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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 126-69-(WS)-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Management of Library Associations: Workshop
Joint Meeting with:
Meeting Number: 69
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

New wine in old bottles: making library associations more relevant in the 21st century, with special reference to the Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT)

Brenda R. James
Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago
Port of Spain, Trinidad, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago


This paper takes the view that Library Associations exist to safeguard the interests of their members and to facilitate equal access to information by all citizens. The mission, objectives and activities of the Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago are examined against the socio- cultural and political milieu in which it finds itself. It is argued that while LATT, from its inception has engaged in a number activities which have contributed to the on -going professional development of its members, it has not in its forty years of existence become the vibrant and dynamic force that it ought to be -moreso in light of the challenges faced by the Library profession generally at the present time. The major reasons for this deficiency are discussed and clear guidelines for a new dynamic are advanced.



As organs whose overall aim is to democratize the availability of, and access to, information, library associations worldwide have achieved great success in promoting the interests and values of the library and information profession in their respective societies. The Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT), in particular, is one such association; indeed, it has been in existence for 40 years and is still vigorously pursuing the goal. But the latter has become specially challenging in an extremely dynamic global and local environment where advances in information technology keep coming at dizzying speeds; where globalization is making nonsense of territorialism; where pressures are intensifying on all levels - state, corporation, and individual - for insufficient economic resources; where there are excessive demands on personal and professional time; and where loyalty to the manager is often more highly valued than professionalism. In such an environment, LATT has found that though its traditional methods are maintaining a certain level of member interest, they are unequal to the imperative of constantly adapting, keeping pace, and being creative for relevance and endurance in the. 21st century.

In order to appreciate the kind of challenges LATT faces now, it is necessary to isolate some relevant characteristics of the demography and socio-politics of the country in which it operates. One important characteristic is that Trinidad and Tobago is a small two-island state with a combined area of 5,125 sq km (4,825 for Trinidad and 300 for Tobago) and a combined population of some 1.3 million, 51,000 of whom reside in Tobago and, consequently, official decision-making is much more influenced by the government's cultural and political relationships with the citizenry than by advocacy from a system of institutions with developed (alternative) agendas at the level of local communities/sectors. Such decision-making obtains despite the fact that the political system is a parliamentary democracy, along the lines of Westminster.

A second significant characteristic is that, because the majority of the members of LATT are also public-sector employees under the authority of the various (quasi-) state ministries/departments and corporations, they sometimes experience a conflict of roles in their participation in LATT activities which challenge (quasi-) state positions. This conflict often expresses itself in a (real but possibly unwarranted) fear of victimisation for publicly differing from the state, which works against the effectiveness of LATT in its professional work.

A third major feature of the socio-political context that is relevant to the challenge LATT faces is that in Trinidad and Tobago there has traditionally been considerable public lethargy about the value of adequate library and information resources and services to the quality of life and the overall empowerment of the society. It is a lethargy that extends even to government and LATT, and it is reflected in the sparse attention government has paid to the development of library and information services over the years, as well as in the insufficiency of LATT's advocacy over the same period of time. Government's spending has been conservative, to say the least; LATT has generally been more concerned with the development of its members than in the development of public awareness about the value of library and information services; and the public has generally been more concerned with bread-and-butter issues than with mental and intellectual enrichment. The increased competition from other activities such as sports, entertainment, religion, technology and mass media, which have traditionally consumed people's attention, has further exacerbated this situation.

Apart from the demographic and socio-political factors, there is another factor that helps explain the challenge LATT faces: a weak financial base from its foundation to present time. LATT is financed by the dues of members and by the proceeds of fundraising events. Unfortunately, such means have not generated the level of funding necessary to provide the infrastructure (e.g., well-equipped plant, paid staff) to mount a credible professional service. The organisation has also been unable over the years to attract grants and other such funds for the provision of such infrastructure. This has had negative effects on the Association's ability to be consistent in the execution of its programmes, its visibility, its independence and the maintenance of its records to provide a basis for informed decision-making throughout successive administrations. Other (kinds of) problems with which the Association has been faced will be highlighted later.

In the rest of this paper, I will highlight the kinds of activities in which LATT has engaged over the years in fulfilment of its aims, discuss the other problems which it has experienced, and propose ways in which LATT should seek to meet the challenge identified earlier in order to maintain its relevance in the 21st century.



LATT was founded on January 16, 1960 in the context of the islands1 having enjoyed a relatively long tradition of library service, with the Trinidad Public Library offering a service from 1851, the ICTA2 library (later the University College of the West Indies Library) from 1902, the Carnegie Free Library from 1918, the Tobago Public Library from 1921, and the Central Library of Trinidad and Tobago from 1948. The history of the organisation is yet to be written, but the available data shows that, from its establishment to the present time, LATT has generally been engaged in professional development activities, constitutional and organisational development, fund-raising activities (including the making of approaches to local and international agencies for funding), the hosting of literary talks/discussions for the public, articulation on national and international issues, and the holding of regular meetings and social events that brought librarians together. Some of the notable activities of the early years were 1) the broadcasting of weekly radio programmes; 2) the publication of weekly newspaper columns; and 3) the publication of an annual journal, BLATT (Bulletin of the Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago) as well as of the quarterly newsletter BIBLIO. Some of the issues were conditions of service for librarians and the training of librarians. With respect to the latter, LATT was influential in the establishment of the Department of Library Studies at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies and assisted student librarians in their preparations for the ALA examinations. Most of these activities and issues remain a focus of LATT up to today.

Additional activities which LATT has undertaken over the years include:

  • Lectures, seminars/workshops, and regional conferences;
  • Behind-the-scenes articulation (via letters to, and meetings with, government ministries/department) on issues related to library and information services in the country;
  • Development and execution of a Library Technician's Diploma Programme
  • Consultancies; and
  • Representation on Library Boards as well as on scholarship interview panels.

    Continuing Professional Development

CPD has been a particularly strong focus of LATT throughout the years, so it might be useful to sketch the benefits it has brought to members. The lectures, workshops, seminars, and conferences have enabled members to share information and ideas about new trends in the profession, assisted them in the development of leadership skills, contributed to their overall career development, and made them better able to develop solutions to various problems. Through its membership in regional and international library and information associations, LATT has provided the opportunity for members to network with co-professionals in the regional and international arenas,3 as well as to contribute to the work of these associations. These include the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL), the Commonwealth Library Association (COMLA), and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). Participating members have benefited personally and professionally from the involvement and would have undoubtedly translated the information and ideas gained into their work as well as into their interaction with their colleagues in LATT.

These benefits satisfy Houle's (1967) four categories of needs for practicing professionals.4

    Constitutional and Organisational Development

LATT's focus on structural development also needs special mention. The association has done a lot of work over the years on restructuring for greater efficiency. Its early constitution was replaced by a new one in 1968. The Association, however, lacked legal status until 1985 when by an Act of Parliament it succeeded in becoming a body corporate.

Aims and Objects

Its aims and objects as stated in Act No.11 of 1985 are to:

  1. unite librarians, information scientists, libraries, persons and organizations connected with and interested in the promotion of librarianship and its related fields;

  2. safeguard the professional status of librarians and of information scientists by making recommendations on legislation and other matters affecting libraries;

  3. make representations to the state for the assistance, encouragement and recognition of libraries, librarians and information scientists;

  4. organize meetings, lectures, seminars and visits to promote effective library and information services;

  5. encourage the furtherance of recruitment, training and education of librarians and information scientists and improve their conditions of service;

  6. promote effective management of, and advise on, the organization of libraries and information units; and

  7. do all such acts as are deemed necessary or expedient for the attainment of the aims and objects of the Association.


In 1993-1994, LATT engaged in a strategic planning exercise during which, inter alia, its current mission was adopted. This mission is "to promote the growth and development of the library and information professional as well as the advancement of library and information services, thereby ensuring access to information for all." The mission is in keeping with that of library associations worldwide.

In 1998, a new constitution was developed to place the Association in a position to better deal with some of the issues with which it had been faced over the years. This constitution reworked the responsibilities of former standing committees, created new ones, created new positions for the Association, and institutionalised the formation of special interest groups. The intent of these changes is to provide the means for more active participation by members in the activities of the Association and to provide the forum for their overall personal and professional development. However, these benefits are yet to be realised.



In the Introduction, I sought to set out the demographic and socio-political factors which make it challenging for LATT to maintain its relevance and endure in the 21st century. These factors I see as 1) a democracy in which official decision-making is influenced more by cultural and personal relationships between the government and the citizenry than by advocacy from a system of local-sector institutions promoting developed agendas; 2) a conflict which the majority of members experience in their joint roles as public officers and Association members and which is expressed as an unwillingness to publicly challenge the establishment; 3) a lethargy on the part of the population where the value of library and information services is concerned; and 4) the failure of the Association to establish itself as a financially viable organisation. However there are other kinds of problems with which the Association has had to grapple, and I will now discuss them, as such a discussion will further clarify the challenge confronting LATT.

One of the significant problems which LATT has faced is its low level of vibrancy. This is inextricably linked to the Association's lack of financial viability and is reflected in reduced levels of participation by members in the affairs of the Association. The records for the last decade show that, for most years, fewer than half of the membership were financial or attended meetings and activities. The execution of programmes and the effective running of committees, which are crucial to the success of associations, have been made difficult as a result of this situation. This member dormancy, intrinsic to which is the fact that the same few people continuously offer themselves for office, has led to a perception that the Association is monopolised by a few. This perception has in turn resulted in a feeling of alienation in some members, as well as in very selective involvement by others in the affairs of LATT. The problem of member participation is compounded by the fact that the networking of information professionals and their ability to keep up with trends (two major benefits of Library Associations) are facilitated by mechanisms of the electronic age, viz, the Internet, listservs, and email.

This undesirable level of vibrancy has had a most unfortunate effect - an inability on the part of the Association to establish itself as a social force by projecting itself as an authority for library and information services in the country and by functioning as a defender of the public right to these services. LATT has not generally made advocacy a major item on its agenda, though it has from time to time done some work in that area. Especially notable has been its lobbying for the reversal of the decision by the current political administration to suspend the project for the construction of the National Library.

Towards the end of the 20th century, a new challenge has surfaced - that of the establishment of a new body - the National Library and Information System (NALIS). NALIS has been set up as the government statutory authority by Act No. 18 of 1998 to administer library and information services in the country. When it is fully operationalised, it will be the employer of all library workers who have traditionally fallen under the authority of the Statutory and Public Service Commissions which placed them under the line control of a number of government ministries and departments. This means that the overwhelming majority (about 95%) of the Association's membership (actual and potential) will fall under the line control of one employer. Personalities aside, if differences in perspectives and points of view as well as protocols are not handled carefully and professionally on all sides, the Association may run the risk of being handicapped, particularly since it is not a trade union. However, in situations where consensus is not hard to come by, LATT can play a crucial role in the promotion of library and information services and in advocating for their cause.

Another factor that may have contributed to the viability of LATT is non-compulsory membership of librarians in Trinidad and Tobago in LATT, unlike what obtains for, say, doctors and lawyers. Related to this is the fact that LATT is not responsible either for the accreditation of practitioners. LATT is therefore so much the weaker for these lacks.



The challenge for LATT in the way forward lies in finding innovative and creative ways of dealing with the issues which have been problematic for the organisation and which have worked against its effectiveness. Issues such as the development of its membership, quantitatively and qualitatively, its transformation into a financially viable entity, and its engagement in public/outreach activities must be its major focus.

In order to develop the quality and quantity of its membership, LATT must aggressively market itself to its internal public - all categories of the library and information personnel. This is to ensure that the mutual value of the Association and members' involvement are clearly understood and appreciated. A definitive marketing strategy is therefore required to enhance personal and professional development and the development of a sense of professional culture and community. Additionally, its continuing professional development activities must be intensified and carried on in a consistent manner. This would lead to a membership which is knowledgeable and consequently confident about the value of the profession and competent in the practice of all its traditional and developing trends. This rise in the level of professionalism among its members should help in reducing the fear/reluctance on their part to publicly articulate their views, particularly when these differ from those of the political directorate or the administrative directorate of any library service. This should also lead to a reduction in the incidence of members displaying selective loyalty to the Association. A deep sense of commitment to the profession and the professional organisation is the factor which would guide actions. These measures coupled with maintenance of a register of library and information workers in the country and engagement in a recruitment drive should contribute significantly to the development of LATT's membership.

Another way of contributing to the development of its membership is to maintain a constant dialogue with the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of the West Indies that seeks to ensure that its curriculum, curriculum delivery methods and facilities are geared to producing the kind of professional that is relevant to the needs of the profession in Trinidad and Tobago.

LATT should also seek to become the legal authority for the regulation of the profession in the country. This would be a step forward in the development of an enhanced sense of professionalism in the practice of the profession. However, a lot of work needs to be done in the area of professional and personal development before this is attempted.

Some other activities in which the Association can engage to ensure that members perceive it as valuable to their professional lives are: becoming a pressure group for enhanced salaries and conditions of service for library workers, and being an advocate for the provision of adequate funding for development of acceptable levels of service in the libraries operating in the public sector. Advocacy must therefore become institutionalised within LATT's constitutional arrangements and be vigorously pursued.

Engaging in research is another way in which LATT can raise the professionalism of its members. This would provide its members with the theoretical base for informing the formulation of policy decisions. It would also empower the Association in its advocacy programmes.

LATT must also market itself to its external publics in order to transform itself into a social force in the country. It must therefore engage in programmes that go beyond the profession and which enhance learning and access to information in addition to the development of information literacy skills to assist the public to adequately deal with the information age. This may involve making strategic alliances with other organisations in the society that are involved in related activities. These could include organisations of teachers, or organisations that deal with literacy, reading, or information technology. The aim of these alliances should be to utilise the skills of the profession in areas where they can make an impact on the public good. The success of such marketing strategies may mean embarking on programmes to which successive Association Executive Boards are bound. At present, each Executive pursues its own agenda, which results in a lack of follow-up of activities which may have started earlier. The marketing strategies should also include playing a more active role in the society on issues relating to the public's rights to quality information. This must necessarily include fostering intellectual discourse on these matters and lobbying government for improved access to information on policies and operations.

LATT also has to tackle its financial problems with the degree of seriousness which this matter merits. This is necessary for it to develop the kind of infrastructure necessary for it to carry out its responsibilities. The establishment of a properly equipped secretariat with paid staff is a pressing need. Creative methods need to be instituted to realise this. The ability to be engaged in professional development activities in a consistent manner is also dependent on this.



The Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago has a solid foundation on which to build to ensure its relevance in the 21st century. Throughout its existence, it has engaged in a number of useful programmes aimed at the fulfilment of its mission. Although these have resulted in a certain measure of success, they have not really succeeded in transforming the organisation into one which is poised to deal with the imperatives of the 21st century. LATT therefore has to re-examine itself, and the current participating members, individually and collectively, need to institute innovative ways to respond to the changing local and international environment. For this to be a reality, a high level of sacrifice and commitment on their part will be necessary.



  1. The islands became one political entity in 1889.

  2. The Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture.

  3. LATT has contributed to the attendance of members at these fora.

  4. According to Cyril Houle as quoted by Donald J Kenney and Gail McMillan , these are: 1) the need to keep up with new knowledge relating to one's profession; 2) the need to establish mastery of new conceptions of that profession; 3) the need to continue the study of basic disciplines which support one's profession; and 4) the need to grow as a person as well as a professional.



Fisher, William The Role of Professional Associations. Library Trends 46 (Fall 1997): 320-330.
Frank, Donald G Activity in Professional Associations: the Positive Difference in a Librarian's Career. Library Trends 46 (Fall 1997): 307-318.
Hyams, Elspeth Professional Associations and the Role of CPD. Assignation 15, no.3 (April 1993): 8-11.
Kam, Sue To Join or not to Join: How Librarians make Membership Decisions about their Associations. (The Role of Professional Associations). Library Trends 46 (Fall 1997): 295 -306.
Kenney, Donald J and Gail McMillan State library associations: how well do they support professional development? RQ 31.no 3(Spring 1992): 377-386.
Kniffl, Leonard Plans to Move Forward-Both External and Internal. (American Library Association) American Libraries 31, no. 3 (March 1999): 79.
Trinidad and Tobago. Central Statistical Office Statistics at a Glance 1998. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: Central Statistical Office, 1998.


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