Empty words about freedom of speech – many expect more from Ifla

24 nov 2022 • 2 min

EDITORIAL The removal of a leading person will hardly be enough. It will probably take significantly more if IFLA is to recover.

In April, IFLA’s Governing Board announced that Secretary General Gerald Leitner had been relieved from his duties. This was at a time when an email from a Board member was circulating, testifying to a toxic atmosphere at the Federation’s headquarters in The Hague, and that independent investigations into the staff’s situation had been carried out. One member of the Board demanded the resignation of the Chair.

What was really going on? 

For any journalist, it would have been a mistake not to ask questions.

It has taken a great deal of effort to get any answers at all.

One of IFLA’s core values is based on Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without repercussions, and seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas with the help of all means of expression and regardless of boundaries. 

It should be easy to have a dialogue with an organisation that has these words ingrained in its identity. But since Biblioteksbladet published the first article on the turbulence within IFLA, the support for Article 19 has in practice turned out to be nothing but empty words. 

They are just superficial sentences to which leading IFLA representatives seem to relate with alarming flexibility. 

The representatives have refrained from answering questions. Instead of dispelling ambiguities, attempts have
been made to have the Swedish Library Association’s Secretary General Karin Linder intervene and stop articles from being published in Biblioteksbladet, which the Association owns. 

”If I don’t do it, the sender is threatening to hire a lawyer,” she wrote in her opinion piece in this issue.

Many people expect more from the world’s leading library organisation.

If the principle of freedom of opinion and expression were taken seriously, current and former IFLA employees would not fear reprisals and not shy away from recounting what they have experienced at work.

The owner of an editorially independent newspaper would not face threats of legal action.

Also, the leadership and Board of the Federation would answer justified questions.

This issue of the Biblioteksbladet is devoted to the situation within IFLA. The image of a dysfunctional organisation, in which the removal of a leading person will hardly be enough, comes to the fore. 

It will probably take significantly more if IFLA is to recover.

Translation: Catherine Middleton

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