19 November 2020

IFLA NILP SIG – closing statement

The IFLA NILP SIG completed its work at the end of 2019, after two 4-year terms, and submitted its final report to the Professional Committee of IFLA. This short statement was drafted a year later, at the request of IFLA Headquarters and the Section of National Libraries.

History of the NILP SIG

A public meeting to discuss national information and library policy and planning was held during the IFLA Congress in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2011. IFLA approved the creation of the NILP SIG, attached to the Section of National Libraries, and convened by the CEO of the National Library of [the Republic of] Korea, Dr Wonsun Lim. He led the SIG through its open sessions at WLIC in Helsinki (2012), Singapore (2013) and Lyon (2014). Details of that period are provided in the first 4-year report submitted to IFLA by the National Library of Korea.

The mission of the NILP SIG was to provide IFLA units with practical ideas for establishing library and information policies at national level, provide opportunities for IFLA members to exchange knowledge about such policies, stimulate discussion, including by calling for examples of cases of processes, structures and lessons learned.

At the Cape Town WLIC in 2015, the National Library of Korea handed over leadership of the SIG to the National Library of South Africa. The National Librarian of South Africa, Prof. Ralebipi-Simela was NILP Convenor through the IFLA congresses in Columbus 2016 and Wrocław 2017. She participated in the IFLA President’s meeting and initial Global Vision meeting in Athens, Greece, in April 2017. She also participated in the consultation among the wider national library and information policy community, which was organised by the IFLA Section of National Libraries to support the development of IFLA’s strategic ‘Global Vision’.

The NILP session in Wrocław, on the theme of ‘National libraries’ core functions and best practices’, discussed the findings of the survey on national Library functions which had been carried out by members of the Section of National Libraries in 2015-2016.

At the 2017 WLIC, a new Convenor of NILP SIG took over: Winston Roberts, based at the National Library of New Zealand. He organised the SIG’s open session at WLIC in Kuala Lumpur 2018 and again at WLIC 2019 in Athens.

The SIG’s open session at the IFLA congress in 2018 (Kuala Lumpur) was on the theme of ‘Lessons learned from new developments in information and library policy at national level’. Speakers were invited from New Zealand, the MENA region, the Andean region, and the Philippines to speak on library policy developments in their regions.

The theme for the open session in Athens 2019 was ‘National Information and Library Policies in Support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals’.  A panel of 7 speakers were invited to make short presentations, from Fiji, Switzerland, India, Uganda, Iran, Canada and Honduras. 

The aim of these open sessions was to allow speakers to address the links between policies and planning for the library and information sector on the one hand, with a broad range of ‘information society’ issues at national level on the other hand. The sessions were interactive, with audience participation encouraged. Efforts were made to introduce speakers from countries at various stages of development, and maintain a regional balance.

The audience for NILP sessions was consistent, but small, and overlapped with that of the Section of National Libraries. It also included a broad range of other IFLA members interested in policies and planning, including in government and tertiary education. These sessions also drew IFLA members concerned about the inclusion in national planning of issues such as: access to information, digital literacy, provision of community information, equitable access to the Internet, and legislative matters such as copyright, and citizens’ rights.

Brief assessment

The SIG was able to provide a platform at the annual congress for discussion of ideas relating to IFLA advocacy work broadly, and specifically to the advocacy work carried out in various countries by national organisations such as the National Library, other government departments, and national associations in the library and information field.

The SIG sessions showcased some instructive national and regional case-studies of dynamic national planning, and in a few cases highlighted the lack of integrated information and library planning. The audiences engaged actively in the discussions.

Feedback received indicated that the concept of ‘NILP’ was understood by IFLA members in different ways. Some regard such policy development as the function of library associations, while others regard it as the function of national government authorities. To judge from the presentations given at all the NILP sessions, there are very few countries which apply the sort of holistic and integrated information planning at national level which was called for by the two World Summits on the Information Society (2003 and 2005).

One reason must surely be that there is not one agreed and fully-inclusive definition of “information” or the term “information society” which takes account of infrastructure, telecommunications, media and human rights issues as well as the range of issues important to the library sector. Many national authorities have an imperfect understanding of the actual contribution of libraries to the information economy, and of the interrelationship between the information economy and education and culture.

The NILP theme is relevant to IFLA at a high level, and can be linked to its strategic advocacy work. There are possible connections with other IFLA groups, such as FAIFE, and organisations outside IFLA such as the international and regional organisations dealing with Internet governance.

In order for further discussions in this area to continue within IFLA, the theme would no doubt need to be included in a process such as advocacy, or picked up by established IFLA Sections - (these might be the Section of National Libraries, or the regional Sections, for example). A review of the papers and presentations delivered at the NILP sessions at the WLIC might provide a synthesis of points for further action by IFLA.

Resources:

The webpage of NILP SIG is still live but has been removed from the list of current IFLA SIGs.  Past NILP papers presented at WLICs are included in the ‘IFLA Library’: links can be located on the old NILP “Conferences” webpage, with the exception of the 2018 WLIC, where there were presentations instead of the papers. For that year, the publications link can be used or links to individual files. 

Winston Roberts
National Library of New Zealand
November 2020

National Information and Library Policy, National libraries

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