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75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “The common standard of achievement for all people and all nations”

This year on the 10 of December we commemorate the Human rights day that will also be accompanied by a High-Level hybrid event on the 11-12 of December. Please see below for more information on this event.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, a landmark document that established a common standard for human rights around the world. Following World War II, which was characterized by terrible atrocities and extreme suffering for humanity, the UDHR emerged. The urgent need to create a global framework for protecting human dignity and preventing future violations led to its formation.

Over these 75 years, the Declaration’s main goals have been to instill justice, equality, and fundamental freedoms in society. It is a cornerstone of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, serving as a worldwide model for regional, national, and local laws and regulations.

A variety of human rights allude to the work of libraries: Article 12 refers to the right to privacy; Article 26 marks the right to education; Article 27 states that everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community; and of course, the heart’s mission of libraries is reflected in Article 19, which refers to the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In addition to providing access to information, libraries and librarians play a vital role in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide by building awareness, empowering individuals and communities, developing diverse collections, programs, and services, promoting inclusion, and advocating for policy change.

IFLA has promoted human rights through a variety of means, placing the principles of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression at the heart of its values alongside wider human rights.

In 1997, IFLA’s decision to establish the Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) strengthened the Federation’s commitment to actively promote and defend human rights in relation to information access. This decision encouraged the profession to engage pro-actively with human rights, which was a radical expansion of the profession’s self-concept.

As expressed in the Glasgow Declaration on Libraries, Information Services, and Intellectual Freedom, IFLA proclaims the fundamental right of human beings both to access and to express information without restriction.

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration, it is crucial to continually defend against ongoing challenges to freedom of expression and freedom of access to information. It is also a useful opportunity to remember their relevance in today’s post-pandemic world, with challenges such as armed conflicts, attacks on press freedom, disinformation, hate speech, censorship, and discrimination.

This decade has been called “The Decade of Action to deliver the Global Goals,” which calls for accelerating sustainable solutions to all the world’s biggest challenges through global action and building on the progress achieved in the last 75 years. This decade will be the most critical for our generation. This call for action involves all sectors; today, more than ever, the work, ethics, and professionalism of librarians are needed to tackle the global challenges. Upholding and promoting human rights requires ongoing work.

In 2023, the UN Human Rights Office will be organizing a High-level Event on 11 and 12 December to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The event is the culmination of Human Rights 75 – a year-long initiative by the Office to reaffirm the values of the Universal Declaration and recommit to human rights as the pathway to address the challenges of today and the future.

The event allows for hybrid participation and it is a good opportunity for people in the library field to reaffirm the important role that libraries play in this process.

Click here to access the event and registration page.

This post was written by Jonathan Hernández, Chair of the Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression Advisory Committee for the 2023-2025 period.

Library ICTs for seniors and healthy ageing

This year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, an annual event led by the International Telecommunications Union, focuses on the theme of ‘Digital technologies for older persons and healthy ageing’. This is a good occasion to reflect on some of the lessons and ways to maximise the impacts of library ICT-based services and initiatives aiming to help build an age-friendly and age-responsive environment.


Ensuring a meaningful and equal participation in the digital society by older persons is a pressing priority – particularly in light of global population trends around ageing. As the World Population Prospects 2019 pointed out, people over 65 are the fastest-growing age group in the world – and are expected to make up one-sixth of the global population by 2050. This highlights the urgency of building a digital environment which is designed and well-suited to meet their information needs and support their wellbeing, rather than retrofitting existing solutions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a stark illustration of both the potential of ICTs for this age group, and the unique difficulties faced, and which must be kept in mind. As panellists in an opening session of this year’s dedicated WSIS Forum track pointed out, the past 2 years have seen an accelerated uptake of digital services and resources by older persons, spurred on by a growing appreciation of their value proposition. On the other hand, many in this age group remain digitally excluded, struggle with loneliness and social isolation, evolving health risks and needs.

Today’s event also comes after the end of the first year of the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing. From telehealth to assistive technologies to lifelong learning, ICTs are a key element for delivery on the goals of this Decade. This is a good occasion to take stock of some of the insights, questions and lessons these policy dialogues can already offer – to help inform libraries’ continued work to meet the needs of their senior users.


Breaking the stereotypes

Ageism – from stereotypes, prejudices and a failure to take account of older people when designing products, all the way to outright discrimination – is an incredibly widespread problem. Earlier research estimated that 50% of the global population held moderately or highly ageist beliefs. Much like in other areas, this can significantly impact older persons’ interactions with ICTs – as a matter of self-confidence, trust, or feeling like this simply “isn’t something for me”, even dissuading them from engaging with tech.

While there cannot be a single solution to an issue as complex as this, some measures libraries are taking can come a long way to gently challenge such beliefs. As a study based on an Ontario library digital literacy training for seniors illustrates, the library can be really effective in creating a safe space for tech learning and exploration for older users. This can help with facing their own fears and anxieties around breaking a device or making a mistake, boosting their self-confidence and comfort with tech – including through supportive relationships with the instructor and fellow learners. Perceptions of comfort and safety of a library digital skills training can therefore be really valuable in helping bypass ageist beliefs, whether societal or even internalised.


A different approach to learning

A related argument is that digital skills training may not be optimal when simply replicated for different target age groups, without sensitivity to their unique learning needs. For older users, this can manifest in different ways: exclusionary technical language, generation-specific tech terminology, or even the (in)ability of a younger instructor to fully identify to a perspective of an older learner, their tech needs, and the ways they approach learning.

When outlining these considerations, one of the speakers at the WSIS session brought up the term androgogy, emphasising the differences between how children and young adults and older persons learn and acquire knowledge.

For the countless libraries offering learning opportunities tailored for seniors (and adult learners), it is of course immensely valuable to keep track of the latest insights and findings in this field. In the meantime, the idea that peers from similar age groups may be better-positioned to understand each other’s learning approaches and tech skill needs is of course not new to libraries.

This reflects the thinking behind such initiatives as, for example, the Cambridgeshire Libraries’ “Tea and Tablets”. As a follow up to a more formal course on using tablets, this social hour format let participants in their 70s and 80s regularly meet up and exchange tips and experiences amongst each other as they continue to explore ICTs.

At the same time, another key point – as self-evident as it is crucial to remember – is that, as any other age cohort, ‘seniors’ cannot and should not be viewed as a monolithic group. Gender and geographic location are just a few of the factors shaping the ways people experience their senior years – and digital inclusion solutions should reflect this diversity.

There are of course great examples of this from the library field. In New South Wales, the Tech Savvy Seniors programme for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) older Australians employed bilingual trainers, language guides and training materials adapted to be culturally and linguistically suitable for 9 languages apart from English.


Seniors as co-creators and drivers of innovation, not simply users

In the digital ecosystem, agency is a very pertinent question – and another point which has been raised in this policy discussion focuses on the agency of seniors in particular. To properly meet the needs of older users, technology should not be retrofitted but designed with matters such as accessibility in mind – and, of course, one of the best ways to do so is designing and co-creating tech solutions directly in consultation with older people themselves.

This can be particularly relevant for discussions around emerging and transformative tech such as AI, and robotics. While there is a lot of excitement for their potential for long-term and integrated care, it is important to make sure that seniors are not just passive users of such tech, but active drivers of innovation.

This can be seen in evolving library services as well. Advanced digital skills learning opportunities and “tech petting zoos” may not be new to libraries, but their value for senior users may be particularly relevant here. In Singapore, for example, the National Library Board’s approach to digital upskilling for older users is multifaceted, encompassing digital skills for both life and work. It includes, inter alia, deep-dive examinations of emerging and advances in tech like AI and cloud computing, as well as hands-on workshops where learners unleash their creativity in such fields as coding and 3D printing. All of these offers have proved very popular with their target audiences, supporting seniors’ engagement with tech innovation.


Age-friendly environments

Finally, it is always worth taking a step back and reflecting on the ways ICTs help build all-encompassing age-friendly environments. The latter is one of the main goals of the Healthy Ageing Decade, focusing on the full range of factors influencing the well-being and quality-of-life for people as they age: continued growth and development, health, safety, participation, autonomy.

The World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly World platform includes a database of age-responsive practices and initiatives taking place on local and community levels. From Chile to Poland to Japan, it contains references to the many ways libraries, too, help build an age-friendly environment in different areas – such as culture, digital inclusion, combating isolation, or even civic engagement.

ICTs, of course, play a key role in some of these library initiatives: from free audiobooks delivered for seniors with disabilities to different forms of digital literacy upskilling – e.g. walk-in, pre-booked one-on-one consultations, or formal classes.


All in all, ICTs can be a powerful tool for building an empowering age-friendly environment for all. However, digital inclusion, equitable access to information and services, age-responsive tech design and tailored ICT-based services are all necessary to make this environment work for all seniors.

Libraries around the world are already actively introducing services and initiatives leveraging ICTs to meet the needs of their older community members – and we look forward to seeing their further engagement with overarching and comprehensive strategies for healthy ageing and quality of life!

World Press Freedom Day 2022 – freedom of expression under (digital) siege

Particularly in times of crisis, reliable and verified information is urgently needed – and is itself in need of safeguarding. World Press Freedom Day 2022 highlights the evolution and acceleration of challenges to media freedom, independence, pluralism, and safety of journalists in a digital world. How do these relate to libraries’ own experiences as information professionals – and what lessons can we learn from these, to work together towards a stronger and freer media landscape?

A call to action in a time of need

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is journalism under digital siege. The aim is to draw attention to the evolution, and acceleration, of challenges to journalism in today’s digital and hyperconnected information environment: the viability of digital business models; surveillance (both large-scale and targeted); data collection; access to information; and the need for more transparency.

An accompanying message by the Director-General of UNESCO also reflects on the approaching 1-year anniversary of the Windhoek+30 Declaration, which further elaborates on the role of information as a public good. Online platform transparency principles, an emphasis on media and information literacy, research into new sustainable business models are among the activities UNESCO has been spearheading to help deliver on the Declaration’s ambitions.

Vitally, the note closes with a call for all stakeholders – from Member States to civil society to technology companies and beyond – to play their part in building a new journalism and media configuration, one that simultaneously tackles the risks and seizes the opportunities of digital.

This call, of course, comes at a crucial time. The latest UNESCO World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development report highlights that, over the past five years, around 85% of the world’s population saw a decline in press freedom in places where they live. In the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders also noted a marked two-fold polarisation – within and between countries – as an effect of a chaotic and globalised information space.

Echoing experiences in journalism and librarianship: lessons learned and moving forward

To chart the path towards a revitalised and fairer media landscape, it’s worth looking at some of the key trends and lessons learned set out in the latest flagship report, and see how they are echoed in different media in information sectors – including, of course, the library field.

Threats to freedom of expression and the safety of journalists: this remains a top priority. Violence, crimes and threats against journalists are a most egregious example – and, as the report points out, awareness of threats to their digital safety and (online) hostility, including gender-based violence, is growing in recent years. Such violence can stifle or silence voices, reducing the variety of ideas and works available to library users, impoverishing the information environment.

In addition to the ‘private’ censorship enforced by individuals or groups, a related key element lies in the broader policy environment. The report notes that more than 50 laws and regulations introduced around the world since 2016 contain vague language or heavy penalties which impact freedom of expression and of media online. These regulations can range from targeting cybercrime to ‘rumors’ or ‘fake news’.

In the library field, a parallel could be pointed out to a chilling impact of a threat of possible legal action for reading material or curation choices. It is a threat which, as the New York times reported, even if entirely lacking a basis for a criminal investigation, can have a chilling effect and encourage self-censorship.

Financial viability continues to be a pressing concern in the news media field, only growing in urgency. The ways this plays out in commercial media – e.g. advertisement or subscription-based revenue models – are well-documented of course.

However, it is not aways the case that alternative funding sources are necessarily better. Indeed, the report offers valuable insights into the viability considerations around two other models of journalism – public broadcasting and community-based media.

For public service media, vulnerability in the face of political pressure (including through their financing) remains an important concern. In some parts of the world, public broadcasting enjoys relatively high trust among audiences, but it may in some cases struggle to reach more diverse demographics.

The situation for community media viability also seems to be mixed; as increasing polarisation can raise concerns around licensing and financial fragility, as well as a possibility of capture by private, economic or religious interests.

In light of these financial concerns, many journalists feel less secure in their jobs today, as employment figures in this field see a substantial decline. There are similar concerns in the library field in some parts of the world, of course, especially in light of austerity measures – also prompting a discussion about the possible impacts on access to trustworthy information and the health of a democratic public dialogue without the support that librarians can provide for it.

Finally, it is of course worth revisiting the discussion on trustworthy information as a public good. On the supply side, the report makes a note of both algorithmic curation and the saturation of the information field with a multitude of competing content producers.

On the demand side, there are nonetheless factors which can limit the public’s access to vital journalism, news media, and information at large – from internet shutdowns and takedown requests to the costs of digital subscriptions, internet connectivity and access devices, which can be prohibitive for some users. This continues to raise concerns about unequal access to information, and a cause for action.

At the same time, some data – e.g. the Edelman Trust Barometer and the Reuters Institute Digital News Report – suggests that trust in different sources of information, while varying per source (e.g. with traditional media enjoying more user confidence than social media), is overall quite fragile, and sees a long-term negative trend over the past few years.

All these are familiar concerns and consideration for libraries, of course. Whether it is providing no-cost access to computers and the internet, championing media literacy, or speaking out against opaque search algorithms and curation practices of third-party providers – boosting both supply and demand for information as a public good lies at the heart of the profession.

Together for access to information and freedom of expression

Naturally, it is important to also mark and celebrate progress where we see it. The report notes, for example, that in less than 20 years the number of countries with access to information (ATI) laws has tripled. This progress can be attributed to both public sector commitments and civil society initiatives, showing what can be achieved with dedicated efforts and collaboration.

As we mark this year’s Press Freedom Day, librarians of course feel a lot of empathy towards our journalist colleagues working to make vital and high-quality information available to all. Here, librarians are both allies who can help raise awareness about the value of free press and the challenges it faces – and a synergetic partner whose core function is to make information and knowledge accessible to all.

At the same time, we see more conversations about the possible ways to democratise and reinvent the way news media is produced and distributed – especially at the local level. Some of these discussions focus on innovative business models, others – on ways to build an inclusive ecosystem and a thriving civic journalistic infrastructure.

These discussion reference libraries – as information hubs (especially for the most vulnerable community members), verifiers of community information, and one of the community infrastructures offering an alternative to the commercial media system. We look forward to seeing these exploratory dialogues continue, and to work together to realise the promise of information as a public good!

World Day of Social Justice: Libraries for decent work and opportunities for all

The pandemic has had a profound impact on work and employment worldwide. A 2021 Call to Action by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) outlines the vast scope of these impacts:

“… increased unemployment, underemployment and inactivity; losses in labour and business income, especially in the most impacted sectors; enterprise closures and bankruptcies, particularly for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises; supply chain disruptions; informality and insecurity of work and income; new challenges to health, safety and rights at work; and exacerbated poverty and economic and social inequality.”

The 2022 World Day of Social Justice sees a strong call for continued efforts to address these challenges – focusing on the overarching theme “Achieving Social Justice through Formal Employment”.

Why this theme?

As an introduction to the 2022 Social Justice Day by the United Nations highlights, more than 60% of people employed around the world operate in the informal economy. Their position is often that of significantly more vulnerability, with workers likely to earn less and have less access to employment benefits or social protection.

The ILO Director-General’s message points to the ‘great divergence’ and exacerbated socioeconomic inequalities, with those who were already more vulnerable before the pandemic experiencing the strongest adverse impacts – including women, young people, migrant workers, those in the informal sector, and small enterprises.

This, of course, directly shapes and impacts the needs of the communities which libraries serve. Employment support is a task libraries have taken on in different ways over the years – by providing access to information, training and connectivity, support for entrepreneurs and job-seekers, networking opportunities, and more. So how are users’ employment needs and situations – and library responses – evolving today?

Evolving trends and challenges

The 2022 World Employment and Social Outlook ILO flagship report summarises some of the key recent trends in the global labour market, including:

  • During the pandemic, declines in employment and working hours have led to losses in income. As countries resume economic activities, the global labour market’s progress towards recovery has been asymmetric, taking place significantly faster in higher-income countries.
  • Inequalities within countries persist as well, with particularly pronounced adverse impacts on women’s and young people’s employment rates. To date, formal wage workers appear to have returned to employment at a higher rate than informal wage workers – and some evidence suggests that more people have moved towards informal self-employment or family-owned activities.
  • There is an expansion of gig-based employment. In some sectors, the share of temporary work within total employment has risen as well (while the overall incidence of temporary jobs has remained fairly stable, it’s also worth noting that a sizeable share of temporary workers in 2021 had previously held non-temporary jobs).

It goes without saying, however, that these broad macro-level trends also vary greatly within and across regions. Overall, ILO projections suggest that, in 2022, the working-hour deficit caused by the pandemic will be substantially smaller than in 2021, but still significant. In light of these developments, it is therefore important to consider both the quantitative rates of working hours and employment – and the quality of work and working conditions.

Libraries for decent work and employment

In their day-to-day work, libraries of course also see the way different employment situations and possible vulnerabilities shape user needs. A 2020 patron survey in three Resource Centers in public libraries in Namibia, for example, helped estimate how many of their users had access to a computer or a fixed internet connection at home – and showed significant differences between user groups with different employment situations (employed, self-employed, job seeker).

At the same time, when it comes to developing specialised offers, the diversity of library approaches to employment support throughout the pandemic shows how these services can be leveraged and adapted to specific user needs or local circumstances:

The US, for instance, has seen new examples of library employment support offers tailored to specific community groups (e.g. local Black and Latinx entrepreneurs, and users from lower-income backgrounds) – and to particular in-demand jobs and fields.

Such considerations are echoed, for example, in the collaboration between the National Library of Sri Lanka and Commonwealth of Learning (COL) – Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative. ‘Skills Online Sri Lanka – Employed for the Unemployed’ brought together different stakeholders to enable job-seekers to follow online upskilling and re-skilling courses through the COL platform. The initiative emphasised skills-building for in-demand jobs which help meet current industry needs, as well as an outreach drive to involve more women, young participants and differently-abled people. In South Africa, the City of Johannesburg Library and Information Services has recently re-launched an e-learning online platform which features, inter alia, links to online digitla skills courses offered by several tech companies – including certification possibilities and links to job opportunities.

In Zimbabwe, Community Study Circles in Edward Ndlovu Community Libraries focus on helping rural residents start and build up commercial income-generating projects. The Circles have worked to help maintain these initiatives throughout the pandemic (including, for example, meetings to discuss how to tackle the challenges COVID-19 has caused to the projects).

In Nepal, the READ Centers were able to offer no-interest microloans to families who had lost their main sources of income during lockdowns. This offer included not only seed money, but also guidance and support on how to use these resources to develop a reliable new source of income (e.g. by assisting grant recipients with business plans and network connections).

Part of a bigger puzzle

Clearly, meeting the employment needs of communities and addressing the inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic requires sustained and multidimensional efforts – and we are also seeing new and evolving partnerships between libraries and various other stakeholders to help achieve this. In fact, some of the examples above were realised through such collaborations!

There are different valuable contributions that libraries and information professionals can bring to the table in such partnerships. One is access to information and content – for example, in their collaboration with vocational training centers, Libraries Without Borders provided Ideas Cube kits with additional teaching and learning digital resources tailored to the local context of each center.

Other invaluable resources include a library’s network, infrastructure, and position at the heart of its community. These can help power outreach and make sure that more people can benefit from existing employment support offers. An example here would be, of course, collaborations between libraries and employment agencies.

Finally, it is also worth noting how broader public policy efforts seek to engage libraries in the push for employment support during the pandemic and eventual recovery. One example comes from New Zealand, where one of the key goals of a 4-year funding package for libraries is to enable them to “provide extra assistance to jobseekers and to people wanting to improve their reading and digital literacy skills”. Another example comes from the US, where the American Rescue Plan Act has made it possible to fund more library-based job training, employment and professional development offers – for example, by the California State Library.

All in all, a transition towards employment formalisation and, more broadly, towards decent employment for all is an urgent policy priority which requires integrated solutions – ones which are suitable for local circumstances. Libraries can offer valuable tools and support – through standalone initiatives, partnerships, and as part of comprehensive policy approaches to job market support. We look forward to seeing more fruitful and innovative interventions that can help shape a more just and equitable recovery!

Data Privacy in 2022: Taking stock and moving forward

At the beginning of 2022, we are looking back on a busy and tumultuous year in the data privacy landscape. A glance at the discussions that took place during the 2022 Privacy Day – as well as throughout 2021 – can offer helpful insights for libraries’ own work to champion and speak up for privacy in the coming year.

The global scene: persistent challenges, important wins

One of the focuses of Data Privacy Day conversation was, of course, taking stock of recent developments and looking ahead to upcoming and planned initiatives. The past months have been punctuated with high-profile initiatives, decisions and news around data privacy.

First of all, the Pegasus spyware revelations and the ensuing fallout continue to unveil the full extent of its impacts. Throughout 2021, several countries – including Canada, Australia, and most recently France – moved to protect their citizens’ data from Clearview AI, a facial recognition tech company which scraps images of people from across the web (and recently announced that they have collected 10 billion such images) to train its AI.

Meanwhile in Kenya, a recent decision of the High Court recently ruled that their Data Protection Act applies retrospectively, calling for a data protection impact assessment of a Digital ID system. The European Parliament pushed for a ban on digital ads targeted on the basis of such sensitive user characteristics as health or religion.

The new privacy law in China has been noted, inter alia, to have important extra-territorial implications, while in Australia, consultations for a review of the Privacy Act 1988 is underway.

All of these raise issues and questions that shape the shared digital environment in which all stakeholders – including libraries – operate.

Privacy: illustrating interdependencies between fundamental rights

Whether explicitly or in passing, we are also seeing an ongoing conversation about the ways data privacy – especially as understood within the framework of the fundamental right to privacy – interacts and relates to other key rights and policy priorities.

An obvious example comes, of course, from the healthcare sector – the discussions on how to strike the right balance between data privacy considerations and measures to curb or slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The most interesting voices in such scenarios are those that advocate for ways to not see such crucial goals as a trade-off with privacy, but rather to find ways to safeguard and deliver on both (including by drawing on privacy-by-design and privacy-by-default principles).

We also see important recognition of the ways privacy enables other fundamental rights. The 2021 UNESCO Media & Information Literacy Curriculum for Educators & Learners, for example, outlines the many links between privacy and development at both personal and societal levels, as well as with access to information and freedom of expression.

These arguments and considerations are very well known to library and information professionals, who customarily regard privacy as part of intellectual freedom in their professional code of ethics. This has many implications for day-to-day library work and service delivery choices – but also, crucially, for their work as digital literacy and privacy educators.

Privacy literacy in 2022

The idea of privacy-related skills as part of media literacy also finds reflection at the policy level – for example, in the new UK DCMS Online Media Literacy Strategy, where it has a very prominent place.

For libraries as digital skills and media and information literacy educators (and intellectual freedom advocates), privacy upskilling initiatives continue to look like a natural part – or extension – of their work. To this end, it is always helpful for libraries to keep a hand on the pulse of what the privacy literacy landscape looks like today!

This is a complex landscape of however. For example:

Efforts to collect data and better understand the links and changes in motivation, knowledge and practice continue. For example, drawing on a 2020 survey among North American consumers, McKinsey concludes that most users have fairly low trust levels when it comes to how companies use their data. At the same time, while tools that help people control their personal data are more widely available, not everyone is equally quick to make use of them. Over 60% of respondents said they have cleared cookies and their browsing history, and more than 40% have disabled cookies altogether, or have deleted or edited a post they have made in the past. But other possible privacy measures – e.g. temporary email addresses, encrypted communication – were used by fewer respondents.

The 2020 Australian Community Attitudes to Privacy Survey, for example, concluded that “Australians have a very strong understanding of why they should protect their personal information (85% agree) but are less sure how they can do this (49% agree). Three in 5 (59%) care about data privacy, but don’t know what to do about it.” Here, 29% of survey respondents have read a privacy policy in full and 23% made a request for their personal information to be deleted – and more than half said that they have deleted an app or denied it access to information to safeguard their privacy.

Another interesting relationship here is that between digital skills levels and overall trust and confidence. For example, the UK strategy referenced earlier quoted that, while “73% of users described themselves as ‘very confident’ or ‘fairly confident’ managing their data online, 44% of respondents who described themselves as confident were unaware that data could be collected through smartphone apps, and 20% were unaware of the existence of cookies altogether”.

Different user group profiles and needs: of course, privacy literacy and knowledge is not equally accessible and familiar across different user groups and cohorts. The Australian Community Attitudes to Privacy Survey also showed that older users were significantly more likely to rate their knowledge or privacy and data protection rights as very good or excellent (e.g. 15% of those in the 65+ bracket, compared to 31% of users aged 18-24).

In the EU, a recent Eurobarometer survey included a question asking whether the respondents knew how their fundamental rights – such as to privacy and freedom of expression – should also be respected online. The responses also showed some variations across socio-demographic groups as well, including e.g. linked to formal education attainment and frequency of internet use.

The granularity of privacy attitudes and beliefs: at the same time, publications like the 2021 report about students’ attitudes and behaviours by the Future of Privacy Forum draw attention to the importance of better understanding the unique privacy needs and expectations of different user groups.

The report highlighted, for example, specific concerns the members of this user group may have around academic and professional prospects in relation to privacy, some available data on the types of information they consider as necessitating particular protection, the confidence they have in different data processors, and so on.

Libraries are helping

This data suggest that there is continued interest (and need) for more knowledge and information around online privacy among users. In the Eurobarometer survey mentioned earlier, a very strong majority – 76% of respondents – said they would find it useful or very useful to know more about their rights online.

Given the diversity of the privacy literacy landscape, the equitable and no-barrier learning opportunities that many libraries work to offer can make an important difference. In a video presented by Polish library experts at the 2021 Internet Governance Forum, participants of public library-based digital skill courses for seniors shared what they learned and took away from these workshops, with one of the attendees pointing out:

“An interesting thing that I did not know so far is that I can check what the internet ‘knows’ about me. And it turned out it knew too much!”

The innovative, interactive and flexible learning opportunities around data privacy which libraries offer highlight their unique strength in identifying and helping meet community needs. We look forward to seeing these efforts continue and grow, and celebrate the dedicated work of educators, activists and inquisitive users!

Libraries and Human Rights in 2021: Evolving circumstances, constant commitment

Every year, international Human Rights Day on 10 December commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in 1948. This year’s theme – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights – is a strong call to action to deliver on equality and fundamental rights for all, particularly in times of crisis. As libraries uphold their commitment to promoting and championing human rights, this day offers an opportunity to reflect on progress made, continuing efforts, and new developments.

Libraries’ relationship with human rights is multidimensional – in no small part shaped by their overarching commitment to free and equitable access to information, as well as their everyday work relating to the rights to culture, science, civic participation, education, and free expression. On the other hand, libraries’ work itself can depend on an enabling environment around them which respects fundamental rights.

Meanwhile, the broader human rights landscape continues to evolve – with both new initiatives to defend fundamental rights, as well as events and developments that challenge these in new ways.

Consider some of the ongoing human rights discussions taking place today: the ways that online algorithmic content delivery and curation systems can impact the rights to privacy and to freedom of expression; the implications of mis- and dis-information (and some responses to it!) on freedom of opinion and expression; the effects of digitisation (and the growing involvement of private sector actors which often accompanies it) on the right to education, or the ways the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the cultural sector and people’s enjoyment of cultural rights (and digital cultural opportunities that try to offset some of these setbacks), and others.

These are just a few of the recent human rights developments that can have an impact on library work – on the roles that library services play in delivering on fundamental rights, on day-to-day library practices, on new services they develop, and so on.

As both library processes and the communities around them change and evolve, new human rights considerations, implications and good practices emerge.

What can this look like in practice? The members of the FAIFE Human Rights Working Group – Buhle Mbambo-Thata, Fiona Bradley and Margaret Brown-Sica – have highlighted several examples of emerging human rights considerations which impact libraries, drawing on examples from three regions – Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia in Asia-Oceania, and Canada and the USA in North America. While some emerging human rights issues are experienced across the regions, others are more specific to one or more countries:

  • Oceania and Australia, among other regions, are already experiencing the effects of climate change – more extreme weather, rising waters, and intense bushfires. Access to environmental information as defined under UDHR Article 19 and the Aarhus Convention are essential. Yet, libraries face many technical, legal, and cost barriers to provide information, particularly in local languages.
  • Australia has adopted legislation outlawing modern slavery in supply chain and business practices. This means that libraries, and all other organisations, must evaluate their suppliers’ compliance with ensuring that no books, materials, furniture or other items have been produced with forced labour. Some library vendors are required to report their own practices annually (see, for example, a RELX Modern Slavery Act Statement).
  • The Asia-Oceania region has also spearheaded numerous laws and initiatives that seek to address online harms and content. These impact the types of content libraries, including public libraries, may offer, and the steps they may need to take to prevent access to such content. Some recent developments in this area include the Christchurch Call, a series of commitments by government and tech companies to combat extremist online content, and a collaboration between Australia and Fiji on eSafety and reducing online harms. In the meantime, both the Australian Library and Information Association and public libraries in Australia support a range of activities around eSafety, particularly for children – from cybersafety checklists for libraries to Safer Internet Day campaigns, and other ways to promote responsible and safe use of the internet and ICT.
  • Access to information remains a crucial and fundamental human right – and such access is increasingly mediated by the internet. Libraries rely on digital tools more and more often to deliver services, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when physical access has often been restricted. However, for political reasons, internet blackouts and shutdowns continue to occur, hindering access to library services – including recently in several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and other regions.
  • There has been a positive development in the protection of personal information in South Africa through the implementation of the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act, which prohibits use of personal information without the consultation of the owner. This falls into a broader trend of new-generation data privacy laws that aim to deliver on the fundamental rights to privacy in the evolved digital environment, which libraries also operate in.
  • The United States has recently seen a resurgence in efforts to ban books, particularly in school libraries. The focus has been on materials that document and discuss the lives of people who are gay/queer/transgender or Black, Indigenous or persons of color. The American Library Association has issued a statement addressing this issue: “We are committed to defending the constitutional rights of all individuals, of all ages, to use the resources and services of libraries. We champion and defend the freedom to speak, the freedom to publish, and the freedom to read, as promised by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.” 
  • Canada marked its first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2021. The Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA-FCAB) published a report which urges action by libraries to deliver on Indigenous Rights, and highlights the many measures that can help achieve this. These focus in particular on decolonising libraries and spaces (which includes, for example, ensuring that space planning and design are culturally appropriate, territorial acknowledgements, library programming created in collaboration with local Indigenous stakeholders, and more), and decolonising access and classification (i.e. addressing biases and integrating Indigenous epistemologies into knowledge organisation and information retrieval systems) as part of this movement.

As the examples above show, there is a wide range of emerging, changing and evolving human rights considerations and good practices that shape library practices today. Maintaining dialogue and sharing experiences within the global library field remains a valuable tool to find effective ways to deliver on human rights commitments – so, on this Human Rights Day, we encourage and welcome you to share your own thoughts and perspectives on emerging human rights trends!

What key human rights considerations are prominent in your own local, national or regional library fields? What new developments have shaped your views on library human rights commitments? What good practices can help navigate this changing landscape?

You can join the discussion by using hashtags #Libraries4HumanRights and #StandUp4HumanRights – and we look forward to continuing these important conversations both today and throughout the year!

Banned Books Week: Amnesty International calls attention to the plight of people who are persecuted because of what they write or publish – in print and online

This guest blog comes from Ed McKennon, Library Faculty, Glendale Community College, as well as the Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) Working Group for Banned Books. Read more about work between AIUSA and the American Library Association at bottom.

Image of hands on prison bars on a laptop screen, with social media images. Text: no space for dissentEach year in late summer I take time to review the cases that Amnesty International has chosen to call attention to during the widely observed Banned Books Week celebrations that take place during the last week of September. I do this, in part, because I am a librarian at a community college where the library works with the Amnesty International student organization to host an annual “Banned Book Reading” in order to draw attention to censorship issues in the United States and around the world.

The slate of cases put forward by Amnesty International in 2021 hail from various corners of the world — Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Russia, Iran, Hong Kong, Central America, and Bangladesh.  This year they feature an unpublished fiction writer, a poet, several journalists, and a cartoonist who face an array of sanctions for their work. Some face years in prison, most have already been detained, all encounter some sort of state sponsored intimidation or harassment. Like other years of late, the slate of cases includes those persecuted for their printed publications as well as those facing penalty for what they post online, particularly on social media.

The online environment continues to be an increasingly dangerous place for those who might dissent from the government. To be sure, in countries around the world and here in the United States, authorities are grappling with how to deal with ‘fake news’ and various forms of disinformation as it proliferates on social media. I suspect that is what was on the minds of many lawmakers in Bangladesh as they crafted the “draconian” Digital Securities Act (DSA) and embedded within it overly broad language and extensive pre-trial detention powers.

Unfortunately these provisions — which may seem innocuous at first — are out of step with international human rights standards. They have been used to target or harass those expressing dissenting opinions and have resulted in cases filed against approximately 2000 people and nearly 1000 arrests, often for people posting information on social media that is critical of the government.  According to Amnesty International, under the DSA, at least 433 individuals had been imprisoned as of 11 July 2021; at least 185 were held for allegedly publishing offensive and false information online.  

Imagine being a 15 year old high school student forced to spend 16 days in a juvenile correction facility because you share a controversial post “to get likes” on Facebook. Mohammad Emon shared such a post in Bangladesh and was arrested and detained in June 2020; formal criminal charges were filed against him in July 2021.

Imagine being a prominent Bangladeshi cartoonist forced to spend 10 months in pre-trial detention for “satirising on Facebook powerful people and the Bangladeshi government’s response to [the] COVID-19 pandemic.”   After spending 10 months in detention Ahmed Kabir Kishore faces a 10 year prison sentence as a result of charges including publishing “false information” and “propaganda” which could “deteriorate law and order” by “supporting or organizing crime.” Kishore is still facing charges despite being released on bail in March 2021 one week after fellow accused writer, Mushtaq Ahmed, died in custody.  Kishore was presented the Robert Russell Courage in Cartooning Award by Cartoonist Rights International Network in October 2020. Many of his controversial images remain available online

Pre-trial detention, coupled with laws addressing online speech or terrorism prevention, is one method used by authoritarian governments use to quell expression. 

Imagine being a 25 year old poet and teacher who is arrested and detained for more than a year – without being charged with a crime and without access to your family for five months — in connection with a published collection of your poems (Navarasam / நவரசம்) and “other unsubstantiated claims of exposing your students to ‘extremist’ content and ideology.“  

Under the Sri Lankan Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) it is permissible to hold invividuals without any charges or trial for up to 18 months. According to Amnesty International and several other international and Sri Lankan human rights organizations (see Joint Statement), “the PTA has been used against Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious minority communities, with a disproportionate number of Tamils and Muslims in detention under the Act.” The same statement notes that one year into his detention, the authorities have yet to bring forth any evidence that substantiates their allegations against Ahnaf Jazeem.

Emom and Kishore are two of 10 cases described in the July 2021 Amnesty International report, No Space for Dissent: Bangladeshi’s Crackdown on Freedom of Expression Online

You can visit the Amnesty International Banned Books Week website to take action in support of Jazeem and Kishore while registering your support for the repeal or amendment of the Digital Security Act, and calling for the release of those accused or detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. 


Libraries can make a difference by organizing community programs and providing information.

By supporting the Banned Books Week initiatives of both the American Library Association and Amnesty International, libraries can reach out to their communities while further advancing the principles of free expression as articulated in the IFLA Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom and elsewhere.

Libraries and bookstores can get in on the action in an organized fashion by reviewing the “Library and Bookstore” section of the online toolkit and exploring ways they can support the effort, connect with the community, and promote freedom of expression.  

Augment Book Displays

Ideas in the toolkit include creating a simple “banned books” display that features information about the Amnesty International cases and links to the ‘take action’ webpages amid a display of books that have a history of censorship. 

This year the toolkits on the Banned Books Week website feature QR code enabled printable case sheets that provide basic information about each case and facilitate taking action.  

Flyers, bookmarks, and the Buying Books, Amplifying Voices book list are also available.

Reach out to Local Amnesty International Groups

Libraries and bookstores can also reach out to local Amnesty International community and college groups to explore ways to partner. Information about how to find a nearby U.S. based Amnesty International group is in the toolkit. International partners may view Amnesty International country contact information via the website in order to get in touch with their national section. 

Add Case Stories, Words, and Images to Virtual or In-Person Readouts 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic many events may still need to be online. However, organizing a virtual read-out with links to online actions would be an exciting local event if a live in-person read-out is not possible. Local authors, librarians, and booksellers could speak about censorship while Amnesty International members or others from the community share stories of the people featured this year, including the words and images of those censored in the event where possible. 

Add and Feature Books Written by Authors Imprisoned or Killed for their Writing

Amnesty image - freedom of expression is a human right

While there are many book lists related to censorship available on the web, libraries and bookstores may be particularly interested in the AIUSA Banned Books Week book list, Buying Books, Amplifying Voices which features more than two dozen books written by or about authors who have been harassed, imprisoned, killed, or exiled because of their writing. 

Making these books available to the community takes a stand against censorship. By raising awareness of these creators and their ideas, the intent of censorship is thwarted while our communities gain a greater understanding of the world around us. In the words of  Russian LGBTI activist/artist and 2020 Banned Books Week case Yulia Tsvetkova, “the government, ironically, did not silence us, but made it possible to loudly declare injustice.” 

Register for the live-online kick-off event 

Under the theme Page Not Found: Censorship and Human Rights in the 21st Century, this event features  the voices of journalists facing criminal charges for what they publish and representatives from the library profession (September 21 at 8pm Eastern Time). Registration & more details are available.

Take action throughout October on these important cases.

The American Library Association (ALA) has been leading Banned Books Week in the United States since the early 1980s to celebrate the freedom to read and call attention to book censorship efforts. During the 1990s Amnesty International USA began to call attention, during Banned Books Week, to “the plight of individuals who are persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read.” In 2013, ALA honored Amnesty International USA with an Office of Intellectual Freedom award recognizing AIUSA’s approach to Banned Books Week that focuses on the “logical consequences … that follow when governments are allowed to censor” noting that “beyond the removal or burning of books comes the removal and physical harm to authors, journalists and others.” 

You may also want to join an event for Banned Books Week with IFLA participation: Page not Found: Censorship and Human Rights in the 21st Century, on 21 September 2021 at 8pm New York time.  Censorship in the 21st century involves suppression of books, news, and social media. Around the world, governments are trying to control the internet through cyber-censorship and surveillance, and use sophisticated technology to silence, spy on, harass, and track the critical voices of individuals and journalists. Join us and hear from representatives from Amnesty International USA, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, the International Federation of Library Associations, and journalists and cartoonists from Central America facing criminal charges for their work.

Register here.

EuroDIG 2021: Takeaway messages for libraries

The 2021 edition of the European Dialogue on Internet Governance offers an opportunity to take stock of recent developments in the policies and practices within the digital ecosystem which can be of interest and impact libraries in Europe – and around the world.

1)    Moving ahead to champion Open Science

Open Science, particularly its digital dimensions, was among the key topics of interest in this year’s EuroDIG. Noting the many helpful local, regional and international (e.g. discipline-specific) open science initiatives, UNESCO and other stakeholders discussed the value of developing a comprehensive shared definition and normative approach; and UNESCO itself offered an update on its draft Recommendation on Open Science.

Here, a summary of key points raised by various stakeholders and Member States during the UNESCO consultation (to which IFLA also contributed) included references to the importance of infrastructure (e.g. internet connectivity), of Open Science monitoring, and of non-profit and sustainable services and infrastructures to support Open Science in light of the risks of commercial monopolisation. In November 2021, the draft Recommendations are due to be submitted to the UNESCO Geneva Conference with a view to their adoption, followed by anticipated adoption among Member States.

Open Data. A closely related topic which may be interesting for libraries working in this area is open data – particularly how to open and share data which is more sensitive and requires further safeguards. Noting the current legal provisions which govern the lifecycles and usage of such data (e.g. laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation), the speakers pointed out some of the existing and possible approaches which can help enable such data-sharing to take place securely in practice. These include, for example, various licensing models, or setting out rules on access to such sensitive data – e.g. for specific purposes, or to limited types of stakeholders.

This discussion also pointed to the importance of investing in infrastructural support, education, and awareness-raising, to help researchers navigate the questions around opening sensitive data. These discussions are of course highly relevant for libraries offering support or training on research data management, licensing or copyright for their institutions.

2)    Online learning: where do we stand today?

Digital divides and inequalities. The 2021 EuroDIG also offered an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from the rapid shift to digital in learning and education, which has taken place in many parts of the world over the past year. One of the most prominent challenges here is, of course, the widely-noted digital divide – inequalities in access to suitable connectivity or devices (or even suitable spaces) for learners, and the ability to use them effectively.

The social element. The social dimension of learning is another consideration – with concerns expressed over the possible impacts of all-digital learning on students’ social interactions and wellbeing. Some survey data suggests, for example, that parents reported positive impacts of remote learning for students’ math and reading competencies – but see it as having a more negative impact on their social skills. This raises the question of whether it is possible to leverage existing (and develop new) applications and digital mediums to further promote meaningful interaction and wellbeing.

These points relate to the questions many libraries themselves have been grappling with since they introduced virtual programming to support learning and social interaction for children – from storytimes to creative workshops or clubs.

Platforms, walled gardens, educational content discoverability. Another part of the discussion focused on digital learning platforms and tools themselves. Here, stakeholders noted that it is crucial for platforms to not only optimise learning – but to also take fully into account learners’ digital autonomy, digital self-determination, privacy and ethics.

Another consideration is the  “walled gardens” of some commercial learning platforms – those characterised by limited interoperability and a lack of access to their learning materials from outside of the platform (e.g with access cut off once a course ends). For libraries, this latter point relates to their own concerns over equity and availability of access to digital learning materials. One of the draft take-away messages also highlights the importance of tools that increase the discoverability of educational content across the various available platforms.

3)    Privacy and data protection – not an obstacle to productivity

Built-in privacy. Another well-noted impact of rapid digitalisation is the immense increase in the amount of data being generated and collected in the process. Naturally, this puts into the spotlight questions around data privacy (especially for personal data) and data protection.

This echoes some of the questions libraries themselves had to answer during the pandemic – which platform can be used for virtual programming? How to minimise data collection? What initiatives targeting particular user groups are possible?

Some of the suggested measures to address these concerns included clear internal policies and processes which build in privacy at the outset, increased transparency and accountability, and, importantly, actively promoting the idea that “data protection is not an obstacle to productivity and innovation”.

Digital skills. Another element that can help preserve privacy and data security is, of course, learning – both for staff members (to help guide internal processes) and users (to help understand and navigate their own use of the internet – e.g. online financial services). This will be familiar to many in the library field who are increasingly focused on supporting digital literacy and confidence within their communities.

4)    Paths towards a greener digital future

The complexity of the relationship between the ongoing digital transformation and environment and sustainability is, of course, well-noted. Technology has immense potential to help track and mitigate today’s environmental challenges. Yet it also contributes to these challenges in various ways, from energy consumption and resource extraction to e-waste.

A part of the EuroDIG discussions dedicated to environmental sustainability focused on a broader public perspective: the impacts of lifestyles and consumption patterns around technology.

As such, one of the key needed changes the participants highlighted were policies, practices and infrastructure facilitating the reuse and repair of technology. Another important element was raising public awareness and education, to enable communities to make sustainable choices – which also requires access to quality information and transparency about technology.

Such questions are of course of interest for libraries: from public procurement, to repair workshops held in libraries, to raising awareness about sustainable consumption patterns.

A related point focused on the link between sustainability and equality of access. Here, it can be worthwhile also to examine models of access that support equitable digital inclusion while keeping the number of new devices entering circulation lower (whether it is distributing refurbished technology, free public access to ICT, and others).

These are just some of the discussions from the 2021 EuroDIG which can be worthwhile and interesting for libraries to keep track of – with more sessions exploring questions around freedom of expression and content moderation practices online, formal and informal media literacy learning practices, and more.

You can take a look at the draft EuroDIG2021 takeaway messages, access all session recordings, and stay engaged with internet governance discussions to share insights, perspectives and good practices from across the global library field!

International Archives Day: together for transparency, accountability and access to information

9 June marks International Archives Day – falling in the middle of a week dedicated to celebrating and highlighting the work of the archive and record management sectors. We warmly congratulate our colleagues across many types of institutions – from national to community archives, and of course libraries carrying out archival activities. We stand in solidarity with them to continue building societies where preserving and ensuring access to information powers fundamental rights, wellbeing and development!

One of the key themes for this year’s celebrations is empowering accountability and transparency – how archives help people protect their rights and hold governments accountable through access to information.

This offers a good opportunity to reflect on where the global dialogue on transparency and accountability stands today – and how together libraries and archives can support and help drive progress.

The push for transparency in challenging times

The pandemic has, without a doubt, raised urgent questions about transparency and access to information, with many stakeholders highlighting the key role of universal access to government and public interest information. In particular at a time that governments are making decisions on an emergency basis, it helps ensure that people are well-informed about the situation, uphold accountability and build sustainable policies.

Transparency International, for example, pointed out that freedom of information rights gain additional urgency as pandemic responses impact people’s right to movement and assembly. The latter can also mean that opportunities for participatory democratic processes – and for media and civil society organisations to travel, gather and publish public interest information – are also severely reduced.

These discussions helped identify good practices and principles – e.g. proactive disclosure, building a robust digital infrastructure – which can help ensure that people’s fundamental right to information is upheld during this time of crisis.

Thinking to the future, the possibility for citizens to hold governments to account for the decisions and actions they have taken during the pandemic will depend on the possibility to access, rapidly and easily, relevant documentation.

As Freedom in the World 2021 Policy Recommendations highlight,

[…] Freedom House surveyed democracy and human rights experts working in over 100 countries, asking how democratic governments can help support democracy and human rights during the pandemic. Providing the public with access to fact-based information was a top response.

Powering a culture of transparency, accountability and access to information

In their work to support openness and transparency, archives, libraries, and information professionals have already identified many areas where their help can have a strong impact.

These include, for example, helping build accessible and user-friendly platforms for people to access public information, raising awareness about the public’s rights to information, offering engagement opportunities and helping their communities build up the skills needed to effectively use and leverage this information.

Such questions have been high on the agenda for IFLA over the past months. Principles and good practice examples have been outlined in IFLA’s recent Statement on Libraries and Open and Good Governance, our input to the UN Human Rights Office on Fostering Access to Information Held by Public Entities, and a briefing on libraries and open government.

The encouraging news is that libraries around the world continue to explore new and different ways to support these principles. For example, in the Netherlands, “digital government information points” are set up in more and more public libraries – with around 200 points set up since the initiative was launched in 2019!

They help people with many different questions – accessing e-government services, understanding legal terminology in official letters, referring people to NGos or government agencies that can best address their queries, and more.

In the USA, Indiana University Libraries received the U.S. Government Publishing Office’s 2020 “Library of the Year” title for the creative ways to connect people with government information. For example, their “Government Info Alerts” initiative offers people biweekly updates on new publications and development – tailored to their areas of interest on the basis of a short survey.

These examples reiterate that building a culture of transparency, accountability and access to information calls for multifaceted solutions on both supply (how information is offered) and demand (how people are encouraged and enabled to use it) sides.

Both archives and libraries are well placed to meet this need – ensuring long-term preservation of records, building user-friendly solutions for digital access, removing access restrictions, balancing the rights to access information with the rights to privacy, and more.

Of course, collaboration and exchange of good practices are a key ingredient to achieving these goals! This is well-reflected in another key point of the 2021 International Archive Day discussion – networking and collaboration.

So we want to once again congratulate our colleagues – and look forward to continuing working together to help power transparency, accountability and access to information!

GDPR, three years on: five lessons on data privacy and libraries

When the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in 2018, it ushered in major changes in the policy dialogue and practice around data privacy – both inside the EU and globally. Three years on, libraries continue to work to uphold their ethical commitments to privacy in the evolving policy landscape.

The GDPR’s third anniversary gives occasion to reflect on the progress made so far, where discussions on data privacy, confidentiality and security stand today, and the implications of this for libraries. This blog presents five lessons:

1) Change is afoot, in Europe and beyond: The oft-cited trend of an emerging new generation of privacy laws continues; with legislation introduced, amended or currently under review in different parts of the world – from Canada to Brazil, Singapore to Australia.

In addition, with the ‘Privacy Shield’ framework for data exchange between the EU and the USA overturned, policy discussions around the privacy and security of cross-border data flows also remain high on the agenda. As such, mutual adequacy decisions and other arrangements further shape the global and local policy environments around data privacy.

Within Europe, Stakeholders are paying close attention to the outcomes of the implementation and ongoing enforcement of these policies. On the one hand, the past months saw a sustained growth in the number of breach notifications submitted and fines issued within the GDPR framework.

On the other hand, as a recent GDPR implementation progress report by Access Now notes, many complaints from private individuals are yet to be addressed; and data protection authorities and EU bodies flag some crucial challenges in enforcement – e.g. in the cross-national collaboration mechanism, national differences in implementation, and others.

The report highlights that GDPR is ‘still in its infancy’; but it is a flagship regulation that continues to have a significant impact on the global data privacy policy field. As such, for libraries around the world, it is worthwhile to keep up with these key developments as they continue to navigate their work with user (and employee) data.

2) It is not only governments that are changing their approaches: another emerging trend is private tech companies increasingly stepping into the roles of data protection stakeholders, and changing how online data flows unfold – e.g. with Apple’s software update and Google’s planned steps to reduce third-party tracking.

However, the reactions to these seem to be mixed – some celebrate the anticipated privacy gains, others express concerns over big tech having far-reaching capacity to act as data privacy regulators, and in particular whether private companies can ever be as accountable as public regulators. This does also raise questions about whether those companies already able to draw on the lessons of previous data collection will enjoy unfair advantages compared to competitors. Others noted that the benefits from privacy measures introduced by private companies may not be distributed equally – for example, with those who are able to afford more expensive devices ultimately enjoying higher privacy standards.

3) The relevance of GDPR and other privacy protections is greater than ever, including in libraries: it was under the framework of GDPR that the leap to digital during the pandemic took place. There are examples of how it helped inform the choice of medium for online programming (e.g. ruling out some channels, like WhatsApp). There are also examples of GDPR having an impact on whether some initiatives – like organised outreach to potentially vulnerable library users – were on the table.

But of course, as privacy remains an important consideration in many public discussions during the pandemic (e.g. contact tracing, vaccine passports), for countless librarians there is a heightened sense of responsibility and vigilance around data privacy.

As such, the year saw professional discussions, guides and toolkits put together to help libraries navigate privacy challenges during the pandemic – from contact tracing and temperature checks to supporting educators in protecting student privacy online.

When planning these adjustments and responses, going back to the basics – understanding the key building blocks of privacy today – can be helpful. For example, GDPR has helped shape the understanding of what personal data encompasses today – e.g. not just the obvious categories like names and addresses but also, for instance, graphic and photographic data, and so much more. It commits to principles like data minimisation – a concept which wasn’t new to libraries, of course, but nonetheless helpful in thinking about any organisation’s data management processes, and reducing risks and harms. All these elements and concepts can be helpful for libraries in structuring their thoughts on what privacy means today – even for those not falling under GDPR’s jurisdiction.

4) But it’s not always easy to enforce privacy: some of these measures are, of course, a matter of internal processes and are comparatively easier for libraries to implement (e.g. choosing a medium for online programming; maintaining strict policies and procedures in situations when contact tracing is required).

However, the past months also saw reflections on how it is significantly more difficult for libraries to keep up privacy standards, initially developed in an analogue world, in digital processes which involve powerful third parties.

These were exemplified in the library concerns around the surveillance capacities of academic library vendors (e.g. the ways vendors may use library patron data far beyond anticipated purposes, or even proposals for more intrusive data collection in academic libraries to enforce copyright).

Some of the proposed paths to solving these challenges include, of course, better understanding these phenomena, and supporting libraries’ work to renegotiate or recalibrate relationships and agreements with outside vendors.

5) Privacy and performance should not be seen as mutually exclusive: too often, it is easy to see privacy as a zero-sum game. However, this is not inevitable.

This was echoed during the discussions about public health interventions reliant on large-scale data collections: trading away privacy for other benefits is not always a helpful framing. Instead, built-in privacy which preserves and ensures trust in such public health interventions can help them find broader acceptance, while a lack of trust can undermine their success.

As a Data Privacy Toolkit by the Pacific Library Partnership puts it in the library context,

“Positive-sum verses “all or nothing” outcomes: taking a “we can have privacy or we can have this other thing” approach to privacy discussions leaves little to no room for discussions that address the privacy needs and concerns of everyone involved.”


The discussion about data privacy, of course, remains both technical and complex, and can at times feel overwhelming. But between ongoing efforts to identify practical measures libraries can take, their advocacy efforts, and an overarching commitment to privacy as a key part of their professional ethics, the work to ensure libraries deliver on this commitment continues!