Today marks the 30th anniversary of the signature of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
While this was not the first international agreement to focus on the specific needs of children, it is the most high-profile, and has put the idea of children’s rights firmly on the political agenda in many countries.
It makes it clear that children are in a specific situation, and have specific needs. It includes a much fuller section on education for example, than the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
It also underlines how other freedoms, such as freedom of access to information, with a view to helping children today become active and empowered adults in future.
This specific situation, arguably, merits a specific type of support. This is what school libraries provide. Indeed, the 30th anniversary year of the Convention is also the 20th anniversary year of IFLA’s School Library Manifesto.
This focuses on how school libraries ‘provide information and ideas that are fundamental to functioning successfully in today’s information and knowledge-based society’, and ‘equip students with life-long learning skills and develops the imagination, enabling them to live as responsible citizens.
In doing so, it provides a useful overview of how school libraries deliver on the rights of the child. This blog looks at the key links between these two documents. With it, we hope, school library advocates will be able to use references to the Convention to strengthen their arguments!
The Right of Access to Information: Article 13 of the Convention stresses that the rights included in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the right to freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds – also apply to children.
The School Library Manifesto has a similar focus on free access, underlining that ‘access to services and collections should be based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms, and should not be subject to any form of ideological, political or religious censorship, or to commercial pressures’.
The Right to Relevant Content: Article 17 includes provisions on the right of children to access relevant content, especially that ‘aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health’.
It sets out an obligation on signatories to encourage the production and dissemination of books and materials focused on children, as well as international cooperation to accelerate this.
School libraries clearly here play a major complementary role in ensuring that this production actually ends up in front of children, especially given that there are relatively few parents who can afford to buy all of the books that children need to read to develop a high level of literacy.
The School Library manifesto is clear about this role, noting that ‘library staff support the use of books and other information sources, ranging from the fictional to the documentary, from print to electronic, both on-site and remote’.
Indeed, they do more than just provide access. As the Manifesto sets out, they help children access materials in a way that ‘complement[s] and enrich[es] textbooks, teaching materials and methodologies’.
The Right to Education: Articles 28 and 29 of the Convention set out the right to education, on the basis of equal opportunity. It covers the right to primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as vocational information and guidance. It also underlines the importance of international cooperation to facilitate access to scientific and technical knowledge, as well as universal literacy.
The Convention makes it clear that education should promote ‘the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential’, and of ‘respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms’.
Again, this intersects strongly with the roles of school libraries as set out in the Manifesto, including:
- ‘working with students, teachers, administrators and parents to achieve the mission of the school’;
- ‘supporting and enhancing educational goals as outlined in the school’s mission and curriculum’; and
- ‘proclaiming the concept that intellectual freedom and access to information are essential to effective and responsible citizenship and participation in a democracy’.
The Right to Culture: Finally, Article 31 stresses that children have a right to rest and leisure, and to ‘participate freely in cultural life and the arts’. Signatories should ‘encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity’.
School libraries provide an excellent means of achieving this, as key venues for accessing and engaging with culture, and developing creativity. As the Manifesto sets out, school libraries ‘provide access to local, regional, national and global resources and opportunities that expose learners to diverse ideas, experiences and opinions’, and ‘offering opportunities for experiences in creating and using information for knowledge, understanding, imagination and enjoyment’.
Clearly these are primarily legal texts, and only have an effect when they are followed up with laws and resources at the national and local levels.
What is clear, however, is that when school libraries are able to operate along the lines envisaged in the School Library Manifesto, they can make a real contribution to realising the goals of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.