IFLA Annual Report 2023: Making a difference

IFLA is about ensuring that libraries, by working together, can achieve more than they ever could on their own. This report provides a snapshot of all that our Federation is and does, as a space for dialogue, a catalyst for innovation, and a voice for change and justice. Everyone involved in IFLA – our members, our volunteers, our headquarters team and our partners – can look back on all that has been achieved, and feel proud of their contribution to it.

Yet in addition to delivering for the profession and the communities we serve today, we are also custodians, responsible for ensuring that IFLA can continue to fulfil its unique role into the future. With just four years to go until our centenary, 2023 was also a year of further work to identify and act on the issues we need to address in order to ensure our sustainability. We continued to deliver on the Plan for Securing IFLA’s Future, under the leadership of Barbara Lison, until the end of her term in August. At our Congress, our new President, Vicki McDonald, set out clear priorities focused on building a more effective and inclusive IFLA for tomorrow.

As was highlighted by the discussions around plans for our 2024 Congress, while it may be easy to say that we are an international federation, it is not so easy to be one. While there is much that brings us together as a field, there are also differences in contexts and priorities. We must continue to find ways to understand and manage these, while reaffirming the value of international librarianship as a necessary and transformative enterprise.

Leadership Renewal

2023 was an election year for IFLA, with hundreds of positions open across dozens of committees and groups. Volunteering with IFLA is not just an important way of contributing to realising the potential of global librarianship, but also brings benefits to associations, institutions and professional networks. It was therefore positive to see so many of our members seize this opportunity, and put forward the most regionally diverse set of candidates ever.

The most prominent roles open for election were those on our Governing Board. As Vicki McDonald stepped up to become President for 2023-2025, taking on the role from Barbara Lison (President 2021-2023), the rest of the board – half returning members and half new – also began their mandates. Already at their first meeting, the Board launched into an ambitious work programme built around the priorities set out in the new President’s speech at the closing session of the World Library and Information Congress 2023.

These priorities cover partnerships for financial sustainability, a review of our Congress model, a review of our governance structures, ensuring that we earn the privilege to be the global voice of libraires, the development of a new Strategy, more open communication, and stronger engagement between the Governing Board, Members and volunteers. Work to achieve these builds on and develops all that was already done under the Plan for Securing IFLA’s Future launched by Barbara Lison already in 2022. You can read more about this work further on in this introduction.

It was also a year of change at IFLA’s Headquarters. In June, IFLA welcomed its new Secretary General, Sharon Memis, who took up the reins from Helen Mandl who had ably held the role in an acting capacity since September 2022. Sharon brings invaluable experience of working internationally in the culture and education sectors, driving positive change, and delivering partnerships and results.

Delivering and Communicating

As already highlighted, IFLA kept up its strong track record of delivery in 2023. The presentations of each of our four Strategic Directions that follow show just a small sample of the work that goes on every day across our volunteer groups, headquarters team and wider community, and the results this achieves. This year’s Annual Report highlights key impacts, helping to make clear the value of the work done throughout IFLA.

The flagship event of the year was of course our World Library and Information Congress, which our Dutch National Committee in Rotterdam hosted with equal measures of expertise, energy and enthusiasm. IFLA is deeply grateful to Theo Kemperman, the whole National Committee and all those involved.

While of course IFLA is about far more than the few days we spend together at Congresses, the Netherlands showed how powerful the opportunity to spend time together can be. 2024 will be an opportunity to experiment and innovate around this with the holding of our Information Futures Summit in Brisbane, Australia, as well as to deliver on a broader review of our Congress model.

Beyond the Congress, we responded to Members’ and volunteers’ desire for clearer and more regular communication, with monthly personal messages from the IFLA President Vicki McDonald, setting out plans and reporting on progress, and are looking forward to regular Townhall meetings in 2024.

Planning for the Future

IFLA has benefitted greatly from the generosity of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries programme for over 15 years. Thanks to their support, we are at a historic high in terms of the resources that we have available to support the field. To ensure that this lasts, the pressure is nonetheless on. By the time of our centenary in 2027, we need to have built a strong and diversified basis of support for IFLA’s work.

Key elements of our work towards this are already in place. We are demonstrating our ability to deliver on projects, not least as highlighted in the mid-term report on the legacy grant provided to support IFLA, though our partnership with Stichting IFLA Global Libraries. IFLA is also highly grateful to the Arcadia Fund for its support for the Knowledge Rights 21 Programme, as well as to the European Commission for enabling work on media literacy and resource sharing. We are successfully building the skills and habits of impact evaluation across our field and developing our regional presence.

2023 also saw the launch of work to update our Strategy. This builds on the powerful basis provided by the Global Vision process, as well as the practical experience of implementing our current Strategy. With over a thousand responses to a series of pulse surveys, we are well placed to produce a document that will serve our Federation well over the next five years, supporting, catalysing and accelerating our work, and enabling new and strategic partnerships.

2024 will therefore be a year of further progress down this path, focussed on realising the potential of the global library field as a driver of sustainable, systemic, positive change.