Monday, August 15, 2005

Who went to IFLA 2005 in Oslo?

By July 25, 2.200 participants had been registered for the IFLA meeting in Oslo. In Berlin 2003, ten percent registered late, so we may perhaps end up with 2.400 to 2.500 delegates. With a couple of hundred volunteers and an unknown number of accompanying persons, with exhibition people and assorted staff, the gathering as a whole must involve more than three thousand people.

The delegate to the right is shown with a box of "Mother's flatbrød" - a thin, wafer-like crispbread, which we often eat with cured meats and sour cream. Yummy!

IFLA is a world wide association and the IFLA conferences are world wide gatherings. At the same time, it is very clear that the countries and regions of the world are very uneqally respresented at the IFLA meetings.

Part of the imbalance is due to the unequal size of the library communities in different countries. The more developed countries also have more libraries and more librarins - per one million inhabitants. As countries develop, that disparity will gradually disappear. And IFLA' s support of library development in less developed countries is, in fact, a contribution to their social, cultural and economic progress.

But from discussions with library colleagues it is also clear that the cost of participation has a great impact on recruitment to IFLA. Going to IFLA usually involves a week long trip to a big city several thousand kilometers away.

The venues surrounding Oslo are Glasgow (2002), Berlin (2003), Buenos Aires (2004), Seoul (2006), Durban (2007) and Quebec (2008). Such a trip can easily cost 2.000 euros or 2.200 US dollars, which in many countries is equivalent to the annual salary of a librarian.

These stark economic facts mean that many IFLA delegates need the support of strong institutions at home, or special travel grants, in order to participate. IFLA organizers generally work very hard to make travel support available. In 2005, 75 official scholarships have been granted. Many others have got grants from their home countries or elsewhere.

To make IFLA truly representative, it is clearly important that such efforts continue. At the same time, the IFLA organization could probably lower the practical barriers to participation by a fuller use of web based communication, by lower membership fees for small libraries and by a greater emphasis on regional meetings. Having annual rather than biannual or triannual meetings also impose high costs on those who want to participate in the ongoing work of IFLA.

The composition of the meeting

The delegates in the picture come from small public libraries in Norway (left) and Lithuania (right).
In 2003, in Berlin, I started to look at the social composition of the IFLA delegates, from a sociological point of view. Which countries and regions do they come from? What library types and organizations do they represent? The (informal) data from Berlin are available on the web - at Who goes to IFLA?

In Oslo, the list of participants was distributed yesterday, Sunday August 14. Here I report on a first count of representation by region.

The statistics are preliminary, since participants registered after July 25 are not included. But I do not expect big changes at the regional level. In Berlin, the list of participants by July 15, 2003, covered ninety percent of the delegates.

Participation rates

In Oslo 2005, as in Berlin 2003, there were three distinct levels of IFLA participation. Oceania (with Australia and New Zealand), Europe and North America (= United States + Canada) come at the top, with 100-160 participants per 100 million inhabitants. There are also great differences within Europe, which are not discussed here.

The second group is constituted by Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and East and Central Asia, with rates between 9 and 18 per 100M. The countries in South and South East Asia have the lowest rates, with about three delegates per 100 million inhabitants.

The meeting

At the IFLA meeting in Oslo, eighty percent of the participants (registered by July 25) come from the "high participation group", or the countries in Europe, North America and Oceania. Seventeen percent come from the "middle group": Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and East and Central Asia. Two percent come from South and South East Asia.

From Berlin to Oslo

In Buenos Aires, the geographical composition was surely different from that in Berlin, with a much stronger Latin American representation. In a broad regional perspective, the venues of Berlin and Oslo are rather similar. Differences in participation rates probably have other causes than location as such.

In a separate Table we have summarized the change from Berlin to Oslo. Changes of less than ten percent are treated as "constant". Compared with Berlin, South East Asia, East and Central Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are down. South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and - in particular - North America are up. Why this is so, is anybody' s guess.

I hope to study the IFLA participation data more deeply in the future. Since the statistics may be of interest to others in other contexts, however, I make them available in a rather unprocessed form.


Blogger Ivan Chew said...

Hello Tord, I wonder if we met in IFLA, Oslo? Anyway, I just want to comment that another reason for the imbalance in representation that you've correctly pointed out is the language barrier.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Tord Hoivik said...

I'll do more work on causal factors in the future (at a leisurely pace, though).

Did we meet? Probably - and unfortunately - not. I discovered you excellent blog a few days ago (see Pliny Sept 18th), will visit there from time to time, and hope to see you at some other libraryish venue.

My wife and I are set on going to Durban in 2007. As for Seoul - we don't know yet if we can manage.

7:00 PM  

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