Message from the Chair of the IFLA Regional Division Committee for Asia and Oceania
05 June 2023
We have been busy over the past few months in the Regional Division Committee (RDC) for Asia-Oceania. We have closely observed the debate about IFLA governance, we have taken part in the nomination process, then the elections for new committees and leaders. We have co-opted a colleague from Micronesia and another from Kazakhstan to fill gaps in our ranks until the end of our term in August.
In recent months, we have held an online side event at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (UN ESCAP) consultation on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), RDC members have contributed to a seminar for academic libraries in South Asia in April, which was also attended by the President of IFLA. Colleagues of our North-East Asian sub-regional group held a well-attended webinar in April on services for persons with special needs.
We have been working with IFLA’s Management of Library Associations Section (MLAS) and New Professionals Special Interest Group (NPSIG) to prepare the seminar for library associations in our region on the UN SDGs on 7 June. In addition, jointly with other key IFLA units, works for the Asia-Oceania joint open session at this year’s IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Rotterdam, Netherlands are in progress.
In their own countries, or within their sub-region, Asia-Oceania RDC members have given talks and attended association meetings to inform professional colleagues about the work that IFLA does. In our region, it is particularly important to overcome any wrong perception that IFLA is ‘far away’. In this, we are encouraged by the fact that the Chair of the IFLA Professional Council is from our region, and the incoming president (from August) will be from our region as well.
The RDC is also supporting IFLA’s bid to hold a side event or session at the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Kyoto, Japan in October. This will be the first IGF in Asia-Oceania for several years, and (if our bid is successful) it will offer IFLA the chance to highlight to the international technical Internet community that our sector shares many of their concerns.
Our basic message is that libraries are serving people, providing information, similar to what the Internet does. See the news item on the IFLA website in April about the UN Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation for Development (CSTD) https://www.ifla.org/news/exciting-times-ahead-on-internet-governance-un-committee-on-science-technology-and-innovation-2023/
The RDC Asia-Oceania is starting an evaluation of what we have achieved over our term – the ‘Pandemic Years’, an extraordinary period. It is clear that the picture is mixed, but there are things we can be pleased with, particularly a number of successful regional webinars; and we have communicated well, developing relationships across the region. However, one thing that we have not achieved is regular face-to-face physical meetings: over most of our term, vaccination requirements and lockdowns in many countries slowed all personal and professional activities. Travel was actively discouraged; flying was impossible or at least impossibly expensive – (though obviously our carbon emissions dropped!). But essentially, we had to train ourselves to do without the human contacts that add pleasure to the professional satisfaction that motivates most people to engage in international committee work.
Well, now some physical meetings are back on the agenda (and so are carbon emissions…); but to keep our work sustainable, we must continue to exploit the benefits of videoconferencing (including low-cost ‘time travel’, translation by captioning, audio and video recording, sharing and editing of documents in real time).
Another novel factor in the RDC’s work has been the fact that we have been learning to drive a whole new regional structure of IFLA, with associated questions about the larger number of regional divisions, the changed internal dynamics, the new relationship between regional committees and professional committees, and the impact of the Regional Council. We have to do our assessment of the new structures, and forward our conclusions to Headquarters.
We have not yet completed the term of the current RDC, yet we have already learned the names of the newly elected RDC members who will take over from us in August this year. There will be some familiar faces, and some new faces: in particular there will be a slightly different mix of countries represented in the new RDC… But more about that later in the year. In July, we will invite the members of the incoming committee for 2023-25 to join us in a roundtable to discuss current and future challenges in our region.
Contributed by Winston Roberts, Chair, Regional Division Committee for Asia and Oceania