Congress theme: “Open access to knowledge - promoting sustainable progress”

Opening Address by IFLA President Ellen R. Tise

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Governor, Mr Mayor, Members of Parliament, Distinguished guests, Members of the IFLA Governing Board, Members of the National Committee of the World Library and Information Congress 2010, Presidents of Library Associations, Directors of National Libraries and Institutions, Members of IFLA, Delegates and Friends of IFLA. 

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to Gothenburg, Sweden, for the World Library and Information Congress: IFLA’s 76thGeneral Conference and Assembly. 

There is a long IFLA tradition in this country. Our Swedish colleagues were numbered among the founding fathers of our Federation who met in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1927.  The inaugural President of IFLA was the Swede, Isak Collijn who served in that capacity from 1927 to 1931.  Collijn was then Director of the Royal Library in Stockholm. IFLA has held three annual conferences in Sweden: Stockholm, 1930; Lund and Malmö, 1960 returning to Stockholm in 1990. The latter met under the theme “Libraries: Information for Knowledge” which is by the way rather close to my Presidential Theme some 20 years on! 2010 is therefore the fourth time that IFLA has convened in Sweden, a distinction that no other country holds.

Sweden’s commitment to IFLA is far-reaching.  Swedish institutions and organisations have supported international librarianship in many ways.  One only has to think of the generous grants that the Swedish aid agency, SIDA, has provided over the years and the hosting of our IFLA/ALP office for nearly 20 years in the library of the University of Uppsala to understand the strength of the Sweden/IFLA relationship. Through the ALP programme, SIDA and Sweden has had a presence in many developing countries all around the world.  SIDA’s contribution to the advancement of librarianship in developing countries is significant.

Given this long joint history and tradition that IFLA and Sweden share, it was therefore no surprise to us that Sweden, at a fairly late date was able to host this congress.  I would therefore like to sincerely thank the Swedish National Committee for hosting this gathering in record time.  I am sure you too would like to express your appreciation to our Swedish colleagues for their work on behalf of IFLA and us all. 

The switch of venue to Gothenburg placed enormous challenges on the National Committee and library fraternity in Sweden. I would like to commend them for their valiant efforts on behalf of IFLA and the exceptional hard work and effort they put into arranging this IFLA congress in such a short space of time.  They have gone all out to ensure that we have a successful congress.

The National Committee chose to energise and support my Presidential theme – Libraries Driving Access to Knowledge – through their choice of theme for this congress, namely – Open Access to Knowledge:Promoting Sustainable Progress. They substantiated their choice with the view that “access to knowledge opens the world of imagination and creativity, this progress for one individual becomes progress for the society”.  I am honoured and thrilled with their choice, not just because it is inspired by my presidential theme or because it promotes equitable access to information, but due to the fact that I passionately believe that knowledge is a critical factor influencing all spheres of life.  To reiterate what I said in Milan “without knowledge all effort is nought.  Without sound, accurate and reliable knowledge the decisions and actions we and others take can have disastrous consequences for a very long time.  Knowledge is the key to success”.  Further, access to knowledge is critical for the equal growth of all communities, societies, cultures and nations. Libraries, as essential providers of information have an important role to play in the creation of new knowledge. As a major source for information, libraries serve a wide spectrum of information seekers, who are not only critical but central to the facilitation of knowledge generation.  Equal access to knowledge serves to ensure the stability of nations and the assurance of world peace.

Access to knowledge however is not dependent free.  Firstly, to paraphrase Jan Hoithues Gutenberg’s invention of print with moveable letters caused books and printed media to become the core of information and its transmission.  Literacy was and is key to power and empowerment. The ability to produce and preserve the printed word are therefore key attributes of power and empowerment.  In today’s world however the printed word can no longer be taken at face value.  The ability to discern the veracity of the printed word has become a core skill.  Our literacy skills have transitioned from merely being able to read, write and understand to being able to distinguish between the bathroom-writing found in some of the widely available electronic resources as against those sources which provide reputable information which unfortunately in today’s world is often not free and consequently not universally available. We therefore have had to develop several literacies to survive in today’s world. The commodification of information is one of the key challenges that libraries face as they seek to provide access to knowledge. I will return to the economic aspects of information shortly.

Hoithues raises another issue which points to the morphing of text as matter. In today’s world information is no longer restricted to the printed word.  Information in general is becoming more visual and aural in content.  Image, colour, sound and movement are now accepted and anticipated aspects of information creation, transfer and presentation.  One has to merely think of a web-page that has no colour, movement, sound or images to realise how much these features have become subliminal aspects of access to information as well as access to and transfer of knowledge. Access to knowledge at conferences such as ours is no longer based on reciting points from a page.  Rather we have become accustomed to and anticipate presentations which are hi-tech PowerPoint presentations with all of the bells and whistles that sound, movement, colour and images provide.

All of this illustrates that the creation of and access to knowledge depend on the existence of technology, its utilization and an ever-advancing thirst for new technological developments which make knowledge more widely available on an anytime, anywhere and just-in-time basis.  All of this however has led to there being an economic value being placed on knowledge.  Access to knowledge is more and more being associated with the fees attached to database usage, images identified for reproduction and royalties for sound bites or complete musical works.  Access to knowledge is increasingly being associated with the payment of fees for access.  No one can question the right of publishers to recover costs, however demands for payment introduces another bar which needs to be overcome to facilitate access to knowledge.  While in and of itself an extremely valuable commodity, in fact there are some who view knowledge as being even more valuable than precious metals such as gold, diamonds and platinum.  Knowledge has become quantifiable in terms of its economic worth.  Knowledge is the one commodity that increases in value with use – there are no diminishing returns when knowledge is used.  In fact the use of knowledge, unlike other commodities which once used lose some value, such use often leads to new knowledge thereby enhancing the inherent value of this commodity.  Knowledge and access to knowledge contribute to the development and expansion of democracy and sustainable development, for the benefit of our natural resources and the equality between people.

The roles of libraries and librarians in providing access to knowledge are important and variable.  Areas of responsibility, abilities to provide such access and status differ, depending on our location in the world, but together we are part of the culture bearers in our countries and serve as critical knowledge access points.  By storing resources of knowledge we preserve knowledge.  Technology enables us to make this knowledge available to this and future generations.  By playing a critical role in such developments, libraries and librarians become central to the creation and sustainability of the information society. We spread information and we make it easily accessible, thus contributing to both societal and individual development.  Such a role articulates squarely with the theme of this congress Open Access to Knowledge: Promoting Sustainable Progress.

In closing, our 76th congress will be the source of many professional and personal experiences.  It is the wish of the national committee, the governing board and me as president that the congress will afford you with sound professional engagements and a renewed commitment to our profession.  Several plenary speakers will address how information, education and knowledge contribute to the development of many fields. In addition, individual and group presentations, demonstrations and exhibition will provide exposure to many new developments and reports on work in progress.

We hope that your stay in Gothenburg and Sweden will generate positive experiences of commitment, openness, and cultural affinity with Gothenburg and Sweden. There is room for many personal encounters in a city of this size. Our social and cultural programme is interwoven with the city’s culture festival. You will find a variety of cultural activities throughout Gothenburg that are freely available to all of us, and we are going to highlight some items on the programme – events that are not to be missed. You will have the opportunity to see colleagues from all over the world at sessions, over coffee, for dinner or in one of the many night spots that this city has on offer.

We look forward to a good conference, a good atmosphere, good professional experiences and development, the formation of new networks and the renewal of old friendships.  Welcome to Gothenburg, an open city with easy access, welcome to Sweden, to the society of knowledge and sustainability and welcome to the 2010 World Library and Information congress, a congress in progress!

And, it is with much pleasure that I declare IFLA’s 76th General Conference and Assembly open.


Ellen. R. Tise

Gothenburg, August 2010