The Hague, The Netherlands – 11 August 2023 – Following deep consideration of feedback from members and volunteers around the world, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Governing Board 2021-23 reaffirms its decision to hold the 2024 World Library and Information Congress in Dubai.

The Governing Board made the announcement on 19 June that IFLA would hold WLIC 2024 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This sparked significant debate, with both critical and supportive voices, highlighting questions around different aspects of diversity and inclusion, freedom of expression, as well as the possibility for all of IFLA’s volunteer groups to organise sessions.

As an organisation that strives for a broad membership and volunteer base, all views are important. The Governing Board therefore decided to seek advice from IFLA Members around the world by means of a non-binding advisory referendum. The single-question referendum closed on 2 August. 37% of IFLA’s members voted.

The results of the advisory referendum were as follows:

68% against holding IFLA WLIC 2024 in Dubai and 27% in favour (weighted votes). While a majority of voters from Europe, North America and Latin America and the Caribbean voted against, the largest share from Asia-Oceania, the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa were supportive.

IFLA volunteers were given the opportunity to add comments in a separate survey, providing a platform further assessment and resulting in a much closer end result. 52% of volunteers voted, resulting in the following:

49% against holding IFLA WLIC 2024 in Dubai and 43% in favour. A (smaller) majority of votes from Europe, North America and Latin America and the Caribbean were against, while most votes from Asia-Oceania, the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa were favourable.

An overview of the results is available for download.

In taking its decision, the Board reflected on both the overall votes and comments, but also the breakdown by region highlighted above, relative voting strengths of different regions, and the priority IFLA has given to increasing its presence in all world regions, reflecting its vocation to be the global voice of libraries.

It acknowledged concerns about the legal framework of LGBTQ+ rights in the United Arab Emirates as well as the ability of all IFLA units to organise sessions—and that the LGBTQ+ community in particular may feel unwelcome because of the exclusion of specifically-themed LGBTQ+ topics from the WLIC programme. It nonetheless noted that a conference in Dubai would offer many colleagues who may otherwise never be able to participate in a single WLIC, for economic or visa reasons, a chance to do so.

We are aware that this decision will be both welcomed and condemned. As previously underlined, we will be making diversity and inclusion a central theme of the Congress, and continue to engage with the host authorities to ensure that everyone can feel as welcome as possible and that participants can engage freely within the conference venue. We reaffirm our support for our LGBTQ+ members, and plan to arrange talks with the LGBTQ+ Users SIG and other interested parties to explore options for a meeting close to the time of the Congress that would allow for relevant topics and issues to be discussed. The broader issue of how LGBTQ+ topics might be included in other parts of the programme will be addressed by the IFLA Professional Council.

We believe that WLIC 2024 will be a rich and transformative experience, and will leave a lasting positive legacy for librarians and libraries in the region.

The debate around Dubai has nonetheless raised important questions about how, just like any international organisation, we can maintain a focus on what brings us together, without denying our diversity. Differences have been exposed in the process and a number of critical issues requiring constructive dialogue must be addressed.

This question and its implications for the model of our future Congresses will be a priority for our incoming Governing Board, alongside ongoing work to strengthen the library field everywhere. In the meanwhile, we will be sharing answers to the some of the questions that volunteers and members have brought to us next week.