Monthly Archives: September 2019

Know Your Rights: Libraries and Access to Legal Information

A recognition of the importance of access to information is at the heart of the work of libraries, and the first of IFLA’s core values.

This access refers to all types of information, from all sources. Given their focus on the wellbeing of users, what matters in the end is how the information provided can improve lives, regardless of its form or source.

However, the first thing that comes to mind for many, when talking about access to information, is legal information – knowledge about the law, and laws, that govern our lives. The role of libraries in guaranteeing the possibility for all to find, read and make use of this sort of information is as great as for any other.

To mark the International Day for the Universal Access to Information, which this year focuses on the importance of leaving no-one behind – this blog summarises how libraries make the difference.


Empowering and Emancipating

The replacement of the rule of the strongest by the rule of law is certainly a positive thing. It has – at least in principle – meant that everyone is equal before the law, and that the simple fact that someone is more powerful or richer than someone else does not mean that they have better treatment.

Of course in reality, this is not always the case. A key challenge is access to the law itself. If only those with money can afford a lawyer who knows their way around the legal system, there is a clear imbalance.

But even more fundamentally than this, people need to know their rights in order to be able to enforce them. Without access to legal information – for example for housing tenants facing the threat of eviction, for migrants unsure of what support they can claim, or for employees facing reorganisation of the workplace – there is no chance of access to justice.

Similarly, while democracy creates the possibility for everyone to take part in decision-making, this will not be a reality if only the better off can take the time or have the tools to follow and influence discussions. Once again, easy and effective means of accessing information are vital.

These are both areas where the core strength of libraries – providing access to information in a way that best suits the needs of the user – come into their own.


The Importance of Partnerships

Fulfilling this potential does of course require skill and capacity on the part of librarians. There are some libraries focused purely on providing legal help to the public, but this is not the case everywhere.

Elsewhere, different types of library – dedicated law libraries, university libraries, parliamentary libraries, public libraries – each have their own strengths, but on their own are not always well placed to respond to a public need for legal information.

Combining these strengths offers exciting possibilities however. For example, the State Library of New South Wales in Australia helped set up the Legal Information Access Centre over 25 years ago. This turns the information they hold centrally into tools and services for people often in the most vulnerable situations.

In India, law libraries are engaged in outreach programmes via public libraries in order to help many more people find out about their rights as a first step to accessing the legal system. In Croatia, not only does cooperation allow ordinary citizens to get hold of the latest legal information, but it also makes it easier to access legal professionals.

Similarly, as highlighted in an IFLA article last year for Democracy Day, libraries are creating new partnerships to help people track the work of governments and legislators, and so ensure that democracy really works.


The subject of access to legal information is a great example of how foundational information is to any effort to ensure that people can enjoy their rights and improve their lives. Libraries – in particular when they join forces – can play a central role in helping give everyone this possibility.

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #37: Memorise Names and Faces

Image: Hello my name is badge. Text: #37 The 10-Minute Library Advocate: Memorise Names and FacesOne way of advocating successfully is to become familiar with key decision-makers or influencers.

If you have a close connection, it is easier to share your arguments.

But how to build this connection up when you first come across them.

A good way to build familiarity is to avoid awkward questions about who they are by being able to address them immediately by their name.

Politicians at least tend to appreciate when people know who they are from the first moment. But this isn’t always easy in a public meeting.

So for our 37th 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, memorise some names and faces.

If you know you might see them at a meeting, look them up online, and see if there are images available of them.

Try to remember them so that if you do end up meeting them, you can say hello immediately, and get straight into making your arguments!

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!

Knowledge for Development: Libraries and the Global Sustainable Development Report

Image: hourglass shape with image of the sky and earth. Text: Why knowledge is critical for sustainable developmentThe Global Sustainable Development Report was released last week in time for discussions around progress on the United Nations 2030 Agenda at the UN’s General Assembly. The result of a collaboration between experts from different disciplines, from different parts of the world, is arguably the most complete knowledge contribution to work on the SDGs.

It is an effort to make the most of ideas and insights in order to build an understanding of where we stand in the effort to promote sustainable development. Crucially, and in coherence with the SDGs themselves, it aims to look across the board, and identify cross-cutting actions that are necessary to accelerate success.

As the prologue by Gro Harlem Brundtland underlines, it was by bringing together knowledge that it was possible to develop the concept of sustainability in the first place, and put the world on the way to the SDGs. And, as this blog sets out, the new report stresses that the role of knowledge is as great as ever.


Sustainability Insights

Thanks to the variety of perspectives brought by its authors, the report offers insights into the threats and opportunities which will determine whether we achieve the SDGs. Alongside climate change – the subject of the summit that ends today – loss of biodiversity, and increase in both waster and inequalities are particular concerns.

In response, coordinated policies focusing on human capacities and well-being, sustainable and just economies, food systems and nutrition, energy access and decarbonisation, urban and peri-urban development and the global environmental commons.

In all of these areas, as highlighted by IFLA’s Library Map of the World and Development and Access to Information report, libraries have much to contribute.

The Report stresses that underpinning the success of work in these areas will four levers –governance, economic and financial policies, individual and collective action, and science and technology. If used effectively, these can accelerate progress. The key to effectiveness, the authors argue, is having the knowledge and understanding of how our societies are working at all levels:

‘Decision makers need to act based on current knowledge and understanding of the linked human-social-environmental systems at all levels. That knowledge also needs to be more widely available to all countries and actors, motivating innovative coalitions and partnerships for success’.


Knowledge Matters

This emphasis on the importance of knowledge serves to underline the contributions that libraries can make. The need to gather, organise, give access to and apply information is as great as ever.

This is true, first of all, in the research context, where the report underlines concern that academics in developing countries too often cannot access the same range of materials as those in richer countries. This makes them less able to support local development, risking deepening global inequalities.

It also makes it harder to take the findings of research and apply them to real-world situations. As the report suggests, there is a need to intensify the science-policy interface, but this is made more complicated when paywalls stand in the way.

The authors therefore make a clear call on libraries, alongside governments, universities and research consortia, to take additional steps in order to provide open access not only to research, but also to underlying data (Recommendation A15). This, it argues, is a key way of addressing inequalities.

Linked to this, it also calls for efforts to promote cross-border research collaboration between countries in order to support knowledge flows, and suggests that development agencies should invest more in building science and research capacity in beneficiary countries. Libraries, inevitably, are a key part of this.


Among the many reports and papers released around the SDGs – and in particular the discussions at the General Assembly – the Global Sustainable Development Report is to be welcomed for its clear advocacy for the role of knowledge, and those who produce and give access to it.

Not Victims but Vectors of Change: Libraries, Climate Action and Peace

Climate change, if left untackled, risks not only being felt in an an ever-more-frequent series of extreme weather events, but also in a growing pressure on our socieites.

These pressures – less land, fewer resources, higher migration – have in the past been the cause of conflict. Without action, there is a justifiable fear that this could happen again.

As the United Nations Secretary-General sets out in his introduction to this year’s International Day of Peace, this is why it is important to address climate change in order to increase the chances of peace.

For libraries, both conflict and climate change can all too easily be seen as externalities – things that happen to our institutions without any possibility to respond. It is certainly true that it is hard to forget images of roofs blown off – by winds or bombs – and collections waterlogged or burnt.

However, libraries are far from powerless. For the reasons set out in this blog, they are not victims, but rather vectors of progress, helping to tackle climate change, and so preserve peace.


Better Prepared: Supporting the Reseach that Saves Lives

Clearly a core role of libraries is to support the production of, and access to, research. It is only thanks to the possibilty for experts to draw on evidence from the past, and to work together, that we have the understanding we have today of climate change and its impacts.

Libraries have of course done this for centuries, making it possible for scientists to take the work of those who have gone before, and go further. This has happened at a giant scale in climate science.

There is also a realisation that a complete understanding of climate change will also rely on bringing research in different disciplines together. Knowing what is going on is not just a question of meteorology, environmental science or any other single field, but will require insights from many different areas.

Libraries are already looking to do this, for example through their support to public health, or in realising the potential of old travel reports and maps in showing how our world is being altered over time. Open access will facilitate this significantly, as highlighted in the UN Global Sustainable Development Report.

Through this work, governments are better able to see what action is needed in order to relieve or reduce the pressures that can lead to conflict.


Behaviour Change, not Climate Change

Of course the fact that governments know they should be doing something does not mean that they will do it. A key means of ensuring that they do – as well as of reducing the factors that can drive unrest within communities – is by acting at the local level also.

Libraries have a key role to play here also. As set out in IFLA’s paper on libraries and sustainability, two key roles of libraries are as examples and educators, building understanding of the issues among citizens, and helping them to learn how to change their own behaviour.

This can be a key trigger, and support, for government action. Meanwhile, the support the libraries provide for the development of new technologies and new ideas will feed into the creation of new businesses and new jobs in future, as well as offering new ways of carrying out more traditional professions – such as farming – in a changed world.

This complements other work that libraries carry out to create a culture of peace, as highlighted in our previous work in this area in 2017 and 2018.


Libraries, therefore, are far from powerless faced with climate change and conflict. Instead, through acting on the one, they have a real contribution to make to efforts to reduce both, and in doing so, to build a more peaceful, more sustainable world.

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #36: Get Your Work Recognised

10 Minute Library Advocate #36 Text: Get your work recognised. Image: hands clappingYour advocacy is stronger when you can show the support of others.

Being able to point to other sites or sources that talk about your work helps build credibility.

It sends the message that it’s normal for people to think that your library is important!

But how to make this happen?

Sometimes it’s a case of getting a newspaper to write about what you’re doing, or getting on TV or radio.

But sometimes, you can do things directly.

So for our 36th 10-Minute Library Exercise, get your work recognised.

Find a site or platform where you can profile your work.

In particular, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Action Week offers the possibility to put your actions on a map.

Go to this page, and add in what you are doing, for example, to raise awareness of or deliver the SDGs.

And then use the profile created in your own daily advocacy work!

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 10-Minute Library Advocate #35: Get Your Delivery Right!

Image: one person acting out a scene from a play to another. Text: #35, get your delivery right. The 10-Minute Library Advocate, ifla.orgSometimes in advocacy, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Even the best arguments and the strongest evidence still need to be presented well in order to have an impact.

Sometimes this is a question of the vocabulary you use.

Sometimes it’s about your tone, or how fast you are speaking.

So for our 35th 10-Minute Library Advocate Exercise, get your delivery right!

Bear in mind that you are a little like an actor, who adapts how they speak and act to have a greater effect.

For example, make sure you’re not using library jargon that others may not understand.

Be sure to speak clearly, keep your sentences short, and focus on the message you want to send.

And of course smile and be as warm as appropriate – it’ll make people think more positively about your message!

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 10-Minute Library Advocate #34: Stop and Think

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #34: Stop and Think

Advocacy doesn’t always work first time around.

Your targeting, your messaging or your tools may not immediately be effective. This is normal.

But it’s not a reason to give up. In fact, this is really useful experience that you can use to improve things.

So for our 34th 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, stop and think.

Take a moment to reflect on what has worked well, and what hasn’t in the context in which you are working.

Remember what your objectives were, and think about whether you have achieved them.

Which messages seemed to engage people, and which did you need to explain again?

You can do this alone, or in a group – different perspectives can be useful. The results will help you develop your advocacy further in future!

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!