BAKING A NEW PIE: LIBRARY AND INFORMATION ASSOCIATIONS IN AN ONLINE WORLD
originally published in Online
Currents November 2005 and reprinted with kind permission of the
publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd.
Libraries appeared during the 3rd millennium BC near Ad-Diwaniyah
in Iraq. They multiplied on shifting currents in the middle east, Europe and
Asia before the river of history flowed to the New World.
Associations representing libraries, and those who work in them, are a
recent phenomenon. The first library association was born after a 17-year
gestation in 1876, when the American Library Association (ALA) was launched
at the Pennsylvania Historical Society conference. Nearly 20 years later in
Brussels, Paul Otlet and Henri-Marie La Fontaine founded an international
body, the Institut International Bibliographie, later the International
Federation for Information and Documentation (FID), as part of their agenda
for creating an index of world literature.
The number of library and information associations has grown dramatically
over the past one hundred years. In a technologically-driven world, they
continue to evolve as work diversifies. Some represent the interests of
individuals. Others respond to the needs of organisations. Some draw
together interests around specialist activities. Some have disappeared,
including FID, which dissolved in 2000. Others have morphed into new types
of organisations with transformational agendas.
The Internet has made interaction easier, but it has also made it harder for
some associations to attract members. Information professionals occupy a
more populous industry pie-chart. Associations face challenges in sustaining
the interest of an increasingly elusive constituency.
National associations have led the way in developing a
professional ethos. Their histories still resonate with lessons for today’s
dynamic online environment.
By 1910, the American Library Association (http://www.ala.org) had become
the largest and most important association of any type in the world, a peak
that no library association is likely to reach again. Now with 64,000
members, growth of 15% over the last eight years, and a budget of US$50
million, it enters the 21st century, in its own words, as “financially
healthy, organisationally complex, broadly inclusive and intensely
participative.” Readers will be familiar with its Library Journal,
incorporating annual reviews of automated systems and online databases,
Information Technology and Libraries and TER: Technology Electronic Reviews.
Available from its subsidiary ALA Tech Source (http://www.techsource.ala.org)
are Library Technology Report and Smart Libraries Newsletter, as well as
free RSS-fed news, tips and tools.
Although some say ALA is too big, its structure - eleven major divisions,
all appearing as associations in their own right, and myriad sub-groups –
provides an effective model for harnessing diverse professional interests.
Free information resources from its Library and Information Technology
Association (LITA, http://www.lita.org) include Top Technology Trends and
Toolkit for the Expert Web Searcher. The Association for Library Collections
and Technical Services (ALCTS, http://www.ala.org/alcts), focusing on
back-room operations of front-end importance, publishes the journal Library
Resources and Technical Services.
Echoes of ALA in other countries include the Chartered Institute for Library
and Information Professionals (CILIP, http://www.cilip.org.uk), formed from
a merger of the Library Association and the Institute of Information
Scientists in 2000, the Australian Library and Information Association
(ALIA, http://www.alia.org.au), New Zealand Library and Information
Association (LIANZA, http://www.lianza.org.nz), and Canadian Library
Association (CLA, http://www.cla.ca).
Global interests are drawn together under the umbrella of the International
Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA, http://www.ifla.org).
Information Technology Section Newsletter is an example of its output on a
range of issues. It has essential links with international bodies in related
fields. It has represented libraries with great energy at the World Summit
on the Information Society. But its finances are apparently fragile and its
programs are under threat unless new sources of income can be found.
Associations representing libraries
Prominent among associations aiming to improve library
operations and services are American bodies - the Association of Research
Libraries (ARL, http://www.arl.org), Coalition of Networked Information (CNI,
http://www.cni.org) and Research Libraries Group (RLG, http://www.rlg.org).
ARL has extensive information on the use of technology and other topics.
See, for example, its registry of digital initiatives, surveys of special
collections, and SPEC kits on operating practices and policies in member
libraries. Its statistics and performance measures program (http://www.arl.org/stats/sup/)
provides a comprehensive body of data on trends in North America libraries,
as well as sources on evaluation and e-metrics. Special projects are
sometimes undertaken with financial support from government funding bodies
and philanthropic organisations. You can keep track of its activities by
subscribing to its ARL-Announce list.
The Coalition of Networked Information (CNI, http://www.cni.org) was formed
by ARL, CAUSE and Educom in 1990 to facilitate “the transformative promise
of networked information technology for the advancement of scholarly
communication and the enrichment of intellectual productivity.” It maintains
momentum through regular task force meetings to explore issues and “catalyse
the development and deployment of new projects.” You can keep track of these
activities via CNI-Announce and RSS feeds.
The Research Libraries Group (http://www.rlg.org) is an international
membership organisation of over 150 libraries, archives and museums and
other cultural memory institutions. With groups working on solutions
relating to information management and access, its site has a rich load of
publications such as Data Dictionary for Preservation Metadata, Descriptive
Metadata Guidelines for RLG Cultural Materials, EAD Best Practice
Guidelines, Guides to Quality in Visual Resource Imaging, Guidelines for
Microfilming to Support Digitization, Preserving Digital Information and
Tools for Digital Imaging. You can access the RLG union catalogue from its
subsidiary site, RedLightGreen (http://redlightgreen.com). And you can keep
abreast of developments by subscribing to RLG DigiNews and other free online
Similar enterprises in Britain include the United Kingdom Office for Library
Networking (UKOLN, http://www.ukoln.ac.uk), Joint Information Systems
Committee (JISC, http://www.jisc.ac.uk), and Arts & Humanities Data Service
(AHDS, http://www.ahds.ac.uk). The Canadian Association of Research
Libraries (CARL, http://www.carl-abrc.ca) offers an entrée to programs,
resources and links on research commercialisation, e-learning, information
policy, statistics and other topics in the land of the maple leaf. And, in
Australia, the Council of Australian State Libraries (CASL http://www.casl.org.au),
Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL, http://www.caul.edu.au),
and Public Libraries Australia (PLA, http://www.nla.gov.au/apln) are among
ports of call.
Associations representing specialist interests
Specialist interests have prompted a staggering number of
smaller associations and groups. Many operate with limited aims and
capacity, but their efforts underscore the diversity of professional
The biggest association of this type is the US-based Special Library
Association (SLA, http://www.sla.org), founded in 1909 with a motto that
anticipated a business and economic preoccupation by 90 years – “putting
knowledge to work.” SLA has about 12,000 members worldwide, including
virtual members who can gain access to its Web resources at a discounted
membership rate. A perceived gap in association services to Australian
special libraries led to the formation, in June 2004, of an SLA Australian
and New Zealand chapter, now with 100 members.
Groups representing employer types include the Australian Government
Libraries and Information Network (AGLIN, http://www.nla.gov.au/aglin),
Australian School Libraries Association (ASLA, http://www.asla.org.au) and
Australasian Parliamentary Librarians Association. Library educators are
served by an American body, the Association for Library and Information
Science Education (ALISE, http://www.alise.org), which publishes Journal of
Education for Library and Information Science and compiles data on the
Subject domains are represented, in the arts, by the Arts Libraries
Society/Australia & New Zealand (ARLIS/ANZ, http://arlisanz.anu.edu.au),
Australian Branch of the International Association of Music Libraries,
Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML http://www.iamlaust.org), and
Performing Arts Special Interest Group of Museums Australia (http://www.museumsaustralia.org.au).
Other subject networks include the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Library and Information Resource Network (http://home.vicnet.net.au/~atsilirn),
Libraries of the Social Sciences (LOTTS), Australian Law Librarians Group (ALLG,
http://www.allg.asn.au), Health Libraries Inc (http://home.vicnet.net.au/~hlinc)
and Environment Librarians Network (ELN, http://www.deh.gov.au/about/library/eln).
Some of these associations maintain links to parent associations or related
international bodies with persistent activities on standards and resources.
Two groups have led Australian librarians up the technology path - the ALIA
Information Online Group (http://www.alia.org.au/groups/infog) and Victorian
Association for Library Automation (http://www.vala.org.au).
Those with responsibilities in related disciplines can turn to the Records
Management Association of Australasia (RMAA, http://www.rmaa.com.au),
Australian Society of Archivists (ASA, http://www.archivists.org.au),
American Records Management Association (ARMA, http://www.arma.org), Society
of American Archivists (SAA http://www.archivists.org), the International
Council on Archives (ICA, http://www.ica.org) and the e-list RECMGT-L. The
Society of Competitive Intelligence Practitioners Australasia (SCIPAUST,
http://www.scipaust.org.au), Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers
(http://www.aussi.org), Australasian Sound Recordings Association (ASRA,
http://home.vicnet.net.au/~sound) and Museums Australia (http://www.museumsaustralia.org.au)
are indicative of other kindred spirits.
Workers involved in information management and technology are likely to be
drawn to, among more specialist bodies, the Australian Information Industry
Association (http://www.aiia.com.au), the Institute for Information
Management (IIM, http://www.iim.org.au), Australian Computer Society (ACS,
http://www.acs.org.au), Information Technology Professionals Association (ITPA,
http://www.itpa.asn.au), and the Information, Telecommunications and
Electronic Engineering College of Engineers Australia (EA, http://www.engineersaustralia.org.au).
Foreign bodies in the field include the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE, (http://ieeexplore.ieee.org), which offers free
access to over 1.2 million abstracts on information management topics and an
alert service. The American Society for Information Science & Technology (ASIST,
http://www.asis.org) produces the Bulletin of the American Society of
Information Science and Technology and Annual Review of Information Science
and Technology. The Association for Information Management (Aslib, http://www.aslib.co.uk)
publishes Managing Information. Owners of businesses in information
brokering and other services are served by the Association for Independent
Information Professionals (AIIP, http://www.aiip.org).
Knowledge management groups, many operating informally, encourage all of
these disciplines, and others, to come together under one roof to explore
creative approaches and new technologies for capturing and using knowledge.
The e-list of ACT-KM (http://www.actkm.com), one of a number of local
groups, has an international reputation for the scope and richness of its
daily electronic dialogues. The NSW KM Forum (http://www.nsw-km-forum.org.au/wiki.pl)
organises monthly presentations in Sydney.
Challenges for associations
Associations form a $27 billion to $43 billion sector in
Australia, depending on your definitions. As mechanisms for networking and
collective action, they have influential antecedents. In Ancient Greece,
aristocratic societies and political clubs challenged the status quo. In the
16th century, learned societies, promoting discussion and experimentation,
were catalysts for the development of museums. The demand for improved
working conditions and status spawned associations of labourers in the
industrial age. In the 19th century, the French statesman and philosopher,
Alexis de Tocqueville, observing American society, said that associations
were the cornerstone of its democracy. “The knowledge of how to combine is
the mother of all other forms of knowledge.” We live in a global society, he
said, where each special interest influences the whole and where the whole
influences each special interest.
Henry Mintzberg would characterise associations as adhocracies - complex and
dynamic environments with little formalisation, limited planning, mixed
decision making capability, and an insignificant flow of authority. For the
communities of practice advocate, Etienne Wegner, the important thing is
their capacity to marshal mutual passion. While Mark Lyons, in Third Sector,
points to the importance values play in their activities, their reliance on
voluntary effort, the complexity of their finances, and the difficulty of
judging their performance.
Lyons says associations are in a period of transformation and decline.
Soured idealism, among other factors, has affected recruitment and growth.
The challenges, he says, are leadership, balancing business and democratic
needs, managing capacity, developing closer links with business, acting in a
concerted fashion, encouraging growth and finding the right mix of local and
Success will no doubt emerge from the usual suspects: greater penetration of
the market, increased market share, market rationalisation, market focus,
subcontracting, joint venturing or just plain survival under adverse
conditions. But, if you accept the views of commentators such as Michael
Mankins and Richard Steel (Turning Great Strategy into Great Performance)
and Jon Simpson (Third-Sector Organisations and the Balanced Scorecard), strategies
are more likely to fail than succeed. An oscillating compass needle will
increase the likelihood of failure.
The Australian Business Excellence Framework promotes 22 indicators
springing from 12 principles on organisational effectiveness and
sustainability. The ingredients for association success are encapsulated in
a survey recently undertaken by the Australian Society of Association
Executives (AuSAE, http://www.ausae.org.au). This suggests that 44
activities will be on association radar screens revolving around leadership,
structure, environment, direction, strategy, membership services, operations
support, products and other services.
Library and information associations will look for answers to a number of
How will the future of employers affect association strategies?
According to Outsell’s TrendAlert: The Future of Libraries, there is no
single answer to the question of where libraries and information services
are heading. There will be many roads to tomorrow. The form of the library
will be greatly affected by the convergence of the medium and the message.
According to Barbara Quint, future activity in libraries will be driven by a
“do-once, serve-many’ principle. It seems likely that librarians will
continue to find employment in libraries. But information professionals, by
and large, will look for opportunities outside libraries.
What does convergence mean? Some associations have sought
pre-eminence by seeking to attract a more broadly based membership. CILIP
was formed because of the perception that the “old distinction between
librarians and information scientists [is] irrelevant.” Nearly one-fifth of
Special Libraries Association members now no longer work in libraries, but
are primarily involved in analysis, product or database development,
knowledge management and records management. On the other hand, ALA has
experienced steady growth without significant change to its original focus
on libraries and librarians, while the International Federation of
Information and Documentation went out of business after broadening its
horizons. Convergence will presumably create more specialists than Leonardo
da Vincis. Mushy missions targeting ambiguities may lead to disappointing
Are democratic principles more important than business imperatives?
The conventional wisdom is that associations cannot be managed as commercial
enterprises. Efficiency in commercial settings is achieved by minimising
input to maximise output. But, in voluntary associations, where it is
considered important to involve people, making decisions is a time-consuming
process. Energy and resources are usually deployed for a slender result.
Socrates was dismissive of democracies because they place “all alike on a
footing of equality, whether they be really equal or not.” The Australian
Institute of Management operates successfully on the basis of stakeholder
value rather than satisfied democracy.
How important, now, are education, accreditation and certification as
association roles? In Australia, contrasting to an apparently more
robust situation in the more populous United States, ALIA-accredited
university library courses have virtually disappeared as economic pressures
on universities and information industry trends force integration with other
disciplines. Commentators imply that library educators and the profession at
large are confused about the changing marketplace. They suggest that
associations are powerless to influence matters. ALIA, representing a small
subsidised sector of about 27,000 workers, can, realistically, only nibble
at the edges. New information workers will be drawn to the rewarding and
riskier territory of information technology. It seems unlikely that the
current level of IT unemployment and downturn in university IT enrolments
will threaten predictions of increased demand for specialist IT skills. For
associations, future relevance will require flexible approaches on skill
recognition and development.
Is membership growth and retention more important than revenue growth?
Membership is now a fuzzy concept. Many people use associations without
becoming members. The networked world has created more competition for the
membership dollar. In some associations, the subscription lists for
publications are much longer than the list of members. It would be a bold
association executive who would reduce membership fees in favour of revenue
growth from non-members at the present time. But some associations, even
now, are experimenting with options.
Should duplicated effort on producing conferences be channelled into
other areas? Conferences are the traditional mainstays of associations.
In The Doubter’s Companion, John Ralston Saul asserts they are a waste of
money, are erroneously justified on the basis of shared enthusiasm, and
“carry whole industries off in odd and often counter-productive directions.”
Convergence has led to substantial content overlap and increased risk in
running library and information conferences. Some associations have shifted
their focus. After technology became such a pervasive force, for example,
the Library Information Technology Association turned to more advanced use
of technology and introduced changes in the way it managed its events. The
Coalition of Networked Information’s investment in task forces rather than
talk fests has been noteworthy. Conferences are means to an end. There are
several ways of reaching the same destination. But attempts by associations
at rationalisation seem likely to encounter the resistance of diehard habits
within the profession.
Could information production and distribution be streamlined? Access
to information is a major reason for joining an association. An incentive
for joining the Australian Institute of Management is access to online
databases and full text articles on management. Online access to Library and
Information Science Abstracts is a compelling reason to become a member of
CILIP. For associations, the increased availability of open source
professional information is bringing increased competition. Sources reviewed
by Jonathon Jermey in IT Information Sites, (OLC November, December 2002 and
January/February 2003) and by Glenda Browne’s Free Periodicals on
Information Management (OLC June 2003), have been joined by new e-journals,
portals, blogs, publisher giveaways and library institution documents. Rich
discussion on information management tends to occur outside library
association lists. Most library association e-lists have been created as
discussion lists, but they operate mostly as announcement lists. Purpose,
professional interest and network design are out of kilter.
Do library and information associations need structural change?
Attempts at change usually encounter turbulence and dubious outcomes. In
1997, ALA rejected major structural change, despite the case for change.
There were doubts that a different structure would be more effective than
the one that existed. The effort of change was viewed as an unproductive
diversion. When ALIA opted for a new structure, based on self-nominating
groups over the old divisions, it rejected a more compelling albeit more
testing federated arrangement, such as one proposed by John Brudenell. The
National Library of Australia subsequently created the Peak Bodies Forum (PBF,
http://www.nla.gov.au/initiatives/meetings/peakbod) to fill a vacuum left by
the demise of the Australian Council of Library and Information Services.
The PBF is addressing a range of important issues, but is constrained by the
same limitations of its British counterpart, the National Forum for
Information Planning and Cooperation (NFIP, http://www.bl.uk/about/cooperation/nfip).
Should the number of associations be reduced? The number of
associations reinforces the tribal picture of librarians and information
workers The duplication of special interest group e-lists in associations
such as, say, ASIST, ASLIB, AIIP and SLA reinforces cottage industry
dynamics instead of encouraging unexpected collisions and insight. Several
specialist associations are seeking international status, including SLA and
ARMA, a strategy that has met mixed reaction. Comments by CILIP’s President,
Debby Shorley after the 2005 ALA conference are indicative of one point of
view, one type of experience, not necessarily shared by others: “American
colleagues appear to care little for Europe and treat speakers from overseas
badly.” Barriers to mergers typically include ego, rivalry, low trust,
incompatible interests, goal ambiguity, poor data to support decisions, and
short-term mindsets. These barriers seem to have been overcome in at least
one recent local merger, when the Australian Electronic and Electrical
Manufacturers Association joined the Australian Information Industry
Association. Robert Axelrod and Michael Cohen, in Harnessing Complexity,
remind us about the value of complex adaptive frameworks and the importance
of the individual in the scheme of things. Rationalisation is best
approached with a bifocal perspective that eliminates unnecessary
duplication yet capitalises on individual catalysts and the energy of
What sort of impact will new cross-sectoral bodies and government
agencies have on associations? New bodies have been formed to lead
educational and cultural enterprises and disciplines out of their silos.
These including Australian Research Information Infrastructure Committee (ARIIC,
details available at http://www.dest.gov.au) and the Collections Council of
Australia (CCA, http://www.collectionscouncil.com.au). The establishment of
the government-funded Museums and Galleries NSW has challenged the relevance
of a body like Museums Australia in NSW. The CCA has the broad aims of the
Museums, Libraries & Archives Council in the UK (MLA, http://www.mla.gov.uk),
but it has less money. It is perceived as a museums body. The library sector
takes the position that it does not need outside assistance. In Australia,
moving information repository psyches to a macro information management
perspective appears likely to be a drawn out process.
Associations, like other organisations, experience phases of
growth, decline and death. Information technology has brought new players,
new ways of communicating and new membership dynamics. Future directions are
clouded by paradox and uncertainty. For some associations, success will be
defined by improvements in the organisations they represent. For others,
success will come from leading information workers to enriching employment.
Many will require business acumen to link diverse interests in a swiftly
Notes on Sources
Thoughts for this article have evolved from the paper Serving
the Arts: ARLISANZ 1975-2025, presented at the ARLIS/ANZ Conference 2004 and
available, with an extensive bibliography, at
The Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science (NY: Dekker, 2003) was a
starting point on many associations. Influencing paragraphs on library
education were articles by Ross Harvey, Nicki Kallenberger, Ross Todd and
Grey Southon in the Australian Library Journal (February and August 2001)
and by Paul Genoni (Incite, July & August 2005).
Other sources included Outsell’s TrendAlert: the Future of Libraries,
January 2004, Barbara Quint’s Tick Tock (Searcher Magazine, February 2005
http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/feb05/voice.shtml) and John Brudenall’s
Re-shaping the Library and Information Services Profession with ALIA as its
Peak Body: A Radical Option for Change (December 1999)