What would you do if the local and national funding for your library were to disappear? What would you do if the salaries for your library's staff had not been paid for months? What would you do if the members of your library association couldn't afford to pay membership fees, and you consequently had no paid staff to administer the activities of the association? And how do you get the members of your all-volunteer association to follow through on the work that they have promised to do?
These were some of the questions that brought over 125 librarians from around the world to Budapest, Hungary, May 10-13 to participate in a conference on "The 21st Century Information Society: The Role of Library Associations." The Open Society Institute's Network Library Programs (OSI/NLP) provided primary financial support, in conjunction with the Council of Europe, to bring the group together, along with administrative assistance from ALA; the European Bureau of Library, Information, and Documentation Associations: the Hungarian Library Association; and the European Commission. OSI/NLP is an arm of the extensive network of support for Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union of Hungarian-born philanthropist George Soros.
The dramatic social and political changes in Europe in the past decade have had an enormous impact on the libraries throughout that region, Formerly libraries were completely reliant on their governments for funding, but they now frequently face devastating cutbacks and have to find innovative ways of securing adequate support.
Speakers from library associations in Western Europe, the United States, and South Africa shared their own reflections on the challenge of administering library associations, and led discussions about how library associations can help guide change in societies in transition. Speakers from newly formed library associations in Ukraine, Poland, Croatia, Russia, and Hungary shared their triumphs and challenges.
Miklos Marschall, former deputy mayor of Budapest and current head of the volunteer association CIVICUS, emphasized that volunteer organizations such as library associations exist to address important needs that are not met by governments. He urged the conference participants to abandon their expectations that their governments would support them, and urged them to use library associations to respond to the needs of libraries when governments let them down. …