Photo of Sally, Marisol, and Margo at Mama Africa in Cape Town

Meeting the Global Library Community at IFLA

Cape Town, South Africa, was the destination for over 3200 delegates who converged there in August 2015 to take part in the annual World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). An IFLA conference presents attendees with a unique opportunity to meet face-to-face with colleagues from over 100 other countries, to network and collaborate, and to consider issues and trends affecting library and information services around the world.

Photo of Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
Table Mountain (Cape Town, South Africa)

This year, South Africa’s “Mother City” provided a memorable setting, with its striking scenery (such as Table Mountain pictured above), its vibrant mix of cultures, and its complex political history. Attendees from the United States numbered around 230. While Sally Holterhoff was the only member of CALL who participated this year, the 2015 roster of delegates included eleven Chicago-area librarians (from all types of libraries) and library association personnel, as well as another eight from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

As you might expect, a major component of an IFLA conference is educational programs, and this year’s schedule included a total of 87 of them in four days. Many IFLA programs are based on the “call for papers” model, with potential speakers submitting written papers ahead of time, a selection process, and then those whose papers are chosen appearing at the conference to present a condensed version of their papers, as part of a program (which may be two or three hours long overall). Described below (with links to more detailed information) are the two programs sponsored this year by the Law Libraries Section (one of 43 sections within IFLA).

Access to Legal Information and Legislative Data in Africa: The Role of Libraries and Librarians

This two-hour program was co-sponsored with the Africa Section and the Section on Library and Research Services to Parliaments. Speakers from Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, and the United States spoke about the current status of legal and legislative information access in their countries and how librarians are working in their libraries to improve it.

Speakers from various countries mentioned similar challenges in sustaining technical and physical capacity to publish the law. Barriers are not only financial and technical, but also institutional, such as frequent changes in government organizations (which affect the continuity of any initiative undertaken by previous officers). Speakers also discussed the role that libraries, especially public libraries, can play as collectors and providers of legal information and services.

Photo for IFLA 2015 Access to Legal Information in Africa program
Speakers for Access to Legal Information in Africa Program
Front Row (L to R):
Mariya Badeva-Bright (African LII, South Africa), Yolanda Jones (Florida A&M University), Caroline Ilako (Makarere University, Uganda). Back Row (L to R): Raissa Teodori (Co-Coordinator & Chair of Section on Library and Research Services for Parliaments–Italy), Margo Jeske (Co-Coordinator & Moderator), Victoria Okojie (Chair of Africa Section–Nigeria), Rosemary Shafack (University of Buea, Cameroon)


Panelist Mariya Badeva-Bright, Project Director for the African Legal Information Institute (AfricanLII), spoke about efforts of her organization to facilitate free and open access to legal and legislative information from Africa. She pointed out that, for the government officials and the legal community, access to legislation and court decisions is “as essential as a scalpel is to a surgeon.”

African LII is an online legal publishing portal, collecting and providing access to legal information of many African countries. It is also designed to build local capacity for collection, publication, and upkeep of legal information. African LII started with 500 documents ten years ago; now the repository contains 150,000 legal documents.

Although there have been significant advances in the collection and publication of the legal information of African countries, Ms. Baveda-Bright emphasized that there are also many challenges. Not all countries in Africa are covered. It is difficult to digitize the law when print versions are unreliable and incomplete. Later, in the question and answer period, she was asked if the need for digital authentication is being addressed by African LII. Her response was that, at this point, digital authentication is very far from being possible and is “a bit of a science fiction” for her organization. However, she said that African LII does receive its content directly from the originators and makes every effort for transparency in their methods.

Among other speakers on the panel were Yolanda Jones (Florida A&M University College of Law) and Caroline Ilako (Makarere University Library, Uganda), both of whom are members of the IFLA Law Libraries Section. They discussed and compared strategies and approaches that law libraries in the United States and in Uganda have used to facilitate access to legal information. They highlighted the Access to Justice movement and some challenges with access to legal information that exist in both their countries.

Yolanda described how her library functions as the law library for Orange County, Florida, providing public access terminals for onsite use of Westlaw. She and her staff publish guides to free legal resources on the web and they partner with a local public library to do legal research instruction. She also spoke of previous work she had done when she worked in the state of Michigan, where librarians have been working with lawyers and legal assistance groups to support pro se litigants, under a program established under the auspices of the state supreme court. The Michigan Legal Help website provides a wide range of self-help tools and simple legal forms.

Caroline described the situation in Uganda. An innovative partnership has been set up between the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) and the Supreme Court of Uganda, along with Makerere University, to collect legal resources and develop a repository for open access. The Uganda LII provides free public access to legal information, but the information is not up-to-date. Many barriers exist, including an Information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure that is inadequate or completely lacking. Another barrier is language, since most of the legal information is in English, which many of the Ugandan population do not speak, so they require interpretation. She mentioned the role of law librarians in Uganda and that “access to justice starts in the library.”

The Future of Law Libraries: Tales of Existence and Transformation

In this two-hour session, speakers from Australia, Canada, Africa, and Chile addressed the current status of law libraries in their own country or region, focusing attention on what is being done in a wide array of libraries (from law firm libraries and not-for-profit organizations to government and parliamentary libraries) to meet challenges and to stay relevant for the future.

Holterhoff - program Future of Law Libraries
IFLA 2015 “Future of Law Libraries” panel

One of the speakers Kirsty MacPhee (Knowledge and Business Development Manager, Tottle Partners, Australia) spoke about how law firm libraries have been adversely affected by changes in the information profession and the business of law. Overhead expenses, poor client management, partner divisions, and new trends towards hybrid business firms are a few of the issues affecting the business of law today. At the same time, libraries are suffering from shrinking budgets, and increasingly digital collections. She suggests that librarians, as legal information professionals, must change their focus to the business of law and acquire business skills and knowledge in order to deliver value to clients. She would prefer to see libraries and librarians at the leading edge of these changes, in the interest of their future survival.

Two other speakers on the panel were both from the Alberta Legal Information Society (ALIS), Canada. Carole Aippersbach and Katy Moore described LegalAve, a public website that ALIS is currently developing, which is designed to connect users with legal information and community legal services in Alberta, creating public awareness of legal rights and how to exercise these rights, both in and out of court. The site is focusing on family law issues: marriage, divorce, adoption, elder care, domestic violence, and child support.

The Chilean Library of Congress, Department of Legislative Services and Documentation, was well-represented by three speakers (Allen Guerra-Bustamante, Denisse Jimena Espinace Olguin and Carolina de los Ángeles Salas Prussing). They described various aspects of two projects that are underway to improve the provision of legal information in their country.

The first project requires identifying repealed and current laws. The Chilean Law database, Ley Chile, is made up of 288,000 norms, but only 12,903 of these are expressly repealed by the legislature. The library is processing the norms to create a database of the current legal system. A Juridical Digest is being developed, based on examples from other countries, such as Italy, Argentina and Nicaragua.

The second project, History of the Law, is designed to track and collect legislative history information (messages, motions, committee reports, discussions, and official letters) about enacted laws. This project will make this information accessible to all citizens of Chile and will allow users to navigate the legislative history of an entire law or of a specific article. Eventually, it will include the Constitution, the history of the codes, and subject compilation of laws, including all versions of the bills.

Poster Sessions

Besides programs, another educational experience featured at IFLA conferences is the poster session. On display in the Exhibit Hall this year were 132 posters, which were discussed by their creators during two poster session time slots. One of the posters was: Reinventing Legal Research Instruction: Librarians Teach Future Lawyers to Find the Law. It was created and presented at the conference by Sally Holterhoff, to explain the legal research curriculum at Valparaiso University Law School.

Photo of Sally Holterhoff at IFLA 2015 Poster Session
Sally Holterhoff at IFLA 2015 Poster Session


Law Libraries Section and Standing Committee

Interaction with fellow librarians from around the globe is a great benefit of IFLA attendance. So is being involved with a smaller sub-group of colleagues with common interests, such as the Law Libraries Section. 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the Section, which currently has 50 members from 22 countries. Leadership of the Section is provided by its Standing Committee, whose members are nominated by an institutional or individual member of IFLA and who serve for a 4-year term, renewable one time. In the decade of the Section’s existence, eleven U.S. law librarians have served on the Standing Committee.


Photo of IFLA Law Libraries Section Standing Committee members


Social Events

With a large and varied group of delegates from around the world attending the IFLA conference each year, social events are particularly valuable for providing informal networking opportunities. Members of the Law Libraries Section, local law librarians, and other guests enjoyed an evening reception hosted by the Organisation of South African Law Libraries (OSALL).

The event was held at the new Cape Town law office of Bowman Gilfillan. It had been arranged through the efforts of OSALL Chair Charmaine Bertram (Library Manager, Norton Rose Fulbright in Johannesburg). Our host for the evening was Diana Riley, Senior Librarian at Bowman Gilfillan, along with other librarians and staff from the firm. We were joined by law librarians from other offices of Norton Rose Fulbright (who had arranged to hold a retreat in Cape Town the following day) and some local law librarians.

As we toured the library and admired the spectacular harbor views from the library’s balcony, we enjoyed good wine and food provided by Juta (a South African legal vendor). It was an evening of laughter and friendship, providing an opportunity for section members to discuss both legal research sources and sightseeing options with our local hosts.

Holterhoff - reception at Bowman Gilfillan for Section
Reception at Bowman Gilfillan for IFLA Law Libraries Section

On Tuesday, delegates enjoyed the traditional “cultural evening” that is part of each year’s IFLA conference but also unique to the host country. This year’s event took place at the convention center, with an array of food from around the African continent, entertainment including singing and dancing, face painting, and actors dressed as animals native to Africa.

Advocacy in IFLA

IFLA is the world library organization for information policy and is recognized as such by many other international organizations. It focuses on exploring, supporting and advocating for the interests of library and information services and their users around the globe. Because of its importance, IFLA is at the table in international forums such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), when matters such as copyright, standards, and other issues of importance to law librarians are being discussed.

One focus of the 2015 IFLA conference was activity stemming from and following through on the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development (issued during the 2014 conference in Lyon, France). (Note: AALL is a signatory to this declaration, as of Nov. 2014).

The Lyon Declaration has impacted the recently approved United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which state that “…access to information, knowledge and technologies are critical for the eradication of the major development challenges…the strengthening of democracy; and the promotion of social justice and cohesion …” This major accomplishment demonstrates IFLA’s advocacy in influencing the United Nations to include libraries and access to information within the UN post-2015 development agenda. IFLA has launched a toolkit to support institutions and individuals in advocating for the inclusion of access to information as part of each government’s development goals. The toolkit provides background information, templates, talking points, and practical advice on how to set up meetings with government representatives.

A focus for the Law Libraries Section in particular is digital authentication. From its earliest stages over ten years ago, the Section has advocated for digital authentication in countries around the world. It has sponsored educational programs on this topic at a number of recent IFLA conferences, focusing on the area of the world where the conference has taken place. In 2014 Sally Holterhoff presented a poster session (Keeping the Law Safe: Librarians Advocating for Digital Authentication in the United States (.pdf)) to explain UELMA to colleagues in other countries.

Section projects include ongoing work on an index of official gazettes of all countries of various regions of the world (reporting on whether each is digitally authenticated, official, and openly accessible). Currently several section members are drafting text for a statement or declaration on open access, preservation, and authentication. The next step will be to seek support from other IFLA entities and to present the draft to the IFLA Standards Committee. The goal would be for such a statement to be adopted as an official policy of IFLA.

Looking Ahead to IFLA 2016…in the U.S. Midwest!

Logo for IFLA 2016 in Columbus, Ohio

IFLA 2016 will take place in Columbus, Ohio, August 13-19. The last time the U.S. hosted an IFLA conference was in 2001, in Boston. The 2016 location, just a 6-hour drive or short plane flight from Chicago, will present a special opportunity for CALL members to attend an IFLA conference “in our own backyard” and the chance to welcome and network with thousands of colleagues who will have come to our country from around the world.

Planning many of the details for this conference are the members of the 2016 National Committee, which includes representatives from the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Special Libraries Association. Also a member is law librarian David Mao, who is currently the Acting Librarian of Congress.

To participate in IFLA 2016, whether for the whole conference or just one day, resourceful CALL members can perhaps find grants or other funding to enable them to take advantage of this special opportunity to experience IFLA close to home. For those who like to travel overseas and to plan even further ahead, it’s been announced that the 2017 IFLA conference will take place in Wroclaw, Poland.

Note: This article is an edited and revised version of a longer article that appeared in the Oct. 2015 issue of the newsletter of the Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Section (FCIL-SIS) of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). It appears here with permission.