International body promotes digital libraries

Share this on social media:

Ingeborg Verheul describes the work of IFLA and how the organisation is helping librarians work together in digitisation and digital libraries

Every type of cultural institution has its own international umbrella organisation. This so-called NGO (non governmental organisation) provides an international platform to further the profession and to promote and lobby for that specific type of organisation.

The international umbrella for the library and information sector is IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (see box: More about IFLA). A key part of the work of IFLA is the professional outreach. This can only be effective through the efforts of individual librarians, library association members and information professionals. Through their active participation in one or more of the over 50 IFLA working groups, they build a strong network for international librarianship. For almost every library topic you can think of, IFLA has a section or a special interest group that deals with that topic. Within these working groups, conferences and meetings are organised. Often ground-breaking work emerges in the form of guidelines and other publications (both online and in paper form) to enhance international standards.

IFLA has identified six areas that are of so much importance for the international library community that specific core activities have been established. These working groups focus on free access for information and freedom of expression (FAIFE, see interview on page 30); copyright and other legal matters (CLM); library profession development in emerging economies (ALP); the maintenance of the Universal MARC format (UNIMARC); preservation and conservation (PAC); and digital standards (ICADS). Three of these core activities focus on digitisation: CLM from the copyright point of view; ICADS on digital standards; and PAC on preservation of digital material.

Digitisation and digital libraries are also topical for various IFLA working groups. This is the logical result stemming from the fact that digitisation and digital libraries can be approached from so many angles. A number of IFLA’s sections have put digitisation and digital libraries on their strategic agendas and have developed guidelines on specific aspects. These guidelines are available through the IFLA website.

Presidential plans

Another avenue for identifying and addressing particularly important issues within IFLA is through the presidential programmes of the IFLA president and the IFLA president elect. The presidential programme is a theme that is used during the period of a presidency (two years) to lobby for libraries at national and international level. Within these, both digitisation and digital libraries are recognised as topics of importance for IFLA. As a result of the presidential programme ‘Libraries on the Agenda’ from the current IFLA president, Claudia Lux, IFLA has developed several activities in the digital area on a strategic level.

To assist libraries that want to develop a digital library, but that need to get support and/or funding from their governments, a digital library manifesto has been drafted. It was endorsed by the IFLA governing board in December 2007 and is now on the agenda of UNESCO, to get adopted by UNESCO as well. The purpose of the digital library manifesto is quite political, however, and has a rather limited practical application.

Alongside the digital library manifesto an international working group, under the guidance of the IFLA president, is currently developing a set of universal guidelines for digital libraries. These guidelines are politically and technically neutral, but at a high level. They will mainly serve as a planning and decision making tool for those librarians that want to set up a digital library in their own institution. A draft version is expected to be available online by the end of 2009.

To stimulate a coherent working plan for IFLA and all its working groups in the area of digitisation, the IFLA Professional Committee is organising a special oneday session during the IFLA Congress in Milan. This session is titled Digital Library Futures: User Perspectives and Institutional Strategies, and presents an interesting programme with a true cross domain focus. It will take place at Tuesday 25 August (see box: World Library and Information Congress).

Working together

Last year IFLA also took the initiative to set up a collaboration between the international cultural heritage NGOs (libraries, museums, archives, monuments and sites and audiovisual) on convergence. This collaborative effort works at the level of NGO presidents and secretary generals. It aims at developing closer cross-sector cooperation at international level in several areas. Global digital libraries are one of the focal points. IFLA holds the secretariat for this initiative for the coming two years.

Ingeborg Verheul is from the Netherlands and is currently working as IFLA’s communication and services director. She holds the secretariat of the NGOs on Convergence initiative and is also involved in many of IFLA’s digital activities.

More about IFLA

IFLA was founded in 1927 and has its coordinating office (IFLA Headquarters) in Den Haag, the Netherlands, in the building of the KB – the National Library of the Netherlands. To build up a strong international network, IFLA also has three regional offices. IFLA Africa is based in Pretoria, South Africa; IFLA Asia and Oceania in Singapore and IFLA Latin America & Caribbean in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To be able to provide information in all seven IFLA languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish) IFLA also has four active language centres, in Egypt, Senegal, Russian Federation and Beijing. IFLA’s governing board is responsible for the managerial and professional direction of IFLA. One of the advisory bodies of the governing board is the professional committee, which takes care of IFLA’s professional activities, policies and programmes.

IFLA is a membership organisation and members can be library associations, library institutions, individual members and also LIS students. Currently IFLA has more than 1,600 members – mainly associations and institutions – that have an outreach to an international field of over 500,000 – 1,000,000 librarians and information workers worldwide.

IFLA’s academic and research library section has more than 500 members and is the largest section in IFLA. It promotes and strengthens the development, co-operation and good management of academic and research libraries worldwide. Key topics are integration of the academic and research library in the core institutional functions of learning, teaching, research and services; research and recognition of the contribution and impact of the academic and research library on its various constituencies; and involvement of the academic and research library into the broader national and international frameworks for information policy.

World Library and Information Congress

Each year in August, IFLA organises the World Library and Information Congress. This is where you have the opportunity to meet all the people that are active in IFLA and to start building your own international professional network. The IFLA sections, special interest groups and core activities, under the guidance of the IFLA professional committee, manage each year to present a varied professional programme, with many interesting sessions and workshops to attend. The congress also offers a good opportunity to promote your own work and your own institution by giving a paper or a poster presentation yourself.

Next to the professional programme, the congress also includes IFLA’s annual general assembly meeting, where the past IFLA year is evaluated, future plans are presented and IFLA members vote on emerging strategic issues. The day before the official programme starts, IFLA’s working groups also have their working meetings to develop new plans for the year to come. Most working meetings are open for observers. There is also a large exhibition and a social programme with library tours in local libraries and great parties to complete the congress. Have you ever seen a librarian dance? This is your chance! Each year the congress is held in another country and it attracts over 3,000 participants. This year the World Library and Information Congress will be held from 23 till 27 August, in Milan, Italy.

If you miss some interesting presentations because of the many sessions and workshops the programme offers, don’t worry: the majority of the presentations will be made available on the IFLA website as well. For many librarians the IFLA annual congress was the first introduction to IFLA. For many it was also the first step to active international librarianship. I look forward to meeting you in Milan!