As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library 
Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 089-97E
Division Number: VI.
Professional Group: Management of Library Associations
Joint Meeting with: Co-sponsored by the Dutch Librarians Association
Meeting Number: 97.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   Yes

LIASA: The Birth and Development of South Africa's New Library Association

Peter Johan Lor
State Library Pretoria
Pretoria, South Africa


The Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) was founded in July 1997 following a long consultative process aimed at creating a body to unite South Africa's library and information workers, who entered he 1990s divided along political, racial and specialist lines. The paper outlines the background to the process and highlights key steps: the Conference on Library and Information Services in Developing South Africa (LISDESA) in January 1995, the Steering Committee for the Unification of Library and Information Stakeholders (ULIS), the ULIS Conference in July 1996, the second phase of the ULIS process (ULIS-2), and the Constituent Conference in July 1997. LIASA's progress since July 1997 is sketched, with the emphasis on negotiations with other library associations, the recruitment of members, and lobbying to combat the deterioration of library services that is currently taking place in South Africa.



The term "management of change" usually implies transformation in long established organisations. The Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) does not fit that bill, for it was founded on 10 July 1997, a little more than a year ago. But LIASA wants to be a modern association, in the sense of being relevant to its rapidly evolving environment, and the process which gave birth to LIASA was certainly one which involved change - that far-reaching, disorientating and sometimes traumatic kind of change which is called "transformation". I therefore hope to contribute to this session on Management of Change in Modern Library Associations by sharing with you some of our experiences in the process of transformation which gave birth to LIASA. It is a process which still continues.


South Africa's first national library association, the South African Library Association (SALA), was established in 1930. Bureaucratic impediments, the Depression and World War II slowed down library development, but by the early 1960s South Africa's librarians had the expertise and self-confidence to draft an ambitious plan for the development of a modern system of library and information services. Ironically, the day after a special national conference adopted their Programme for future library development (Programme... 1963), SALA took a decision to limit its membership to whites and set up separate library associations for "Bantu", "Coloureds" and "Indians" (Taylor 1975). Something had gone horribly wrong.

It is not possible to explain here what happened, why, and how things developed from there (Lor 1996). Instead, I must jump to 1990, the year of President F.W. de Klerk's famous speech. In that year new perspectives opened for South Africa. Librarians too were becoming aware of new challenges. However, July 1990 found South Africa's library and information workers politically and racially divided among three nationally operating library associations, which at the risk of over-simplification could be characterised as follows:

In addition to the national associations, by 1990 a large number of regional and specialised groups had emerged, for teacher librarians, public librarians, law librarians, medical librarians, on-line searchers, serials librarians and other groups. Some operated nationally, others only in certain major centres. Only a minority of the workers in South Africa's libraries and information centres belonged to one or more of these associations. Amid the polarisation and fragmentation, who could speak authoritatively for librarians, libraries and their clients?

Moves towards dialogue

Librarians soon realised that they would have to join in and state the case for their services in the many forums and policy-making processes that were started up in preparation for the expected transfer of power to a democratically elected government. One of the outcomes of this heightened awareness was a conference on Library and Information Services in Developing South Africa (LISDESA), jointly organised by SAILIS and ALASA after a long process of confidence building between them. The LISDESA Conference took place in Durban in January 1995. It was attended not only by ALASA and SAILIS members, but also by a small, unofficial contingent of LIWO members and by many librarians and information workers who were not members of any of these organisations. LISDESA had mainly been intended to debate the role that LIS could play in the government's Reconstruction and Development Programme. However, the disunity within the LIS sector was soon recognised as a "burning issue" that required urgent attention. After vigorous debate a resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority at the final plenary session of the conference, which called for the establishment of a representative Steering Committee for the Unification of Library and Information Stakeholders (ULIS). The ULIS Steering Committee was instructed to organise a conference within 12 months at which a national library association would be formed, and to take various other steps to prepare for this (Syphus 1995).

The ULIS process

It would take far too long to describe in detail the "ULIS process" which now followed. I shall merely outline the main phases.

Between January 1995 and July 1996 the ULIS Steering Committee - in spite of setbacks such as the withdrawal of LIWO in November 1995 (LIWO's position... 1996 ; Stephenson 1996) - laid the groundwork for the process. It compiled an address database of some 6500 library and information workers and conducted a professionally designed opinion survey which indicated that the respondents (29,7%) were overwhelmingly (91,6%) in favour of a single library association. Most importantly it arranged a national conference, known as the ULIS Conference.

The ULIS Conference was held in July 1996 in Johannesburg. It was attended by more than 250 participants, from the full spectrum of library and information work in South Africa. Its format provided for group discussions which allowed delegates to speak frankly about their fears and suspicions, and about the resentment and hurt that had been engendered by the racist attitudes of the past. After much debate the conference unanimously adopted a formal resolution to embark on a process of unification which would result in the formation of a new library association (Unification of library... 1996).

From July 1996 to July 1997 the Interim Executive Committee (IEC) elected at the ULIS Conference, supported by provincial support groups, was responsible for what came to be known as ULIS Phase 2 (ULIS-2). The IEC conducted an extensive nation-wide consultative process from which a draft constitution emerged. The IEC also communicated with other organisations with a view to bringing as many of these as possible into the unification process. At their respective annual conferences which followed the ULIS Conference, both SAILIS and ALASA decided in principle to disband to make way for the new library association. However, LIWO decided to continue as an independent association and remained outside the ULIS process.

The Constituent Conference organised by the ULIS-2 IEC to debate and adopt the constitution of the new association and launch it was held in Pretoria from 8 to 10 July 1997. It was attended by over 450 participants. As in the previous conferences a substantial number of them had received sponsorship to make their attendance possible. The format of the conference had been carefully planned to permit maximum participation and interaction. Plenary sessions and group discussions alternated and built up to a third plenary session during which the draft constitution was presented, amendments were proposed and debated, and the constitution was adopted article by article - on the basis of consensus, rather than by voting. The next morning the constitution as a whole was put to the vote. It was adopted unanimously and enthusiastically by a show of hands. Then a final vote was taken on the name of the new association and members of the provincial support groups (PSGs) and a Transitional Executive Committee (TEC) were elected. The conference concluded with the launching of the new association at a festive luncheon for all the participants and several guests of honour. One of these, IFLA President Robert Wedgeworth, announced the result of the vote on the name of the new association. The name chosen was the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA). The acronym LIASA sounds like the Nguni word "liyasa", which means "dawning" or "beginning". This has a positive and appropriate connotation for a new association which is intended to make a fresh start.

Progress since July 1997

The newly elected TEC is responsible for getting LIASA up and running. We would like to "hand it over" to the first elected President and Council as a "going concern" before the end of 1998. The main tasks that the TEC is dealing with are:

Let me expand briefly on three of these, (a), (b) and (f).

Following cordial and constructive talks both SAILIS and ALASA have definitely decided to disband to make way for LIASA and have taken the necessary steps to do so. Contacts have also been sought with LIWO, TransLis and the smaller specialised associations and useful discussions have been held with many of them. Much work remains to be done here.

From the ULIS process we inherited a valuable address database of library and information workers. We are keeping it up to date and now have over 7000 addresses, to which we have so far sent two recruitment mail-shots. Membership recruitment has been hard work. It seems that many librarians and information workers are waiting to see what LIASA is doing before they commit themselves. However, we need membership and money to be able do things!

While visiting various parts of the country to promote LIASA, TEC members became very aware of the concern many people feel about the deterioration of library services. We realised that LIASA needed to act without delay. In March 1998 a memorandum on The state of libraries in South Africa was submitted to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Arts, Culture, Languages, Science and Technology. (Lor 1998), which received it sympathetically. The memorandum was widely disseminated and received considerable attention from the media. LIASA members and library and information workers responded positively to the publicity this exercise had generated. They were pleased that LIASA had taken this initiative. Although this was not its purpose, it has had a positive effect on our recruitment campaign. We intend to pursue this issue vigorously. PSGs in each of the provinces have been asked to organise a provincial "library summit" during the period May to September. Here the librarians and information workers will report systematically on the state of the various types of libraries in that province and develop action plans. Action will then be taken to mobilise library users and lobby provincial authorities to redress the situation. If provincial actions prove inadequate, the issue will be "escalated" and members of the TEC will assist in lobbying activities. Our lobbying will be courteous but determined. If necessary we will perform the well-known South African "toyi-toyi" to emphasise our views. These actions will lead up to LIASA's first national conference which will be held in Bloemfontein in November. The conference will focus on turning the tide of deterioration. Its theme will be "Towards a South African Library Renaissance". This aligns us with the theme of the "African Renaissance" which is being spearheaded internationally by South Africa's Deputy President, Mr Thabo Mbeki. At this national conference the provinces will report on the state of their libraries, on the actions they took, and what the effect of their actions was. We will not only describe problems, but wherever possible we will also emphasise "success stories". A key outcome of the conference will be a national action plan for arresting the deterioration of libraries and reversing this trend. Through these activities we intend not only to raise the profile of libraries and information services in South Africa, but also to show our own constituency that LIASA means business and that it intends to be a more activist association than its predecessors.

Time does not permit me to discuss all the activities of the TEC in the nine months since it got to work. However, I cannot fail to mention our relationships with international organisations. One of the first things the newly elected TEC did was to exercise its powers to affiliate to international organisations. LIASA became an association member of IFLA on the eve of the 1997 IFLA Conference in Copenhagen and at the opening session of IFLA's General Council the South African delegation was warmly welcomed to IFLA. This was one of the highlights of my professional career.