The role and functioning of IFLA. Peter Johan LOR

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1 The role and functioning of IFLA Paper for the International Congress of Professional Associations Archivists in Association: Challenges and Opportunities, Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, October 2007 Peter Johan LOR Secretary General 1 International federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) P O Box CH The Hague Netherlands Extraordinary Professor Department of Information Science University of Pretoria Pretoria South Africa ABSTRACT This year IFLA is eighty years old. Many changes have taken place over this period, and IFLA has grown enormously. The growth reflects the growth of the library profession in many countries around the world and is one manifestation of the process of adaptation and development that is needed to remain relevant. Growth poses its own challenges, but it is in the external environment that the major challenges and opportunities are to be found. An international professional association, to remain representative and credible, has to be hospitable to a growing diversity of interests and specializations, and it has to respond to the evolution of the international technological, economic and political environment within which members of our profession have to function. In this paper the origins and development of IFLA are briefly sketched. Its current range of activities and the organisation structure that coordinates and supports these are described. The paper concludes with a discussion of IFLA s response to the challenges and opportunities in the library and information profession and in the international environment within which the profession functions. 1 The author s opinions do not necessarily reflect the official position of IFLA

2 Introduction Throughout the world, like-minded people form associations to share information and experiences and to promote their field of interest. This is especially true of scientific and professional groups, where typically the formation of national associations is followed somewhat later by the founding of an international association. In many cases such international non-governmental associations go back to the early years of the previous century, in the case of IFLA, to 1927, approximately fifty years after the formation of two major national library associations, the American Library Association and the (British) Library Association. This year IFLA is eighty years old. Many changes have taken place over this period, and IFLA has grown enormously. During the 1930s IFLA s annual conference was a two-day affair with an attendance rarely exceeding 60 persons (Wieder 1977). In recent years our five-day congresses have attracted between and participants. The growth reflects the growth of the library profession in many countries around the world and is one manifestation of the process of adaptation and development that is needed to remain relevant. Growth poses its own challenges, for example that of the transition from a part-time labour of love to a professionally staffed secretariat. However, it is in the environment that the major challenges and opportunities are to be found. Here the evolving role, composition and diversity of the profession come to mind. An international professional association, to remain representative and credible, has to be hospitable to a growing diversity of interests and specializations, some of which may not be recognizable to the pioneers who founded it. Beyond the profession we need to consider the international technological, economic and political environment within which members of our profession have to function: for example the rapid development in information and communication technology (ICT); globalization; shifting economic and political power; cultural, religious and political movements, including strife and intolerance; and the growing role of civil society in the international arena. In this paper the origins and development of IFLA are briefly sketched. Its current range of activities and the organisation structure that coordinates and supports these are described. The paper concludes with a discussion of IFLA s response to the challenges and opportunities in the library and information profession and in the international environment within which the profession functions. Origins and development Library associations in at least five countries lay claim to the paternity of IFLA. The idea of founding a permanent international commission representing national library associations was mooted the French delegate during the International Library Congress held in Prague in 1926 (Rudomino 1977). However, some American sources claim that IFLA was founded in that year at the annual meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) where representatives of many countries had convened to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of ALA (Baldwin 1997:396). IFLA s own version is that it was founded in 1927 in Edinburgh, at the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the (British) Library Association, where a resolution was adopted to establish an International

3 Library and Bibliographical Committee. Its constitution was adopted two years later, at a meeting in Rome, when the name International Federation of Library Associations was adopted. Hence some Italian librarians claim that IFLA was really founded in Italy in 1929, and the Italian origins of IFLA will no doubt be recalled when the IFLA Congress is held in Milan in At least the fact that there are so many such claims is an indication that IFLA is highly regarded in the library profession. Until the Second World War IFLA was mainly a European organisation with a strong North American presence (Mohrhardt, 1977). Although membership expanded, largely to other developed countries, it was not until the 1970s that special efforts were made to expand the membership to developing countries. In 1976 a Division of Regional Activities was established, intended to promote and coordinate professional work in particular developing regions. To this end three regional sections were established, for Africa, Asia and Oceania, and Latin America and the Caribbean (Parker, 1977). The history of IFLA since 1971 is one of continuing and accelerating development and growth. As IFLA grew, its statutes were repeatedly amended to accommodate an ever expanding range of activities and to keep effective decision making and democratic governance in balance. The 1970s and 1980s saw an increasing professionalisation of the Federation, exemplified by the launching of a series of medium term programmes, the creation of regional offices in three developing regions, the publication of the IFLA journal (1974+), the holding, in addition to the ever-growing annual General Council meetings, of numerous professional meetings, and the appearance of a range of publications to promote best practice in the profession. Of particular significance to the international leadership role of IFLA was the development of a number of core programmes: Universal Bibliographic Control (UBC), Universal Availability of Publications (UAP), Preservation and Conservation (PAC), the Advancement of Librarianship in the Third World Programme (ALP), and Universal Dataflow and Telecommunications (UDT), where IFLA s web site, IFLANET, was established in The core programmes, most of which were hosted and supported by national libraries, provided professional leadership and coordination of international work in strategic areas of the profession. During the 1990s the core programmes were reconceptualised and renamed core activities. New core activities emerged: Copyright and Other legal Matters (CLM) and Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) (Campbell, 2002), while some of the older ones (UAP, UBC and UDT) were phased out. For many years IFLA was run by devoted volunteers working part-time. IFLA s first, long-serving Secretary General, Dr Tietse Pieter Sevensma, was the Chief Librarian of the League of Nations Library in Geneva. In 1962 the first full-time Secretary, Anthony Thompson, was appointed and the following year IFLA s headquarters moved to Thompson s home in Sevenoaks, England (Breycha-Vauthier, 1977). In 1971 permanent headquarters were established in The Hague, the Netherlands and IFLA was incorporated in accordance with Dutch law. Today IFLA is still based in The Hague and is housed in premises provided free of charge by the Royal Library, the national library of the Netherlands.

4 Membership Initially formed as a federation of library associations, IFLA in 1976 opened its membership to institutions. The admission of institutional members led to a change of IFLA s name to International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. However, the acronym IFLA was retained. A category of personal affiliates was also created to accommodate individuals. Further member categories were added later. The origin of IFLA as a federation of member associations is still reflected in its current Statutes (constitution): only association members are counted to determine a quorum at our Council (general assembly) meetings, where association members (which have multiple votes depending on their budgets) are able to outvote the more numerous institutional members. In other respects, however, there are few differences between the association and institutional members. (The personal affiliates referred to earlier do not have the right to vote.) While a substantial proportion of archives form an integral part of a ministry or government department, this is only true of a minority of IFLA s members. Library associations are non-governmental organisations and most institutional members are governed by municipalities, universities and other non-governmental or semigovernmental bodies. Hence IFLA is a pure NGO and does not have an intergovernmental character. In August 2007 IFLA had approximately 1600 members in 145 countries, in the following categories: Category Number Percentage National associations 131 8,1 International & other associations 19 1,2 Institutions ,0 Personal & student affiliates ,4 Corporate partners 21 1,3 Bodies with consultative status 15 0,9 TOTAL ,0 It has been estimated that there are about librarians worldwide (OCLC 2003). Of these, IFLA estimates that at least are represented by IFLA in that they are members of IFLA s association members (the largest of which, the American Library Association) has over members) or are employed by IFLA s institutional members.

5 Governance IFLA s governance structure is set out in Figure 1. FIGURE 1: IFLA S GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE Members in good standing constitute Council Council (general assembly) Membership Members vote for 10 GB members & President-elect Governing Board Various committees & working groups Professional Committee 8 Divisions (Coordinating Boards) 45 Sections (Standing Committees) & 7 Discussion Groups IFLA s highest governance body is its Council, which is the general assembly of all its members who are in good standing. The membership elects IFLA s Governing Board (GB), its primary decision-making and policy-setting body. The Governing Board consists of members elected directly and indirectly by the membership. The Presidentelect and ten other members of the Governing Board are elected directly by postal ballot. The relatively recent introduction of the postal ballot has had the beneficial effect of promoting participation by colleagues in the developing world, for whom it is expensive to travel to congresses to vote in person. The President-elect serves in that capacity for two years before taking over as President, also for a two-year term. The immediate past president is not a member of the Governing Board. Governing Board members serve a two-year term and may serve for no more than two consecutive terms. The indirectly elected members of the Governing Board are elected by their divisions, which are groupings of IFLA s 45 sections. All IFLA members hold membership in one or more sections of their choice. Sections concern themselves with specific themes or fields of activity, about which more later. Each section is run by an elected standing committee. In addition to the sections there are seven less formal units called discussion groups. The sections are grouped into eight divisions, each of which has a coordinating board made up of elected representatives of the sections. Each coordinating board elects a representative on the Governing Board. These representatives (with some additional members) form the Professional Committee, which is in effect the indirectly elected subset of the Governing Board.

6 The GB consists of 24 persons. Members of the current GB come from 16 countries on five continents: Africa (2), Asia (2), Europe (12), North America (6) and Latin America (1). The democratic process can be relied upon to deliver a GB composed of professional leaders from various kinds of libraries, many of them library directors or other senior professionals, along with a few professors of library and information, and one or two association executives. Normally, these are people who will have been actively involved in IFLA, especially in the governance of its professional units, for some years. Although about half of GB members are replaced every two years, the mix of skills and expertise in the GB has remained essentially the same for some time and represents an extremely diverse and competent resource with a high degree of continuity. The GB has an Executive Committee of six members which deals with urgent matters as well as staff issues. All GB members participate in policy-setting and decisionmaking in the GB as a whole and each one serves on at least one of the GB s committees and working groups. Organisation IFLA s organisation structure is set out in Figure 2. FIGURE 2: IFLA S ORGANISATION STRUCTURE Governing Board IFLA s worldwide structure Host Institutions Advisory Boards Host institutions Secretary General Coordinator of Professional Activities IFLA HQ Editor IFLA Journal Regional Offices Language Centres Core Activities IFLA s Headquarters in The Hague employ 11 staff members (9 full-time equivalent, FTE). In addition IFLA has offices located in ten other countries: core activities located in Uppsala (ALP), Paris (PAC), Lisbon (UNIMARC) and Frankfurt (ICABS), regional offices in Rio de Janeiro, Singapore and Pretoria, and language centres in Dakar,

7 Alexandria and Moscow. These units are accommodated by IFLA member institutions, mostly national and university libraries. Most of the staff of these external units (approximately 9 FTE) are employed part-time and are on the establishments of the organisations that host the units. These highly appreciated partnerships, depicted by the dotted lines in Figure 1, enable IFLA to extend its reach significantly. Figure 2 also depicts the role of the advisory boards, appointed by the Governing Board, in the management of the core activities (see below). Activities The staff at IFLA s Headquarters and its various offices is primarily there to support, coordinate and facilitate the activities of the membership, which are channelled through IFLA s sections and core activities. IFLA s sections concern themselves with types of libraries (e.g. Academic and Research Libraries), processes and services (e.g. Document Delivery and Resource Sharing), materials (e.g. Geography and Maps Libraries), clients (e.g. Libraries for the Blind), management themes (e.g. Knowledge Management), education and research themes (e.g. Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning) and regions (e.g. Africa). Sections conduct professional projects such as the compilation of guidelines, standards and other publications, organise training sessions and workshops, and arrange programmes at the annual congress. The work of the discussion groups referred to earlier is less ambitious, but they usually arrange a session at the annual congress. The work of the core activities is in many respects similar to that of the sections, but with a greater degree of continuity and concentration. Since they work in areas of special strategic importance to the profession each of them has an advisory board or committee appointed by the Governing Board. They are funded by subventions from IFLA, subventions and contributions in kind from the host institutions, donations from IFLA members and grants from foundations and international agencies. This makes it possible for most of them to have a permanent office with a full-time or part-time director and staff. IFLA s policy on core activities is that one size does not fit all. Hence they differ considerably in the work they do and the way they are organised. Here are some examples: Preservation and Conservation (PAC), based at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, works in a decentralised way: a Focal Point implements the global strategy and ten Regional Centres in different parts of the world (Washington, Caracas, Santiago, Port of Spain, Rio de Janeiro, Porto-Novo, Cape Town, Moscow, Tokyo and Canberra) manage activities in their respective regions. Together the International Centre and the Regional Centres form a network, whose main working rules are defined in an "agreement" signed annually between IFLA and each centre. Each centre is independent and acts according to the priorities identified in its geographical area. It must comply with the objectives of PAC Core Activity and maintain cooperation with other centres through various activities (publications, seminars, conferences, etc.) (IFLA 2007b).

8 The mission of the Action for Development through libraries Programme (ALP) is to further the library profession, library institutions and library and information services in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Oceania and Latin America and the Caribbean. ALP achieves its mission through a carefully planned programme of different activities in close cooperation between the International Focal Point of ALP and IFLA's regional offices, IFLA's regional division and its three regional sections, as well as with other partners such as aid agencies. This cooperation includes actions such as fund-raising, scholarships and attachment programmes, conferences, seminars and workshops, pilot projects and publications (IFLA 2007a). One of the strengths of ALP is its ability to harness local knowledge and skills, enabling librarians in developing countries to help themselves and colleagues in their region. The Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) is the only IFLA core activity which currently does not have a permanent office or staff, but relies entirely on volunteer efforts for its extensive and very successful work of international advocacy on intellectual property and related matters. This involves current awareness, policy analysis, awareness raising in the profession and representation and interventions at international meetings of bodies such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and UNESCO (IFLA 2006a). An important element of its success is partnerships with other bodies such as the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA) and Electronic Information for Libraries (eifl). Although I am often at pains to stress that IFLA is far more than a conference, no description of IFLA would be complete without mention of its annual conference, which in 2003 was renamed the IFLA World Library and Information Congress. The Congress takes place annually, each time in a different part of the world, and attracts between and participants. The five-day programme includes opening, closing and plenary sessions and a Council meeting as well as parallel or break-way sessions during which each of IFLA s divisions, sections, discussion groups and core activities is allocated at least one slot for a professional programme. During our recent congress in Durban (in August 2007) there were 90 professional programme sessions (as distinct from plenary sessions) and 393 papers and 80 posters were presented in seven languages. The Congress proper is preceded and followed by several days of meetings of the Governing Board and other governance organs. These annual meetings are important, because they enable us to keep up the momentum of our varied and farflung activities. Mention should also be made of IFLA s publications. Our refereed journal, IFLA journal, published quarterly by Sage, needs little introduction as an important source of information on international librarianship. A more specialised quarterly is International cataloguing and bibliographic control. The sections and core activities publish a host of newsletters, some of which contain substantial contributions. K.G. Saur publishes the monographic series known as IFLA publications, commonly known as the IFLA greenbacks. Currently six of these are published every year. IFLA also publishes a series of Professional reports, often practical guidelines such as the Guidelines for library services to prisoners (Lehmann & Locke 2005), issues in many languages. Advocacy, an important area of IFLA s work, is discussed later.

9 Our changing environment The environment in which IFLA operates includes the environment in which libraries operate. This means that the issues facing IFLA s main constituencies (libraries, library associations, and library/information workers) must be taken into account. Factors affecting IFLA s main constituencies may not impact on IFLA immediately, but they will inevitably have an effect. Some examples: Climate change: more extreme weather conditions can be expected, with more frequent natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes and floods) affecting libraries. Technology: the impact of ICTs, especially the potential threat of disintermediation and closures or downgrading of libraries because organisations believe they can do without them. Librarians have to deal with a generation that has grown up with expectations of instant gratification through the Internet. The management of digital resources is becoming a major preoccupation of librarians world-wide. This is an area which today is perhaps as significant to the profession as universal bibliographic control or universal availability of publications were twenty years ago. Economics: the commodification of information leads to new imbalances between copyright holders (not necessarily authors) and users and to pressure to extend the scope of copyright. Globalisation allows powerful multinationals to take control. Free trade agreements lock developing countries into unfavourable intellectual property regimes. This makes it more difficult for librarians to serve their clients and reduces the space available for linguistic and cultural diversity and freedom of expression. International political relations: radicalisation, economic disparities, instability, and polarisation affect libraries in ways ranging from destruction in armed conflict to censorship. They pose a challenge to librarians to demonstrate that freedom of information and access to books and reading favour understanding and tolerance and hence promote peace. The growing role of civil society in international relations presents IFLA with an opportunity and a challenge. National politics: governmental policies in respect of culture and cultural industries, book promotion, education, information, the information or knowledge society, research and innovation, trade relations and privatisation all affect libraries. Socio-economic and demographic factors: the greying of populations in western countries contrasts with declining life expectancies in countries affected by HIV- AIDS and armed conflict. A growing climate of materialism may affect the voluntarism on which library associations depend, and a generation gap, or simply a different way of doing things, may affect the willingness of younger librarians to get involved in professional associations. There is widespread discussion on how to get younger professionals involved. The evolving library and information profession: there is increasing specialisation and the profession is becoming more diverse. In some countries there is a tendency to phase out educational programmes for conventional librarianship in favour of information science or more glamorous fields such as knowledge management and competitive intelligence. While children s librarians present story hours and some cataloguers painstakingly catalogue rare

10 books, other librarians manage digital libraries or free-lance as information brokers. How much do they still have in common? IFLA has a strong international reputation based on its world-wide reach and diversity. Those strengths are mirrored by weaknesses which derive from the challenges of operating globally and in multiple languages with insufficient financial and other resources, over-dependency on membership income and limited infrastructure. IFLA s membership is geographically scattered, is poorly represented in some 40 smaller countries, and is not growing. How is IFLA responding to these challenges? Responses IFLA s responses to its changing environment are of two kinds. First, IFLA has to respond to the factors affecting its constituencies, by helping libraries, library users and librarians to cope with the changes and ensure that libraries have a future at the centre of the emerging knowledge societies. Second, IFLA also has to adapt its own organisation and behaviour. IFLA s core values emphasise the principles of freedom of information as embodied in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, universal and equitable access to information, and the role of high quality library and information services to help guarantee that access (IFLA 2005). IFLA consequently has long been involved in promoting the development of librarianship and library services worldwide, through international library cooperation, the development and dissemination of best professional practice, and stimulating and assisting library development in developing countries while promoting professional solidarity between North and South. More recently IFLA s active involvement in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has contributed to a growing awareness of the importance of advocacy as a key responsibility of IFLA. Development of IFLA s advocacy capacity is a crucial response to the changes affecting our members. Free and fair access to information for all cannot be taken for granted, even in the most affluent and democratic societies. Neither can the future of libraries be taken for granted. In the context of the emerging knowledge societies it is necessary to promote the role of libraries as providers of access to networked digital resources. Libraries, especially public libraries, serve the general public by providing such access free of charge or at low cost. In this way they can reach out to disadvantaged and marginalised groups in society. Thus libraries are important agencies of social inclusion. To be effective, advocacy for libraries ultimately has to be conducted at local and national level. But the campaign also has to be waged in the international theatre, in forums such as WIPO, WTO and WSIS. In recent years, IFLA s membership has increasingly articulated an expectation that IFLA should play a leading role in international advocacy for free and fair access to information through libraries. IFLA has recognised this in its strategic plan (IFLA 2006b) which states that: IFLA, working with libraries and information services, will assist people throughout the world to create and participate in an equitable information/knowledge society and to exercise their rights of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in their daily lives.

11 6. IFLA will develop and conduct an effective advocacy programme, in cooperation with National Library Associations in support of libraries, librarians, and library users worldwide. 7. IFLA will materially affect international policies and practices in key areas relating to libraries and information services. Currently IFLA is consolidating its advocacy efforts by setting up a small, professionally staffed advocacy unit at its headquarters in The Hague. The unit will focus on three themes that have already been referred to: Freedom: Freedom of access to information and freedom of expression Equity: Fair and sustainable legal and economic relationships between the creators, intermediaries and users of information Inclusion: the role of the library in the Information Society and the role of the library as an agency of social inclusion The new unit will support the world-wide profession by research and monitoring, horizon scanning, policy development, networking, representation, education and awareness-raising. The creation of a position of Senior Policy Adviser was announced at the Durban Congress in August and this position has recently been advertised. Funding is being sought for a second position, and we also plan to employ graduate interns from appropriate disciplines. I have emphasised advocacy because these developments constitute a major shift in IFLA s priorities. However, there are many other ways in which IFLA is responding to changes in its environment: IFLA has instituted a formal process of strategic planning that includes extensive consultation with the membership A consultative review of the structure of IFLA s professional units has been conducted. The aim is to ensure that IFLA remains hospitable to the full spectrum of professional interests while avoiding an excessive proliferation of sections and professional groups that would add to administrative overheads and result in an unmanageable congress programme. Our Statutes (last revised in 2000) are again being revised to implement the recommendations of this review and ensure that IFLA can respond more rapidly to changes in it environment. A life-cycle approach is proposed to accommodate emerging topics and phase out those in which interest has dwindled. Greater flexibility is also being sought in respect of membership categories, particularly those of our corporate partners. A Young Professionals Discussion Group has been set up, and at our annual congress a well-attended First-timer Session is held to introduce IFLA and the Congress to those attending the congress for the first time. Enhancing communication is a priority. IFLA is planning the redevelopment of its website, known as IFLANET, using a modern, open-source content management system. The website must become a multilingual platform for twoway communication and collaborative work. IFLA is attempting to extend its worldwide reach by:

12 o the establishment of regional offices and language centres in developing and emerging regions o the recognition of Chinese and Arabic as official IFLA languages (alongside the existing languages: English, French, German, Russian and Spanish) o the translation of key IFLA documents such as the IFLA/UNESCO school library manifesto (IFLA 1999) into non-western languages such as Amharic, Arabic, Khmer, Vietnamese and Xhosa. IFLA is seeking to develop and diversify its financial resource base by improving its membership management systems and by enhancing its capacity to attract grant funding and manage grant-funded projects. Conclusion IFLA s Strategic Plan summarises IFLA s position and programme as follows: To enable access to information by all peoples, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions is committed to the fundamental human rights to know, learn and communicate without restriction. It opposes censorship and supports balance and fairness in intellectual property regulation. IFLA is also vitally concerned to promote multilingual content, cultural diversity and the special needs of Indigenous peoples, minorities and those with disabilities. IFLA, working with its members, the profession and other partners, will advance the position of libraries and information services and their capacity to contribute to the development of individuals and communities through access to information and culture (IFLA 2006b). This is a positive statement, and one I can support. International professional NGOs face many challenges in this new century, but they meet a real need and will have many opportunities. They will thrive, provided that their leaders can understand, assess and respond to the changes taking place in their environments. References Baldwin, C International library associations. Library trends 46(2): Breycha-Vauthier, A.C IFLA the Geneva years. In Koops, W.R.H and Wieder, J.(Eds) IFLA s first fifty years: achievements and challenges in international librarianship. Munich: Verlag Dokumentation: Campbell, H.C IFLA: library universality in a divided world. IFLA journal 28(3): IFLA More about IFLA. Available accessed IFLA. 2006a. Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM). Available: accessed IFLA. 2006b. IFLA strategic plan Available: StrategicPlan.htm, accessed

13 IFLA. 2007a. Action for development through libraries programme core activity (ALP). Available: accessed IFLA. 2007b. IFLA core activity on preservation and conservation (PAC). Available: accessed Lehmann, V. & Locke, J Guidelines for library services to prisoners. The Hague: IFLA. Mohrhardt, F.E USA librarians and IFLA. In Koops, W.R.H and Wieder, J.(Eds) IFLA s first fifty years: achievements and challenges in international librarianship. Munich: Verlag Dokumentation: OCLC Libraries: how they stack up. Available: accessed Parker, J.S The developing countries and IFLA. In Koops, W.R.H and Wieder, J.(Eds) IFLA s first fifty years: achievements and challenges in international librarianship. Munich: Verlag Dokumentation: Rudomino, M.I The prehistory of IFLA. In Koops, W.R.H and Wieder, J.(Eds) IFLA s first fifty years: achievements and challenges in international librarianship. Munich: Verlag Dokumentation: Wieder, J An outline of IFLA s history. In Koops, W.R.H and Wieder, J.(Eds) IFLA s first fifty years: achievements and challenges in international librarianship. Munich: Verlag Dokumentation:

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