Monday, November 13, 2017

Is there space for a Sub-Saharan Africa association for individual LIS professionals?

In 1976, C. C. Aguolu in his article “Library Associations in West Africa and the Concept of a Profession” in the Int. Lib. Rev., 8, 23-31, wrote that: “One of the main characteristics of any profession is the existence of an active professional association to protect the interests of its members, to determine the standards of education and performance expected of them and to ensure that its members truly live up to their expectations”.

Isaac Kikongo-Bukenya also indicated that the "cardinal responsibilities of library associations should be education and training to create educated and trained corps, among other responsibilities".

Do existing library and information services (LIS) associations/organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa protect the interests of LIS professionals? Do they have a say on the standards of LIS education and the performance expected of LIS professionals on the continent?

Sub-Saharan Africa has several national and regional LIS associations of which very few could be said to carry out the functions highlighted by Aguolu and Kikongo-Bukenya.

Most countries have national LIS associations and examples include the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA), Nigerian Library Association (NLA), Ghana Library Association (GLA), Association des Bibliothécaires, Archivistes, Documentalistes et Muséographes du Cameroun (ABADCAM), Uganda Library and Information Association (ULIA), Kenya Library Association (KLA), Library and Information Association of Zambia (LIAZ), Association Sénégalaise des Bibliothécaires, Archivistes et Documentalistes, and many others.

Although most national LIS associations on the continent pursue several objectives, many largely carry out only one activity: organize national LIS annual general meetings, and in some cases, annual conferences.

At the sub-regional level, the Standing Conference of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (SCECSAL), established in 1974, and the Standing of Conference of University and National Librarians of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (SCANUL/ECS) are the two main active LIS organizations.

At the continental level, the main associations are the Association for Health Information and Libraries in Africa (AHILA) founded in Nairobi, in August 1984; the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists - Africa Chapter (IAALD Africa), also established in Nairobi in May 2006; and the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AFLIA), formally launched in Pretoria, in 5 July 2013.

Membership to AfLIA, SCECSAL and SCACUL-ECS is open only to LIS institutions and organizations while membership to IAALD Africa and AHILA is largely for individual professionals.

AFLIA was established to provide a platform to discuss issues and further the cause of the library and information sector in Africa and in additions to its annual conferences, it also carries out advocacy related activities and capacity development initiatives that have recently largely focused on supporting public libraries, a matter that has received criticisms in some quarters.

While both IAALD Africa and AHILA admit individuals (personal membership) in addition to institutions/organizations, they were established more as platforms for promoting the exchange of ideas and access to information in their respective fields rather than as bodies to represent the professional interests of their members; their activities largely tend to focus on organizing annual/biennial conferences, and carrying out continuing professional development initiatives targeting their members.

SCECSAL and SCEANUL-ECS, as their full names indicate, are forums (or conferences) for enhancing cooperation among their members (institutions/organizations) and the exchange of experiences and knowledge in the library and information field.
Existing LIS professional associations and organizations rarely focus their efforts on protecting the interests of the library and information professionals, establishing or monitoring standards for LIS education and performance of the LIS professionals.

Therefore, is there space for a Sub-Saharan Africa-wide membership subscription association for individual library and information professionals? Or should the focus be on building the capacities of exiting national and regional associations to enable them to carry out the functions highlighted by Aguolu and Kikongo-Bukenya?

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