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To Bangkok Conference programme

65th IFLA Council and General

Bangkok, Thailand,
August 20 - August 28, 1999

Code Number: 128-161(WS)-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Management of Library Associations: Workshop
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 161
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

The Management and Development of Library Associations in Asia and Oceania Strategies for Success -- PIALA: A Case Study

Arlene Cohen
IFLA RTMLA Secretary
University of Guam


I would like to start off my presentation with a quotation by Cees Hamelink published in a recent issue of the FID Bulletin (1999, p. 79). Although about technology transfer, I think it applies to what works when one wants to start anything new in a developing area:

"The history of development assistance is littered with failed initiatives to transfer technologies to developing countries. Stories abound of huge shipments of tractors or lorries or turbines or television transmitters arriving to transform the prospects of developing countries only to end up rusting and useless through want of spare parts or adequate training to operate and repair them. Such failures have almost always derived from a lack of any feelings of ownership or participation by the groups they have been designed to benefit. This can happen with atractor, it can happen with the more delicate and fast moving technology of the computer."

And it most definitely can and does happen to library associations -- particularly volunteer associations with little financial support.

So how do you successfully start and continue a library association?

A few years ago, I described my experiences with the Pacific Islands Association of Libraries and Archives (PIALA) in a paper I presented at the IFLA meeting in Beijing (Cohen, 1996). My comments today draw in part on my experiences with PIALA. For those who have not read the Beijing paper, I would first like to share a bit of the context in which PIALA developed in a part of the world called Micronesia.

Meaning tiny islands, Micronesia is composed of some 2,200 tiny volcanic and coral islands stretched across 4,500,000 square miles or 7.25 million square kilometers of the central and western Pacific Ocean, as shown on the map in Attachment 1. Covering an expanse of water almost as big as the mainland United states, the total landmass of all these tropical islands is less that 1,200 square miles or 1,900 square kilometers. Within this geographical context, in a region with the population estimated at no more that 300,000 people, PIALA was established in 1991.

Since then, our association has grown and developed, in spite of the challenges we face, which include difficulties communicating with each other over the vast distances, several different local languages and diverse cultures, libraries that are underfunded and poorly stocked, lack of strong government support for libraries and education, a very small pool of professionally trained librarians and a lack of educational opportunities, and most members receive minimal salaries. Consequently, we are a completely volunteer organization, charging small membership fees and conference registrations, lacking finances to underwrite many projects, and with most of our members lacking the expertise or spare time to go after grants.

So, where does one start to establish an association?

In my experience, an association begins when there are a few people that see a need, have the energy and time to contribute, and some previous involvement with associations. These few people become the mentors for others, setting examples and doing much of the work, BUT -- to succeed, others must feel a part of the group and see some benefit to themselves by being involved. They then, over time become the new mentors. If not, when the energetic mentors burn out or leave, the association will surly die!!

Generalizing from my experiences, you need 2-3 people at the beginning as the core. They see a need and share a vision, and be willing to spend time (at times thankless) to do the work. It helps if they have been in other organizations, although the nature of the organization really does not matter. These 2-3 people become the Ad-hoc Committee and you're on your way!

Give your unborn organization a name, which can always be changed, call a meeting of this unborn group and invite anyone you think might be interested. At your first meeting, one person runs the meeting and the other takes minutes. Minutes make something REAL. At that first meeting, establish that there is a need that can be reflected in the minutes and start the process of electing officers, writing the by-laws (or rules for the organization) and future plans. And, NEVER leave the first meeting without a date for the next. Now, distribute the minutes far and wide!

Put up notices, send out E-mail, and just spread the word anyway you can about your new group and the next meeting. If there is an event where many people will be attending like an educational conference, use that groups meeting as an opportunity to promote your new organization.

Now that you have started, how do you keep the association active and alive?? There are four essentials that must happen if any organization will stay alive -- Communication, Publicity, Evaluation and something I call Letting Go!


There must be open and active communication of all kinds -- verbal, written and formally published. These can be:

  • Face to face meetings
  • Conference phone calls
  • Satellite meetings
  • Published and distributed minutes
  • Newsletters, journals and proceedings of meetings.

Unless people talk to each other, planning cannot happen, and if nothing is going on, the association will cease to exist.


Publicize what your doing. It is not enough to just plan something -- you must actively let people know what is happening. Contact new members personally to see if they are coming and make them feel welcome. When people have good feelings about things, they will stick around.


Ask people to evaluate meetings, conferences and activities and use that feedback. If you ask people what they want and how they feel, they usually will be honest especially, if allowed to be anonymous if they wish. Make sure the evaluations are written, usually a form works best. And lastly, don't let people leave until you have the evaluation in your hands. How many of you in the audience remember to mail back an evaluation after an event? After our third PIALA conference, we looked at what people were interested in and found that they wanted really basic training workshops before or after each PIALA conference, something that had not occurred to any of the planners of the previous meetings. The following year, we held a very successful pre- conference workshop on organizing materials. Since then, our pre- and post-conference training sessions have become a highlight of our conferences.

Letting Go

Mentors must be willing to let others take leadership roles. For one of our early conferences, the "experienced" Program Committee planned a session where small groups were let by individuals from each type of library. In planning, we picked the most experienced, original mentors to lead each group. One of our "inexperienced" members, who had been to previous conferences asked, "Why don't you give us a chance to lead the small groups. How will we ever get experience?" In the Program Committee's need to "do it right" whatever we thought right was, we did not look beyond ourselves. So, we changed the program with new small group leaders, a few mistakes (or maybe just other ways of doing things) were made, and a few new people now became "experienced" and future mentors.

Even with these four factors in place, the most important element is, as expressed in the quotation at the beginning of my paper is a feeling of ownership. Each year, PIALA meets on a different island, giving the PIALA members on that island the opportunity to plan the conference. This commitment, with the enormous amount of time, energy and resources involved, stands as a testament to the developing sense of ownership of the association. As we move from island to island, traditions have developed that assure me PIALA will continue.

I would like to close by sharing something that I am just learning -- success is not always obvious or easy to observe. There have been many times when I was convinced that PIALA would surly die. A short while ago, I was writing to one of our original mentors about this paper and she wrote back something I would like to share. She said in her E-mail, "I honestly thought PIALA was working when I got the newsletter and looked at the board and saw emerging leaders and all with E-mail. Now, that is really something. Just last year, I thought it would take forever."

Thank you very much!


Cohen, A. (1996). "Library Associations in Underdeveloped Regions and their Impact on Library Development." Paper presented at the 62nd International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Management of Library Associations Workshop on How to Run a Library Association. Beijing, China, August 29, 1996.

Hamelink, Cees. (1998). "New Information and Communications Technologies: Social Development and Cultural Change." FID Bulletin vol. 48, no. 3/4.


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