Global Gleanings #3: IFLA and the Developing World


This is a slightly expanded version of my column of news, views and snippets from the international literature of books, libraries, and information, which appears in LIASA-in-Touch, the newsletter of the Library and Information Association of South Africa.

In the previous issue of L-i-T I promised to touch on some highlights of the August 2019 IFLA World Library and Information Congress, held in Athens, Greece. Here I focus on an IFLA meeting, held at the Library of Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt, immediately before the Athens Congress. This was a Satellite Meeting of Division V, IFLA’s Division of Regional Activities, on “Leadership roles in international librarianship: how can information professionals from Africa, Asia & Oceania, Latin America & Caribbean be part of  it?” I did not attend it myself, but since the Division issued an important Declaration, I think it is appropriate to refer to it here. But first some background is in order about IFLA’s role in the developing world.

IFLA and the Developing World

IFLA was founded in Edinburgh in 1927 as the International Library and Bibliographic Committee. The founding resolution was signed by delegates of fifteen countries: twelve in Europe, plus the United States, Canada, and China. The Committee’s name was changed in 1929 to International Federation of Library Associations, by which time its membership had grown to 21 library associations, including those of Japan and Mexico. Membership grew slowly. During the first decades of its existence, IFLA – like most other such bodies – was mainly a “club” of middle-aged white males from developed countries. After the Second World War, as many nations in the developing world achieved independence, this started changing.  In 1954 the famous Indian mathematician and librarian, Dr S. R. Ranganathan, author of the Five laws of library science (Ranganathan 1931) and the ground-breaking Colon Classification (Ranganathan 1933) gave significant impetus to the involvement of IFLA in the developing world. In an article published in the international library journal Libri, entitled “IFLA – what it should be and do” (Ranganathan 1954), he castigated IFLA for not being truly international, and for having an imperialist mind-set.

This helped to stimulate moves aimed at making IFLA more inclusive, leading eventually to the establishment in 1973 of three regional sections, for Africa; Asia and Oceania; and Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1976 they were grouped in a new IFLA division, the Division of Regional Activities, long known as Division VII, now Division V.  IFLA went on to  establish regional offices and  the Advancement of Librarianship Programme (ALP) to promote the development of LIS in the developing world (Campbell 2001, 2002; Wilhite 2012). Later, this was followed by the Building Strong Library Associations programme ( and the Library Development Programme, LDP ( As we know, IFLA has in the meantime had two highly regarded presidents from Africa: Kay Raseroka (Botswana, 2003-2005) and Ellen Tise (South Africa, 2009-2011), not to forget a significant number of colleagues from the developing world who have served with distinction in IFLA’s professional units and its highest governance structures

But discussion has continued about how best to integrate the developing countries in IFLA’s work and governance. In the early 2000s there was even a proposal to abolish the regional sections so that librarians in these sections could be brought into the mainstream of IFLA’s work, but this was not well received by the sections. Division VII stayed, until IFLA reduced the number of divisions and it became Division V, the Division of Regions, still with its three regional sections. Dissatisfaction remains. IFLA membership and congress attendance – and travel to attend the congress and other meetings – are expensive, so that it is challenging for members from the developing world to participate fully and share their insights and expertise with the international profession.

The IFLA Division V Declaration

It is against this background that Division V met in Alexandria. The outcome was the Division V Declaration, dated 21 August 2019, in which the Division committed to working with the IFLA Governing Board on a set of actions to address issues relating to the affordability of IFLA membership, resources for the IFLA regional offices (including hosting conditions, staffing, and reporting), the affordability of Congress fees, the partial decentralization of IFLA operations, and recruitment of IFLA members from developing countries. The Division pointedly stated that it “would aspire to see real progress in applying this declaration and implementing it by the time of the IFLA Centenary in 2027.” You can read the Declaration at It’s always good to be specific about your aspirations, and to set definite deadlines. Here’s a good beginning. I’ll be watching with interest how these aspirations are achieved.

Indigenous matters

IFLA’s Special Interest Group (SIG) on Indigenous Matters, which was an outcome of then IFLA President Alex Byrne’s Presidential Task Force on Indigenous Matters, was established in 2008 and became a fully-fledged section ( in 2016. It aims to support the provision of culturally responsive and effective services to indigenous communities (such as, in our case, the San) throughout the world. There are more of them than you might think. At the 2019 Congress, the Section presented a session headed “Gulahallan, Gishiki, tikanga: creating dialogues, fostering relationships, promoting the expression, activation and vitality of indigenous languages, knowledge and cultures”. Two papers were devoted to the Ainu people, the original inhabitants of Japan, now confined as a tiny minority to the northernmost islands of the Japanese archipelago. Mai Ishihara, herself an Ainu descendant of mixed ancestry, presented an auto-ethnographic paper on “Considering the use of library from the perspective of an indigenous descendant” in which she spoke movingly about her own experience. Many of her people (the “Silent Ainu”) tried to hide their Ainu ancestry in order to pass as Japanese. Her own mother tried to keep her Ainu parentage a secret from her. I haven’t yet been able to find her paper online, but her story is featured in an interesting article ( about the history of the Ainu. Look out for this paper and the other two from this session (#252) to be posted online in the IFLA Library.

Africa Section

Three papers were presented at the Africa Section’s open session (#233) on “Libraries at the centre of community transformation”. From Nigeria there was a paper by Victoia Okojie and Rose Okiy on “Public Libraries and the Development Agenda in Nigeria” ( They found that Goal 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, was the SDG most often addressed by Nigerian public libraries. As one of the SDG “good news stories” they mentioned a project at the Anambra State Library to promote local indigenous languages. Jeff B. Nyoka did South Africa proud by his energetic presentation of an excellent paper, “Collaboration and partnerships in redesigning library spaces: the use of eLearning classrooms as multipurpose facilities and as mobile classrooms in the City of Johannesburg libraries” (

There is so much more to report. IFLA congresses are crammed with professional sessions and presentations. For a general overview, see a three-minute video giving highlights of the Athens Congress available at A slightly shorter student version of the video, with some overlap but not identical, is at An album of photographs taken by two students from the Department of Photography and Audiovisual Arts at the University of West Attica under the supervision of Professor Nick Apostolopoulos, can be found here: IFLA’s full 2019 Congress programme can be found at Papers listed there can frequently be found by searching in the IFLA Library at


Campbell, Harry C. 2001. ‘Advancement of Librarianship through IFLA’. In International Librarianship: Cooperation and Collaboration, edited by Frances Laverne Carroll, John Frederick Harvey, and Susan Houck, 23–36. Lanham MD; Oxford: Scarecrow Press.

———. 2002. ‘IFLA: Library Universality in a Divided World’. IFLA Journal 28 (3): 118–35.

Ranganathan, Shiyali R. 1931. The Five Laws of Library Science. Madras; London: Madras Library Association; Edward Goldston Ltd.$b99721;view=1up;seq=13.

———. 1933. Colon Classification. Madras: Madras Library Association.

———. 1954. ‘IFLA—What It Should Be and Do’. Libri 5 (5): 182–89.

Wilhite, Jeffrey M. 2012. 85 Years IFLA: A History and Chronology of Sessions, 1927-2012. IFLA Publications 155. Berlin: De Gruyter Saur.


About Peter Lor

Peter Johan Lor is a Netherlands-born South African librarian and academic. In retirement he continues to pursue scholarly interests as a research fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
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