Monthly Archives: October 2018

Dodging Deception: The Crossover between Open Access and Media and Information Literacy Weeks

Open Access and Information Literacy

It isn’t only Open Access that is being celebrated this week. Today also marks the first day of Global Media and Information Literacy (MIL) Week, organised by UNESCO.

The communities involved in the two events tend to differ. MIL Week brings together educators and journalists, with a strong focus on developing new tools and practices.

Open Access week is an opportunity for researchers and others involved in scholarly communications to reflect on the present and future of efforts to maximise access. Of course, libraries have a major role to play in both.

However, the specific issue of ‘deceptive journals’ brings these two fields together.


The Reputation of Open Access

Deceptive journals are academic publications which knowingly publish articles in exchange for payment by authors, without offering any meaningful editorial services (peer review, editing, quality control).

In effect, they use, or rather abuse, one particular model of open access – author-pays publication. They undoubtedly also benefit from the pressure on many academics to publish in order to pursue their careers.

Despite a tendency to believe, this is not just a developing country issue either, with recent research showing that academics in richer countries are also guilty of publishing in such journals.

The problem is that that link between deceptive journals and the author-pays model can become, in the heads of some, a feeling that open access journals in general are less credible. This, in turn, risks slowing the progression of Open Access in general, as highlighted in our blog “Effect of Open Access on Copyright Challenges and Library Budgets in Africa“.

Clearly open access faces a number of fundamental questions in its future, which the organisers of Open Access Week are tackling head on. Among these, ensuring future credibility is a key one.


Won’t Get Fooled Again?

So what can be done?

The highest profile approach so far has perhaps been Beall’s list, which claimed to identify deceptive (or predatory) journals. The controversy around this underlined the risks around creating ‘black lists’, but has certainly been crucial in awareness raising.

A healthier (and less legally risky) approach seems to be to enable students and researchers to identify high quality places to read or publish articles. Or, in other words, the core ‘information literacy’ traditionally provided by libraries.

This is attractive too – giving people the tools and skills to take their own decisions is, in the long-run, more efficient. It is also less paternalistic.

There are a number of great tools available. Think Check Submit offers a clear and balanced set of criteria, as do various ‘white’ lists (of journals which do respect quality criteria, without necessarily condemning others).

Clearly it’s also important to ensure that the advice given to students and researchers also respects information literacy, and does not fall into the trap of damning journals from developing countries, either explicitly, or by default.

There has been welcome cooperation between publishers, libraries and researchers already in this field. More needs to be done, however, to spread good ideas, around the world.


While the coincidence of Open Access and Global Media and Information Literacy Week in terms of dates is accidental, information literacy will play a vital role in tackling one of the barriers to the success of open access.

It is also a useful reminder that, alongside efforts to promote information literacy in situations outside of academia, that core element of work in academic libraries is as important as ever.

How open access can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Open Access and the SDGs

Access to information, and libraries as institutions that deliver it, are key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is clearly pointed out under target 10 in SDG 16 “Target 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”, but it is true for many other SDGs and their respective targets.

IFLA’s advocacy efforts for a better recognition of access to information and libraries’ contribution to development are consistently underlined by initiatives such as the International Advocacy Programme (IAP) and the Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report, and earlier in the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information for Development.

To make this statement even stronger, the library community has contributed practical examples and stories of how access to information through libraries is key to achieving the SDGs, and IFLA has made them available through the “Access and opportunity for all” booklet and handout, and more recently in the Library Map of the World SDG Stories.

There is an obvious link between Open Access (OA) and access to information, and therefore between open access and the SDGs. Open access is key to ensuring that society benefits from scientific knowledge, by informing further research in the area or simply the end user.

At IFLA’s World Library and Information Congress, library professionals have been pointing out several aspects in relation to how open access is key to achieving the SDGs.

Jayshree Mamtora and Prashant Pandey, in their paper “Identifying the role of open access information in attaining the UN SDGs: perspectives from the Asia-Oceania region”, collect a valuable list of case studies in Asia and Oceania on the impact of open access research and open access data with regards to the SDGs:

Pacific Islands

PAIS (Pacific Agricultural Information System), is an online and offline digital repository to share documents and information about activities (projects, etc.) with a focus on agriculture in the Pacific Islands, is directly contributing towards SDG2 along with supporting SDG8, SDG13, and SDG15. Among the prospective contributors targeted to date, there is interest in using the platform to increase communication and sharing of information.  (Peter Walton, personal communication, 22 June 2018).

And talking about the relation between the SDGs and open access, the paper also presents a useful table that matches the contribution that open access can make to each of the 17 SDGs, for instance:

SDG4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all” could benefit from “Access to research and data” and “facilitate learning”.

SDG16 “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” could benefit from “access to research and data for awareness and discussion for transparent reporting on government-funded projects” and “Access to research and data for training and skill development”.

In their paper “Open Educational Resources within a Knowledge System for Achieving Quality Education SDG”, Lena Nyahodza and Reggie Raju bring Open Educational Resources (OERs) into the discussion. They point out that “given the challenge of resources in the global south, it is necessary that impetus and attention be given to OERs as an important intervention that could deliver on quality education which is the SDG 4”.

International organisations have already made some steps to recognise this intersection at the policy level, by for instance changing their own internal policies (see for WIPO and for UNESCO), and officially recognising open access as a driver to the achievement of the SDGs (see our blog from yesterday for more). In a joint statement, the Confederation of Open Access Repositories and UNESCO recognise that “as the world enters a new era of sustainable development, openness and inclusiveness in scientific research will become Increasingly critical”.

UNESCO also “believes that universal access to high quality education is key to the building of peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue. Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building”.

IFLA will continue to engage at the international level in favour of access to information, as well as regionally and nationally through its members. Librarians and civil society organisations that work to give access to information need to be considered key partners in national sustainable development plans to achieve the SDGs. We have a duty to ensure that decision-makers understand the role of open access in development, and that its promotion is incorporated in their policies, for the benefit of all.

Open Access and Intergovernmental Organisations: Quadruple Dividend

Open Access in Intergovernmental Organisations

While much of the discussion around open access focuses on scientific research, free and meaningful access to reports and data produced by governments is an important part of the picture. In the case of intergovernmental organisations in particular, there are four main benefits from open access to the works they produce: greater transparency around decision-making; support for research, jobs and growth; the moral justice of the public being able to access works for which they have paid; and the example set to national governments.  


Much of the focus of Open Access Week is on articles, documents and data produced by academics, based in universities and other research centres.

Arguments centre on the morality of ensuring that publicly funded research is available to those who have paid for it (i.e. the public), and the benefits to further research of facilitating use and re-use of books, articles and data to produce further insights.

The open government movement has tended to focus its advocacy on questions around transparency. When citizens can access information about how decisions are made and money is spent, it is easier to hold those in power to account.

The two movements come together however on  around open access to government publications. Making this work – research reports, impact assessments, audits, statistics and other data – available to the public brings a triple dividend.

Public access to the documents that shape decision-making promotes transparency. Possibilities to use and re-use information supports research and potentially new jobs. And taxpayers (effectively everyone, at least where sales taxes exist) are able to read materials for which they have paid.


Going International: The Exemplar Effect

The case is particularly strong in the case of intergovernmental organisations, such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.


These organisations shape the rules that shape our lives. While their impact may not always be direct, they set the standards and produce the research and recommendations that are the basis of laws and programmes designed by national governments.

For example, through the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations is seeking to set a direction for development across the board. The research that goes into this – and the recommendations produced – are crucial to maintaining the momentum.

If they are openly available, they provide a valuable tool for organisations at all levels advocating for sustainable development, not least libraries. And of course the 2030 Agenda also highlights the importance of access to information (Goal 16.10) and transparency and accountability (Goal 16.7).

Crucially, moreover, intergovernmental organisations also serve as models, with an obligation to demonstrate the standards of openness and good governance that they require of their members. It is the positive example that they can set that offers the fourth dividend to open access in intergovernmental organisations.


Where Do We Stand?

A number of intergovernmental organisations have already made progress here.

The World Bank, UNESCO and the World Intellectual Property Organisation have already implemented far-reaching policies favouring free access to the reports and data they produce.

Moreover, they use licences that make it possible for anyone to re-use information, for example, to write their own reports, create tools or apps, or translate it into their own languages.

However, this is not the case everywhere. As research presented at the Creative Commons Global Summit earlier this year showed, policies are very inconsistent, and often unclear. Some organisations still use highly restrictive licences, or provide only highly restricted free access (for example read-only versions of texts). This is a far from ideal situation.

The detailed data behind this work will shortly be published as a Wikipedia article, and IFLA’s Section on Government Information and Official Publications is preparing a statement which will set out best practice in this area. Our presentation is already available online.


Given the quadruple dividend that open access to reports and data produced by intergovernmental organisations bring, it cannot happen too soon.

Effect of Open Access on Copyright Challenges and Library Budgets in Africa

Open Access Week DAY 1

by Kgomotso Radijeng, Member of IFLA’s Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) Advisory Committee (radijengk[at]

Open Access (OA) is one of the key methods of ensuring free access to information for all. There is no doubt that OA has liberated access to information and many institutions across the whole world have embraced it. OA is also increasingly becoming relevant as countries, especially the least developed, experience economic difficulties, with libraries experiencing extensive budget cuts.

However, there is a gap in terms of assessing the impact that OA has had on the challenges that it is meant to address such as copyright restrictions and budget constraints. Earlier this year a small survey was carried out to find out if the use of open access resources has had any impact on alleviating copyright challenges to access to information and budget constraints. The target group was academic institutions in the South African Development Community (SADC) region. Five institutions responded, namely: University of Botswana, University of Zambia, Botho University, University of Zimbabwe, and National University of Lesotho.

What the survey revealed is that OA has been well received as evidenced by the level of usage of the institutional repositories. For example, the University of Botswana (UBRISA) was set up in 2010 and has had 1,895,120 downloads while the National University Lesotho was set up in 2014 and has had 414 254 page views.

However, it was also apparent that access to OA has not helped much with copyright challenges and cost reduction; the respondents stated that OA has assisted a lot in terms of quantity of information resources and not necessarily on reduction of costs.

While OA has helped to free some money for other needs, there is still a lot of reliance on commercial databases. Some of the reasons advanced for continued reliance on commercial databases were:

  • Some academics still associated OA with predatory journals and feel that its quality is inferior to commercial publishing.
  • Commercial databases are seen as having higher “integrity”.
  • Commercial databases have a wider subject coverage compared to what is available under OA.
  • Academics still demand access to material in subscription journals.

The respondents were also asked to recommend efforts that should be put in place to promote OA. There was resounding support for advocacy; that the library fraternity needs to work with other stakeholders to raise awareness on benefits of OA and available OA resources.

Other initiatives that are necessary for the success of OA are: institutional leadership support, change of attitudes by researchers and academics towards OA publishing, government investment in ICT infrastructure, establishment of policy structures at institutional and national level, more OA publishing by commercial/reputable publishers, and more promotion by libraries of existing OA resources for the benefit of their users.

The success of all initiatives for promoting OA depends a lot on education, advocacy and awareness among key stakeholders and libraries can take a leading role in this. There is also a need for a more comprehensive impact assessment on the effect that OA has had on copyright challenges and cost reductions. There is recognition that OA can reduce the effects of subscription costs and licensing restriction where it is implemented efficiently, but it is imperative to collect and analyse relevant data that can demonstrate that effect.

For more information, check the power point of Kgomotso’s presentation at the Copyright and other Legal Matters Session during this year’s World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. 

Break the Cycle: Tackling Information Poverty as a Means of Eradicating Income Poverty

Break The Cycle

Poverty is complex. While it is often measured in simple income terms (i.e. a household is living on less than 60% of the national median or a fixed sum), its roots – and effective responses to it – have many dimensions.

For example, poverty is often associated with poor health, with the relationship going both directions.

Those living on little money may not be able to eat well, if at all. They may not be able to afford healthcare to deal with simple conditions early. But in turn, people in poor health will find it more difficult to find work or earn a living, and face higher expenses for drugs or treatment.

The same can go with poor housing or criminality for example. Bad conditions make it more difficult for people to find work or other sources of income. But then, low income can make it harder to find a place to leave, and increase the risk of being drawn into crime.

Information Poverty and Income Poverty: A Vicious Circle
Access to information is a particular concern for libraries. Too often, income poverty goes hand in hand with information poverty.

Information poverty has been defined as the ‘situation in which individuals and communities, within a given context, do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it and apply it appropriately. It is further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure’.

Just as with health, housing or criminality, the relationship between information poverty and income poverty also risks going both ways.

People without the money to buy internet connections or hardware, without access to means to develop the skills to make use of information, without the perspectives to want to go further will suffer from information poverty.

Yet when people lack access to information, they are cut off from possibilities to adopt new technologies, to innovate, and simply to take better decisions for themselves and those around them.

This can condemn people to information poverty.

Breaking the Cycle: The Role of Libraries
The mission of libraries is to fight against this – to break the link, and rather ensure that information is part of the solution to poverty, not part of the problem.

Access to information opens up opportunities, and supports people in improving their lives. And unlike hand-outs or top-down policies, it also empowers people to find their own paths.

Much of IFLA’s work on development has focused on this contribution, notably in the 2017 Development and Access to Information report, produced in partnership with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington.

There are examples of how libraries are helping small farmers adopt new techniques which boost productivity, of people in rural Indonesia receiving vital health advice, and of women in Chile being able to find out about employment and bustiness opportunities.

Libraries, as neutral, welcoming centres can also be particularly well placed to reach out to people who may feel unwanted in a commercial setting, or afraid to visit more formal public buildings.

Through providing information – and the spaces and skills to understand and use it comfortably – they are helping to break the link between information poverty and income poverty.


The fight to eradicate poverty will need to be as complex as poverty itself. Yet access to information clearly has a major role to play in this effort.

Libraries, as a key part of any country’s or community’s information infrastructure, are already hard at work.


* Britz, Johannes J. (2004), To Know or Not To Know: A Moral Reflection on Information Poverty, Journal of Information Science, Vol 30, Issue 3, pp192-204,

European Day of Conservation-Restoration

14 October is the European Day of Conservation and Restoration, the culmination of a week of celebrations which aim to bring Europe’s cultural heritage, history and shared values closer to people. It is an opportunity also to raise awareness of the key role of conservation in safeguarding cultural heritage with policy makers and the civil society.

The survival of our heritage can never be taken for granted. Access to information – the core mission of libraries – can only happen with the conservation and treatment of the items in their collections. Libraries therefore have a responsibility to preserve, conserve, and, if possible, restore their local history and cultural heritage materials.

IFLA is committed to support libraries in Europe and around the world in their work on preserving and conserving our shared cultural heritage and the IFLA Strategic Programme on Preservation and Conservation (PAC) has one major goal: to ensure that library and archive materials, published and unpublished, in all formats, will be preserved in accessible form for as long as possible.

The IFLA network of Preservation and Conservation Centres (PAC) are centres of expertise critical to safeguarding cultural heritage globally. In Europe for example, the PAC Centre at the National Library of Poland is working to support the needs of libraries concerning digital preservation and digital sustainability, and assist in the safeguarding of digital cultural heritage.

The National Library of Poland acts as the central library of the state and one of the most important cultural institutions in Poland. Its mission is to protect national heritage preserved in the form of handwritten, printed, electronic, recorded sound and audio visual documents.

Every day, all over the world, all of IFLA’s PAC Centres work to safeguard cultural heritage and bring it closer to people. It should just be on this one day that we celebrate them and their contribution to preserving and conserving our shared history!



Spaces, Skills and Resources: How Libraries Support Mental Health

Graphic for Mental Health Day

Today – 10 October – is World Mental Health Day, an opportunity to remember how important it is to act to support people’s mental – as well as physical – wellbeing.

Investments in supporting good mental health, as well as efforts to support those who work with people suffering from problems makes economic sense – bad mental health is associated  with costly challenges, such as unemployment, homelessness and poor physical health.

But they are also a moral imperative, given the right to health underlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Libraries have a particularly important role to play, both in promoting general wellbeing, and as part of a support package to people struggling with poor mental health. They do this through providing safe spaces, access to resources, and developing skills.


Spaces: A Refuge from the Storm

The non-commercial, welcoming space offered by libraries is one of the features that makes them so unique as actors in the community. It also makes them a refuge for people facing mental health difficulties.

This is particular the case for people experiencing homelessness, among whom mental health problems are more frequent. IFLA’s own guidelines on library services to people in this situation underline the importance of libraries as spaces, and sets out ideas of what libraries can do to help. Some libraries have specific policies for issues such as how to help if someone is in crisis.

There are many examples of practical help being offered, from Indonesia to Croatia to the United States.

Libraries can, and are, taking extra steps to ensure that everyone with mental health difficulties can enjoy the space offered, for example by creating autism-friendly libraries in the UK, or through the Russian State Library for Young Adults in Russia.


Resources: A Safe Place to Ask Questions

While there are plenty of resources available on the internet, this is not always ideal. There is no guarantee of quality and for many, it can be a scary place.

Moreover, for people who don’t have their own internet connection (either because they don’t have one at all, or share with others) it is simply not an option. The library becomes an essential resource – indeed one study from Philadelphia Free Library suggested that as many as a third of all users wanted health information.

Dedicated collections of resources within a library can therefore make a real difference, in particular for those who don’t have the resources to buy the relevant books for themselves. In hospitals in Malaysia, for example, bibliotherapy is used to promote mental wellbeing.

Working to make books, magazines, and even a collection of agony aunt columns more easily accessible – and even visible – in Norway also appears to have enabled young people to find the information they need. Also in Norway, libraries are also using and adapting games to help older people suffering dementia.

Libraries can of course also provide an essential link to broader social services of course, in a way that may not be possible through more formal government buildings.


Skills: Learning to Help Yourself

Beyond the spaces and resources libraries provide, libraries also have a role in giving people the skills they need to take control of their situations.

Applying information literacy – knowing when you need information, knowing where and how to find it, knowing how to evaluate and apply it – to health is increasingly widely recognised as a promising area in the fight to promote wellbeing.

In Philadelphia, the library is taking a holistic approach, offering skills for finding and using health information of all sorts alongside a spaces and resources policy, with a specific focus on people with low levels of general literacy.


Good mental health – just like good physical health – is the result of a combination of actions and policies. Success will depend on drawing on the contributions of all relevant actors, libraries amongst them, in order to make sure that we achieve the best possible results for everyone. Libraries are natural partners in this.