IFLA needs to change

25 nov 2022 • 2 min

CHRONICLE Karin Linder, secretary general, Swedish Library Association: Why is the Swedish Library Association fighting with IFLA? The answers are rooted in the principles of democracy and responsibility.

”Just so you know, we want everyone to just enjoy the conference. Not everyone is pleased that a lot is being written in Sweden about internal IFLA matters.” 

This concludes an email I received regarding the controversies within IFLA. In another email, I was asked to take Biblioteksbladet’s Editor-in-chief to task, so that the magazine would stop publishing articles about IFLA. If I didn’t, the sender threatened to refer the matter to a lawyer. 

It is astounding that someone from an international organisation tasked with promoting freedom of the press and freedom of expression sent an email to me, in my role of  Secretary General, and, in principle, threatened legal action if this independent publication did not stop publishing articles about their organi¬sation. The Association is now taking action following several lengthy discussions on the Board. Biblioteksbladet is part of the free press. 

So why is the Association fighting with IFLA? 

The answer is simple: member democracy and responsibility. 

IFLA has recently given the impression of being a top-down organisation that offers nothing for members other than passive participation in annual meetings. This culture needs to change

THE LAST SIX MONTHS have been turbulent, and the degree of involvement in the IFLA crisis probably reflects the general attitude towards whether we should be a member or not. Swedish librarians are divided. Some see IFLA as a good chance for continuing professional development from an international perspective, while others see a bureaucratic organisation with outdated structures. We all perceive things differently. As Secretary General, I see great benefits from membership. For example, IFLA’s office is made up of knowledgeable staff who are always ready to help with complex copyright matters. I can do without one-liners such as ’We are IFLA’ . 

But IFLA is based on a principle of strong member engagement, and has members are from all parts of the globe, so work on its vision is justified. IFLA has recently given the impression of being a top-down organisation that offers nothing for members other than passive participation in annual meetings. This culture needs to change. A democratic organisation must have governance that everyone understands and feels involved in. 

SWEDEN HAS BEEN active at several of the recent annual meetings. We have acted on the issue of membership fees, have written motions and have received strong support from other members. We have taken responsibility for shared values. But we also need to change a poor culture. Avoiding becoming engaged in conflict and allowing everything to go on as if nothing was happening is irresponsible. If you choose that path, you are abusing the element of membership that re-quires participation. Democracy does not mean that everything is always pleasant. Democracy means taking responsibility for co-determination. 

Together, we will continue this work as part of IFLA. So should I take the Editor-in-chief to task? Well, we know what being an independent newspaper involves, so bring on the stupid suggestions, but ’that’s not gonna happen’.

Karin Linder is the secretary general of the Swedish Library Association

Translation: Catherine Middleton

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