Author Archives: esmeralda

What is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and why libraries should get involved

There is little doubt about the importance of human rights in the library world. Outside too, few will dismiss them openly, even if their actions speak differently. However, there are concerns about their enforcement – what use are principles if they are not turned into reality?

Many countries have of course integrated many (most) aspects of key international human rights texts into national law. In the case of Europe, there is even an international court which has the power to go against the decisions and policies of independent states.

However, even where human rights feature in national legislation and constitutions, their application is only as strong as the rule of law – and this is highly variable.

Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs) are a response to concern about the lack of impact of the UN’s human rights work. Launched in March 2006 under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, the process monitors and reviews the human rights situation of all 193 UN Member States. Its goal is to promote improvements and address violations wherever they occur, as well as to share best human rights practices around the globe.

How do UPRs work?

The reviews are ‘state-led’. This means that it is governments (rather than independent experts or the United Nations) which control the process. The reviews are formally conducted by the UPR Working Group (48 Member States) which meets three times a year for two weeks at a time. Each review is facilitated by groups of three States, known as “troikas”, who serve as rapporteurs.

In preparation for the Review, a Member State will provide a ‘national report’ on their own work to fulfil international human rights law. UN Special Rapporteurs (for example on Freedom of Expression or Cultural Rights), Treaty Bodies (such as the Commission the Rights of Persons with Disabilities), other UN entities, other Member States and NGOs can also submit information.

The UPR assesses human rights obligations as set out in: (1) the UN Charter; (2) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (3) human rights instruments to which the State is party (human rights treaties ratified by the State concerned); (4) voluntary pledges and commitments made by the State (e.g. national human rights policies and/or programmes implemented); and, (5) applicable international humanitarian law.

Each review consists of an interactive discussion between the state under review and the other UN member states, lasting about three and a half hours. In the course of the discussion, states under review can declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

The review process takes place in cycles. During its first cycle (2008-2011), all UN Member States were reviewed. The second cycle (20012-2016) reviewed 42 states, and the third cycle (2017-2021) is currently reviewing 48 countries.

Why is relevant to libraries?

As highlighted, libraries have a key interest in human rights. Freedom of access to information and freedom of expression are clearly central, but as IFLA’s series of blogs in the run up to the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out, other rights are also significant.

Where this is possible, librarians are often active in defending and promoting human rights, and watching out for problems. They can use different opportunities – national or local-level advocacy and lobbying, complaints to national human rights institutions, or other actions – to make progress.

UPRs offer the possibility to add action at the global level. Given that they welcome input from civil society, there is the opportunity for libraries to raise concerns or make recommendations. These feed into a stakeholder report, and can be cited by the UN or other Member States. Where this happens, there is a chance that such recommendations will form part of the published final report.

Libraries can also attend the UPR Working Group sessions and can make oral statements at the regular session of the Human Rights Council when the outcome of the State reviews are considered.

In an ideal situation, a Member State will then face a formal (and public) recommendation to act. Some examples taken from recent reviews are below:

  • Review legislation in order to ensure that all legislation, including any laws regulating the internet access to information, comply with international human rights standards protecting freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
  • Make amendments to the Protection of State Information Bill with a view to guaranteeing the right to access to information and freedom of expression.
  • Continue efforts to ensure the right to access to information and freedom of expression by adopting regulations that would be in accordance with both the Constitution and international treaties and commitments.
  • Continue providing human rights education, in particular through access to information and promoting existing mechanisms for protection and reparation
  • Strengthen health information services, particularly with regard to sexual and reproductive health, and ensure that they are accessible to young people and persons with disabilities.

Practical issues

Submissions have usually a deadline and they must adhere to a specified format, and should not exceed five pages (or ten pages if submission is by a coalition of stakeholders). They are meant to be public documents and openly accessible and shareable, and ideally will be the result of coordination at the national level.

Deadlines for submissions are relatively early, in order to allow time to prepare reviews. For example, documents for the 34th session (to be held in October-November 2019) need to be sent by 28 March 2019. A full list of sessions, countries under review, and dates is available on the UPR website. More information on submissions are available online through this report.

In person participation at reviews is possible but requires accreditation, but a priori only in an observer status (i.e. it is not possible to speak). Accredited stakeholders can also attend and make oral statements during the regular sessions of the Human Rights Council when the outcomes of the State reviews are considered.


UPRs clearly do offer an opportunity to highlight areas where improvements could be made to national human rights practices in order to benefit libraries and their users. In turn, recommendations resulting from UPRs can be a powerful tool in advocacy at the national and local levels.

At the same time, it is important to be realistic about the impact that can be had. The power of recommendations will depend on how likely governments are to listen (variable). Furthermore, some dismiss the process as a whole given the equal status it gives to all countries, regardless of their own human rights record.

Your views on libraries and Universal Periodic Reviews are welcome!

Personal Identifiable Information and Archiving For The Public Interest

 “There is no political power without control of the archives, if not of memory. Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation.” Jacques Derrida

Archives and libraries are important memory institutions. Their role in documenting many aspects of human lives can, alongside providing a vital support to researchers, also promote accountability and the bringing to justice of those who infringe rights. One of my favourite archive stories relates to an episode of Guatemalan history.

In 2005, some abandoned old buildings in Guatemala City were opened for an upcoming city project. Unexpectedly, they revealed the entire archive of the defunct National Police. Amidst piles of papers ruined by humidity, vermin and tears lay the documentation of a series of horrors committed at the height of Guatemala’s civil conflict in the 1980s. During this time, governmental death squads roamed the city and kidnapped individuals who never returned to their homes.

Upon the discovery, local volunteers and archivists worked alongside colleagues from the USA to collect, preserve and digitize all the papers. The effects of such discovery had profound repercussions on Guatemalan society as the discovery allowed the country to close the door on one of the most violent periods of its history. The digitized archives were made available online and they are now publicly available here.

This story underlines that institutions such as libraries and archives are the homes for our collective memory. They help us to understand the past, make sense of the present, and guide us for the future. Archives and libraries collect and store this information in the public interest, and inevitably, they will collect information concerning people.

The broad definition of personally identifiable information potentially covers a wide range of materials – blogs or news stories containing political views, Wikipedia pages, tweets. These all serve to identify a person.

Clearly there are significant concerns about how data is used, for example by social media platforms, credit rating agencies, or marketing companies. The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which entered into force on 25 May 2018, applied to all of them. But what what does it mean for memory institutions?

The law has the general aim to protect individuals’ rights and freedoms and enables organisations to process personal identifiable information with due regard for the rights and freedom of individuals. As such, a data subject has the right to be informed about the data gathered about him/her, has the right to access, the right of rectification and process and the right to erasure or the right to be forgotten, among others.

Article 17 of the GDPR states that the “data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller, the person who determines why and how personal data are processed, the erasure of personal data concerning him or her without undue delay and the controller shall have the obligation to erase personal data without undue delay”.

However, there is an exception for archiving purposes, amongst other circumstances. “Importantly, the right to erasure does not apply if processing is necessary for archiving purposes in the public interest, where erasure is likely to render impossible or seriously impair the achievement of that processing”.

However, this exception is only optional – countries have to decide whether they want to include it in national law. Moreover, it is unclear what the phrase “archiving purposes in the public interest” really means and which archives/collections are covered. The phrase is not defined in the GDPR itself.  A recital may imply that coverage is limited to institutions with a legal obligation to acquire and preserve records but there are others who collect for different reasons and their mission also results in public benefit.

With more and more countries looking to adopt data protection legislation, there is a need to ensure that archiving exceptions are protected. Without this, there is always a risk that those who committed crimes during the Guatemalan civil war can ask for the evidence of their crimes to be deleted.

IFLA is planning to write a statement on personal identifiable information and archiving in the public interest and it would like to gather opinions, comments and suggestions from its FAIFE community on this topic. Please let us know if you have any ideas to contribute. We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Community network and libraries. A short film in Spanish

– [English] Community networks and libraries, a short film

I’m David [1], a Colombian librarian doing research at the Conector Foundation [2]. For some years I have been following the possibilities of work between community networks and libraries. It turns out that in large cities it is very easy to have several Internet service providers, but in remote places, where it is not profitable for companies to provide the Internet, it is possible that people never have access to one of the experiences that are transforming the world.

That is why I made this short film, where I interview Nico Pace [3] who from Altermundi [4] has been working with communities around the world to help them set up their own networks. In this interview Nico presents how libraries and community networks can ally to provide access to digital information, even in areas where there is no Internet connection.

I hope you enjoy this interview.



– [Spanish] Redes comunitarias y bibliotecas, un cortometraje

Soy David [1], un bibliotecario colombiano haciendo investigación en la Fundación Conector [2]. Desde hace algunos años he venido siguiendo las posibilidades de trabajo entre las redes comunitarias y las bibliotecas.

Resulta que en las grandes ciudades es muy fácil tener varios proveedores de servicios de Internet, pero en lugares remotos, donde no resulta rentable para las compañías proveer Internet, es posible que la gente nunca tenga acceso a una de las experiencias que está transformando el mundo.

Por eso hice este cortometraje, donde entrevisto a Nico Pace [3] quien desde Altermundi [4] ha venido trabajando con comunidades alrededor del mundo para ayudarles a montar sus propias redes. En esta entrevista Nico presenta cómo las bibliotecas y las redes comunitarias pueden aliarse para proveer acceso a información digital, incluso en las zonas donde no hay conexión a Internet.

Espero que disfrutes la entrevista.





A reflection on Banned Books week

When we use the verb banned in a sentence, we immediately imagine something legally or officially prohibited, something that is not accessible, an item, a space, an idea not suitable for all. But, when we think of a book, our minds are filled with the possibility of reading: the exploration, the unknown, the pain, the pleasure, the shock. We imagine an open and boundless space filled with all sorts of emotions.

Banned books is an oxymoron, an association of words that opposes an open door full of possibilities and fulfilment to a closed one, filled with limitations and preconceptions. Books should not be banned, books should be read.

However, for as long as books have featured in human history, censors have argued over their contents. Books are banned daily in every corner of the world.

Banned Books Week 2018, the annual celebration of the freedom to read, reminds us that Banning Books Silences Stories, and encourages everyone to speak out against censorship. But what does it mean? And how can we limit effectively censorship? Can we do that by reading? Can libraries help?

The reasons given for banning books might differ from country to country but arguably, the ban usually reflects social mores or politically constructed scenarios that seek to limit any form of dissent or difference. It has to do with power and dominant groups dictating a view of the world that is their own, often based on stigmatization of the views of “others”.

As James La Rue, Director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom argues, “there’s been a shift toward seeking to ban books focused on issues of diversity—things that are by or about people of colour, or LGBT, or disabilities, or religious and cultural minorities and that shift is very clear”.

So, differences, and different individuals, are over time attacked, censored and ostracized because we, the us, oppose them, the other on the ground of “supposed marginality”. But when we start to create divisions, how do we know where it will stop? When might we find ourselves on the wrong side of these divisions, if we are not already? What can libraries do to oppose this situation?

For this Banned Books Week of 2018, it is important to emphasize the essential role libraries play in informing citizens and in helping them develop a critical spirit and to be mindful, engaged consumers of information. By supporting the simple idea of reading, libraries create empathy, encourage imagination, and so help sustain a sense of community and togetherness. The alternative – simply becoming a sum of disconnected individuals – makes us prey to manipulation by those in power, and so limited in our basic freedoms.

As gateways to knowledge, libraries are the enemies of censorship and champions of free, democratic societies. “They create opportunities for learning, support literacy and education, and help shape the new ideas and perspectives that are central to a creative and innovative society”. In a world without libraries, it would be difficult to advance research and human knowledge or preserve the world’s cumulative knowledge and heritage for future generations” (White, 2012).

But we, as individuals, also need to do our part. We need to read our books, we need to support our libraries, we need to defend our freedoms and defy censorship. As Ray Bradbury wrote “you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them”. So, on this Banned Books week, go to the library, grab a book and read it. It is for everyone’s sake.

The Power in Our Collections: Data Ethics and Libraries

Supporting research has long been a core part of libraries’ mission. By collecting and giving access to information, they give scientists and researchers much of the raw material for their work. To use a (double) metaphor, they are the stepladder up to the giants’ shoulders from which Newton claimed to look.

Of course what is done with the information accessed has traditionally been a question left to the individual researcher (in the name of the neutrality of the library[1], and the academic freedom of the researcher) or, for the last few decades, to ethics committees.

Today, research is increasingly likely to draw not on formalised information, as contained in books, articles or other materials, but on data. This poses important questions for the continued effectiveness of ethics frameworks in place, and of course for the libraries who may be supplying the data.

It is therefore worthwhile for libraries, as holders of data, as facilitators of research, and of course as longstanding experts in information ethics, to keep up to date with ongoing discussions on data ethics.

Why a New Approach?

Data is clearly nothing new. Yet technological developments in recent years have given the subject a new profile, with the emergence of data mining, jobs for data scientists and data journalists, and even talk of a data revolution.

Two reasons perhaps underpin this. The first is the amount of information we can now collect. In addition to better record-keeping in general, this is primarily linked to the increasing use we make of digital tools for everyday activities. This use of course leaves a trace of data, often held by the company or other entity offering the service. Moreover, the rise of the idea of user data as currency – something to exchange for one Internet service or another – means that that there is a lot more flowing around.

The second is what we can do with it. New analytical techniques allow for the processing of far more data than could ever be done by an individual person, and in doing so for spotting links and drawing conclusions. The combination of datasets – and the application of algorithms to process it – offer new and unprecedented possibilities to extract information about ourselves and our world.

Why a New Ethics?

These new possibilities come with risks. There is already a list – a horror show – of some of the dark alleys that data-based research can take us down. Experiments looking at how interfering in people’s Facebook feeds can change their moods, Microsoft’s chatbot Tay, and work indicating that social media data can identify a person’s sexuality have created (deserved) concern.

Nonetheless, as a number of researchers have pointed out, the rules currently in place for research ethics may often miss big data projects. The extensive work of the Council for Big Data, Ethics and Society on the subject offers valuable insights.

In one contribution in particular, they worry that rules for research ethics should not necessarily offer an exemption for anonymised or publicly available datasets controls. On the first point, data techniques mean that anonymisation is only relative. The power of crossing datasets (as mentioned above) make it possible to pinpoint individuals using a number of different characteristics, often with surprising accuracy.

Linked to this is the (second) concern: that it is possible to do far more with data than many understand. Data may be placed online, under the assumption that it is innocuous and cannot lead to any harm or invasion of privacy. However, thanks to this same crossing of datasets, conclusions can be drawn which go far beyond what was anticipated when the data set was made available, and which can raise questions about potential for discrimination or other prejudice to individuals or groups.

Where Next?

It clearly does not help that the level of awareness around the sharing and use of data is not necessarily high, as evidence from the UK indicates. At the same time, tough legislative or regulatory measures risk stifling science. An improved code of ethics would provide a more useful response.

Professor Luciano Floridi and Dr Mariarosaria Taddeo, from the Oxford Internet Institute and Alan Turing Institute respectively, have therefore set out three key fields where ethics need to be developed:

Ethics of Collection: this relates to the way in which data is gathered in the first place, with questions around whether there has been consent from the subject of the data, and whether this is meaningful (i.e. did they really understand it). The importance of steering clear of collection practices that risk leading to discrimination, either against individuals or groups is also high on the agenda (are there some types of data that should not be collected?).

Ethics of Practices: this refers to the way in which data collected is then used. Key issues, as highlighted above, include privacy and secondary uses (i.e. data being used for activities other than what was originally intended). A fascinating piece in Slate sets out the way in which people dealing with data on homelessness chose not to mention race, given that research results would likely reflect and so replicate a situation characterised by discrimination, rather than reveal anything useful.

Ethics of Algorithms: perhaps the most politically attractive of the new dimensions, this refers to the ethical questions that arise when even the researcher may not understand the results being produced. The responsibility of the algorithm’s creator for the results emerging – and indeed the faith that should be put in the algorithm – are significant questions, given the power with which these tools are credited.

What Issues for Libraries?

As highlighted in the introduction, decisions about the ethics of any particular research path are the job of ethics committees. Yet libraries, as repositories of data, including social media data for example, are key in any broader discussions. Indeed, some of the questions raised around the collection of data pose a direct challenge to libraries in terms of whether they are acquiring material which lead to an invasion of privacy or prejudice to individuals.

As an emerging field, we are some way from a clear idea of what ethical standards for use of data should be. Nonetheless, it is not a question libraries can afford to ignore, not only given their existing experience with information ethics, but also their role in supporting research and innovation.

[1] Note sections 1 and 5 of the IFLA Code of Ethics (2012):

3D Printing in the Library: Do be aware, but no reason to scare. A Legal Risk Assessment by Tomas A. Lipinski

Libraries have traditionally acted as facilitators of access to information. In this role, libraries serve as intermediaries not gatekeepers or watchdogs. Libraries diffuse the use of new technologies to their patrons, empowering and unleashing the potential of human mind. The law generally views such intermediaries, especially libraries, not as primary actors when it comes to legal liability. In fact, libraries are risk averse and strive to “do the right thing” by the law. Assessment of library culpability typically focuses on concepts of so-called secondary liability. As a result, the circumstances when a library or other intermediary would be responsible for the unlawful acts of its patrons is quite limited. This is no different when considering the adoption of 3D printing into maker and other creative library spaces.

Existing reproducing technologies in libraries can of course raise issues of liability based on copyright law but a 3D printer allows patrons to print 3-dimentional objects from a replacement part for a home appliance like a toaster oven to container shapes of your favorite beverage be it the fluted Coca-Cola bottle or the distinctive Haig Pinch-bottle scotch. These can raise additional issues of patent and trademark or trade dress, respectively.

A few simple practices, based on established legal concepts of secondary liability should assuage any legal concerns.

The copyright laws of many countries contain specific protection from secondary liability for unsupervised use of reproducing technologies, in qualifying libraries, often requiring the library to post a copyright warning notice. As not all countries have this limitation on liability, IFLA through its efforts at WIPO (World Intellectual Property Association) and elsewhere advocates for such protection across the globe. such provision­­­ should apply to 3D printing technologies.

Patrons may also post infringing design files on the library’s web space. Again, many countries have provision for ISP (Internet Service Provider) protections, often known as “take-down” rules. These provisions should also apply to the library when it acts as an ISP. As with copyright law in the realm of patent law secondary liability is easily avoided if the library does not benefit financially from the service—engaging in cost recovery only such as charging for the 3D printing filament—and refrains from active assistance in the printing process. In other words, providing instruction and training in how to use the 3D printer is acceptable but avoid active monitoring or assistance. If intercession is necessary because the device is not functioning or the patron has forgotten how to operate the device, perform the teaching moment then allow the use to continue unsupervised.

Because the 3D technology produces tangible objects, concerns beyond the intellectual property laws may arise. What if harm occurs during or after the printing process? This could occur by printer malfunction, e.g., the printer is spewing molten filament. It may be that one patron has printed a dangerous object such as a plastic knife or firearm and uses it to harm another patron. Concepts of liability in injury law, known in some countries as tort law or the law of delict in others, protects intermediaries. The law may deem a purveyor of equipment, who knows or has reason to know that the equipment may cause harm but fails to warn others, be responsible for that harm. Solution? Let’s return to our facts. When the librarian notices that 3D printer is malfunctioning, burning a patron the likely response is turn off the device and post a warning notice: “printer temporarily out of service.” In the other example a patron uses a printed object to harm another. Here too the law also intervenes. In injury law, the concept of superseding cause breaks the chain of legal causation. Even if one could connect the dots so-to-speak the law says otherwise. When a patron uses a printed object to harm another patron, an unlawful act is committed. An unlawful act is a superseding cause. It would stretch the concepts of legal obligation to hold a person liable because another put their product to nefarious use. As tragic as events may be, it is unreasonable to hold the chef knife producer or automobile manufacturer responsible when someone use their knife to stab another person or run-down another in the street.

What if the library provides instructions (“cheat-sheet” or a LibGuide) that are incorrect? At least in the United States, due in part to the First Amendment, publishers are in very rare circumstances held to be the guarantor of the information produced. ­This is the case even when the error causes harm such as misidentifying mushrooms as edible when in fact the variety is poisonous and highly toxic.

From the U.S. perspective these concepts are discussed further in the attached file and in MARY MINOW, TOMAS A. LIPINSKI AND GRETCHEN MCCORD, THE LIBRARY’S LEGAL ANSWERS FOR MAKERSPACES (ALA Editions, 2016),


Tomas A. Lipinski, a librarian and lawyer is Dean and Professor of the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and Expert Advisor to the IFLA CLM Committee. He can be reached at


Acknowledging Indigenous Rights and the Role that Libraries Can Play in Creating Change by Robyn Gray

IFLA’s Advisory Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression created the blog “SpeakUp!” to encourage people to reflect on human rights within daily life and work.[i] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every human being regardless of race, colour, and religion are entitled to human rights ( However, there are populations for whom this is still a goal and not necessarily a reality. The proper respect and acknowledgement for Indigenous rights is a matter that has been addressed within Canada, but there is still a long way to go to obtain equality and the same respect for Human Rights that other people experience. The Committee on Indigenous Matters created the Canadian Federation of Library Associations Truth & Reconciliation Report (CFLA – TRC) along with a set of recommendations in 2017 (, to guide and encourage libraries in addressing Indigenous matters. The implementation of this plan within each province has been happening in different ways and is at different stages, and this article will speak to the progress made in Alberta in particular. Both academic and public libraries can do so much to further the reconciliation process, and this article examines some of the steps that have been taken and the work that still needs to be done.

Public Library Systems

Alberta, Canada has a unique structure in terms of its public library systems and how it delivers service across the province. Larger centres such as Calgary and Edmonton have their own libraries in place, with several branches throughout each city. For smaller, rural areas, there are a network of public library systems where one Headquarters helps coordinate and collaborate with numerous rural libraries. For example, the Northern Lights Library System has its headquarters in Elk Point, and staff there provide services for 47 small libraries (covering a total of 53 municipalities) across Northeast Alberta. Thanks to initiatives such as the CFLA – TRC Report, all libraries and systems across Alberta are finally gaining awareness about services for Indigenous peoples and ways that they can contribute to reconciliation efforts.

While public libraries are meant to serve the needs of all peoples, some libraries have had limitations in how they meet the needs of Indigenous populations. Because of their status under federal jurisdiction instead of provincial legislation, non-residents on reserves experienced higher library membership fees[ii], paying as much as $60 along with a local resident fee for limited services compared to what other library patrons received. Very few programs were available for Indigenous peoples that touched on their culture, and in some cases they encountered racism within the library.

Beginning in 2016, the Public Library Services Branch of the Government of Alberta provided an annual grant for Albertan library systems that are within the vicinity of First Nations Reserves and Metis Settlements (Alberta is the only province in which Metis people have a land base). Since libraries were given this grant, they have made strides in the service being provided to Indigenous peoples. First and foremost, library membership fees for Indigenous peoples were made equal to what they are for all municipality members.

At the Northern Lights Library System (NLLS), Colette Poitras was instrumental for creating positive, inclusive initiatives and outreach, and jumped into action when the grant was first provided. Managers and staff at each NLLS library were given cultural sensitivity training in 2016, including a historical tour of Blue Quills Residential School. Programs have begun being integrated into libraries that embrace Indigenous culture, including Cree language lessons. NLLS initiated outreach into Indigenous communities through facilitating attendance to Pow Wows and Treaty Days, and used this as an opportunity to welcome Indigenous peoples to the library. Because political and financial barriers have now been removed, NLLS is able to work on cultural and sociological barriers that have existed within communities. Similar to other library systems across Alberta, NLLS hired an Indigenous Library Services Liaison, Tanya Fontaine, to pursue these initiatives full-time. A plan was implemented for Fontaine to travel to Saddle Lake First Nation every Friday for a pop-up library so that populations on reserves could access books, DVDs, and electronic materials. A similar service for Whitefish First Nation was soon implemented. NLLS member libraries have also pursued pop-up libraries on Reserves: Lac La Biche County Libraries provides services to Heart Lake First Nation, and the Cold Lake Public Library conducts weekly pop-up libraries at multiple locations including the Cold Lake First Nation Wellness Centre, Cold Lake Native Friendship Centre, and the Elizabeth Metis Settlement Youth Centre.

Examples of Initiatives Beyond Public Library Systems

In 2017, the Public Library Services Branch of the Government of Alberta hosted a symposium called Public Library Services for Indigenous Communities. There were numerous informative sessions, including Aaron Paquette beginning the symposium with an author talk. The University of Alberta hosted the 2017 Workshop for Instruction in Library Use (WILU) Conference and featured both Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair and Jessie Loyer as keynotes to speak to the importance of librarianship and engaging Indigenous literatures and a sense of kinship. These are just a few examples of influential events in the library field that relate to Indigenous relations, and there is growing awareness about how libraries can make a difference in the ways that Indigenous populations are welcomed into the library. The University of Alberta is now offering a free, online course called Indigenous Canada, that summarizes the cultures, history, and colonization of Indigenous peoples so that all people can take the course and gain knowledge in this area. The University of Alberta is also conducting an influential project in which they analyze metadata and cataloguing terms used for Indigenous materials, remove racist terminology, and integrate more respectful language.

Poitras is now working for the Government of Alberta Public Library Services Branch, as the Manager, Indigenous Public Library Outreach. She works with public library systems across Alberta to ensure that they are enabling the best services to be provided for Indigenous peoples, and she also works with other partners such as the University of Alberta. Poitras has created respectful connections with members of the community; she never decides “what will be best for Indigenous people”, but rather listens to them and the way they describe their own needs. Fontaine is now working as a community learning coordinator in St. Paul, and continues to work closely with Indigenous peoples to implement change.


There is a long way to go in ensuring that all Indigenous peoples receive the service they deserve from their local libraries. While there has been movement in the right direction and awareness has been increasing, there is so much more to be done. Indigenous Rights are Human Rights, and libraries must continue to advocate for these rights within their work. Providing equitable services to Indigenous peoples is a crucial step to providing all people of all cultures with the resources and support they need in their local libraries.

[i] IFLA. SpeakUP! “Let’s celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!” 6 December 2017. [See Accessed 7 March 2018.]

[ii] Unlike in other Canadian provinces, some Albertan libraries charge a membership fee for all patrons

Human Rights as a Foundation for Practice by Susan Maret, Ph.D.

Human rights are “rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status” (Office of the High Commissioner, 2018). In this post to SpeakUP!, I suggest that human rights instruments serve as a foundation for empowered professional practice. Here I build on Kay Mathiesen’s (2015) informational human rights as a “subtopic” within information ethics to advocate simply that human rights are information rights. As I outline below, in one way or another, human rights frameworks concern information and knowledge as essential components of human dignity, self-determination, freedom of expression, and security.

The Human Rights Landscape

Three instruments, alongside two “optional protocols,” make up the International Bill of Human Rights: the United Nations’ (UN) 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which entered into force in 1976. Human rights are also affirmed through the American Convention on Human Rights (“Pact of Sane Jose Costa Rica,” 1969) and the Charter of Human Rights of the European Union. Certain civil liberties, such as free speech and privacy, are emphasized in numerous constitutions of nation-states to animate and support the International Bill of Human Rights.

Human Rights as Information Rights

The cornerstone of human rights as information rights resides in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ICCPR particularly stresses that while the right to freedom of expression includes the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media” of choice, these rights may not be absolute. That is, this complex of rights “carries special duties and responsibilities” that include guarding the rights and/or reputations of others, and critical to archival practice and librarianship, limits on information as it pertains to national security concerns.

Additional human rights as information rights are identified in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 16; the right to communicate is affirmed in Articles 13 and 14 of the American Convention on Human Rights; the right to truth, which “may be characterized differently in some legal systems as the right to know or the right to be informed or freedom of information,” expands the International Bill of Rights. In no small way, and of significance to archivists and librarians, technology has pushed information rights to the forefront of societal concern. For example,the protection of human rights with regard to social networking services, the protection of human rights with regard to search engines, and the controversial right to be forgotten, are championed as a means of guarding privacy and freedom of expression on the Internet.

Access to archives and libraries are an integral part of human rights as information rights. Here I include access to formerly classified records as a means to unlock secrets underlying government policies. Archives not only “enable every nation to exercise its right to an undistorted written record,” but ensure “the right of each people to know the truth about its past” (Human Rights Council 2011, p.3). The 2011 Universal Declaration on Archives, for example, highlights the significance of the archive for “accountability and transparency, for protecting citizens rights, for establishing individual and collective memory, for understanding the past, and for documenting the present to guide future actions.” Libraries, especially public libraries, are long recognized and prized as beacons in support of human rights as information rights; in the United States and UK, the “ideals of human rights” are embodied in American Library Association’s policies and documents (McCook & Phenix, 2006, p. 59) as well as the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals’ (CILIP) Ethical Framework. To this end, archival (e.g., SAA and ICA) as well as LIS codes of ethics reflect a commitment to human rights (McCook & Phenix, 2006; Mathiesen, 2015).

Secrecy, Censorship, and Propaganda

Archivists and librarians face a myriad of challenges around the creation, availability, dissemination, ownership, and preservation of information and knowledge. These challenges reflect deeper, often intractable, social problems that test professional values and ethics. Some challenges are technological in origin, while others are a direct result of failed social policies and the tug of war between power/knowledge in the networked society.

Three interconnected information conditions that I am most concerned with in my work – secrecy, censorship, and propaganda – are of paramount concern to archivists and librarians. This trifecta often intersects to pose a challenge to access, and veracity of information. First, secrecy as the intentional/non-intentional concealment of information, may occur through the outright withholding of information by governments, institutions, corporations, media outlets, and other entities. Secrecy may also occur through poor information design, which not influences the usability of databases, catalogs, forms, and Web pages, but impacts the confidence individuals may have in information provided by an organization.

Secrecy is thought to run counter to freedom of information and self-determination, and is often equated with a form of censorship. Indeed, censorship is frequently “difficult to trace, as it normally takes place in an atmosphere of secrecy” (De Baets, 2011). In this regard, secrecy meshed with censorship is employed, for example, under the weight of longterm use of national security classification and restrictions on the press (e.g., the President and the Press, prepublication review, the UK’s D-Notice System), creating a veritable tug of war between the duty to protect and the public right to know. This, however, is not the entire story. Censorship, as an attempt to prohibit the production and dissemination of information and knowledge, also concerns surveillance (Jansen, 1991). Information seeking behavior and the right to research are invisibly influenced by censorship and covert watching; more to the point, self-censorship as an inhibitor of curiosity cannot be underestimated in a climate of veillance (watching). Here we are reminded that widespread surveillance and collection of personal data by global intelligence agencies (e.g., the 5 Eyes), in addition to behind the curtain algorithms that de-rank, rank, anticipate, surveill, and judge, create a perfect storm in terms of their impact on information rights.

Propaganda and disinformation (or known falsehood) not only tamper with history, but interfere with the formation of judgment and opinion. The 2017 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News,” Disinformation, and Propaganda states these information conditionsmay harm individual reputations and privacy, or incite to violence, discrimination or hostility against identifiable groups in society.” More importantly, the Joint Declaration cautions against censorship that may occur in response to disruptive ideas. The Declaration states that thehuman right to impart information and ideas is not limited to ‘correct’ statements, that the right also protects information and ideas that may shock, offend and disturb, and that prohibitions on disinformation may violate international human rights standards.”

What Can Be Done?

The challenges that information professionals face are indeed difficult, but they are not insurmountable. Through John Dewey’s idea of “education for a changing social order,” archivists and librarians can create an educational climate “that introduces students into the realities of the present order – or disorder, order being a courtesy name for the present chaos” (Dewey, 1934/1986, p.158). Below I offer several proposals for informed practice, which in turn have the potential to engage communities:

  • Actively develop courses and public educational materials that sketch
    out institutional secrecy and methods of information moderation and control;
  • Actively promote education in the area of open records and freedom of information laws (e.g., FOIA in the U.S., FOI in the UK, around the globe and specific countries);
  • Continue to do what we in LIS do best: foster critical thinking and research skills in order for individuals to make critical decisions and discern fact from fancy;
  • Encourage human rights literacy. Display, share, and integrate materials on information rights as human rights (e.g, Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration; Articles 1,19, ICCPR) into library programming and community outreach. Intellectual freedom policy statements and codes of ethics created by LIS organizations are also powerful intellectual devices that stress the profession’s commitment to specific values and policies reflecting information rights.

While human rights are critiqued for their Western origins, emphasis on the individual, and claims of universality (Donnelly, 2013; Galtung, 1994; Hastrup, 2001), the International Bill of Rights and related documents not only enrich the philosophical range of archival practice and librarianship, but offer a great opportunity to educate.


De Baets, A. (2011). Taxonomy of concepts related to the censorship of history. In S. Maret (Ed.) Government secrecy, Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, 19 (pp. 53-65). Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Dewey, J. (1934/1986). Education for a changing social order. In J. A. Boydston, P. Baysinger, & B. Levine (Eds.). The later works, 1933-1934, volume 9. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Donnelly, J. (2013). Universal human rights in theory and practice. 3rd ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Galtung, J. (1994). Human rights in another key. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.

Hastrup, K. (ed.) (2001). Human rights on common grounds: The quest for universality. New York: Kluwer Law International.

Human Rights Council. (2011). Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the seminar on experiences of archives as a means to guarantee the right to the truth. April 14, A/HRC/17/21. Retrieved from

Jansen, Sue Curry. (1991). Censorship: The knot that binds power and knowledge. New York : Oxford University Press.

McCook, K. D. L. P., & Phenix, K. J. (2007). Public libraries and human rights. Public Library Quarterly, 25(1-2), 57-73.

Mathiesen, K. (2015). Human rights as a topic and guide for LIS research and practice. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 66(7), 1305-1322.

Dr. Susan Maret Bio:

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)