Monthly Archives: July 2018

Culture on the Agenda: Heritage in the Sustainable Development Goals

One of the key reasons why Sustainable Development Goal 11 is so important for libraries is its recognition of the importance of safeguarding cultural heritage.

Its inclusion alongside questions such as mobility, waste and housing may seem strange at first glance. However, it is a recognition that culture is vital to the sustainability and ‘livability’ of the cities, towns and villages where people live.

Given the range of issues covered by this goal, it was perhaps unsurprising that the thematic session on SDG11 at the 2018 High Level Political Forum “Review of SDGs implementation: SDG 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” was very broad-reaching. Fortunately, Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director of the Division for Creativity at UNESCO, was there to make a strong case for placing culture and heritage at the start of the SDGs.

Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director UNESCO Division of Creativity

Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director UNESCO Division of Creativity

She underlined not only the direct impacts of heritage in terms of identity and wellbeing, but also its impact on other indicators, such as sustainable urban development, education, and diversity.

Crucially, UNESCO is undertaking work to ensure that there is evidence for this impact. Given both the focus in the SDGs on measurement as a means of ensuring accountability, and the fact that governments themselves need such figures in order to decide how best to spend public money, this work has strong potential. The resulting Culture for Development Indicators therefore represent a rich resource.

At a side-event “Implementing SDG 11.4: Local voices and Global Agendas for Cultural and Natural Heritage” organised by the International Council on Monuments and Sites the same day, speakers had the opportunity to look further at how the heritage sector is making a difference. The impacts of heritage on the environment, on urban planning, on gender, on cohesion and tolerance were clear.

While the focus was, inevitably, on buildings and monuments, the parallels with the work of libraries were clear. In the UN context, there is a shared interest in ensuring that culture is not only part of the SDGs, but also of the measurement framework.

But more broadly, with digital technologies breaking down barriers between different types of heritage work, there is strong potential for collaboration more broadly. Further, welcome, proof of the value of the SDGs as a framework for rethinking how, and with whom, we work!

Words of the SDGs: Intersectionality

UN Headquarters, New York


The High Level Political Forum is an overwhelming experience, with enough events taking place at the same time to make planning your day full of hard choices. But in addition to the number of events, getting to grips with the words, the vocabulary used in discussions can be a further barrier.

While it is easy enough to criticise such words simply as jargon, a key lesson of IFLA’s International Advocacy Programme has been if we want to convince experts and decision-makers of our message, we need to use this language.

Therefore, a number of our blogs during HLPF 2018 will focus on key words used in the SDGs, in order to explain how they are used, and what they mean for libraries. The goal – to help libraries feel ownership of these words, and use them in their own work.


The idea of intersectionality is not unique the SDGs, but is particularly relevant in this context. It is the idea that while academic – and often policy – debate focuses on specific themes, at the level of individuals and communities, these themes come together.

Indeed, the crossing of different issues can have a variety of different outcomes, sometimes to make things worse, sometimes better. Sometimes a lack of progress in one area simply cancels out progress in another.


Intersectionality in the UN Context

The concept of intersectionality is indeed at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals are not just indivisible, but interconnected. Indeed, next year’s Global Report on Sustainable Development will focus on these linkages. By recognising these relationships, it becomes easier for governments and others to plan actions that will have a positive impact for individuals.

The importance of intersectionality – getting the right combination of measures to make a difference – has come up in a number of side events at the High Level Political Forum.

Intersectionality and Smart Cities

A first – a side event organised by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and the Committee on NGOs – focused on inspiring examples of smart city initiatives from Korea, Mexico and the Philippines. Each of these had focused not just on ‘hard’ technology, but including people. The city of Suwon in particular had developed adapted opportunities for people of all ages to learn and be informed, provide necessary spaces, and change mindsets.

The key common trend across the examples – making use of libraries. Because as institutions focused on finding the best solutions in individuals, they can help not only with providing materials, but also comfort and motivation for learning. In the Philippines and Korea in particular, there had been strong investment in libraries, with the results already paying off.

Intersectionality, ICTs and Development

The second side event, organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), brought together people focusing on how ICTs can support development. Here too, it was clear that there are a number of factors and trends at play in determining whether the Internet realises its potential, from physical connections to local content, from the financial to the psychological.

A major drive on public internet access could be undone by a failure to protect privacy, while changes to regulation to favour market solutions will have less effect if there is no work to develop skills and confidence online.

Here too, libraries stand at the point of intersection, offering not only Internet access, but also the support and training to make this meaningful.


For all of its apparently technical nature, the idea of intersectionality is at the heart of what libraries and librarians are doing when they look to support users in accessing information. As institutions which, by their nature, cross disciplines and information sources in order to focus on what works, libraries can take ownership of this word – and concept – in their own work.

Meaningful Access to Information: Essential, but not Easy

In its engagement with the United Nations, IFLA’s messaging centres on the importance of access to information. The type of information may vary – government, health, educational, communications – as may the specific objective, but the need for access is constant.

Address by María Soledad Cisternas Reyes at the Opening of the HLPF 2018

Address by María Soledad Cisternas Reyes at the Opening of the HLPF 2018

The opening session of this year’s High Level Political Forum saw a great explanation of why this is important. Ms. María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility highlighted how we are not addressing civil or political rights of millions of people who have no access to information.

Those without access had no way of knowing how to achieve social development and participate in society. The lack of efforts to provide meaningful, inclusive access to information left people unable to express their desires, realise their potential, and exercise their rights, not least the right to vote. Addressing the lack of access to information, for all, was vital in sustainable development.


Yet given how multi-faceted it is, delivering access to information is not necessarily easy. At a session organised by UNESCO in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of the Argentine Republic to the United Nations: “The role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the implementation of the targets in SDG 11” the focused on how to deliver truly smart cities.

Side event by UNESCO: "The role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the implementation of the targets in SDG 11"

Side event by UNESCO: “The role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the implementation of the targets in SDG 11”

Participants highlighted different elements of access – the need for transparency about government information, the need for connectivity and digital skills, the need for places where people could feel safe to go online, and the need to protect privacy yet at the same time understand community needs.

In short, access is about more than creating an app or creating a website, it also requires adapted, welcoming, and outcome-orientated support mechanisms.

Fortunately, libraries help on all of these fronts. As pre-existing, trusted public institutions, with trained, dedicated staff, ensuring citizen empowerment and participation, they provide access to information, internet connection, and digital skills, while protecting privacy.

IFLA’s intervention was very well received by the audience. To support the point, the example of Medellín (Colombia) was mentioned, where building libraries was the solution found by government in a city formerly marked by violence and exclusion. Libraries, and library parks, became community centres, chosen and owned by citizens as safe public gathering and learning spaces.


Side event: “Monitoring peace, evaluating institutions, building capacity: A data-driven conversation on SDG 16 and its upcoming 2019 review SDGs Learning, Training and Practice”

Side event: “Monitoring peace, evaluating institutions, building capacity: A data-driven conversation on SDG 16 and its upcoming 2019 review SDGs Learning, Training and Practice”

At the side event: “Monitoring peace, evaluating institutions, building capacity: A data-driven conversation on SDG 16 and its upcoming 2019 review SDGs Learning, Training and Practice”, organized by UNITAR & IDEA, the issue of lack of proper indicators to monitor SDG 16 were again addressed as a big issue that needs to be solved.

Given next year’s HLPF focus in this SDG, participants proposed to organise a meeting for SDG 16 civil society stakeholders in preparation for this review. This idea was supported by the speakers as an idea worth exploring.

Side event: "SDGS on a local level"

Side event: “SDGS on a local level”

There were similar reflections on the need to find ways to measure progress towards sustainable development, especially at the local level (for example “SDGS on a local level”, organized by UNITAR, and “Practical Tools to Localize and Implement the SDG11 and the New Urban Agenda in Cities in the Developing World”, organized by UN-HABITAT.

Especially in the case of target 11.4 (safeguarding cultural heritage), this was particularly important, given that data needed to be collected locally to be meaningful. Yet for them to be comparable – to be able to get a global idea of progress – there had to be enough similarity in the methods used.

Side event: “Practical Tools to Localize and Implement the SDG11 and the New Urban Agenda in Cities in the Developing World”

Side event: “Practical Tools to Localize and Implement the SDG11 and the New Urban Agenda in Cities in the Developing World”

IFLA is addressing both of these challenges. In order to resolve the complexity of how to measure access to information, the Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report, produced in partnership with TASCHA, suggests a basket of indicators. These can be followed over time, and the interactions between the different components explored in order to understand what an effective set of policies for access to information could look like.

Similarly, through IFLA’s Library Map of the World, we are looking at developing capacity to collect library data locally, in a form that then can be explored globally. As this develops, it will become an essential tool in the analysis of the global library field and its contribution to development.

The Quality Trap? The Risks of Claiming a Monopoly on Quality

It’s difficult to argue with quality. By its definition, it means something that’s good, better and more desirable than its competitors.


The notion of quality applies as much to information as it does to clothes, food or other experiences. Indeed, ‘quality information’ has emerged as an antidote, a solution to ‘fake news’ and the content of ‘predatory journals’.


On one level, the focus on ‘quality information’ is welcome for libraries, in that it underlines the importance of the work they doing in helping users find the best possible information to meet their needs. This can be critical – for example, knowing where to look for the most reliable recent medical research can make a critical difference in medicine.


However, the language of quality is also frequently used as a means of dismissing, sometimes unfairly, whole categories of information producers (notably, bloggers, open access journals, or open educational resources).


Going further, appeals to the idea of ‘quality’ and the need to defend it have become a core element of arguments that serve to shore up existing structures and models in the information chain (here, here, here). This blog explores some of the risks this carries.


Getting it Wrong

A first key concern is that consistent quality is hard to achieve. Even the most careful editorial process will still leave space for mistakes. This is completely normal, especially in the media sector, where deadlines are tight, and there is pressure to get clicks and views.


The best sources will of course rapidly – and prominently – display corrections and apologies – this is good practice. However, this takes nothing from the fact that mistakes are inevitably made.


The problem remains that by making a big deal out of quality, errors are all the more glaring. Too often, claims of quality become discredited, and the word itself loses its meaning.


As danah boyd has underlined in her work on the ‘fake news’ phenomenon, the occasional errors made, combined with an instinct among many to distrust authority, has contributed to a sense of rejection of traditional sources and media, in favour of more radical ones.


In short, it is perhaps a bad idea to base arguments on having a monopoly on quality when it is impossible to guarantee this in everything you do.


Fossilising the System


As highlighted in the introduction, ‘quality’ can be used as an argument to defend existing ways of doing things, as opposed to new and innovative ones.


As highlighted in the previous section, a particular structure or method will not always produce quality. And it follows that a different method may not always produce inaccurate or misleading material. Indeed, by adopting different approaches, it may be possible to do things better. Wikipedia is perhaps the most regularly cited example of this where, even after a few years of existence, it appeared to be just as accurate as the (much more traditional) Encyclopaedia Britannica.


The risk comes when laws are constructed (or reformed) in such a way as to favour (uniquely) pre-existing ways of doing things. Examples include the proposed press publishers right in the EU, provisions that oblige teachers only to use certain textbooks, those that limit payment of public lending rights for eBooks to authors who have a publisher (as in the UK), or reforms that place liability on platforms, or educational/scientific repositories, for hosting content uploaded by users.


Of course, not all of these are even effective means of achieving the goal desired by those proposing them (the press publishers’ right being a stark example). And they underline how difficult it is to legislate for ‘quality’, especially in a field as complex and subjective as information and knowledge.


A Way Forwards


Clearly, becoming completely equivocal about quality is not an option. It is not the case that all articles, all newspapers, are as good (in terms of being relevant or accurate) as each other. And indeed, this is where libraries play such a crucial role in helping people to determine what is useful or otherwise.


While processes, reputations, or other tools (such as impact factors) can help guide these decisions, there also needs to be awareness of their limitations, and the fact that they are only proxies for quality.


The focus, then, should be on making the case for the importance of reliable information, and building the skills to find it. An approach focused on the individual is also far more likely to yield results than clumsy efforts to determine, through law or similar measures, who has a monopoly on quality.

Below the Radar, Below the Belt: the Threat to Libraries (and many others) from Article 6 of the new draft Copyright Directive

For over two years, lawmakers in Brussels considering a draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market have been subject to vigorous campaigning on copyright from all sides.

Much of the focus has been on two, maybe three aspects of draft legislation under discussion: a new right for press publishers; and an obligation on Internet platforms to check content for potential copyright infringement before it goes online. The ‘maybe’ is text and data mining, which has received less, but still significant attention.

Yet there is much more in the proposed legislation. For example, libraries have focused strongly on Articles 3-5, and 7-9, which deal respectively with text and data mining, illustration for teaching, preservation, and uses of out-of-commerce works.

Among those articles which have received almost no attention is Article 6.

 Risking the Rule of Law: What Protections for Technological Protection Measures?

Given the dull title – ‘common provisions’ – and the technical-looking wording of the original, this is perhaps unsurprising: the Commission’s original draft read ‘Article 5(5) and the first, third and fifth subparagraphs of Article 6(4) of Directive 2001/29/EC shall apply to the exceptions and the limitation provided for under this Title’.

It takes some digging (or a detailed knowledge of generation-old EU law) to work out that this provision refers to technological protection measures (TPMs) – the locks, marks or other tools that control what a user can do with a digital work, such as a book, video or other file. TPMs can help achieve the objectives of copyright protections by making it harder to share or use a work illicitly.

The 2001 Directive – the Information Society Directive – makes it illegal to remove or get around TPMs which serve to prevent unlawful uses of works. At the same time, it provides that if TPMs are preventing lawful uses of works, then people can complain about it to their governments to seek removal of the TPM.

Confusingly, there is a further somewhat illogical provision (in the fourth paragraph of Article 6(4)) that underlines that when a user has access to a work under mutually agreed terms (i.e. a licence or contract), then this exception to the rule (the ability to make a complaint) does not apply.

In short, as soon as a work is licensed (rather than sold), users have no recourse about TPMs that interfere with their rights to make use of exceptions to copyright by preventing them from doing things that would otherwise be legal.

Given that many licences are not genuinely negotiable (for example because to have access to the work the only option is to sign, or because the buyer doesn’t have the knowledge or power to negotiate), rightholders of licensed works have a free hand to use TPMs to rewrite the law in their favour.

As European Commission research into the experience of teachers using licensed works shows, abuse of the use of technological protection measures is one of the main barriers to full and effective use of digital resources.

Article 6 of the draft Directive, in the original, crucially removed this last caveat. It’s effect was to be that even if the work was accessed under contract (for example in the case of academic journals, or eBooks), it lifted the ban on complaining to your government to obtain removal (or simply removing yourself) of TPMs that prevent enjoyment of the copyright exceptions created by the draft Directive. This represented a major step towards ensuring the effectiveness of the law, and to enforcing the rights of users – not least in research organisations and libraries – who already have legal access to digital books, articles, videos and other materials.

Yet the amended version of the draft Directive recently voted through by the  European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee reverses this. Through switching a couple of words, it re-applies the provision that ensures that TPMs applied to licensed works are protected, regardless of the harm they cause to users rights.

If this amendment makes it into law, the European Union will have done a major disservice not only to the rights of users and libraries in a digital age, but to the effectiveness of its own laws. The achievement of the goals of the Directive – education, preservation, scientific progress – will depend on the goodwill of private actors, not the rule of law. This is not a healthy or credible means of promoting the public interest.

Harming Research, Harming Heritage: Exceptions and Limitations Must Work Together

This is not all. Even worse, a further amendment was added to Article 6 and adopted by the Legal Affairs Committee that provides that once an exception has been used to access content, it is not possible to use that content under another exception.

This provision appears to be a reactionary attempt to circumvent the TU Darmstadt ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which made the (limited) step of allowing libraries to digitise copies of works in their collections (even when a digital version of the same was on the market) and give their users access to those digitised copies via dedicated terminals within their premises. It also allowed students and researchers to make printouts, as long as these were permitted under copyright exceptions.

For libraries, researchers and students, this was a logical step, facilitating public interest activities by opening new possibilities for access, especially when terms offered by publishers did not meet needs. Yet it was a limited step unlikely to cause any unreasonable harm to rightholders’ interests.

The amendment proposed in the Legal Affairs Committee’s current version of Article 6 would not only reverse this decision, but goes much further. It appears to have been accepted by the Committee without understanding that this amendment undermines the function of exceptions and limitations in the legislative regimes of EU Member States, long established under international copyright treaties. The Committee also seems to have given no thought to the harm it will do to libraries, archives, research and cultural heritage institutions.

Even if only applied to the limitations and exceptions covered by the draft Directive, it implies that, for example, once a work has been subject to preservation copying (i.e. to copy a sound recording from vulnerable media such as audiotape or vinyl to digital form), then it can no longer be used for text and data mining.

Nor could it be used for teaching purposes, significantly harming education programmes making use of vulnerable 20th century content. Efforts to use old sound recordings and film reels could be forced to stop (unless additional licensing fees are paid), as could programmes involving materials such as soldiers’ letters from the First World War.

Instead, once a work had been preserved, it would effectively be locked away until it entered the public domain, regardless of the nature of the use of the work.

This amendment must be removed if the European Union is not to mark the European Year of Cultural Heritage by delivering a serious blow to the institutions working to preserve and celebrate this. The harm that would be done to research and education is immeasurable.


As highlighted in IFLA’s own commentary on the version of the draft Directive voted through by the Legal Affairs Committee, there are positives and negatives. Progress has been made on the specific exceptions applying to libraries and cultural heritage institutions, even if this falls short of what was necessary. Amendments to the most controversial Articles (11 and 13) may well protect non-commercial library activities, although these articles still run violently counter to broader library values.

In the middle of this, it is important not to forget other elements which, for all that they appear dull and technical, risk doing major damage to our sector and to the copyright framework itself. The Legal Affairs Committee’s amendments to Article 6 must be rejected and the Commission’s original text restored.