Monthly Archives: July 2019

What Makes Libraries Unique in Achieving… SDG10

DA2I means giving everyone the opportunity and skills to use knowledge to improve their livesSustainable Development Goal 4 is the third of the SDGs on the agenda at the 2019 High Level Political forum.

It focuses on reducing inequality within and among countries, recognising not only that individuals have a right to be treated equitably, but also that this contributes to sustainable development in general.

Libraries themselves have a strong commitment to equity. As institutions open for all, they welcome everyone, and many have a specific role to help those most at risk of marginalisation. This is important, given the importance of access to information for development .

But how to make the case for the unique role of libraries in reducing inequalities? Here are three ideas:

  • Because access to information, education and culture is a human right: all countries, through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent conventions, have committed to giving everyone the possibility to access information, get an education, and take part in the cultural life of the community. Libraries provide an excellent way of doing this, and so allowing countries to comply with international law.
  • Because information poverty reinforces income poverty: when people lack access to information, they are not able to take the best decisions, or even to access programmes and projects which could help them escape poverty. They then risk falling deeper into trouble, while others succeed. Libraries provide a means of combatting information poverty, by ensuring that income, social status or other factors are not a barrier.
  • Because providing a service for all matters: programmes targeted at specific groups play an important role in combatting inequality. Nonetheless, by offering a service to some and not others, such efforts can reinforce the idea of being different or apart, which may discourage some. Public libraries have a mission to be universal – i.e. to serve everyone – meaning that the support they offer does not come with the risk of underlining difference.

For more see the chapter on SDG 10 in the 2019 Development and Access to Information (DA2I) Report by Professor Tim Unwin, UNESCO Chair on ICT for Development.

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #26: Join the Debate!

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #26: Join the Debate!

Advocacy is about engaging people.

This is easier when talking with people who are already interested in a subject, and discussing it, either in person or online.

Maybe there’s a big meeting, a consultation, or lots of talk online following a big news story.

This can be an opportunity to make people think about how libraries help!

So for our 26th 10-Minute Library Exercise, join the debate!

If you’ve only got a little time, do a social media post – see our 18th 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise for more! Make the link between the subject of the discussion.

If you have more, write a blog explaining the library angle, respond to a consultation, or even go to a public event.

This week in particular, you can join the discussion around the SDGs, using the hashtags #SDGs, #HLPF and #Lib4Dev!

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

What Makes Libraries Unique in Achieving… SDG 8

DA2I means being able to find – and seize – new opportunities for work and entrepreneurshipSustainable Development Goal 8 is the second of the SDGs to be explored this year. It focuses on promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Through their work to provide access to information in communities, including to some of their most vulnerable members, libraries can be a gateway to opportunity. Both indirectly – through promoting inclusion and wellbeing – and directly through training and job-search support – our institutions can make a real contribution to delivering on SDG 8.

Labour and employment ministries therefore have an interest in effective libraries.

But what arguments can you use to convince them?

Here are three ideas showing why libraries have a unique role in achieving SDG 8:

  • Because employment schemes only work if people know about them: like any market, the job market only works when people know about the opportunities out there. Yet half the world’s population does not have internet access or aren’t confident online. Libraries are not only places where people can connect, but also can receive support and guidance on where to find possibilities to help them find jobs.
  • Because those who need support most can be the hardest to reach: for many, going to a job centre is associated with stigma. Others, especially those from marginalised groups, feel uneasy going into official buildings, or even are not entitled to formal support. Libraries are often seen differently, with people readier to use them. As such, they can provide an excellent place to provide services to many of the most vulnerable in society.
  • Because skills matter: developing new and more advanced skills is a necessity for everyone, not only in order to respond to technological and economic change, but also to find better quality, more fulfilling work. Yet those who have left school risk can risk struggling to reconnect to education. Libraries not only offer training themselves, but can be a gateway to other forms of adult and non-formal education.

For more see the chapter on SDG 8 in the 2019 Development and Access to Information (DA2I) Report by Stefania Lapolla Cantoni, Researcher at

What Makes Libraries Unique in Achieving… SDG 4

This is the first of a series of blogs for the 2019 High Level Political Forum, looking at the different SDGs in focus this year.

Sustainable Development Goal 4DA2I means being able to learn, grow and develop, wherever you are, whatever your age is the first of the SDGs to be explored this year. It focuses on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

For many libraries – not least school and university ones – it is the basis for all of their work, from story time to advanced information literacy. Libraries play a vital role, either within institutions, or in complement to them.

But how to explain this role to policy-makers and others?

Here are three ideas for arguments that you can use to show why libraries are unique in achieving SDG4:

1) Because literacy is a gateway to learning: reading a blog like this, it can be difficult to imagine what it’s like not to be literate. Without literacy, so many means of learning, earning, and accessing information are closed. Libraries have a very strong track record in this area, through supporting literacy (even from the youngest age) and encouraging a love of reading which has proven impacts on overall academic performance.

2) Because learning doesn’t stop when you leave school: while basic education is an essential step, everyone needs to keep on learning throughout their lives. Changes in the wider world may force them to find a new job or adapt to new technologies. Changes in their own lives mean that their needs and priorities change. Libraries provide a place where anyone, at any age, can learn for themselves, and often get involved in or access wider training opportunities.

3) Because spaces matter: the internet has opened up great new possibilities for people to access learning, with new content and applications developed all the time. Yet it is undeniable that people also benefit from having dedicated spaces and staff to help them develop new skills. Libraries are ideal spaces for this, given their historic focus on popular education, and their familiarity to communities.

For more see the chapter on SDG4 in the 2019 Development and Access to Information Report (DA2I) by Dr Katarina Popovic, Secretary-General of the International Council on Adult Education (ICAE).

The Wrong Target: Resistance to Exceptions to Copyright for Libraries and a Sustainable Book Chain

The Wrong Target? Why opposition to copyright reform won’t guarantee the future of the book chain

Copyright reforms introducing or updating exceptions and limitations to copyright can easily become a lightning rod.

Recent examples have regularly seen apocalyptic claims about the collapse of the book chain – understood as all those involved in writing, editing, publishing, distributing and reading books – and the demise of creativity in general.

In a sector marked by concern about falling author incomes (despite overall growth in the sector), fears for the future sustainability of the publishing industry, and worry about the role of major internet platforms, it is understandable that there is a desire to take action.

It is true that policy reforms seem to allow this, given the possibility to engage politicians, make statements and get involved in the media debate. Many have done this, claiming that by preventing libraries from enjoying new rights, it is possible to secure the future.

However, just because it is possible to take a position , it does not mean that it is sensible or correct to do so.

This blog explains how in the short term, modern copyright exceptions and limitations for libraries do not pose a threat to the future of the book chain. Instead, it argues, a healthy library sector, enabled by such exceptions and limitations, is a key guarantor of future success and viability.


A Complex Challenge Deserves Better Than a Simplistic Response

A number of questions are at play in determining the health of the book chain.

Effective cultural policies supporting new and diverse voices, competition policies to prevent individual actors (such as Internet platforms) taking too powerful a position, and regulation of contracts between authors and publishers are all important. Other regulations, such around book pricing or taxation, as well as copyright enforcement, can also play a role.

There are also factors beyond policy – a shift to digital and the ability (or inability) of the sector to keep up, growing competition for readers’ attention, and changing trends in education and research.

In effect, the challenges and questions facing the book chain are multiple, as are the tools for responding to them. A short-sighted focus only on stopping copyright reforms is highly limiting, and will do nothing to increase authors’ shares of revenue from their works, provide targeted support for new voices, or address the dominance of digital platforms.

This has not stopped some from trying to argue that modern copyright rules will mean disaster. However, each time there has been a truly comprehensive effort to look at the evidence recently, this argument has been rejected.

In Canada, for example, where the Parliament’s Industry, Science and Technology Committee held a thorough review of the country’s 2012 copyright reform. However, despite intense calls for one particular reform (the extension of educational fair dealing, confirming decisions already made by the courts) to be repealed, it rejected the claims made:

“Despite the volume and diversity of evidence submitted throughout the review, the Committee observed a problematic lack of authoritative and impartial data and analysis on major issues. Multiple witnesses either overestimated how strongly the data they presented supported their arguments or failed to disclose its limitations”.

Similarly in Australia, the Productivity Commission, charged with making an independent assessment of the impact of different policy actions, found very little evidence to back up claims that fair use would cause any unjustifiable harm to the publishing industry.

As Deputy Commissioner Karen Chester noted in a speech, the claims made against reforms which would benefit libraries and users simply have evidence behind them. Moreover:

“It was claimed that fair use destroys publishing industries and has done so in Canada, and particularly their educational resource sector. That claim did not stand up to even modest scrutiny: the experience in Canada has been grossly misrepresented and ignores specific market factors there”. 

Similarly, impact assessments in the European Union and Singapore have also underlined that well-designed copyright exceptions are very much a positive sum game, with no harm to publishers or authors, and significant gains to researchers, educators and readers.


Sacrificing the Long-Term?

Of course in the long-run, it is not a case of there being two ‘sides’ to the debate – rightholders and readers. Today’s readers may well be tomorrow’s creators, innovators and researchers.

This is where libraries come in. Through promoting literacy and a love of reading, supporting responsive and innovative teaching, and helping students and researchers, they have a key role in ensuring a ‘pipeline’ of new talent.

Moreover, through giving access to heritage and existing ideas, they are spaces where new ideas can come to life.

They also have a key role in ensuring the legitimacy of the book chain, by ensuring that it does not simply become the preserve of the wealthier. The goal of the great library builders of the 19th Century to democratise knowledge is still relevant today.

Yet to continue to play this role, libraries need to benefit from a basic set of exceptions and limitations that work in the digital age. Preservation, lending and supporting education and research are core functions around which there should be little disagreement.

There is a growing body of evidence that underlines the costs to library users of rules that do not allow libraries to fulfil their missions. This contrasts – as set out above – with the lack of evidence that library exceptions and limitations actually do any short-term harm to the book sector.


In the light of this, it is perhaps time to look more broadly at the actions that can be taken to guarantee the future of the book chain. This may be hard – the questions are difficult ones, and the effort required will be higher. It also involves stepping away from old and comfortable assumptions.

Nonetheless, this would certainly be a more constructive approach than to spend time and energy opposing reforms that would in the short term be neutral, and in the long term be positive, for all involved.

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #25: Be Passionate About Your Job

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #25: Be Passionate About Your Job

Successful advocacy is not just about talking – it’s also about doing.

Great speeches, presentations or social media posts can of course help guarantee support for your work.

But unless this is backed up by committed people, then the messages will not work forever.

There is little more convincing than someone who is focused on providing a great service, be it to people in a local area or the staff and students at a university or school.

So for our 25th 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, be passionate about your job!

Clearly this is a full-time task. But if you take just 10 minutes, you can think about how you can show your motivation to your users and visitors.

Go that little bit further, and people around you will see that by supporting libraries, they are supporting people who are doing the best they can for the community.

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

The Robots are Here: AI, Libraries and the Internet

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – systems able to collect and analyze structured or unstructured data and make decisions based on that information to achieve a defined goal[1] – were a widely discussed subject at the 2019 edition of the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG).

Today, AI continues to fundamentally change the way people use and interact with the internet[2]. Given that the internet deeply affects the library and information service fields, it is important for libraries to “stay ahead of the digital curve”, in order to be able to continue to uphold their values and offer services which meet society’s needs.

AI isn’t just something for the private sector. Several countries are looking for ways to integrate AI technology into their public services (for example, see the Agency for Digital Italy). There are many possible uses: optimising street traffic, helping public employment agencies, determining eligibility for welfare programmes, visa and immigration applications and more[3].

Naturally, more reliance on AI for public service delivery requires internet access and basic digital literacy for the population to use e-services (as reflected in the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation report recommendation that by 2030 every adult should have access to digital financial and health services, and the broad theme of the report, “Leaving No One Behind”).

Internet access and digital literacy courses are services that many (in some countries, almost 90%)[4] libraries are already offering. The growing necessity of giving people access to connections will only make them more important. Crucially, they can help marginalised populations who cannot afford a broadband subscription adapt to the digitalisation of public services.

Even if every citizen has access to the internet and basic digital literacy skills, the internet they interact with will also be increasingly shaped by AI.

On the user and content levels, AI is often used for moderation. However, the effectiveness of AI in moderating supposedly harmful content is often questioned, and many agree that right now this task cannot be carried out by AI alone, and human moderators are still needed.

However, some EuroDIG 2019 participants argued that the sheer amount of online content generated every day, as well as the growing pressure on popular platforms to control harmful content, could make more AI moderation seem like an attractive solution.

More broadly, AI could impact physical internet access by moderating, predicting and regulating internet traffic for improved efficiency. Both uses could have implications for freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, since the bias in AI can reinforce existing inequalities.

Libraries around the world stand for the principles of access to information and freedom of expression, and these principles should be at the heart of the debate on AI internet governance.

What Libraries Can Do for a Society Living with AI

  • Use AI responsibly. Today, libraries are under pressure to deliver maximum value and justify their public funding. That is why it can be tempting to turn to AI, hoping to maximize efficiency. However, it is important for libraries to be informed about potential ethical issues of some AI use cases, and make ethical choices to safeguard public trust. For example, the 2019 Mozilla Internet Health Report suggests thermal sensors as an alternative to cameras for collecting crowd and visitor data[5]. This solution achieves the same goal without compromising privacy concerns, and shows a commitment to ethical standards.
  • Support ethical AI research. As the use of AI grows, many governments and NGOs are looking for better data for AI training models and improved data collection practices. As discussed earlier, libraries can supply a wealth of high-quality datasets for machine learning[6]. Academic libraries in particular have large repositories of data from quantitative studies, coded and labelled according to high scientific standards. Trained specialised librarians can also actively assist in ethical AI research, offer their data literacy expertise and promote ethical data handling and collection methods, especially in local contexts.
  • Expand their efforts to support literacy. In the last few decades, many libraries have started providing digital literacy training; today, algorithmic literacy is becoming particularly important. This form of literacy includes recognizing when you interact with AI, understanding how it determines which information you find online, and knowing how your private data is collected by AI algorithms. Libraries can include these skills in their digital literacy programmes. Several ongoing research projects, such as “RE:search” and “UnBias”, outline the best ways to develop algorithmic literacy skills among lay users. Librarians can use the insights provided by state-of-the-art research, and organize classes to help their patrons develop these skills.
  • Encourage public debate around AI. In addition, libraries can use their role as community hubs to encourage debate and citizen participation to discuss the functions of AI in society. Because of the many ways AI can change society, some stakeholders at EuroDIG 2019 advocated broad public consultation on the uses of AI by the government. This requires the public to be informed and proactive; and libraries can provide both a physical forum and the unbiased information to initiate such a debate. For example, they can enable local residents to communicate their problems to the AI Commons initiative, which brings together AI developers and problem owners.
  • Education to live with AI, education with the help of AI. Society is facing an enormous task of transforming education systems to cope with the changes in labour markets caused by AI and automation. One of the biggest priorities is encouraging lifelong learning and improving social inclusion in educational settings[7]. Libraries can play a big role in achieving these goals – they provide access to knowledge and information with no entry barriers, and they can be particularly suitable for helping older learners and non-digital natives[8]. On the supply side, AI can also help libraries create reproducible and customisable learning tools, which would work well together with a librarian’s personal guidance for a non-digital native user.


In its best use-cases, AI can bring many advantages and societal benefits. Libraries can help to make sure that, truly, no one is left behind in this progress. Public internet access and digital literacy programmes can help more people enjoy the benefits of AI – from healthcare bots to easier travel.

But more importantly, libraries can help the people who are most at risk of falling behind if AI and automation increase existing inequalities. The knowledge and information that libraries offer can help people learn new skills to navigate the changing labour market, improve their livelihoods, and help make their voices heard in political discussions.




[1] European Commission High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence (2019), A definition of Artificial Intelligence: main capabilities and scientific disciplines, 8 April 2019

[2] Internet Society (2017), Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, policy paper

[3] Carrasco, Miguel, Mills, Steven, Whybrew, Adam, and Jura, Adam (2019), The Citizen’s Perspective on the Use of AI in Government, 1 March 2018

[4] Alleman, Kate (2018), Digital Literacy Support in Libraries: More than Just Your Computer Classes, 1 May 2018

[5] Mozilla (2019), 2019 Internet Health Report

[6] IFLA (2018), The Robots are Coming? Libraries and Artificial Intelligence, blog, 24 July 2018

[7] Michel Servoz (2019), “The Future of Work? Work of The Future! On how artificial intelligence, robotics and automation are transforming jobs and the economy in Europe”, report to the European Commission, 3 May 2019

[8] IFLA and TASHA (2019), Development and Access to Information 2019, report