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What Goals, What Plans?

IFLA has published its Medium–Term Programme 1992–1997 (The Hague: International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, 1992; 81 p.). The MTP is “the means by which IFLA’s Long–Term Policy is realized” (p. 3). The Long–Term Policy is summarized as “promotion of the cultural, educational, and social role of libraries in society; improvement of access to and availability of information; enhancement of the library profession; influencing the development and application of information technology and telecommunications” (pp.5–6).

Coming from IFLA’s various professional groups, edited and compiled by the IFLA Professional Board, the MTP stands as the grandest statement by the universal library profession of its aims and plans for the next five years. This is the fourth MTP; the first covered the years 1976–1981. The third MTP, for the years 1986–1991, is on my desk along with the new one. I am going to comment on the old goals and the new goals, in the sections that directly concern the Third World.

There are three Sections in the Division of Regional Activities, each of them responsible for one group of goals in the MTP. The Africa Section announced eight goals for 1986–1991, most of them specifically focused on the organization of certain training seminars. Two pilot projects were proposed: one for the establishment of a model library and multimedia center, the other for the creation of a an expert database. There was also a plan to establish a model program “as a basis for training of African librarians.” Of those three goals, the only one I have information about is the expert database, which we are in fact maintaining at Rosary College (see TWL 1–2 and 2–1). Another goal in the 1986–1991 MTP was to “encourage the production of library science textbooks which will meet the specific requirements of African libraries” and the last goal was to “study guidelines for the development of a programme of school and children's libraries.”

Of course it is of interest to know what was actually accomplished toward the fulfillment of those goals, and if any reader wishes to advise me of such activities I will be pleased to share the information. But I am also interested to see how the old goals fared in the new statement, the MTP for 1992–1997. I would have expected to see the same themes repeated — and some of them are. Two of the seven MTP goals relate to encouragement of multimedia centers and school/children’s libraries. However, “encouragement” is less clear than the earlier plan for pilot projects and guidelines. It seems that the Section has retrenched here. The goal of a model training programme has given way to a new one: “Promote continuing education programmes for library workers” quite a different perspective on educational aims. The expert database is represented by a goal to “facilitate the provision of consultancy and training assistance to libraries adopting the new information technology” — a narrower perspective than the previous goal presented.

No more is said about textbooks, although they have not been produced, to the best of my knowledge. There is a new goal to “promote the adoption of national library and information policies in the region,” one to “lay the foundation for library cooperation” and one to “facilitate research and publication.” All in all, there is a move away from aims that can be measured in some way — a model program is either established or not, a guideline is either written or not — toward wider concepts that defy appraisal.

It is much the same story with the old and new goals of the Asia and Oceania Section, and of the Latin American and Caribbean Section. Plans with relatively specific content have been replaced by highly generalized concepts. In Asia and Oceania there is a touch of specificity, in the intention to carry out “necessary surveys and studies” for example — but in fact that proposal remains at the formative stage: what is necessary? Two studies or twenty? In Latin America the aims are for increased library cooperation and exchange and better communication, and more IFLA participation — laudable goals, certainly, but also lacking in detail.

In the 1986–1991 MTP for the Asia and Latin regions there were fairly definite plans for databases, directories, publications, studies, workshops, etc.. None of them remain, and not even their ghosts are to be seen hovering over the new MTP.

We have serious problems here. One is that if the world community of library leaders designs its future activities without careful attention to its immediate past, there will be at best a loss of continuity. We do need to finish what we start out to do. Another problem is that if the world community designs its future along such general lines as I find in the new MTP, it is offering no real guide for action, and no means of evaluating actions that do take place.

Like so many of our professional turmoils, this one resolves itself to a matter of definitions. All these MTP “goals” — old and new — are supposed to be drawn from each Section’s “objectives,” and those objectives are supposed to be drawn from IFLA’s own Long–Term Policy. It is not working out that way, however, because there is no increase of specificity at each level. Let us think of “policy” as the IFLA institutional goals. They should be general, long–range, non–measurable. Then let us develop from those IFLA goals the goals of each Section. They should be general, but less general than the institutional goals after all they have a limited scope within a region and its challenges. Then, in the MTP, let us think of plans that can be implemented and appraised within the five–year period. Those plans (call them goals, or objectives, the name is not crucial) should each advance in a definite way one of the Section’s general goals.

I am describing something like a system analysis design, the basis for planning in modern organizations. IFLA is a modern organization in many ways, but the MTP does not demonstrate that it knows how to plan effectively. Without careful, systematic planning an organization may yet flourish, and a region may yet produce outstanding libraries — but only with much good luck and in highly favorable circumstances. The Third World has not had a great share of good luck so far, and its circumstances are not likely to be described as favorable. Careful plans, definitions, and connections among levels of intention can go far to make up for bad luck and poor conditions.

Finally we may turn to the newest IFLA core programme, Advancement of Librarianship in the Third World (ALP). Alas, the terminology of the ALP statements in the new MTP is not much help to one who seeks to discern its specific plans. ALP offers us a “Programme Concept” (purpose), “programme objectives” (long-term goals), a “programme orientation” (also long–term goals, mixed with some strategies), “programme goals for 1992–1997” (focus areas), and MTP “goals” (categorized goals). No measurable activites are projected. The ALP intentions include an emphasis on library literacy efforts, an intention (curiously) not found in any of the MTP goals of the regional sections. Another ALP aim is to assist rural libraries — but this is not among the intentions expressed by the regional sections either. I have to marvel at the apparent lack of coordination between ALP and the librarians of the regions it wishes to serve.

I will start early to hope for a clearer statement of such matters in the next Medium–Term Programme. It is not too early for all concerned to begin thinking about definitions and connections. Let me conclude my sermon with a passage from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, about persons who cast up many little sums into a greater, without considering whether those little sums were rightly cast up or not; and at last finding the error visible, and not mistrusting their first grounds, know not which way to clear themselves; but spend time in fluttering over their books; as birds that entering by the chimney and finding themselves enclosed in a chamber, flutter at the false light of a glass window, for want of wit to consider which way they came in.

© 1992 Rosary College



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