Special Interest Groups - procedures and activities

Special Interest Groups bring together IFLA members with common and continuing interests that they wish to discuss or explore, but which are not included in the mission and goals of an existing Section. These interests can cut across the concerns of multiple sectors, identify and follow an emerging issue or trend, be very specialised, or relevant to a small number of members. However, all Special Interest Groups must strive to explore an interest through a time-bound and goal-oriented approach, demonstrated through clear actions the group plans to undertake in order to meet their identified need.

Creating a Special Interest Group

On recommendation from a group of IFLA members, or representatives of IFLA members, the Governing Board may establish Special Interest Groups. Special Interest Groups must be sponsored by a section, and group activities and goals must be recognised in that section’s annual action plan. In order to begin the process, the following steps must be undertaken:

  • The convenor must submit a petition to the Professional Committee signed by ten persons, three of whom must be Standing Committee members, who intend to participate in the Special Interest Group. 
  • This petition must request a meeting at the next Congress, inviting people to see if there is enough interest to form the group.
  • After this meeting, the convenor must submit a petition to the Governing Board, signed by twenty-five persons who intend to actively participate in the group’s activities. This petition must be approved by the section who has agreed to sponsor the group.

In order to give a decision on establishing the Special Interest Group, the Governing Board must be reasonably satisfied that the issues to be discussed:

  • will promote IFLA’s values, professional priorities and strategic plans;
  • will not conflict with the terms of reference of an existing IFLA professional unit;
  • are appropriate to the terms of reference of the sponsoring section.

Special Interest Groups as Dynamic Units

Beyond fulfilling the above criteria, Special Interest Groups should demonstrate to the Governing Board through their action plan how they plan to explore their interest and meet their identified need as a dynamic unit.

According to the Professional Committee, a dynamic IFLA Professional Unit meets expectations related to quality and impact of the work, communications and membership and leadership engagement and development. In order for a Special Interest Group to be considered a dynamic unit, they must demonstrate how their work within the group will deliver services to IFLA members that have high quality and proven impact, communicate their activities within and beyond IFLA with a clear communications plan, and show active involvement, partnership, and engagement among both members and non-IFLA partners.  

For more information on what defines an IFLA Professional Unit, please refer to Dynamics Units.  

Role of Convenor

A Convenor is selected by the Special Interest Group to oversee the activity of the group. This person may or may not be a member of the sponsoring Section Standing Committee. However, in most cases this person must be employed by an Association Member or Institutional Member, or be a member of an Association Member in good standing. Any exceptions must be agreed to by the Professional Committee. In the event of a casual vacancy, the Special Interest Group may choose a member to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the term.

Once chosen, the Convenor serves a term of two years maximum, once renewable by appointment of the sponsoring Section’s Standing Committee. The Convenor becomes an ex officio member of the sponsoring Section’s Standing Committee, if he or she is not already a member. The Convenor is then expected to attend all Standing Committee meetings of the sponsoring Section and the respective Division Leadership Forum at each Congress during his or her term in order to report on the activities and action plan of the Special Interest Group.

The Professional Committee may, on the recommendation of the sponsoring Section, remove a Convenor from leadership. This decision may be taken in cases such as a failure by the Convenor to effectively communicate and conduct the business of the Special Interest Group. In this situation, the Professional Committee will consult the relevant Division Leadership Forum, as well as give the Convenor the opportunity to explain the situation in writing to the Professional Committee. If removed, a new Convenor will be selected by the Special Interest Group, with both incoming and outgoing Convenors working towards ensuring a smooth transition.


Special Interest Groups may exist both as a virtual group and/or as a group that meets at the annual IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) or at Satellite Meetings associated with the Congress.

Although administrative funds for a Special Interest Group are required to come from the Section’s budget, a Special Interest Group is eligible to apply for special project funds if the Section approves the request.

The Secretary General will schedule a slot of a maximum of two hours for Special Interest Groups that wish to meet at WLIC.  The time may be used for meeting, programming, or both, but meetings must be open to all registrants. Special Interest Groups are encouraged to collaborate with other units, in which case additional time can be obtained. Programmes must be submitted through the Standing Committee of the sponsoring Section as part of the Professional Committee’s programme approval process.

Convenors are responsible for announcing a topic, requesting meeting space from the Secretary General in the same time schedule and manner as other programme slots are requested, and convening the Special Interest Group during the allocated slot. Approved Special Interest Group activities during the Congress will be listed in the programme, and announcements of meetings may be posted on the IFLA Website and published in newsletters of the sponsoring Section.

Special Interest Groups may not set up formal affiliations with bodies outside IFLA.

Special Interest Groups are encouraged to identify volunteers to serve in roles identified as necessary for the functioning of the group, including carrying out or coordinating activities during the year, such as Secretary and Communications Coordinator.

Duration & Reviews

Special Interest Groups are created for an initial four-year term. Every four years, each Special Interest Group will submit a 4-year report to its sponsoring Section and Division Chair. The sponsoring Section will use this report as part of their review of the Special Interest Group to decide whether to affirm or disband the group, and will report this action to the Professional Committee. If a Section wishes to disband a Special Interest Group, the Group may appeal the ruling to the Professional Committee, which will make the final decision. A Special Interest Group may continue to function, as long as it is meeting a need and is positively reviewed. Refer to Special Interest Group Reviews for more information. 

The Professional Committee will consider the following points in making its final decision:

  • demonstrated need (from membership, experts, Section)
  • demonstrated interest (e.g., average number of people attending activities, number of subscribers on its e-list, website/blog visits)
  • strong record of activity
  • strong record of organization
  • Section support and working relationship

Application for Section Status

If after its sixth year, a Special Interest Group continues to demonstrate it is actively meeting an ongoing need, the group can apply for Section status. The application must include evidence of a minimum of 6 years of ongoing programming, publication or social engagement, support from the current sponsoring Section and probable future Division, a mission statement and an action plan, and 40 Association or Institutional Members willing to register for the proposed Section. This will undergo review from the sponsoring section and Division Leadership Forum, with a recommendation made to the Professional Committee.

If there is any negative recommendation of the Special Interest Group’s application, the Special Interest Group may appeal the ruling to the Professional Committee, which will make a recommendation to the Governing Board in order to reach a final decision. Before reaching its final decision, the Governing Board must consult the sponsoring Section’s Standing Committee and the relevant Leadership Forum, and give the Special Interest Group an opportunity to provide additional information in writing to the Governing Board.

Last update: 22 March 2019