Theme: Libraries Driving Access to Knowledge (A2K)

Acceptance Speech

Delivered by Ellen R. Tise at the 75th IFLA Congress in Milan 2009

In Depth

The theme for my presidential term – Libraries Driving Access to Knowledge – served as the basis for conversations and reflections at the President-elect’s Brain Storming Session at IFLA 74, Quebec City, August 2008.  The following summary represents the thinking that guided the conceptualization of my theme as well as the key points that emerged from that session. 

Knowledge is foundational to all spheres of life.  An interrogation of this concept reveals that knowledge is critical for the growth of society and that knowledge is produced when information is absorbed, processed and internalized by individuals.  Libraries, as critical providers of information have an important role to play in the creation of new knowledge.  They are vital institutions for the creation, development and sustainability of knowledge societies. Information is a key input into the creation and maturation of knowledge, therefore, a significant criterion for a growing and healthy society is access to information. The library, as a major source for information, serving a wide spectrum of information seekers, is not only critical but also central to the facilitation of knowledge generation.

In exploring the concept of knowledge, Harris (1996:1) draws distinction between the concepts of data, information and knowledge. Data, the lowest form of information, when accumulated and processed becomes information. While information has substance and purpose on its own it does not have meaning. For information to acquire meaning and representation it has to be combined with context and lived experience. It is through the injection of the human factor into information that this body of data becomes knowledge. Access to information is therefore an imperative for the development and use of knowledge.  Knowledge generation is essential to the process of development. Knowledge is functional at many levels: it can alleviate poverty and deprivation; it serves as a springboard for innovation and change; and, it is a catalyst for national development and personal achievements.

Libraries as primary gateways to information are therefore important vehicles for the acquisition of knowledge.  Libraries as knowledge institutions provide spaces for information-sharing and learning for all ages, genders, ethnicities and socio-economic groups regardless of their information/knowledge needs. Libraries facilitate access to information thereby providing the means through which new knowledge is developed and made available to all.

So, how do and how can libraries drive access to knowledge?

In Quebec City the following emerged as the key enablers/aspects for access to knowledge through/by libraries and librarians:

  • Libraries and librarians must become more user-oriented by:

    • bringing libraries and their resources to the users;
    • empowering users through information literacy, social networking, etc.;
    • enabling access to information (a paradigm shift from a custodial approach); and
    • facilitating the full participation of all citizens in societal activities.
  • Libraries and librarians must become active in advocacy by actively  promoting libraries:

    • including the perspective of the users in their operations;
    • communicating effectively with stakeholders on library/society matters;
    • driving library policy/ies;
    • facilitating and supporting open access for all;
    • promoting a broader library agenda with key partners/stakeholders; and
    • becoming innovative information agents.
  • Libraries and librarians must create partnerships and foster opportunities for convergences with:

    • other societal stakeholders such as health workers, teachers, environmentalists, etc.;
    • commercial/private enterprises; and
    • other cultural/knowledge institutions.
  • In addition participants determined that library as space and place should foster:

    • information for ALL;
    • opportunities/gateways for social inclusion;
    •  “Wow” environments and experiences;
    • content in formats that appeal to young people and other discrete library user groups;
    • community knowledge space/s;
    • libraries as safe and trusted public spaces;
    • multicultural communities having their voices heard; and that they should serve as
    • gate-openers to information.

As IFLA President-Elect 2007-09 and President for 2009-11, I will draw on the ideas generated and gathered in Quebec City to help drive my term in office.  Libraries Driving Access to Knowledge will be the benchmark for all my efforts while I function as the advocate-in-chief for IFLA during 2009-11.  Specifically my major focus will center on the following:

  • advancing IFLA’s advocacy role at the international level;
  • increasing advocacy training opportunities for librarians;
  • continuing to position libraries within the Information Society as drivers of access to information and facilitators of knowledge generation;        
  • strengthening existing partnerships;
  • creating new paradigms/partnerships within and related to the sector;
  • leveraging the emerging global movement of A2K to the benefit of the profession.

Ellen R. Tise

IFLA President 2009-2011
August 2009



2nd IFLA Presidential Conference

Date: 14-15 April 2011

Location: The Hague, Netherlands
Theme: Libraries driving access to knowledge: action for Europe
Venue: Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of The Netherlands
Organisation: IFLA and FOBID Netherlands Library Forum


Stellenbosch University Library 2010 Symposium / IFLA Presidential Meeting
Date: 18 – 19 February 2010
Location: Stellenbosch, South Africa
Title: Knowing is not enough: engaging in the Knowledge Economy
Venue: Stellenbosch University
Organisation: IFLA and Stellenbosch University

Letter of the President



A2K Book—Call for Chapters