection to IFLA, the management etc., is not clear. 

3) KB (the National Library of Sweden) remains an institutional member and believes in IFLA as an organisation. We believe that confidence in the organisation will recover with the help of members who believe that IFLA and the sector can organise themselves in a democratic and transparent way, and make demands on the management. For continued trust, management must be open to addressing any situations that arise and communicate openly with members.

Morgan Palmqvist. Photo: Johan Wingborg

Morgan Palmqvist
Senior Librarian, Gothenburg University Library.

1) The problems and discussions of the past year have shown that IFLA is not as transparent as expected. It is a member-driven organisation and must look after the best interests of its members, be transparent and inclusive. And, last but not least, it ought to create trust in the Board, which is elected by the members.

2) Very little transparency.

3) Well, there is a belief that the current Board wants to be more transparent and reliable, but they still have far to go.


Daniel Forsman. Photo: Elisabeth Ohlson

Daniel Forsman
City Librarian, Stockholm.

1) It can be difficult to understand how IFLA works. Those who have been involved for a long time work in established structures where short cuts, roles and the ways of doing things have become the natural way of doing things. As with any organisation, it is difficult to free yourself from your own structure as needs evolve and the world around you evolves. In an international context, it is no wonder that there are differences of opinion about strategic or operational issues. Embracing these and finding structures to work with them is one of IFLA’s major challenges, and today
I feel that the organisation prioritises the appearance of unity, and thus transparency suffers.

2) IFLA’s current operations are financially dependent on SIGL. Because an independent foundation is financing activities carried out in an association, it is of course interesting for members to understand how the two are connected and how the strategic agenda has been set. Here, in my opinion, the organisations have not been transparent enough. This affects confidence and opens up unnecessary speculation.

3) It has been a stormy time for IFLA. I think that the Swedish Library Association has acted constructively, and set a good example, by motioning that IFLA needs to improve its communication in order to become more transparent. This motion was passed by a large majority and I now expect greater clarity on how IFLA should act in the future. Confidence in the management of IFLA has been affected and Stockholm Public Library is considering not renewing its membership. However, not having our own membership does not prevent us from being active within IFLA, as institutional members of the Swedish Library Association can work within IFLA.

Anna Troberg. Photo: Åke Ericson

Anna Troberg
Chair, DIK (trade union).

1) No, unfortunately not. The recent internal conflicts and their management have created an image of IFLA as a fairly closed and top-down organisation. It is important that as an organisation we put an end to this once and for all and are much more transparent, going forward.

2) The cooperation between IFLA and SIGL is an area that would benefit from much greater transparency. There is a lot that is unclear at the moment and of course this creates uncertainty among the member organisations, which damages trust in both IFLA and SIGL 

3) ) It is clear that confidence in IFLA has been damaged by all the turbulence that has occurred. I hope the criticism is taken seriously and in the future they will actively work transparently to restore the trust they have lost. IFLA’s strength is entirely dependent on a strong member commitment. We cannot afford to lose the confidence of our members.

Karin Linder. Photo: Elisabeth Ohlson

Karin Linder
Secretary General, Swedish Library Association.

1) Definitely not, it’s very difficult to understand IFLA’s finances, the relationship between the different levels of the organisation. Election to the Board takes place among groups of friends, cliches and non-transparency.

2) Zero transparency. It’s really bad that there is no insight into the relationship between the two associations.

3) I’ve always wondered about the management, especially due to all the empty words. We are IFLA — what is that?

Lars Burman. Photo: Jens Gustavsson

Lars Burman
Senior Librarian, Uppsala University Library

 1) Unfortunately, large organisations with complex structures often lack transparency. IFLA could do more to be perceived as transparent. Trust needs to be restored, especially after a large crisis, and this is best done through reforms and open communication.

2) I have not had reason to delve into the matter, but I know the construction. I cannot say that I feel there is transparency, but I have not tried to look closely either.

3) IFLA has a crisis behind it. If activities and management work develop as promised, much of the trust can be regained.

Torbjörn Nilsson. Photo: BiM

Torbjörn Nilsson
City Librarian, Malmö.

1) No, not at the moment, not even for its members. The Chair/Governing Board determines the degree of transparency.

2) I have not. It is a financial construction that benefits IFLA. 

3) More transparency is needed to be able to answer that question. That’s why it’s a ’no’.

Maria Haglund. Photo: Sara Lind

Maria Haglund
Chief Librarian, Royal Institute of Technology Library.

1) IFLA in general is perceived by many as administratively heavy and quite difficult to navigate.

2) Have not looked into the collaboration.

3) The new management has an important mission in creating trust in the organisation, and showing how they want to work with development through transparent leadership. The seminar at the IFLA conference in Dublin this summer, Out in the Open: Recent Governance Developments at IFLA, was a good first step, but more action will be needed.

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