Monthly Archives: September 2020

Not a Gift, Not a Privilege, but a Right: Access to Information

The COVID-19 Pandemic has both underlined the importance of access to information, and how far we are from achieving this for all.

From the need for rapid access to research to inform policy making, to the development of media and information literacy skills amongst individuals in the face of misinformation, the need for comprehensive policies on information is clear.

Yet at the same time, with so many parts of our societies and economies moving online, the costs of being unable to access and use information easily have been made clear.

This comes as much through the months of schooling lost for those unable to take part in distance learning or work and do business online, as through the and isolation stress felt by those unable to communicate with their friends and families, or access culture online.

These are of course key issues for libraries too, as key pillars of the infrastructure for access to information in any country, and so for the delivery of this right.

While of course the spread of internet has created exciting possibilities to access information directly, libraries contribute in three essential ways: helping to ensure that those without an internet connection can get online, helping to ensure that works which are otherwise protected or restricted (for example by copyright) are still accessible, and helping to ensure that users have the skills and confidence to be successful information users.

The Pandemic has disrupted all of these, and with it the right of access to information. If we are to be better prepared in the future to ensure the continued enjoyment of this right, there are a number of steps we can take.

All represent good risk-management practice, by removing unnecessary uncertainties in the ability of libraries to respond. All work to ensure that access to information should be protected, and enacted, as a right, rather than seen as a gift or a privilege.


Towards Universal Connectivity: the goal of ensuring universal internet access is not a new one, with public access in libraries cited already in the WSIS Agenda of 2003 as a means of doing this. Technologies such as WiFi and models such as community networks offer promising means of bringing library connectivity out to communities – an essential step if libraries are forced to suspend in-person services again.

Achieving this will certainly require investment, and in many cases regulatory change, but would certainly bring returns in terms of higher uptake of services (such as education, eHealth and similar), create new business opportunities, and fulfil what is increasingly being seen as a moral obligation on governments to treat internet access as a basic utility like water or electricity.


Copyright Fit for the Digital Age: the failure of copyright laws to adapt to the digital age in many countries has meant that libraries have been unable to carry out online many of the services they would have offered in person. Physical collections were stuck behind library doors, with little possibility to provide digital access, for example through sharing scanned copies. Storytimes that previously took place in the library could not, in many cases, be done online.

Fortunately, this was not the case everywhere. In many cases, there have been welcome moves by publishers, distributors and others to allow for access – many are detailed on the page hosting the ICOLC Statement on the Global COVID-19 Pandemic and its Impact on Library Services and Resources. Others – including agreements between publishers and library associations to allow for storytimes – are noted on IFLA’s COVID-19 and Libraries page.

However, it is arguable that where libraries have already been given the possibility to offer a service to users in person – through an exception or limitation to copyright – they should be able to count on being able to do the same online, in as similar a way as possible. In other words, having already paid for a work, the possibility to allow users to access it digitally should not be a gift depending on the goodwill of the rightholder, but rather a legal certainty.

This can be guaranteed through using secure networks, and tools to prevent simultaneous uses. Achieving this will require copyright laws to be updated, notably to make it clear that digital uses are permitted, and to ensure that they cannot be taken away by contract terms, as is currently typically the case. Further help would come from deeper understanding of the pricing and availability of electronic resources for libraries.


A Digitally Enabled Population: finally, with it clear that skills and confidence play a major role in whether people make use of the possibilities that exist to access information, there is a need to have a greater focus on promoting digital and information skills, at all ages.

Clearly with the Pandemic, the potential for libraries to offer in-person support has been limited. Yet libraries have sought to be in touch with users by phone and other means, and provide guidance and support, as well as developing tailored tutorials to help people develop digital skills. In the longer term, what seems necessary is a more comprehensive approach to developing digital skills in the population, with libraries as key delivery partners within this, as some are already doing.

While many elements of this may require in-person support – and so will need to wait for the Pandemic to have receded – others can already be scaled-up in order to do the best possible in the months and years to come.


With the recognition of the International Day for the Universal Access to Information by the UN General Assembly as a full UN-level observance, there is a new opportunity to raise awareness of the steps needed to make this right a reality for all, whatever the circumstances.

Meaningful plans to ensure internet connections, digital access to library collections, and the skills needed to make the most of both, can all help ensure that when the next crisis hits – and even before – access to information is a right, rather than just a privilege or a gift.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #19: Map Your Library Ecosystem

No library is an island.

It has almost always been the case that libraries rely on others for budgets, in turn providing a key service to their communities.

Increasingly, libraries can be seen as partners and platforms. By combining their strengths with others, they can be better able to respond to the needs of their users.

With so many interconnections, we can see libraries as part of an ecosystem, made up of lots of different individuals, groups or institutions, interacting with each other and their environment.

While this term originates in biology – and is particular relevant with the UN Summit on Biodiversity this week – it can also apply to libraries.

Indeed, it offers a helpful model for structuring thinking about the environment in which our institutions operate.

So for our 19th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, map your library ecosystem.

You can do this as a diagram, on your own or with colleagues. Try to identify the other people and institutions around you which can help you achieve your goals.

Of course, funders are key here. But so too are the actual and potential partners with whom you can work to provide services.

This can include not only other official institutions, but also individuals and community groups.

This map of your ecosystem can help you think both about your own plans and priorities, but also about the impact that changes may have.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 2.3 Show the power of libraries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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.


Access to Information through Libraries: A Public Good

The International Day for the Universal Access to Information is a great opportunity to celebrate and underline values which are at the heart of the work of libraries throughout the year.

As an enabler of better decision-making, the seizing of opportunities, and the transparency of government, this access is a key part of any drive to create societies made up of enabled, emancipated and autonomous individuals, all contributing in their own way to collective development.

Libraries are a key part of the infrastructure for access to information, through their connections, collections, and capacity-building.

Through providing low-or-no-cost internet access, they are a gateway to the internet for many, and even in the most highly connected societies play a valuable complement to home and mobile access.

Through access to curated collections of material, they can ensure people find the information they need, in particular helping to ensure that copyright does not serve to make access to knowledge the preserve of the wealthy.

Through providing training and support, they give people the confidence and skills to be effective and constructive information users.

Yet the coming months and years are likely to be difficult for libraries. Reduced economic activity, combined with a need to pay off debts incurred, may well see cuts to public and other spending that risk falling on our institutions.

Even in good times, there can be questions about where libraries ‘sit’ in government, or in other words, whose budget should be used to support them? Are they more about culture? Education? Research? Well-being? Through their support in providing access to information, libraries deliver in all of these areas and more, but usually, only one will need to pay.

With an economic crisis on the way, this blog therefore looks to explore to what extent economic concepts – public and common goods problems – can be used to understand this situation, and trace a way forwards, in order to make a reality of access to information for all.


Defining Terms

We talk about a public good when something is ‘non-excludable’ and ‘non-rivalrous’. ‘Non-excludable means that it is not possible to limit access in order to ensure that only those who pay for it can benefit from it.  Meanwhile, ‘non-rivalrous’ means that even when one person uses the good, this does not reduce what is available to others.

Examples include, arguably, knowledge itself as well as services such as street-lighting or public infrastructure. There is always the risk of the ‘free rider’ problem, with people able to use a good or service without paying for it, leading to a risk of under-investment. In the case of knowledge, for example, tools such as intellectual property are used to ‘exclude’ artificially, and so allow for the creation of a market.

Meanwhile, a common good one that is is non-excludable, but is rivalrous. People can access them without needing to pay, and moreover in doing so, deprive others of the possibility to do so. Examples here could be fish-stocks or forests. There is always the risk that people will try to exploit this to the maximum, bringing the risk of leaving none for anyone else, and indeed, causing long-term damage – the ‘tragedy of the commons’.

Managing common goods can either require central controls, or norms and behaviours within communities which set limits on use for any individual.


Where does library funding fit into this?

For the purposes of this blog, we can consider that the users of libraries are not just individuals, but different parts of government. This is because, in providing services to users, libraries are helping  different parts of government to achieve their policy goals .

For example, beyond culture and education, libraries have a proven record of supporting public health, helping people to access key information and online services. This is a positive result for health ministries and agencies, who then see lower levels of disease, and reduced pressure on hospitals and general practitioners.

There is also evidence of libraries playing a role in helping people who are looking for work. From providing the internet access necessary to find jobs and the computers needed to write CVs, to more hands-on support in developing skills and confidence, libraries are effectively making the work of employment ministries or agencies easier. Indeed, there are stories in many places of jobcentres explicitly telling people to go to the library to get help.

A final example: libraries have a particularly important role in helping people who are at greatest risk of marginalisation to get online, find programmes, or even deliver support directly within the institution. People facing homelessness, isolation, or inequality can, in this way, find opportunities to improve their lives. This is a positive outcome for social affairs ministries or departments, whose success is measured in terms of people helped off the streets and back into jobs and communities.

In each of these cases, by ‘using’ libraries, other departments and ministries benefit. And of course, given that libraries work to be open and available for all, there is no question of ‘excluding’ people using the library for any particular purpose.

There is perhaps a more open question about whether library services are rivalrous or non-rivalrous. Clearly, staff time, computers, or books for lending for example, are not finite. If they are being used by one person, they cannot necessarily be used by another. Other aspects of library services are less rivalrous, for example WiFi, as long as the connection is good enough, or access to displays or information within the library.

This places libraries and the access to information they provide – vis-à-vis their ‘customers’ across government – somewhere between a public and a common good.


The Risks and the Possibilities

As highlighted earlier, public good or common good status bring challenges that can require intervention.

Certainly, there is the chance of a free-rider problem, with policy-makers across government benefitting from services that are only paid by one department (or which depend on local funding).

Of course, when someone is able to access a health resource or find a job through a library, it seems harsh to talk about ‘free riding’. Nonetheless, it is  important to ensure that there is recognition by other agencies, departments or ministries of what they gain from libraries.

Even if they are not willing or able to support libraries for the services they offer, they should be made to understand their interest in defending libraries at what is likely to be a difficult time in the coming months and years. There are already great examples of this, for example the work done in the UK to show how much money libraries are saving the health service.

As for the tragedy of the commons, this can also strike. For example, if every government agency sends people onto the library to use the internet or printers, there is a risk of saturation of library resources very quickly, with fewer terminals or lower levels of staff support available than are needed. If levels of service need to be cut in response, this can even make it harder for libraries to justify support, given perceptions of reduced value for any individual user.

The answer here must be to try and ensure that libraries are integrated into wider policy planning, in order to identify where there is a risk of demand being greater than what libraries can manage. Ideally, an explicit recognition of libraries’ role could lead to increased funding and support in order to deliver.

Linked to this is the value of libraires building up a wider range of partnerships with actors across government. Again, we do see such connections in some situations, with libraries fulfilling their potential as partners and platforms for other services. Formalising relations can help reinforce these links, and further strengthen the range of people and institutions who are likely to speak up in favour of libraries in future, as well, of course, as avoiding the saturation of library services.


In conclusion, building an understanding of the risk that funding for libraries (and the access to information they provide) can be subject to the public and common goods problems can be a useful advocacy goal.

We need to avoid situations where parts of government which benefit so strongly from the work of libraries in providing access only realise how important our institutions are too late. Making use of the International Day for the Universal Access to Information on 28 September to build understanding of the importance of access, and moving towards more formalised relations with partners, offer just two possibilities for doing so.

Library Stat of the Week #37: The connection between having access to a library and enjoyment of reading is strongest among children in Austria, France and Montenegro

Last week’s Library Stat of the Week looked at the connection between numbers of school libraries and levels of enjoyment of reading, combining data from IFLA’s Library Map of the World and the OECD’s PISA study.

As highlighted, simply counting the number of students per school library has limits as an indicator of the strength of the sector, as it depends heavily on the structure of schools as a whole.

It also does not account for the number of staff. As we have seen with public libraries in various previous posts, numbers of public and community library workers tend to be more closely linked to positive outcomes, such as literacy and equality.

An alternative perspective can come from digging deeper into the OECD’s PISA data. There is in fact a wealth of information specifically about libraries, based on their 2009 survey.

This post will therefore be the first of a series looking into the lessons we can gain from this source. Picking up on last week’s theme, this week’s blog looks at the links between students’ access to libraries – and use of them – and their level of enjoyment of reading.

As highlighted last week, this matters, as enjoyment of reading in turn is associated with higher overall reading performance.

Graphs 1a and 1b look at the data on the difference in level of enjoyment of reading between students who do, and do not have access to a library.

Graph 1a: Difference in Enjoyment of Reading Between Children With and Without Library Access

Graph 1b: Difference in Enjoyment of Reading Between Children With and Without Library Access

Given the number of countries, it is divided into two graphs, with countries organised according to the gap in levels of enjoyment of reading – the first graph shows countries where the difference in levels of enjoyment is highest.

We can therefore see that this is highest in Austria, Taiwan (China), France and Montenegro. In almost all countries, those who have libraries tend to enjoy libraries more than those don’t.

There are some exceptions though. Yet simply having a library does not mean that it is used. In order to dig further, it makes sense to look at how different types of library use are linked with enjoyment of reading.

Graphs 2a and 2b therefore look at the connection between how regularly 15-year-olds borrow books for fun, and their level of enjoyment of reading.

Graph 2a: Library Borrowing for Pleasure and Level of Enjoyment of Reading


Graph 2b: Library Borrowing for Pleasure and Enjoyment of ReadingThese graphs indicate levels of enjoyment of reading amongst 15-year olds who borrow books only once a month, compared to those who do so never, and those who do so several times a week.

In these graphs a longer blue line to the left indicates that there is a bigger gap in enjoyment of reading between occasional borrowers (once a month) and those who never read. A longer red line to the right indicates a bigger gap in enjoyment between very regular borrowers (several times a week) and occasional ones (once a month).

It is not a surprise of course that there is a connection between the two here – in every country, those who borrow more enjoy reading more. Interestingly, in general, the gaps are bigger between occasional library borrowers and those who never borrow, rather than between the more frequent and the occasional borrowers.

It is in Finland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland where the links between regularity of borrowing books and enjoyment of reading are strongest. The implication here is that building up a habit of library borrowing can correlate with enjoyment of reading.

Graph 3a: Library Use for Homework and Enjoyment of Reading


Graph 3b: Library Use for Homework and Enjoyment of ReadingGraphs 3a and 3b look at the links between levels of enjoyment of reading and how often students use the library to carry out homework.

In these graphs a longer blue line to the left indicates that there is a bigger gap in enjoyment of reading between those who occasionally use the library to do homework (once a month) and those who never do. A longer red line to the right indicates a bigger gap in enjoyment between very regular users of the library for homework (several times a week) and occasional ones (once a month).

As can be expected, the difference between level of enjoyment of reading between those who use libraries to do homework regularly, and those who don’t, are less marked than in the previous example.

Nonetheless, the connection is positive in all but one country, suggesting that having library spaces which are suitable for children to do homework is associated with more positive attitudes toward reading. Australia and New Zealand see the most positive connections in this regard.

Graph 4a: Reading for Fun at the Library and Enjoyment of Reading


Graph 4b: Reading for Fun at the Library and Enjoyment of ReadingFinally, graphs 4a and 4b look at the links between enjoyment of reading and using the library to read for fun. Again, it is expected that more regular reading for fun at the library is linked to greater enjoyment of reading in general.

In these graphs a longer blue line to the left indicates that there is a bigger gap in enjoyment of reading between those who occasionally use the library to read for fun (once a month) and those who never do. A longer red line to the right indicates a bigger gap in enjoyment between very regular users of the library to read for fun (several times a week) and occasional ones (once a month).

In every country, the link is positive. As with borrowing of books, it also seems that there are bigger gaps between those who visit occasionally and those who never visit, than between the most regular users and more occasional ones.

Again, Australia, followed by Austria, Switzerland and the United States, has the most dramatic links between reading for fun at the library and enjoyment of reading overall.

This would support the argument that work to promote reading for fun in libraries can have a positive long-term pay-off.


In sum, the OECD data, even if a little old now, nonetheless provides valuable evidence of the connection between access to – and use of – libraries by school children, and enjoyment of reading.

Next week, we will look at how this translates into results in terms of literacy scores.


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.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #18: Think of a Powerful Advocacy Tool

Advocacy is a global priority for libraries, and will only become more important with hard financial times likely ahead.

When trying to change people’s minds, it can be powerful to go in with some sort of tool or support, that you can prepare beforehand.

This can help start conversations, or leave a favourable impression on someone you want to convince.

It can also save you time while increasing your impact.

So for our 18th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, think of a powerful advocacy tool.

This could be a postcard, leaflet, poster, report, or other object that supports you in your work to build support for libraries. It can share data or stories, set out arguments or make suggestions.

Think about what could work best in your country and your circumstances, and what you have seen others do that worked.

What do people respond best to? What has the most reach and impact?

Share your favourite examples of library advocacy tools below!

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 1.3 Show the power of libraries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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.

Building Your Evidence Base Across the SDGs

Today marks the beginning of SDG Action Week, a celebration of the work currently taking place to deliver on the Global Goals, and an opportunity to reflect on what more needs to be done.

Clearly, with the consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic, reaching the Sustainable Development Goals seems as challenging as ever, as highlighted in the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers report earlier this week.

The Week will see great ideas being shared on how to ensure an effective response to the pandemic now, and a rapid and equitable recovery afterwards. We have already encouraged libraries to take part in the events, and share their own ideas.

Of course, it’s not just during SDG Action Week that it’s important to share these ideas! Governments are taking decisions related to sustainable development all the time.

In order to ensure that libraries are fully recognised and integrated into policy planning, it is important to have examples and ideas to hand

IFLA already makes two great resources available for this. First of all, the SDG Stories on IFLA’s Library Map of the World provide a growing set of examples. Those who have shared examples there not only help colleagues in their advocacy, but receive profile for their own work.

Secondly, we have a collection of national awareness raising materials, produced by library associations and groups of libraries, illustrating how our institutions are contributing to achieving the SDGs.

It can help to prepare your own list of such stories. This doesn’t need to be formally presented (although of course, it can be powerful if you do!), but even having it ready when preparing meetings, news stories or other events can be useful?

How to go about this?

Sometimes, contributions are clear. Libraries have an obvious and traditional role in supporting literacy (SDG4), connectivity (SDG9 and SDG17), and the safeguarding of heritage (SDG11). There are already lots of great examples on the Library Map of the World about these.

But of course libraries contribute across the board.

In order to help you think about your library, or libraries in your country, here are four ways which – in the case of each of the SDGs – libraries are contributing:

1) How are libraries informing and supporting policy-making? For example, in all of the policy areas across the SDGs, libraries are likely to be supporting research and other efforts to build understanding of the world around us. Within governments, they are helping deliver evidence-based policy making, while those in parliaments are helping legislatures holding those in power to account.

2) How are libraries connecting people with opportunities? Public efforts to support development are often only as effective as the communication about them. Work to promote knowledge of, and access to public benefits, programmes or services can make a real difference, for example through internet access, noticeboards or proactive advice and support for users. This is particular the case for users who are unconnected at home, or unwilling to visit official buildings.

3) How are libraries enabling better decision-making at the individual level? Of course, not all support comes from government sources! For people to make decisions about their own lives and work, there are plenty of other places to find information, both in library collections and on websites accessible at (or thanks to) libraries. Librarians of course do help people develop the skills and confidence to make full use of this information to improve their lives.

4) How are libraries delivering services directly? As highlighted, libraries are involved in directly providing services such as literacy, internet access, access to research or preservation and conservation. Increasingly, there are also programmes supporting other SDGs. But it’s not just about what librarians themselves do! Libraries can also be platforms and facilitators, helping others to deliver programmes that help make change happen – and indeed, this can be a great way of increasing impact!

Below, we set out a grid sharing some ideas for first answers to each of these questions, for each of the SDGs.

Grid showing how libraries contribute to achieving each of the SDGs in different ways


Grid showing how libraries contribute to achieving each of the SDGs in different ways


Grid showing how libraries contribute to achieving each of the SDGs in different ways


Grid showing how libraries contribute to achieving each of the SDGs in different ways

If you are trying to put together your own database of examples to use in your advocacy, we hope these help you to identify where to look! And of course, once you have found your examples, you can use our SDG Storytelling Manual to develop them into full stories!

Library Stat of the Week #36: Where there are more school libraries, children enjoy reading more

The Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers 2020 report, published earlier this week, highlights the risk that literacy could suffer as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

It presents different projections, suggesting that the share of children finishing primary school with the ability to read and understand a basic text could fall back to 2015, or even 2010 levels.

This has important knock-on effects, with children then struggling to engage with other subjects at school, achieving less, and finding it harder to integrate into the labour market later in life.

A key determinant of literacy, as underlined in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is enjoyment of reading outside of school. In turn, a key argument made in library advocacy is that our institutions – both public, and embedded in schools, can help build a love of reading.

There have been a good number of studies exploring the connection between school libraries and reading performance at the local level. But what does the data say at the global level?

To explore this, we have brought together information from the IFLA Library Map of the World, as well as OECD PISA data, which used surveys of students alongside tests to find out about habits related to reading.

Graph 1, as a first step, looks at average levels of enjoyment of reading among 15 year olds in participating countries, based on data for 2018. The higher (more positive) a bar is, the more children in the country, on average, report enjoying reading.

Graph 1: Enjoyment of Reading (OECD PISA)

This underlines strong variation between countries, with 15 year olds in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Peru and Indonesia displaying the highest level of enjoyment of reading, while those in Denmark, Croatia and Sweden were less keen.

It is worth noting that total figures, as displayed here, cover varying levels of enjoyment within populations (and indeed, it is on this basis that the OECD can show links between enjoyment and literacy).

Graph 2 turns to the number of school libraries per student. Combining UNESCO Institute for Statistics data with that from the IFLA Library Map of the World data, we can work out how many school libraries there are for every 1000 children enrolled in primary or secondary schools.

Graph 2: School Libraries per 1000 students

For countries for which we have data, there are an average of 1.81 school libraries per 1000 students. Within this, there is strong variation, with the largest number of school libraries per student being found in Poland, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Graph 3 brings this data together, with numbers of school libraries per 1000 students on the horizontal (X) axis, and the enjoyment of reading index on the vertical (y) axis.

Graph 3: School Libraries per 1000 Students and Enjoyment of Reading

This indicates a positive correlation between numbers of school libraries and enjoyment of reading, demonstrated by the gently rising line. This indicates that in general, where there are more school libraries, enjoyment of reading.

Clearly, however, there are limitations to this finding. First of all, not all countries operate with school libraries, with public libraries taking up their role. And of course, having more school libraries may be part of a wider strategy to promote reading, including through different techniques for promoting this.

They may also organise schools differently, with larger or smaller institutions, which will affect the number of libraries per student. Finally, data on school library workers is limited, meaning that is it not possible to carry out analysis using this.

Future editions of Library Stat of the Week will dig deeper into the available data on school (and public) libraries, and results from OECD’s work on reading habits and performance among children.


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.