Al Kagan’s IFLA report

September 29, 2006

By Al Kagan

Diverging from my usual report, this time I am reporting on two meetings held in the summer of 2006. This report includes my usual comments on the conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and also on the SCECSAL meeting, the Standing Conference of Eastern, Central & Southern Africa Library & Information Associations. SCECSAL is held every two years and is the largest meeting of librarians on the African continent.

The World Library and Information Congress, 72nd IFLA General Conference and Council, was held in Seoul, South Korea, August 20-24, although meetings were held both before and after the official dates. The Koreans claim that they have the most Internet penetration of any country and my experience validates the claim. I even had a computer with broadband Internet access included in the cost of my hotel room. Seoul is a large but manageable city, lively at all hours, with a great subway system (even for foreigners). It is also one of the safer places one might go. The conference was well-organized and included the usual lavish receptions and cultural events. The main cultural evening was quite phenomenal with performances of the best musical and dance groups in the country. The drumming was indeed magnificent.

The guest of honor and keynote speaker was former political prisoner, Nobel Prize laureate, and former President of the country, Dae-jung Kim. He is usually known in the US as Kim Dae-jung. The wife of the President also made an appearance.

The political drama around the IFLA Council once again centered around Cuba. Robert Kent prevailed upon the Latvian and Lithuanian Librarians’ Associations to introduce another resolution well before the meeting in support of the so-called “independent librarians,” who are neither independent nor librarians. Interesting, the Lithuanians withdrew their support before we got to Seoul, presumably after learning that they were being used in the service of US foreign policy. That left the resolution without a second and so it did not come up for a vote. I have heard that the Latvians were committed to follow through because of a vote at their own conference but that they were also relieved when the item was taken off the agenda. Not even “New Europe” is going along with this charade anymore. Let me give special thanks to Ann Sparanese who’s recent paper was very well received and helped explain things to a number of our colleagues. (“Fact and Fiction about the ?¢‚ǨÀúIndependents” of Cuba: ONCE AGAIN”). There were no other substantive resolutions.

IFLA has now adopted a three pillars model: Membership, The Profession, and Society. I think we can be proud of the work of several of our members working with an international group in motivating the Society Pillar. My own involvement now is chiefly as a member of the Free Access to Information and Freedom Expression (FAIFE) Committee, an IFLA core program. FAIFE has increasingly embraced social responsibility issues as part of the Society Pillar. As Chair of the FAIFE Program Committee, I organized a panel on “Access to HIV/AIDS Information: A Life and Death Issue.” It went quite well and we are organizing a similar panel as well as a performance and a film at next year’s meeting in Durban, South Africa. FAIFE also sponsored a discussion around the issue of the Danish cartoons portraying Muhammad as a terrorist. Unfortunately, it just got going around the time that it was scheduled to finish, after only one hour.

SCECSAL XVII was hosted by the Tanzania Library Association and held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 10-14, 2006. The theme was “Librarianship as a Bridge to an Information and Knowledge Society in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa.” The Standing Conference of National and University Libraries of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (SCANUL-ECS) met on July 9-10. There were also several pre-conference sessions, including: “Making Library and Information Associations Functional: Some Practical Experiences form the Eastern, Central and Southern African Countries;” “Workshop on Freedom of Information, Knowledge Management and Libraries;” “Workshop on Licensing and Negotiation Skills for the Digital Libraries;” “Electronic Resource Solution: Find Out How Millions of Researchers Are Doing Their Research More Efficiently;” and “SPRINGLINK Usage and Training Session for Librarians, Researchers and Students.” Note that the last two were organized by vendors, Elsevier and Springer.

I was invited to give a paper at the small pre-conference workshop on library associations. This was an opportunity to talk to the key people who are motivated to try to revitalize the mostly very small and underfunded library associations in Africa. My remarks were basically an update of the article that I published in the 2005 IFLA World Report discussing what we do in SRRT and similar activities in IFLA. It was titled, “The Role of Library Associations in Civil Society.” Amongst other resolutions, six were adopted under a social responsibilities framework asserting fundamental principles that SRRT and ALA as a whole would be find quite familiar. We also agreed to try to link the rich country library associations with the struggling African associations for possible grant proposals. Keith Fiels was there representing ALA and he gave his enthusiastic support along with Winnie Vitzansky, the Director of the Danish Library Association.

The conference theme was operationalized to connect almost everything discussed to “knowledge management.” This resulted in some very academic and even boring presentations that seemed to have little to do with the critical day-to-day problems of librarianship in most of Africa. One must question such a theme focused on high tech and inward looking techniques when most Africans lack access to even basic library services. Obviously, this is especially true in the rural areas. Of course, there were also some high points including a panel on “Knowledge Management and Prevention of HIV/AIDS Pandemic.” One of the speakers at that panel even addressed “library colonialism.” The Conference passed resolutions on capacity building for knowledge management, the development of an interactive SCECSAL website to share knowledge, the creation of knowledge management partnerships, and strengthening library associations through strategic planning and better communications through the mass media and with policy makers.

The term “library colonialism” is particularly apt for describing the U.S. Department of State’s campaign to establish “American Corners” in libraries around the world and now in African libraries. I learned that one was established and opened by the American Ambassador at the State University of Zanzibar Library during the conference. Furthermore, the American Corner was initially offered to the Zanzibar Public Library, the Zanzibar Archives, and the Zanzibar Department of Education, all of which refused the offer. I also learned that the University administration, and not the head librarian, made the decision to take the American Corner.

Along with Shiraz Durrani (who some of you may know), I got a chance to visit this library and my assumptions were verified. The State University of Zanzibar is only about five years old and has quite a small library. In fact, there was no room for an American Corner so they had to find a separate space. So the “Corner” became an entirely new room in another building dedicated to US materials. Of course, the main attraction for the local students is the six computers with access to the Internet. The materials include multiple copies of books and videos on American government and culture. During my visit, the computers were being used but none of the materials. What I find most disturbing is that a library with only three professionals would have to dedicate one-third of its staff to a new space divorced from its primary focus, serving the curriculum needs of the students. Library colonialism is alive and well.

As usual, I would be happy to try to answer any questions.

Al Kagan, SRRT Councilor