Dear colleagues and friends,

It seems strange to be writing these notes from New Zealand, in the long summer vacation, while many regional colleagues in the Northern Hemisphere are battling storms and other effects of climate change – and as we are all still dealing with the lingering effects of COVID.

The summer in New Zealand is not a lazy time without books and information: on the contrary, people are actively buying printed books (traditional publishing is flourishing) and reading them. The news media are full of articles about reading: prominent people talk about their ‘summer reading lists’, writers talk about how they write, experts debate the virtues of e-books vs print, and comment on the increasing popularity of audio-books (maybe partly due to working from home during COVID lockdowns). Journalists earnestly tell us that writing and publishing books for children are serious creative activities with social and educational benefits (well, we in the library sector knew that).

Reading is vital for the sustainable development of societies – for social cohesion, creating strong democratic institutions, encouraging tolerance, working to overcome the digital divide and other divides between communities. The transmission of scientific knowledge, whether facts or opinions, and the free but respectful expression of cultural views, all contribute to social and economic development. As you know, IFLA is concerned that its members should promote awareness of the measurable contribution (whether tangible or intangible) which the library sector makes to sustainable development – and therefore we members should gather evidence of the impact made by libraries, and advocate to our national authorities for inclusion of this evidence in Voluntary National Reviews to the United Nations.

Since the restructuring of IFLA in 2021, members of the Regional Division Committee for Asia-Oceania have been engaged in various activities to promote understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals, mainly through regional and national webinars. The Committee continues to plan such activities for the remainder of its elected term until mid-2023. In November 2022, we were privileged to receive financial support from IFLA for a large regional consultation in Bangkok that not only enabled us (the Regional Division Committee) to meet in person for the first time as a Committee, but also to meet in person with information professionals from other countries of Asia-Oceania which are not currently represented in our Committee: to exchange ideas with them and encourage them to ‘spread the word’ about IFLA when they returned home.

We are immensely grateful to the National Library of Thailand and the Thai Library Association for their logistical support and generous hospitality during that meeting.

Speaking of the Committee, I have some ‘new year wishes’ for 2023, which I would like to share with you: we are now starting a new cycle of elections to IFLA positions. On the one hand, at the top level of governance of IFLA, we need to support the new leaders coming through, to encourage transparency in communication with the membership and best management practices. Across the main body of IFLA, for effective professional activities we need to work for increased cooperation among IFLA units of different types: professional Sections, Advisory Committees and Regional Divisions – that means joint planning, coordinating topics, sharing speakers, promoting each other’s activities.

And coming back to our region, we need to encourage all internationally-minded professionals across Asia-Oceania to consider standing for election to the Regional Division Committee for 2023-25. Their skills, enthusiasm and goodwill are needed! We also need to discuss within our national library associations how we can distribute these skills and goodwill widely around, so talented people in our region are encouraged to stand for the technical Section committees of IFLA – (for example there are several Sections focusing on literacy, reading, print disability). It would be good to see active personal networks of IFLA workers develop at all levels across the region, with communication flowing easily among different national professional communities (associations).

There was a time, a few years ago, when it could be said that great distances and lack of travel funding were deterrents to candidates. Now we have learned at least one good lesson during the pandemic: video technology does go part way toward enabling us to meet and talk… Of course, it does not replace physical meetings at a single site, but the world has not yet returned to travel ‘as before’, it may never do that, so we must adapt. We should organise ourselves and communicate in ways that suit our region.

I started these notes talking about reading, culture, communication and development. I want to conclude by encouraging experienced colleagues in the Asia-Pacific region to keep advocating for those things, and in their turn to encourage new professionals to join us.

Best wishes for the year ahead,                                                                                                          Winston

Contributed by Winston Roberts, Chair, Regional Division Committee for Asia and Oceania