Monthly Archives: February 2018

Promoting Information Access – and Creation – in All Mother Tongues by Laurie Bridges

The Internet has allowed for a giant leap towards overcoming the challenge of information scarcity. By almost eliminating (marginal) distribution costs, and through rapidly growing server capacity around the world, it has never been so easy to get hold of so much information.

 However, this is meaningless if the information received is unusable, for example because it is not in a language a person understands. This blog, based on a presentation by Laurie Bridges of Oregon State University at WLIC 2017, looks at the issue of language dominance – or near-absence – online.

 A Grand Potential

Much has already been written about the possibilities that the Internet creates – for trade, for communication, for entertainment, for accessing the basic information that makes life easier and more efficient. Digital technologies are behind the ‘third industrial revolution’, changing the way we live and work as much as steam and electricity did in the past.

 In science, the Internet has allowed for the rapid growth of the Open Access (OA) movement. This benefitted from the fact that there was no longer a need for costly printing presses or distribution networks. In some countries, around half of articles published are now OA, with these publications available to researchers – and citizens – all around the world.

 Yet while only around 20% of the world’s Internet users are first-language English speakers, over 50% of its websites are. While the dominance of English is not as total as it was in the early days of the web, it remains the case – in science in particular – that no other language comes close.

 An Unequal Impact

 This has important knock-on effects. The services built on top of the information available on the Internet – social media, Wikipedia, scientific journal databases – also tend to be in English. Some, such as ScienceDirect and Scopus, are still effectively monoglot. Indeed, it was only from 2007 that non-Latin text could be used for URLs.

The impact on speakers of other languages can be easily imagined. Where learning a foreign language is the privilege of the well-educated, it can reinforce socio-economic divides. Those who write in English enjoy greater impact, regardless of the relative quality of their work. People using languages which have only a small number of speakers – such as the languages of first nations in North America, or indigenous languages elsewhere in the world – struggle to make their heritage live.

 A Way Forwards?

 Libraries are committed to providing users with information which they can use in order to improve their lives. For our institutions, it looks like an irony, even a tragedy, that the potential created by the Internet can remain unrealized because one language – or a few languages – are dominant.

 Yet it is important to remember that the Internet was created in order to give all users an equal possibility not only to receive, but also to create information.

 Smartphone apps offer interesting possibilities for creating tools to help with language learning. Websites such as Wikipedia are looking to develop new versions. The technological development of the Internet may yet make it easier for unwritten languages to find their place online.

 Libraries can also help. As set out in Laurie Bridges’ presentation at WLIC 2017, half of the answer can come from libraries’ own resources.

Recordings or writings in minority languages can be used to develop tools and materials for learning and practicing. And librarians themselves may have language skills that they can put to use to ensure that the library serves the whole community.

 The other possibility is to work with faculty and students, in academic libraries, to ensure that abstracts of the articles they write and publish are in more than one language. This can potentially increase accessibility for tens, if not hundreds of millions of people.

 The dramatic technological changes of the last thirty years have created both possibilities and risks, especially as regards the fate or future of minority languages. Libraries can help ensure that the positive potential of the Internet is realized for all.

Human Rights and People with Special Needs

The IFLA Section for Library Services to People with Special Needs (LSN) welcomes this new FAIFE blog on the 70th anniversary of the UDHR. For many years now, our section has been considering library services for people with special needs a human rights issue. Our work and publications reflect that approach by frequently referring to the UDHR as well as to subsequent human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the UN Sustainable Goals.

Many people who are disabled and/or live in vulnerable conditions face discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis. Their human rights are often threatened and/or violated, including the right to access public services and institutions, such as libraries, on an equal basis with others. Considering this fact, LSN recently published Guidelines for Library Services to People Experiencing Homelessness demand that libraries respect the human rights of everyone to information, education and cultural participation.

Consequently, libraries should take any measures to ensure that they do not discriminate and that barriers to access to their services are lowered or removed. Following a human rights-based approach also includes that libraries respect people experiencing homelessness as experts on their own behalf, and work together with them to create appropriate services and effective programs for them.

The LSN Section is convinced that a human rights-based approach to library services can help strengthen the rights of all library users, including people with special needs, and improve their lives in concrete ways. Furthermore, such an approach can strengthen the public perception of libraries as important partners in the process of implementing universal human rights at home.

IFLA and LSN strongly support the UN 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals   which are explicitly grounded in international human rights law.   Libraries  have and will continue to  demonstrate that they are helping to make the core mission of the UN 2030 Agenda — “Leave No One Behind” — a reality.

IFLA Section for Library Services to People with Special Needs (LSN)