Tag Archives: transparency

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!

Libraries and Open Data

7 March marks the 10th Open Data Day, an annual international event to promote open data and explore the ways it can be used to address societal challenges. The goal is to push for more data – whether cultural, financial or scientific, data on the weather or the environment, or data produced by statistical offices – to be available in convenient and usable (machine-readable) formats for anyone to use, reuse or redistribute.

Data can be conceptualised as “the lowest level of raw material from which information and knowledge can be derived”, and opening access to data means that more and more people can make meaningful use of it – whether for societal benefit, self-empowerment, innovation, or other valuable ends.

Libraries have a natural affinity with the goals of the open data movement. One of their key aims is to provide access to information – as widely as possible, to as many people as possible. Libraries’ expertise in helping people find and access the information they need – as well as their efforts to promote citizen engagement and digital inclusion – makes them a natural partner for open data initiatives.

Libraries as stewards, educators, publishers and partners: from traditional functions to new roles

Given this affinity, more and more libraries are supporting various open data initiatives. More governments are developing open government plans, moves towards Open Science entail support for Open (research) Data as one if its key pillars, and the OpenGlam initiative seeks to ensure open access to cultural heritage – also a source of data. Libraries can play an important part in realising the full benefits of open data in all these spheres, often simply through traditional library tasks and services.

Consider for example the role libraries – particularly academic libraries – can play in promoting Open Data. As the materials prepared by the EU FOSTER project point out, libraries can support Open Data, inter alia, by training and supporting researchers in their institutions to help them make wider use of and contribute to Open Data.

There is also a large scope for impact through libraries’ Research Data Management (RDM) practices: they can play an important role by improving the availability, findability, re-usability and curation of research data sets. Both of these roles can be seen as an evolution of the traditional roles of academic libraries, but crucially, FOSTER points out that libraries could need to develop new processes and skills to assume these new functions.

Libraries as educators

More broadly, providing inclusive learning opportunities for the public is also a role that many libraries (especially public libraries) traditionally take on. Here, too, libraries can draw on their experience to promote Open Data understanding and awareness in their communities. Robinson and Mather (2017), for example, point out the importance of supporting the demand-side of Open Data – engaging the wider public and non-expert users in Open Data initiatives and helping them make meaningful use of the available data. They make the case that libraries can be well-suited to act as intermediaries and support this demand.

We can already see such initiatives in practice: there are several libraries and library organisations working to raise awareness and equip people with the skills needed to engage and make use of Open Data. For example, in the United States, the Kinder Institute and the Rice University Fondren Library have worked together to deliver a data literacy training for youth in two under-served communities.

Meanwhile, California State Library and the Washington State Office of Privacy, with the help of public and academic libraries in California and Washington, have developed a curriculum to teach open data literacy and awareness to both librarians and community members. Such initiatives are key to generating engagement among the broader public and making sure that a lack of skills is not a barrier for engagement and use of open data.

Taking on new roles

Government and civic data, generated by national, regional and local government and other civic organisations, are at the heart of the Open Data movement. As pointed out in a 2017 White Paper prepared by Temple University Libraries, libraries have often assumed the task of collecting and preserving local government data, beginning with paper formats. Building on this role, some libraries have partnered with various agencies and organisations to curate, host or otherwise improve access to their data.

For example, the Chapel Hill Public Library manages the Chapel Hill Open Data site, providing easy public access to datasets released by the local government departments. The web portal encourages community engagement – users can download, use and reuse data, build chats, maps or visualisations with the build-in tools.

Libraries’ unique competencies could help them effectively assume such roles. Their expertise with metadata, preservation and curation can be very valuable for such undertakings – and so is their expertise with ethical handling of data and information – as pointed out, for example, by Throgmorton, Norlander and Palmer, 2019.

Cultural heritage and open data

And of course, libraries themselves can be sources of valuable open data as well. Consider, for example, the experience of the Hamburg State and University Library with ‘culture hackathons’. During the 2016 Coding da Vinci Nord, software developers and engineers and culture institution specialists came together to create new and inventive ways for the public to access, interact with and make use of digital cultural collections, from interactive mobile city tours to quiz apps or social media tools.

In short, the roles libraries can play in open data are truly diverse: from community engagement and capacity-building to curation, publishing new data, supporting local organisations and agencies and more. The Civic Switchboard Guide has developed a classification of different roles libraries can take, and offers advice , inspiration and resources for each of them!

Celebrating the Open Data Day

Given the important roles libraries can play in the Open Data movement, their continued participation in the Open Data Day comes as no surprise! This year, two recipients of the Open Data Day mini-grant are from the library field: a Malawi librarian at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources is organising a training for librarians about open data and its benefits, and the Zimbabwe Library Association will host an event focusing on the ways open data can be used to support and empower women and girls.

Other libraries – for example, in Finland and Canada – are hosting events and taking part in the celebration. Open Data Day is an opportunity for your library to highlight the work you are doing around access to data, get inspired to take action, and find likeminded partners to cooperate with.

Take a look at the map of planned events around the world, Open Data Day event resources, and share your work!