Monthly Archives: August 2020

The 10-Minute International Librarian #15: Think how you can use technology to improve services

Libraries have long been innovators in using technology to share information and carry out their missions.

From automation to the creation of inter-library networks that predate the modern internet, there are plenty of stories of libraries leading the way.

This should be a source of confidence – libraries have it in them to use technology to serve their communities better!

With technology always advancing, there are always new opportunities being created.

Often, this happens so fast it can be hard to keep up! But as highlighted in the IFLA Global Vision summary report, we need to work to make the most of the tools we have available.

So for our 15th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, think how you can use technology to improve a service.

It doesn’t need to be something advanced.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries have made powerful use of well-established and used tools such as WhatsApp to provide reference services, or platforms like Facebook to organise storytimes.

It can be a great way to reach more people, or save time and effort. Of course, it is important to ensure that it doesn’t leave some people excluded.

But with a little time, and a knowledge of users, technology can increase the positive impact of libraries on communities.

Good luck, and share your experiences of using technology to improve services in the comments box below!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 2.4 Provide tools and infrastructure that support the work of libraries.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store (especially those related to Opportunities 2 and 4 of the Global Vision)! Do also share your ideas in the comments box.

Five Things that Individuals and Societies Need (and Libraries Provide) in the Wake of COVID-19

COVID-19 has placed significant strain on individuals and societies.

The economic damage has been clear, with businesses forced to close, and increased unemployment. While the most immediate impacts have been felt in the private sector, the public sector too is likely to see cuts as governments deal with lower revenues and debts to pay back.

This has inevitable social consequences, coming on top of the trauma of the loss of life, and the regret that many will feel at not being able to socialise and interact with others as they did before the pandemic.

These impacts are not felt equally of course. While many have been lucky to be able to move much of their lives online, this has not been the case for all by a long way.

At the level of individuals, there is often uncertainty about the future, as well as a serious risk of falling behind those who have been more fortunate.

Connected to this, societies as a whole are weakened when inequalities grow, both in terms of social cohesion amongst their members, and their overall potential to produce and innovate.

The job of government is to prevent this from happening, providing the context and support that individuals and societies need in order to recover. They need to act to minimise or avoid long-term scarring from the pandemic, while creating the opportunities for renewal and positive change.

Libraries can be at the heart of this response. This blog sets out five key challenges individuals and societies will face – or are already facing – as a result of COVID-19, and what our institutions can do to help.


Catching up with School: schools and teachers around the world have made a huge effort, in a very short period of time, to redesign teaching for an online environment. This is likely to have made a real difference for many learners.

Nonetheless, those who do not have access to the internet, or who do not have the hardware or space at home to learn effectively, have been at risk of falling behind their luckier peers, as the United Nations itself has underlined. For them, the period of the pandemic risks becoming a lost term – or even year – dragging them further behind.

Public and school libraries have long had a role in supporting teachers by encouraging and supporting reading and research outside of the classroom, for example in the United States. This role is more central than ever now, with libraries stepping up to deliver online after-school programming, designing activities and challenges, and providing tailored materials and support to help learners most in need!


Help to Access Employment Support: with unemployment already rising, millions of people are going to be looking for work in the coming months. The support that governments and other agencies can provide – benefits and job-search support – will be essential for many, especially those who start with fewer skills or resources to start with.

Yet again, too many people do not have the possibility to get online, or the devices necessary to prepare a CV, prepare a business plan, or apply for benefits or other forms of support. Furthermore, for many, pride or other factors may keep them away from job centres.

Libraries are already helping here, from printing out and delivering applications for government benefits, to providing access to resources for prospective entrepreneurs, or training to help jobseekers gain the skills they need, such as in Livadia, Greece.


Smarter and Fairer Innovation and Decision-Making: the COVID-19 pandemic has proved a major test of the ability of governments to take decisions, and of scientists and researchers to respond to an urgent priority.

In a few months, we have learnt a lot, leaving societies better prepared to respond to new clusters of cases. At the same time, we have also become aware of the many questions that remain open. To respond, there have been rapid advances in ensuring open access to relevant materials, as well as developing platforms for sharing information and carrying out collaborative research.

One key conclusion from this is the need for ready access to information – the speciality of libraries. From evidence reviews in support of government decision-making – as highlighted in the webinar organised by IFLA’s Special Interest Group on Evidence for Global and Disaster Health – to infrastructures for data on COVID-19, libraries have been essential to providing the best possible chances of finding a way out of the crisis.


Rediscovering a Sense of Community: less tangible, but no less important for wellbeing and social cohesion is the possibility for people to feel connected to each other. In societies where living alone is more and more common, especially among older people, loneliness and isolation have risked growing significantly.

While people have shown real resilience in the face of difficulty, it is clear that many miss opportunities to enjoy common experiences.

Again, libraries provide a solution. At an individual level, there are great examples of librarians making sure to schedule calls with regular users, especially those most at risk of finding themselves alone, such as Auckland, New Zealand. The re-opening of buildings should help to provide additional support.

Meanwhile, local libraries are organising activities online – and increasingly in person, where this is safe – realising their potential as often the most accessible cultural infrastructure for their communities. This work is complemented by the efforts of national and major research libraries to provide access to their collections and organising engaging exhibitions.


A Chance to Take a Break: linked to the above, the fact of being obliged to stay at home has not meant that people have had any less need to step back and take time for themselves. Especially with travel impossible or limited, people need a means to escape from the uncertainty and worry that the pandemic has brought.

While of course the key priority has been to ensure that people receive healthcare when they are ill, as well as the food and money needed to survive physically, we cannot underestimate the importance of culture as a source of wellbeing and respite, as the World Health Organisation has noted.

Once again, libraries provide an accessible and equitable means of doing this. There have been major increases in people signing up for, and using, library digital offerings, both from national and public libraries.

While copyright and the licencing terms offered by rightholders have sometimes limited scope for action, libraries globally have innovated and found ways to provide their communities with cultural experiences, in ways that work for them.


There are of course many other ways in which libraries support communities. IFLA’s work around the Sustainable Development Goals, for example, underlines the variety of ways in which our institutions can make a difference.

Nonetheless, in advocating for libraries now – at a time when many will face challenges to their funding – it is valuable to focus on the most pressing issues that governments themselves need to resolve.

By applying examples and lessons from your own context to show how libraries can provide solutions, you can strengthen the case you make for ongoing investment in library and information services. For example, Libraries Connected in England provides a great example of structuring advocacy around these sorts of challenges.

Good luck!

Library Stat of the Week #33: Where there are more public libraries offering internet access, gender and age-related digital divides are smaller

Last week was the first in a mini-series looking at internet access in libraries, and overall figures about who is – and isn’t – using the internet.

As highlighted, the digital divide all too easily risks becoming a development divide. Those who cannot get online risk missing out on the services and opportunities that are there, and so being left behind.

Meanwhile, when there is access, the internet can be a means for those who might otherwise be marginalised or disadvantaged to improve their situation.

This situation has become all the more acute with the COVID-19 pandemic, with many in-person services closed or seriously limited.

Last week’s publication therefore looked at internet access by household income, and whether the existence of public libraries offering internet access correlated with a smaller gap.

It found that, outside of Central and Eastern Europe, there is indeed a link – more public libraries offering internet access per 100 000 people tended to be associated with a lower hap in internet use between richer and poorer households.

This week, we’ll look at two other factors often associated with digital divides – age and gender. These are key issues, as in many societies, women and older workers can risk enjoying fewer opportunities. For them, internet access can be a valuable way of overcoming the challenges they may face.

Once again, the basis for this analysis is the OECD’s database on ICT Access and Usage by Households and Individuals, with data mainly coming from 2019. Meanwhile, data on the number of public and community libraries offering internet access comes from IFLA’s Library Map of the World.

First of all, it is worth looking at the state of the age- and gender-related digital divide. Graphs 1a and 1b do this.

Graph 1a: Age-Related Digital Divides

Graph 1a looks at the age-related divide. In this, the higher the red bar, the greater the divide between younger (16-24) and older (55-74) people is. Only four countries indeed have a gap of less than 10 points – Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Three have a gap of over 50 points – Mexico, Portugal and Turkey.

In general, the divide between younger and older women is larger than that for the population as a whole, with the exceptions of Australia, Chile, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Sweden and the United States.

Graph 1b: Gender-Related Digital Divides

Graph 1b looks at gender digital divides, with a higher blue bar indicating a bigger divide in favour of men, and a smaller (or negative) one a better situation for women. In the population as a whole, gender digital divides are relatively small – only Austria and Turkey have gaps of over five percentage points. Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Lithuania, Spain and the United States in fact have a greater share of women (aged 16-74) accessing the internet than of men.

However, there is a much more varied picture when we break this down by age. While in general, the gender digital divide is smaller (or more favourable for women) among younger people (aged 16-54), there is a more significant gap between older men and older women (aged 55-74). Indeed, it is only in Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and the United States where women aged 55-74 are in a more favourable position than the female population (16-74) as a whole.

Overall, these graphs underline the scale of the challenge in many countries in order to ensure that older people and women are able to get online. So how does the size of these gaps compare with numbers of libraries offering internet access? In each of the bellow graphs, each dot represents a country for which data is available.

Graph 2a: Age-Related Digital Divides (All Countries)

Graph 2a compares the figures from Graph 1a with Library Map of the World data on libraries offering internet access. It shows that there seems to be little relation between the presence of libraries and the age-related digital divide – or even a slightly positive correlation – i.e. more libraries are associated with a digital divide.

However, as last week, it seems appropriate to look separately at the situation for libraries in Central and Eastern Europe (a region which has had a very specific experience in the last 30 years), and other countries for which we have data. Graphs 2b and 2c do this.

Graph 2b: Age-Related Digital Divides (Without Central and Eastern Europe)

Looking at this data, the correlation is completely inversed. Graph 2b shows figures for countries outside of Central and Eastern Europe, and demonstrates a relatively strong link between having more libraries offering public internet access and a smaller age-related digital divide. The link is indeed stronger for women than for men.

Overall, it appears that in general, for every extra 1 library offering internet access per 100 000 people, the age-related digital divide drops by 2.5 percentage points.

Graph 2a: Age-Related Digital Divides (Central and Eastern Europe)

Within Central and Eastern Europe also (Graph 2c), there is also a correlation indicating that more access to internet in public libraries means a smaller age-related digital divide.

Graph 3a: Gender Digital Divide (All Countries)

Next, we look at the gender digital divide. Graph 3a looks at the data for all countries, and shows a small correlation between more public libraries offering internet access, and smaller gender digital divides. The connection appears strongest among the older groups – 25-54s and 55-74s.

Again, we can also break up this data between Central and Eastern Europe and the rest – this is shown in Graphs 3b and 3c.

Graph 3b: Gender Digital Divide (without Central and Eastern Europe)

Once more, we see stronger correlations when looking at countries outside of Central and Eastern Europe (Graph 3b), in particular for older people (aged 55-74). For this group, one additional public library offering internet access tends to be associated with a 0.6 percentage point drop in the digital gender divide (in favour of women). Nonetheless, for all age groups, more public libraries tends to be associated with a smaller gender divide.

Graph 3c: Gender Digital Divide (Central and Eastern Europe)

Meanwhile, looking specifically at countries in Central and Eastern Europe (Graph 3c), there is little relationship between numbers of public and community libraries offering internet access and the gender digital divide.


As ever, correlation does not mean correlation, underlining the value of more focused research onto the relationship between the availability of libraries providing internet access and digital divides. The data also clearly poses interesting questions about the situation in Central and Eastern Europe.

Nonetheless, overall, there is a welcome indication that in countries where there are more public and community libraries offering internet access, groups which can tend to be more at risk of marginalisation face smaller digital divides.

Next week, we will look at the impact of different levels of education on internet use, and whether access to libraries can help close gaps.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

A Narrow Basis for a Decision with Wide Implications

South Africa’s Copyright Amendment Bill represents an important opportunity to bring the country’s laws into the 21st century, and apply international best practice in support of access to education, research and culture. Indeed, the country has been a strong and leading voice in Africa and across the developing world, at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, in support of better rules for libraries and their users, in order to help bridge the development gap.

There clearly has been controversy around this legislation, including efforts to engage foreign governments to call for a halt to the work. This has only underlined the need for the President of South Africa to stand above the noise and take account of the views of all sides in carrying out his duties.

Surprisingly, however, it appears that in the letter signed by the President and addressed to Parliament, returning the legislation for consideration of a number of questions of constitutionality, this may not have been the case. Indeed, it is rather a submission prepared by Steven Budlender and Ingrid Cloete, on behalf of members of the Copyright Coalition of South Africa – an active and vocal player on one side of the debate – which appears to have provided the structure, the content, and in some cases the wording of the letter.

On such an important issue, it is therefore unfortunate that the letter appears to be so narrowly based, with little evidence of having taken account of the opinions of all Senior Counsels, or the whole range of recommendations from stakeholders. Here, we look more closely at the similarities.

Concerning the allegation of incorrect tagging, the President’s letter repeats the arguments made by Budlender and Cloete, not only giving the exact same article references in its claims that the bill concerns trade and culture, and raising the same suggestion that the referral to the House of Traditional Leaders represents a further proof of the cultural nature of the legislation. The only substantive difference on this point is the reference to the Performers’ Protection Bill in the President’s letter, which can be explained by the exclusive focus in the Budlender and Cloete letter on the Copyright Amendment Bill.

Concerning the allegation of retrospective and arbitrary deprivations of property, the President’s letter summarises the case of Budlender and Cloete. The latter claim both that the scope of the provisions for compensation of creators who have been mistreated in the past is excessive, and suggest that the lack of a time-limit in the primary legislation for the operation of the provisions creates uncertainty. The President’s letter adds in short arguments concerning the issues surrounding works with multiple authors, or where copyright owners are non-profit organisations.

Concerning the allegations around fair use, the President’s letter broadly copy-pastes sentences from the Budlender and Cloete submission (paras 47-49) with only the most minor changes.

Concerning the delegation of legislative power to the Minister, the President’s Letter simply summarises Budlender and Cloete’s arguments, including the focus on the treatment of past agreements, the supposed lack of a due process for making regulation, and the specific reference to the role of the National Council of the Provinces.

Concerning copyright exceptions. The President’s letter lists the exact same sections and paragraphs as highlighted in Budlender and Cloete’s submission, including for example the highly questionable assertion that it may be impermissible to extend the quotation right to artistic works in Article 12b(1)(a)(i) – something that is in fact mandatory under the Berne Convention.

The only area where the President’s letter indeed departs from the Budlender and Cloete submission is in its inclusion of arguments concerning incompatibility with international law. These paragraphs are also out of character with the rest of the letter, providing long descriptions of the international legal instruments mentioned, but only the vaguest indication of what concerns may be.


In sum, the letter signed by the President appears to represent a summary of the Budlender-Cloete submission on almost all points, and occasionally a direct reproduction of specific sentences. There is little evidence of the President having applied his own mind to the issues or having proposed new reasons for the alleged unconstitutionality of the bills. The only divergences concern inclusion of reference to the Performers’ Protection bill (a topic not covered in the Budlender-Cloete submission), specific additional issues relating to the retroactive effect of laws, and vaguely worded concerns around international law.

We very much hope that the Parliament will, as it has done in the past, continue to show a more balanced and independent approach, focused on promoting the wellbeing of South Africans and the sustainable development of South Africa.

The Sarr-Savoy report, the restitution of African cultural heritage.

In 2017, the President of France announced the desire to set up temporary and definitive restitutions of African heritage held in French institutions. This declaration led to the commissioning of the Report on the restitution of African cultural heritage: Towards a New Relational Ethics, prepared by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy and issued in November 2018.

Centered on museum collections, this report sporadically evokes manuscripts, archives and books, and looks at some depth at the contexts of acquisitions of collections within French collections, as a basis for making recommendations on what should be done with them now.

The Sarr-Savoy report has received reactions both in France and in African countries.


What does the Sarr-Savoy report contain?

This report proposes to analyse the different forms and methods of appropriation of cultural property as a process of subjugation and deculturation of populations in a French colonial context. Its focus is on the period before the Hague Convention in 1899, which prohibited looting and the taking of cultural property during military campaigns.

It highlights the distinctions to be made between correctly acquired collections and those whose acquisition was the result of the unequal balance of power between colonised peoples and colonial powers. In particular, it indicates that the transfer of cultural property in theecolonialism often takes the form of a forced agreement which cannot be considered as a voluntary exchange.

The Sarr-Savoy report focuses strongly on the term “restitution”. This refers to the return of property to its legitimate owners, which allows nations to reappropriate their own history. It responds to the need, not to annihilate colonial history, but to allow these nations, deprived of around 90% of their heritage, to reconstruct a discourse on themselves through these objects.

This document also proposes recommendations and criteria for restitution in order to allow countries to establish lists of objects acquired illegally by force or coercion, under unequal terms acquisitions, or in a context of war.

If the framework of the mission opposes temporary restitutions, preferring permanent restitutions to the continued the circulation of works, the report accepts that this may be a transitory solution. This would gain the time needed to solve judicial issues linked to the “Code du Patrimoine” (the French Heritage Code), in particular, the inalienability of French public collections.


What are the recommendations proposed by the report?

The report sets out that before determining a potential restitution, it is necessary to identify or collect all the information available relating to this collection to understand its provenance. This means that the collections must be examined in order to identify whether the conditions of acquisition and entry into the heritage collections of the country have been fair or not.

The Sarr-Savoy report proposes several possibilities for responding to requests for restitution from African countries by distinguishing between:

  • rapid restitutions without additional research on contextualized artefacts taken in Africa by force or under unfair conditions (military clashes; military or administrative personnel active on the African continent during the colonial period; during scientific missions prior to 1960; museums which hold works that have never been returned to the original institutions).
  • “Additional research when the requested pieces entered museums after 1960 and through donations, but it can nevertheless be assumed that they left Africa before 1960 (case of pieces that have remained for several generations within families). In cases where research does not establish certainty as to the circumstances of their acquisition during the colonial period, the requested items could be returned on proof of their interest for the requesting country. ” (Sarr-Savoy Report).
  • Maintaining African pieces in French collections where it is established that they were acquired thanks to a transaction document in mutual consent, free and fair and in respect of the provision “without taking ethical risk” developed during the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Another recommendation is the creation of a portal for collections designated as eligible for restitution, with the suggestion that free access and usage rights be provided to these for both parties.

This portal would require that a policy on image rights for collections should be developed, based on images already collected through digitisation campaigns. The report mentions that all collections eligible for restitutions should be subject to a systematic digitisation campaign, including a restructuration of the reproduction rights policies.

Finally, the Sarr-Savoy report proposes legal provisions making it possible to amend the French Heritage Code (“Code du Patrimoine”) in order to allow legal restitutions to legitimate owners, currently prevented in particular by the inalienable nature of public collections. It also offers proposals for bilateral agreements between countries and fact sheets for returning artefacts which sit outside of heritage collections, as well as how to handle donations and bequests of these objects.


What are the next steps, what will be the international impacts?

This report is the first document produced on the subject at the request of a government and therefore opens the way for reflection in other countries, which are likely to face the growing demand from governments in Africa and other formerly colonised countries to have their heritage returned. Beyond governments, all heritage institutions, including archives and libraries, will potentially be affected by these restitution requests.

In July 2020, the French government announced that it was preparing a bill on the return of objects, giving concrete form to the Sarr-Savoy report. This project would require a limited derogation from the principle of inalienability of collections, including removal from national collections and transfer of ownership.

In the meanwhile, Benin and Senegal, having already expressed their desire to have the objects of their heritage returned to them, have already seen the restitution of objects from the Abomey Palace collections.

IFLA will continue to report on developments in this field.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #14: Find a good source of library news

Libraries are all about ensuring that the communities they serve are well informed.

We know how important this information is for allowing people to take decisions and enjoy their rights.

But it is not only library users, but also library and information workers themselves who can benefit from being well informed!

In order to understand changes in the world around us, it is important to know what is going on.

With this knowledge, a key condition is in place for seizing opportunities and planning responses. It enables libraries to be proactive in finding the best way to support their communities.

But how to do this?

So for our 14th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, find a good source of library news.

In many countries, library associations play this role, through newsletters, e-mails or social media.

In some places, there are also individuals who gather and share stories in order to help others keep up to date.

Of course, IFLA also works to share news about the field through its social media feeds also.

You can share your recommendations for great sources of library news in the comments below!

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 2.2 Deliver high quality campaigns, information and other communications products on a regular basis to engage and energise libraries.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box.

Library Stat of the Week #32: More can be done to close the digital access gap through public libraries

Libraries were often early adopters of digital technology, both for their own internal operations, and in support of their users.

By installing computer terminals and allowing for public access, they have given millions their first taste of the internet, in an environment where they could feel comfortable and supported in trying something new.

It is also well understood that that libraries can play a key role in bringing the unconnected online through providing this sort of public access. In some cases, this can act as a stepping stone towards private access, in others, an essential backstop for those unlikely ever to get a connection or device at home.

Frequently, those in the greatest need of this support are the poorest members of a society, who may not be able to commit to regular monthly payments, either for fixed or mobile internet. Instead, they can be stuck with pay-as-you-go options which end up more expensive.

This blog, the first in a sub-series, therefore looks at the connections between the digital access gap and the presence of libraries offering internet access. It draws on OECD statistics on internet access and usage for households and individuals, and IFLA’s own Library Map of the World.

First of all, it is worth understanding the scope of the challenge. Graph 1 indicates the differences in internet access rates (use of the internet in the past three months) between people from households in the first (poorest) and fourth (richest) quartiles of the population.

Graph 1: Internet Access Gap (Richest 25% - Poorest 25%)

In this, only three countries – Denmark, Luxembourg and Sweden have a gap of less than 10 percentage points. Meanwhile, in Hungary, the gap is almost 55 percentage points – nearly 92% of people from richer households have accessed the internet, but barely 37% of those from poorer ones.

Interestingly, only one of the nine countries with the biggest gaps does not belong to the former Eastern bloc – we will return to this point later.

Graph 2: Public/Community Libraries Offering Internet access per 100 000 peopleGraph 2 displays (with the same order of countries as before) the number of public and community libraries offering public internet access per 100 000 people. The Czech Republic scores highest here, with just over 50 such libraries for every 100 000 people – that’s one for every 20 000 citizens.

Lithuania and Latvia also have more than 40 public libraries offering internet access per 100 000 people, and Estonia is only a short way behind.

Again, it is noticeable that most of the countries with high numbers of libraries offering internet access are from former Eastern Bloc countries.

Graph 3: Library Internet Provision and Access GapsWe can cross these figures in Graph 3, which aims to look at the relationship between income-related internet access gaps and the availability of libraries offering access.

This shows a correlation between the number of libraries offering access and the gap in access between rich and poor. This applies both for the difference between the richest 25% and the poorest 25% (4th quartile minus 1st quartile), but also between those roughly in the middle and those at the bottom (2nd quartile minus 1st quartile)

On the one hand, this suggests that there is – fortunately – the infrastructure in place in order to help bridge this divide. The challenge, then, is to ensure that the possibilities that libraries provide turn into smaller access gaps in reality.

Graph 4: Library internet provision and access gaps (without Central Europe)As an additional step, Graph 4 carries out the same analysis, but not including countries from the former Eastern bloc.

Here, in fact, we can see that the correlation goes in another direction, suggesting that having more libraries offering internet access tends to be associated with a smaller gap between rich and poor in terms of internet access.


The analysis presented here raises interesting questions – what more can be done to realise the potential of connected libraries to close the gap between rich and poor in terms of internet access in countries of the former Eastern bloc? Can we take the more positive correlation between equality and the existence of libraries elsewhere as a positive?

Next week, we’ll explore the same question from different angles, including age and level of education.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.