Ifla’s Frustrating Elections 2023

By Mikael Böök

As an individual member of IFLA, I have very limited voting rights in the organisation’s election of a new Governing Board. Nonetheless, I try to follow the ongoing elections. Today I looked at the candidates and their “motivational statements”, i.e. their self-presentations and programme statements (these can be read here).

In general, I feel somewhat despondent that not a single one of them, as far as I could see, has anything new or substantial to offer. The demand for openness and transparency that so many mention is a good value, but how much is this value worth on its own? Candidates attest to their love, care and enthusiasm for running and engaging with IFLA. But they carefully avoid setting any strategic goals or elaborating on what should change. The underlying, implicit idea behind their “programme statements” is apparently that Ifla’s current global vision and strategy are perfectly satisfactory, that Ifla should by and large continue as hitherto, except for this flaw of lack of openness, transparency, which is now to be corrected. The same applies to the reasons given by the Verein Deutscher Bibliothekarinnen und Bibliothekare (read more here) for abstaining from involvement in Ifla’s election process. The Swedish Library Association, (SLA) for their part, wants to “replace the entire board”. In the name of openness and transparency, one would, however, expect them to announce their own candidates for the new board and why they should be voted for. Therefore, is good that the SLA has at least disclosed the name of Leif Mårtenson whom they have nominated for the important post of Treasurer. I’ll return to their choice further down.

– According to the candidates and the library associations, IFLA’s strong financial and ideological dependence on philanthrocapitalists Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett is apparently totally OK. I did not come across a single motivational statement where the BMGF or its cover SIGL were even mentioned;

– No candidate hinted at criticism of the fact that information technology (the library’s own domain!) and the internet (an institution of crucial importance to libraries now and in the future) have been monopolised by a handful of US corporations including Microsoft, the source from which the BMGF derives its wealth.

– A couple of candidates mentioned the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but none mentioned the original UN goals of disarmament and peace, without which there is no sustainable development.

At this moment news are reaching us about the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank and the Signature Bank. A new financial crash seems to be brewing. Until now, I have been a supporter of Keynesian economist James Tobin’s old proposal for a small tax on global financial transactions. The idea was revived in the late 1990s by international citizens’ movements critical of the prevailing neoliberal economics doctrine and the optionless financial globalisation. Couldn’t “A Tobin Tax” provide the solution for the financing of libraries and archives and the preservation of humanity’s cultural heritage, I have asked myself and others, and my answer has been: yes, why not? But in today’s tense international situation, where not only a new financial crash but also a war between the major powers may be imminent, it is difficult to believe in the kind of regulation and reform of the financial system that Keynes, Tobin and their successors have sought. One thing is certain: the solution does not lie in Bill and Melinda Gates-style philanthrocapitalism.

This was an introduction to my above promised comment on the election of the new treasurer of the IFLA.

Three candidates have been nominated

– The Dutchman Jaap Naber, who is the current Treasurer, appointed by the outgoing Board;

– Randa al-Chidiac, President of the Lebanese Library Association, Head of Library at the American University in Dubai; President of the Lebanese Blue Shield Committee;

– Leif Mårtensson, board member and auditor of the Swedish Library Association; long professional career in the financial sector before entering the city library and cultural affairs in City of Umeå.

These three probably have the necessary expertise but I would like to know more about how they envisage the financing of Ifla in the longer term, let’s say 5-10 years ahead. Will any of them work to free the organisation from dependence on private philanthrocapitalists like BMGF? Jaap Naber, for example, says: ”I have both a global and strategic perspective onto the libraries as well as experience in financial and strategic management.” One would like to know more about his and the other two’s global strategic perspective on libraries. Surely one would expect those leading Ifla to have such perspectives?


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