Monthly Archives: October 2018

Attack of the Zombie Library Clichés

Attack of the Zombie Library Cliches

Libraries and librarians are the subject of a rich set of clichés. Simply searching for ‘librarian stereotype’ on Google offers plenty of choice, and ‘Librarians in popular culture’ has its own Wikipedia page.

Not all of these are negative by any means. The focus on detail, the quiet, the books – these are what make libraries so attractive for many.

Yet sometimes the clichés are harmful, at least when they lead to a sense that libraries are nice-to-haves, but not 100% necessary. And despite the evidence, they keep coming back.

In short, some library clichés are like zombies, returning from the dead. And so, to mark Halloween, below are five common zombie clichés, and some ideas for how to fend them off!


1. Libraries are only about books: So it’s true that the word library in English (as well as variants on Bibliothèque in other languages) come straight from the Latin and Greek words for ‘books’. Clearly, it is also a love of books that draws many people to our institutions are well – to visit, or to work!

Yet libraries are showing, every day, that books are just part of the offer. They are valued as a quiet, non-commercial space to work or find peace, to meet with other members of the community, to learn and develop new skills, and to discover new ideas and experiences. And of course, they often also lend tools, or other non-book items to people!

So while books remain central to the work of many libraries, they are so much more.


2. Libraries have been replaced by the Internet: it may be true that some of the most simple requests – what is the capital of the Netherlands for example? – have long been taken over by the Internet. But there’s a big difference between some of the functions of libraries being taken over, and libraries as institutions being replaced.

While the most novel thing about the ‘fake news’ phenomenon may be the attention being paid to it, it has underlined the importance of media and information literacy. This is the ability to know when you need information, and then to find, understand, evaluate and apply it. And this is where libraries are the masters.

With the abundance of information available today, the need for libraries as guides, and as trainers, has never been greater.


3. Librarians are quiet: this is obviously just one of the clichés about librarians themselves, but it’s a powerful one. But is it true? Anyone who has come to the World Library and Information Congress will clearly know different, but librarians are engaged – and active – throughout the year.

The Bibliotecarios Al Senado (and now Bibliotecarios a la Calle) movement in Latin America shows that librarians can be militant. All the librarians who have engaged in the International Advocacy Programme – see our updates – prove the same thing. Libraries can protest, and speak up in favour of their services and users.

As the IFLA Global Vision underlines, Every Librarian an Advocate!


4. Libraries compete with bookshops: there is an instinctive belief among many, both in government and publishing, that libraries represent a form of competition for bookshops, and that every library loan is a lost sale. Such arguments are used to justify restrictions on eLending, as well as higher costs and royalties. Fortunately, this is not an area where the evidence supports the claims.

It is clear that library lending acts as a ‘shop window’, allowing people to try out new books first at the library, before going to buy the next one. According to one survey, over 50% of library users bought a book by an author they’d discovered in the library.

It is also an investment. In the case of children’s books for example, the work of libraries to develop literate, book-loving young people helps create more higher-skilled, book-buying adults. And of course libraries are often major customers of bookshops.

Libraries and bookshops share the goal of promoting literacy and a love of reading – society as a whole will gain from success.


5. No-one goes to libraries: when IFLA works with some politicians, it is clear that their impression of libraries dates from their childhood or student days. And because they haven’t been to a library in the meanwhile, they tend to believe that no-one else has either. The same, unfortunately, goes for many media commentators – usually people wealthy enough to be able to buy their own books, or too busy to read anyway.

But libraries are popular! Where funding has been sustained (and opening hours with it – for example in France), there has been no significant drop in the numbers of people coming through the doors. They may not be borrowing so many books, but they are there for other reasons, such as those mentioned above. And even in countries which have seen major cuts such as England, libraries have seen more visits than cinemas.

So be sure to correct the politician who claims that no-one uses libraries – invite them to visit so they can see for themselves!

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage – Your Story is Moving

Audiovisual documents contain many of the most powerful records of the 20th and 21st centuries. Work with sound, films, and multimedia therefore represents an important and growing part of libraries’ efforts to preserve and provide access to cultural heritage. The World Day for Audiovisual Heritage takes place on 27 October, and libraries around the world will be celebrating and promoting this heritage as well as the work they are doing to save it for the future.

Audiovisual media has transformed society, creating new possibilities to create, innovate and document the world. It has become a permanent complement to the traditional written record and today many libraries hold not only great collections of books but also audiovisual heritage.

Libraries around the globe are working with non-traditional materials and learning environments such as streaming media, digital creation labs, virtual reality etc. and are taking an active role in both the safeguarding and promotion of these materials.

Before It’s Too Late: Recognising the Need to Preserve Audiovisual Heritage

But even though this material is relatively new, it has already become endangered, as sound recordings and moving images can be deliberately destroyed or irretrievably lost as a result of neglect, decay and technological obsolescence.

In 1980 The General Conference of the UNESCO met in Belgrade to discuss the issue of preservation and conservation of audiovisual documents. It approved the Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images. This had the aim to raise awareness of moving images as an expression of the cultural identity of peoples, of their educational, cultural, artistic, scientific and historical value, and of their place as an integral part of a nation’s cultural heritage.

In 2005 the General Assembly of UNESCO offered a reminder that audiovisual cultural heritage continued to be lost – international action had be taken.

This resulted in the commemoration of a World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, to raise awareness of the need to preserve and safeguard important audiovisual, and for urgent measures to be taken to conserve this heritage and ensure it remains accessible to the public now, and to future generations.

Other UNESCO initiatives such as the Memory of the World Programme (MoW) also promote preservation of documentary cultural heritage (including audiovisual).

Not Just Books! Libraries Preserving Audiovisual Heritage

 Libraries are already active in safeguarding audiovisual heritage for the future. IFLA’s Audiovisual and Multimedia Section (AVMS) provides an international forum for people working with these materials in every kind of library and information service. The Section focuses its work on creating, collecting, describing, providing access, storing and preserving audiovisual and multimedia works.

AVMS holds open sessions, satellite meetings, and workshops in conjunction with IFLA’s World Library and Information Congress (WLIC). They provide guidelines for handling audiovisual and multimedia collections, and share information and resources from non-library organizations such as archives working with these collections.

IFLA also takes an active role in the MoW programme by both contributing to delivering the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage in Digital Form and being represented in the National MoW committees, including by the directors of several IFLA Preservation and Conservation Centres.

To celebrate the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, the PAC Centre at the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile specialised in the preservation of audiovisual heritage, will be launching three short films based on its domestic film collection, other events and activities will as well take place at the library. It’s a great example of the work that the IFLA community are doing to promote and safeguard audiovisual heritage.

Please join the celebration and help us acknowledge the work libraries do every day to preserve our stories so that they will endure for future generations.

Open access as a first step for open science

Open Access and Open Science

By David Ramírez-Ordóñez

[The Spanish version of the post is available here]

Having access to research results is a very good first step of a much longer path. Framing open access in its general context is almost like the end of a chain that derives from the green route (the self-archiving) and the golden route (the publication in Open Access journals), but it is worth starting to go through the chain backwards.

The big picture

In this graphic you can understand the taxonomy of open science.

Along with open access are:

  • Open data
  • Reproducible open science
  • Open evaluation
  • Open policies
  • Open tools

Offer access to the “source code”

A simple way to interpret this big picture is through the idea of offering the source code. Among software developers, a program has two parts: 1) its source code, which allows modifications and in turn generates 2) the “executable”, which is the program running.

If we take the idea of source code to the example of a word processor, one could say that a pdf document is the “executable”, the result of the writing, and its source code is the word file that generated it. Those who have tried to modify a pdf will know that it is much easier to modify it if you have access to the Word file that produced it.

This is why I like to think that those who, besides opening the result of an investigation through open access, offer access to the “source code” of their research, are like the neighbour who puts flowers on his balcony: it helps to beautify the neighbourhood. It will help researchers in their field of knowledge have more to advance their research.

Other forms of source code: the data

If the research has data, it is very common to see articles or books with graphics. Following the metaphor of opening the source code for the data, we would have to give access not only to the graphics under open licenses, which would be the “executables” in our software example. The tables with the data, for example an Excel file, would be the equivalent to the source code.

With this data file we could not only generate the same graphics found in the article or book published in open access. We would also have the possibility of making other graphs based on the same data, doing different analyses or even mixing different types of data to obtain new results.

Publishing data is a way to start with open data, another component of open science.

Tools and reproducible science

In my last two examples, the pdf file and the document in Word and the graph and the data in the Excel file, I used as an example two very popular tools, but they are not free tools. Although we have become accustomed to using them for their popularity, we must pay a license for their use. There are multiple options in free software to avoid a paywall.

Libre Office for example has Writer, which is the equivalent of Word, and Calc is the equivalent to Excel. If we apply the metaphor of giving access to the source code, but this time on the tools, the result is not only to mention with which tool we create the article, but to allow anyone to download these tools and use them.

In this way, open tools and reproducible science are being covered. When you give others the possibility to replicate your experiments and measurements and do the same, you help science advance faster.

The role of librarians in open science

One of the principles of open access is access to scientific publications without technological, legal or economic barriers. If we start to expand this principle to open science we are promoting not only access to information, but also the development of informational capabilities. If we expand it a little bit more, what we are defending is the Human Right of access to information and freedom of thought without technological, legal or economic barriers.

Additionally, supporting open science ensures more and better opportunities to guarantee digital preservation: how many of us can access digital files produced in software that are no longer available in the market? If only 20 years ago we used floppy disks, how will we be able to access the information produced today in 20 years? Will we have the ability to access and reproduce these documents without legal or economic barriers?

This text was written in Ghostwriter using markdown to export it to html, the format in which you will surely be reading this article. The source code can be downloaded in this link and this work is in the public domain since its creation. Although it is not a scientific article, I believe that the principles of open access and open science can be applied to other types of information. It’s my way of putting flowers on my balcony.

Extra: Meanwhile, in Latin America

In Panama (October 22 to 24 – 2018), many people from civil society were working in the Panama Declaration on Open Science -document in Spanish- and librarians from Colombia, Argentina and El Salvador were involved to promote not just Open Access but also Open Science. Maybe you can replicate this with your library association.

El acceso abierto como primer paso para la ciencia abierta

Acceso Abierto y Ciencia Abierta

Por David Ramírez-Ordóñez

[la versión inglesa del post está disponible aquí]

Tener acceso a los resultados de investigación es un muy buen primer paso de un camino mucho más largo. Enmarcando al acceso abierto en su contexto general, se encuentra casi como el final de una cadena que deriva en la ruta verde (el auto archivo) y la ruta dorada (la publicación), pero vale la pena empezar a recorrer la cadena hacia atrás.

El panorama general

En este gráfico se puede entender la taxonomía de la ciencia abierta.

Junto con el acceso abierto se encuentran:

  • Datos abiertos
  • Ciencia abierta reproducible
  • Evaluación abiertas
  • Políticas abiertas
  • Herramientas abiertas

Ofrecer acceso al “código fuente”

Una forma sencilla de interpretar este panorama general es la idea de ofrecer el código fuente. Entre los desarrolladores de software, un programa tiene dos partes: 1) su código fuente, que permite modificaciones y a su vez es el que genera 2) el ejecutable, que es el programa funcionando.

Si llevamos la idea de código fuente a los procesadores de texto, podría decirse que un documento en pdf es el ejecutable, el resultado de la escritura y su código fuente es el archivo en Word que lo generó. Quienes han intentado modificar un pdf sabrán que es mucho más sencillo modificarlo si tienes acceso al archivo en Word que lo produjo.

Es por esto que me gusta pensar que quien además de abrir el resultado de una investigación mediante el acceso abierto ofrece acceso al “código fuente” de su investigación es como el vecino que pone flores en su balcón: ayuda a embellecer su vecindario. Ayudará a que los investigadores de su campo del conocimiento tengan más para avanzar en sus investigaciones.

Otras formas de código fuente: los datos

Si la investigación tiene datos, es muy común ver artículos o libros con gráficos. Siguiendo la metáfora de abrir el código fuente para los datos, habría que dar acceso no sólo al gráfico bajo licencias abiertas, que serían los “ejecutables” en nuestro ejemplo del software. Las tablas con los datos, por ejemplo un archivo en Excel, sería el equivalente al código fuente.

Con ese archivo de datos no sólo podríamos generar el mismo gráfico que se encuentra en el artículo o libro publicado en acceso abierto. También tenemos la posibilidad de hacer otros gráficos basados en esos mismos datos, hacer análisis diferentes o incluso mezclar diferentes tipos de datos para obtener nuevos resultados.

Publicar los datos es un camino para empezar con los datos abiertos, otro componente de la ciencia abierta.

Las herramientas y la ciencia reproducible

En mis dos ejemplos pasados, en del archivo en pdf y su documento en Word y en el de un gráfico y los datos en Excel usé como ejemplo dos herramientas muy populares, pero que no son libres. Si bien nos hemos acostumbrado a usarlas por su popularidad, para emplearlas debemos pagar una licencia por su uso. La verdad es que hay múltiples opciones en el software libre.

Libre Office por ejemplo tiene Writer, que es el equivalente a Word y Calc que es el equivalente a Excel. Si aplicamos la metáfora de dar acceso al código fuente, pero esta vez sobre las herramientas el resultado es no sólo mencionar con qué herramienta se construyó el artículo publicado en abierto, sino permitir que cualquier persona pueda descargarse estas herramientas y usarlas.

De esta forma se está abarcando las herramientas abiertas y además la ciencia reproducible. Dar todas las condiciones para que otros repliquen tus experimentos y mediciones y que estos a su vez publiquen los resultados de sus investigaciones de la misma forma hace que la ciencia avance más rápido.

El papel de los bibliotecarios en la ciencia abierta

Uno de los principios del acceso abierto es el acceso a las publicaciones científicas sin barreras tecnológicas, legales o económicas. Si empezamos a expandir este principio a la ciencia abierta estamos promoviendo no sólo el acceso a la información, sino el desarrollo de capacidades informacionales. Si lo expandimos un poco más realmente lo que estamos defendiendo es el Derecho humano de acceso a la información y a la libertad de pensamiento sin barreras tecnológicas, legales o económicas.

Adicionalmente el apoyar la ciencia abierta asegura más y mejores oportunidades para garantizar la preservación digital: ¿Cuántos de nosotros podemos acceder a archivos digitales producidos en software que ya no está disponible en el mercado? Si apenas hace 20 años usábamos disquetes ¿Cómo podremos acceder en 20 años a la información producida hoy? ¿Tendremos la capacidad de acceder y reproducir estos documentos sin las barreras legales y económicas?

Este texto fue escrito en Ghostwriter usando markdown para exportarlo a html, el formato en el que seguramente estarás leyendo este artículo. El código fuente puede descargarse en este enlace y está obra está en dominio público desde su creación. Si bien no es un artículo científico, creo que los principios del acceso abierto y la ciencia abierta pueden aplicarse a otro tipo de información. Es mi manera de poner flores en mi balcón.

Extra: Mientras tanto, en Latinoamerica

En Panama (Octubre 22 a 24 – 2018), muchas personas de la sociedad civil estuvieron trabajando en la Declaración de Panamá sobre Ciencia Abierta y bibliotecarios de Colombia, Argentina y El Salvador estuvieron involucrados para promover no sólo el Acceso Abierto, sino la Ciencia Abierta. De pronto podrías replicar esto con tu asociación bibliotecaria.

Reaching Further: Open Access and Public Libraries

Open Access and Public Libraries

Discussions around open access are often dominated by academic librarians and publishers. But given that open access is supposed to make research available for all, and that it is not only students and researchers attached to an institution who may need access, public libraries could have an important role to play. This blog sets out the arguments, and some examples.

Discussion around open access tends to be intense, but limited to a relatively limited group of publishers, researchers, research funders and librarians. It only rarely enters into the broader public debate, for example through George Monbiot’s article of 13 September this year The Guardian.

This is does make some sense – the people most likely to make use of academic articles currently are based in research institutions. They clearly do benefit from an alternative to the rising prices of subscriptions, although arguments continue around how to finance scholarly communications otherwise.

However, it also implies that the main potential beneficiaries – people outside of academic institutions who are highly unlikely to be able to afford subscriptions or individual article charges that can go up to €50 for a single paper – are not getting involved.

The Potential of Public Libraries

One means of ensuring that the impact of open access is felt as widely as possible, and so its benefits are widely realised, is through work with public libraries.

Unlike academic libraries, public libraries usually have a clear mandate to be open to everyone. They have a crucial role in ensuring that everyone can get access to the information they need to learn, and take decisions.

There is no reason why an ordinary person will not want to be able to access scientific information.

Prospective entrepreneurs wanting to develop a business concept, people suffering from medical conditions, those with a personal interest in local history or nature, researchers working for non-governmental organisations and former students with a continued interest in their subject – all may rely on their public library to access articles and books. Citizen science initiatives in particular can bring ‘ordinary’ people in contact with scientific literature.

Clearly public library budgets cannot support the cost of academic journal subscriptions, making open access essential. But they can, once access is assured, invest effort in supporting discovery and use of these materials. Given the wealth of materials available – and well-documented fears around deceptive journals – these skills are indispensable.

It’s Already Happening!

There are already good examples of public libraries using these possibilities. Toronto Public Library has focused on raising awareness of the availability of open access materials, and offers direct support to researchers who are not affiliated to an institution.

They work closely with the University of Guelph to bridge the gap between public and academic libraries, and encourage more people to access, and get involved in scholarship.

In the Netherlands, the Plusbibliotheken (Plus Libraries) network aims to ensure that the public are able to access academic-level literature. This covers a number of areas, from traditional science to heritage and music, and responds to public demand.

Their strategy recognises what open access brings to this work, and indeed they have organised training sessions on how to search for open access publications.

Elsewhere, there have been efforts to give access to subscription journals through partnerships between academic and public libraries. In Switzerland, where university libraries double up as public libraries, open access is helping overcome challenges around how to give access to walk-in users. Deals have also been struck to ensure that public library users can access academic works, for example through RERO.


Clearly, these are only limited examples, but offer an important example both of helping open access realise one of its key original goals, and using the specific skills and potential of libraries to make this happen.

The Economist and the Librarian: What the Nobel Prize Tells Us about Open Access and Libraries

Open Access and Libraries

Paul Romer, one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Economics 2018, has been recognised for his work on how innovation can allow for continued growth. His insights into the nature and role of knowledge – and in particular of access to knowledge – offer welcome support for some of the key functions of libraries in providing access and skills to all.

Libraries and economics are rarely seen together in the same sentence. Indeed, libraries are seen by many as the reverse of economics – a public service aimed at promoting well-being. A long way away from business and profits.

They are, arguably, the answer to the failures of free market economics, which would risk seeing people on low incomes, or who are otherwise disadvantaged, neglected by businesses.

However, the Nobel prize for economics offered a couple of weeks ago to Paul Romer, alongside William Nordhaus, provides an important affirmation of what libraries do.

Paul Romer’s key achievement has been to create models that explain the contribution of research and innovation to long-term growth. The key document here is his 1990 article on Endogenous Technological Change.

Rather than seeing the development of new ideas it as something external, Romer underlines that it was possible – in theory as well as fact – for economies to keep on growing thanks to investing in research and innovation.

Importantly, this also meant that it wasn’t just the number of people, or the amount of capital (machines, computers, investment) that determined growth, but the skills of the population – human capital – that counts.


Why Knowledge – and Access – Matters

The key factor in Romer’s calculations is the unique nature of knowledge.

He underlines that knowledge – ideas – are not ‘rival’. Unlike a piece of food or clothing, one person having an idea does not mean that someone else cannot. Ideas are not exhausted by being known or used.

They are also not easy to keep to yourself. Economists talk about excludability – the possibility to prevent other people from using things. This is easy with a piece of food or clothing, but not so much with ideas and knowledge.

There are intellectual property rights, which create legal possibilities to exclude others from ideas as a means of ensuring some return on investment. However, as Romer’s model sets out, this exclusion is only ever partial.

Because in Romer’s model, it is the fact that knowledge is accessible – that it contributes to the sum of human knowledge – that means it can have such a positive impact on growth.

Once an idea or piece of research is produced, it feeds into the work of others, who can then come up with new ideas and research. While intellectual property rights stand in the way of reproducing and selling the same piece of work, it is possible for everyone to be inspired by it, and go further.

This removes the limits that a certain population – or amount of capital – places on growth. Thanks to wise use of knowledge, promoting accessibility while finding means of rewarding creators for their work, it becomes easier to sustain the growth that pays for crucial public services.


Libraries and Open Access

There is plenty here that speaks to the role of libraries.

As institutions dedicated to supporting access to knowledge, libraries play an important role in realising Romer’s key point that innovation benefits from full access to the stock of existing ideas.

Romer underlines the importance of trade in facilitating the spread of ideas and innovation. Libraries, through cross-border activities, help achieve the same.

Open Access plays a vital role here. Free and meaningful access makes a reality of Romer’s suggestion that new ideas join a stock that is available to researchers and innovators everywhere as a basis for further progress.

Paywalls risk weakening this effect, and this potential.

For researchers in countries at risk of being left behind, they can lock them out completely. One of the more chilling conclusions of Romer’s work is that in some situations, there risks being no incentive to invest in research, seriously damaging the country’s growth prospects. We need to fight against this.

Clearly, free does not always mean accessible. If there is no effort to make a piece of research easy to discover and use, it will not really join the stock of knowledge out there promoting human progress.

Libraries help here also through managing repositories, developing standards, and helping researchers find what they need.

Libraries also respond to Romer’s key policy recommendation – the value of developing human capital (skills) in an economy. This – rather than efforts to extract money from those who make further use of ideas in order further to support rightholders – is the most practical way to boost innovation.


Paul Romer’s ideas have had a major impact on how governments, and intergovernmental organisations think about growth, and how to support it. While not mentioned in his key article, supporting libraries and open access seems a good way to go about it.