Category Archives: General

A First Look at Results from IFLA’s Climate Survey – Add your input!

IFLA is working with partners to include libraries in global indicators for climate communication and education. Including libraries on this platform will be hugely beneficial for helping policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders understand and measure the impact libraries have on empowering climate action.

To achieve this, we are building a body of evidence through surveys on ways in which libraries take part in climate communication and education.

To date, we have received several hundred responses from libraries and dozens of responses from library associations. These early results show that libraries are approaching climate communication and education in a variety of ways, the majority of which center activities which encourage community-building and learning at all ages.

It’s not too late to get involved! Keep reading for a look at the preliminary results, then follow the links below to add your input to the survey.

The Numbers at a Glance

The types of libraries participating in this survey so far include 34% public libraries (155/456), 26% academic/university libraries (117/456), and 5% national libraries (22/456).

The geographic spread at the moment includes 68% from Europe, 16% from North America, 8% from Asia-Oceania, 4% from Latin America and the Caribbean, 3% from Sub-Saharan Africa, and 0.01% from MENA. From these numbers, there is clearly a need to improve geographic representation.

 

Library Programmes

Libraries were asked how often they offer programmes, such as special events, activities, community meetings, lectures, or outreach efforts, on climate change. Over 1/3 (145/388 responses) stated they offer such programmes either frequently or occasionally.

Just about half of respondents (191/387) reported to offer programmes on sustainability issues like the environment, biodiversity and recycling either frequently or occasionally.

Engaging with Others

1/3 of respondents (118/365) either frequently or occasionally engage with students from primary and secondary schools on issues related to climate change and the environment. About 1/4 (99/367) engage to that same level with university students or researchers.

30% have established relationships with external partners to engage in cooperative initiatives or public dialogues on climate issues, with the most common of these partners being local government agencies or municipal services.

Library Resources

43% offer book recommendation lists, library guides and/or book exhibitions on climate issues for children and youth, while 46% offer similar resources for adults. Half of respondents make an effort to draw attention to online resources on climate issues via their library’s communication channels.

The majority of climate action in responding libraries has focussed on outreach and activities. A smaller percentage (30%) have constructed new buildings, renovated existing ones, or purchased new equipment which was specifically intended to reduce the institution’s impact on the climate. A slightly higher percentage (45%) have changed internal operations, such as putting new policies in place in order to promote sustainability.

The majority of responding libraries (60%) feel they have adequate resources on climate change, biodiversity and sustainability to offer their users given current public demand. However, half (50%) of respondents feels that their resources would be inadequate if public demand for these resources was to increase.

Community-based Climate Action

Survey participants were invited to share examples of their activities to promote climate action and awareness.

There were many examples of libraries partnering with local government agencies and municipal services to jointly provide opportunities for climate action. Recycling schemes set up with local waste collection services, hosting town information sessions on sustainability, arranging community seed libraries with the local farmers market, and holding cooperative programmes with local nature reserves, parks, and forestry services are some examples of outreach efforts with community partners.

Libraries also reported on positioning themselves as community hubs for sustainable practices. There were many examples of libraries providing services like food-sharing refrigerators, communal meals, bicycle rentals, mend clubs, community gardening, and film screenings.

“At the current time we have just finished a sustainable food resource management project for community strengthening via learning to cook sustainable dishes and use the resources sustainably. The project has invited community members to sit around the table, build connections and thus, learn to preserve food resources, lead sustainable households. The outcome of the project was not only a build stronger community, developed platform for sharing of the excess food but also a strong food club of 70 members”.

(Example shared from Lithuania) 

Lifelong learning played a large role in the activities reported by libraries as well. There were many examples of programmes aimed at school-aged children and young learners, from clubs and hands-on workshops to story-times. There were more adult-focussed educational activities as well, such as budget cooking and food waste classes, beekeeping and gardening lessons, hosting climate change conferences, showcasing new research in lecture series and panel discussions, holding intergenerational sustainability programmes, and establishing climate groups for seniors.

We were excited to see that these results also included stories of libraries helping their communities engage in citizen science. Some examples included library-led activities in which young people or university students helped document pollution in local waterways and record the diversity of plants and animals in their community.

***

These surveys are beginning to provide a look into how libraries empower climate action through climate education and communication. With more input, we can create an even clearer and more diverse picture of how libraries can help every person understand and act in support of the climate, sustainability, and biodiversity.

Add your voice today! Surveys are available in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese.

Contact us: claire.mcguire@ifla.org

 

 

 

 

What to look out for at Internet Governance Forum 2023

Libraries will be back again at the 2023 Internet Governance Forum, held this year in Kyoto, Japan, on 8-12 October. Under the heading ‘The Internet We Want’, the focus is in line with the new emphasis of what can and should be done, and by who, in steering the development of the internet. This blog sets out a number of issues to watch out for.

Through our participation – both the events we are organising and those we attend in general – the library delegation will both be promoting the role of libraries as key players in ongoing internet development, and a wider vision of the internet we want.

This blog sets out the context of the event, and how libraries fit in with some of the key themes and agendas on the table.

The need for governance

This Internet Governance Forum takes place at a time of growing interest at the global level in the way that the internet works. Almost 20 years on from the original Internet Governance Forum, there is a sense among governments – and societies as a whole – that not enough has been done to regulate digital technologies, and so that ‘something must be done’.

The evidence of a variety of failures – in parallel, there are concerns about the power held by major companies to steer and influence individuals’ behaviour (raising questions about human rights and agency), the negative consequences of the speed at which information can travel online, and the lack of protections for human rights (including privacy). However, there are also many people still without connectivity, or at least without the skills and access to content needed to realise its potential.

In finding solutions, it is clear that actions by national governments alone are not enough. Not only are many of the key internet actors global, but the whole point of the internet is that information and materials can flow across borders. Even the best drafted national law cannot be truly effective outside of their own jurisdiction.

Yet there are also many countries which simply don’t have the resources to invest in delivering connectivity for everyone, backed up by sufficient infrastructure to deliver skills and content. Those who have the resources may, for political reasons, may not use them effectively.

As a result, not only do we have continued inequalities in connectivity and rights online, but when there has been action by governments, differences between national laws risk splitting the internet into pieces.

Therefore, there is a growing drive at the international level to intensify work around internet governance. The UN Secretary General has promoted the idea of Digital Cooperation, and subsequently set up a Leadership Panel for the IGF, aiming to create a stronger sense of direction.

Now, there is also the Global Digital Compact, which aims to provide a structure for various discussions within the UN, and UNESCO’s Guidelines for Platform Regulation, all of which aim to prevent fragmentation. Within this space, the pressure is on the IGF to demonstrate its value as a space for discussing the key issues.

For libraries, the idea that information needs governance is nothing new. Indeed, the existence of libraries is an example of an active intervention to ensure that information works for people. It is therefore normal that we support the idea of the internet being governed. The question then is how, by whom, and for what purpose.

Governance, not government

The fact of talking about ‘governance’ not ‘government’ is important, as it underlines that the way the internet runs should involve all stakeholders.

Partly, this is just a result of how the internet developed, with business, governments and technologists shaping the internet as it developed and spread. While it is hard to deal in counterfactuals, this model may well have been what allowed the internet to expand so rapidly in the first place.

However, this is worth defending. We know that if governance of the internet was left to governments alone, politics would soon take over. We are already seeing how different approaches to different aspects of internet regulation are leading to fragmentation, with barriers to information flows emerging at borders.

More than this, however, a multistakeholder approach opens possibilities to ensure that the voices of those who use the internet are represented. This is important, given that ultimately, the internet is not an end in itself, but a tool for achieving wider objectives. As such, the success of the internet can only really be measured in terms of how far it improves outcomes when it comes to education, research, health, democracy and beyond.

Libraries are particularly well placed to participate. We are pre-digital institutions that have proactively looked to seize the opportunities provided by the internet to enhance our positive impacts on society. We therefore have valuable experience to share about how the internet should work in order to deliver on broader societal and sustainable development goals.

We therefore have an interest in defending the multistakeholder model, given the guarantees it offers to bring our voices – and those of our users – to the table.

As a slight tangent, there is a question about whether it even makes sense to focus on the internet as the subject of governance discussions. As highlighted above, the success of the internet will be measured in the success of schools, hospitals, research centres and economies. There is a case for saying that we need these to be the focus. At the same time, such an approach also risks creating confusion, and taking away from the nature of the internet as a multipurpose infrastructure, not just for existing uses but also for exciting new ones.

So to answer the question in the previous section, what we want is a model of internet governance that is participatory, ensures that the experience of libraries and their users are heard, and that focuses on the real-world results it creates.

Key topics of discussion at the IGF

Breaking down this much broader question, there will be a number of themes on the agenda in Kyoto. In this final section, we take an overview of these, and how libraries fit in.

A good starting point is the set of five key characteristics set out in the document prepared by the IGF Leadership Panel, defining what they see as core to ‘The Internet We Want’.

First of all, they call for an internet that is whole and open. This underlines concern that diverging national approaches to regulating the internet risk leading to creating barriers between jurisdictions. For libraries, the possibility to give users access to information from around the world is crucial, and so we have a strong interest in opposing fragmentation. In particular, as set out in our blog on the topic, action to ensure that copyright exceptions align between countries, favouring cross-border collaborations, should be part of any agenda on this point.

Secondly, there is a focus on the internet being universal and inclusive. Much of this looks at the question of supporting meaningful access/connectivity. Libraries clearly have a role here, thanks to the devices we offer (people often only have phones), our spaces (safe, non-commercial), our staff (dedicated to the public interest and ready to help, especially with adequate training), our services (including those put on with partners), and our content (both digitised and created, especially from marginalised groups). An internet without libraries is far more likely to be unequal, and to leave more people seeing the world through a social media app.

Third, the Panel calls for internet to be free-flowing and trustworthy. This underlines the importance of ensuring that there are sufficient guarantees, for example of privacy, in all parts of the world, giving the confidence necessary to enable sharing. Again, this ties into the logic, in libraries, of applying ethical principles in the way that we work with our own users, especially around privacy. Our work to defend the rights of our users not to be tracked – in particular without their consent – fits in well with this work here.

Fourth, the Panel demands an internet that is safe and secure. Key to this is more work around cybersecurity, including both clearer principles about government use of cyberattacks to harm other countries, and building resilience to attacks from other actors. Once again, there is a role for libraries to play, both in advocating for policies that respect the work of libraries, and in providing support to individual internet users to keep themselves safe online.

Finally, the Panel argues that the internet they want should be rights-respecting. In addition to a general focus on protecting rights, there is a welcome and positive reference to the importance of the rights to research for example. For libraires, this comes back to the question of what the internet is for in the first place – we would argue that the success of the internet as a whole indeed can only be measured in terms of how much it is allowing more people to fulfil their rights to education, research and culture, amongst other things.

Beyond these issues, another popular theme at the moment is the idea of Digital Public Infrastructures. This refers to services and tools that provide open and interoperable means of achieving a variety of other goals. Traditionally, tools such as digital identification schemes (making it possible for a variety of services to confirm people are who they say they are), or payment systems are given as examples.

Of course, libraries themselves are arguably either part of the digital public infrastructure, or at least an essential complement to it. Through the internet access that they offer, they help ensure that everyone has an on-ramp to digital services enabled by other infrastructures. Beyond this, of course, they also are sources for plenty of online content, and often manage key digital public goods, such as open science repositories.

Conclusion

Through our engagement at the IGF, we will be working to ensure that other stakeholders recognise the essential role of libraries in making the internet work, and so the need to include us in planning and delivery at all levels. We hope that this will lead to new partnerships and possibilities for libraries around the world.

In turn, we need ourselves to keep our focus on how we fit into these broader agendas, learning to internalise wider policy issues and make them our own. In particular with the upcoming revision of IFLA’s Internet Manifesto, we look forward to engaging our field to achieve this.

Copyright: a driver of internet fragmentation?

It can often feel like governments are playing catch-up with the internet.

As digital technologies play an increasingly indispensable role in everything we do, the risks that they also bring are becoming clearer. As a result, there is pressure on decision-makers to ‘do something’, in order to respond to increasingly widespread concerns.

The problem is that the internet is, by its nature, a global infrastructure. Much of its value and potential to support education, research, understanding and more comes from the possibilities it offers to access information across borders.

When decisions are taken nationally, they often differ. This can be for reasons of political priority, legal tradition, or simply the capacity that governments themselves have to design and implement legislation.

This runs counter to the logic of the internet as a unified infrastructure. Where there are different rules, there are barriers and uncertainties, not least for those sharing ideas and content online who understandably do not want to face legal liability.

This is called internet fragmentation, and has been highlighted as a key issue in recent efforts to intensify global work on internet governance, not least in the UN Secretary General’s work on Digital Cooperation, the ongoing Global Digital Compact, and most recently, as the first key priority of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Leadership Panel for this year’s IGF in Kyoto, Japan.

Typically, concerns about internet fragmentation focus on the way in which rules around data transfer (for example, prohibiting flows outside of borders), or forms of privacy or platform regulation that tend to discourage offering services across borders given the risks faced.

However, one driver of fragmentation not necessarily so often talked about is the way that international copyright works today.

The unseen divider?

In some ways, this is ironic. The original logic behind regulating copyright internationally – through the Berne Convention and the texts that have followed – was that for it to be possible for authors (or more likely, publishers) to be able to sell books into another country, they needed to be sure that they would receive a good measure of protection there.

As such, the argument is made that copyright is essential for markets to work across borders, and indeed the IGF Leadership Panel’s contribution to the Forum this year underlines the value of respecting intellectual property rights.

However, copyright as a whole is made up not just of rights, but also the limitations on them. In addition to the length of time they last, there are exceptions allowing for activities such as quotation, news reporting, education, preservation and research.

These offer a safety valve, helping to ensure that the monopoly rights created by copyright are balanced by public interest concerns. Otherwise, the logic of profit-maximisation risks prevailing, and the benefits of learning, innovation and safeguarding heritage are forgotten or discounted.

However, while international copyright law is prescriptive about what minimum rights should be guaranteed, it leaves far more flexibility when it comes to exceptions, and is silent around cross-border working. As a result, there are as many sets of copyright exceptions as there are countries in the world.

The impact of this is just the same sort of uncertainty and caution about cross-border working as characterises other drivers of internet fragmentation.

Variance in copyright exceptions not only holds back librarians, as well as archivists and museum workers from cooperating across borders, for example in the context of research collaborations or online and distance learning, but can also be a driver of inequality. If researchers are expected to travel to access a unique source or collection, only the wealthiest are likely to be able to do this.

The result is just another example of internet fragmentation, and a particularly serious one in that it most directly affects key wider drivers of sustainability – education, research and cultural participation.

What solutions?

It is not impossible to imagine how work at the international level can combat internet fragmentation when it comes to copyright. We already have an example in the Treaty of Marrakesh, which removes unnecessary barriers to making and sharing accessible format copies of copyrighted books and other materials, including across borders. In essence, this was a response to a form of internet fragmentation that was leaving people with print disabilities in many parts of the world facing a book famine.

This is a strong pointer to what is possible when we take as serious approach to enabling internet-enabled research, education and cultural participation as we do to creating markets.

The two are not in contradiction of course – in many countries, including among the richest and most innovative – rights co-exist with modern and flexible exceptions. Replicating this experience globally is likely also to help give copyright more legitimacy, ensuring that there are legitimate channels for meeting needs, rather than resorting to piracy as many current feel forced to do.

While the home of the Marrakesh Treaty is the World Intellectual Property Organization, a strong impulsion for this was the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is not unreasonable, then, to expect that ongoing work around the need for a unified and unfragmented internet should lead to a new drive for a truly balanced international copyright framework.

The 2023 Internet Governance Forum, alongside the ongoing process around the Global Digital Compact and work towards WSIS+20 offer a great opportunity to push for this to happen.

Day for Universal Access to Information: Libraries, Freedom, and the US Law

Why US Courts consider public library as the “quintessential locus” of information in a free and democratic society.

By Tomas Lipinski (Professor, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)

Anyone following recent library developments is the United States is likely to have seen legislative efforts in various states to restrict access to LGBTQIA+ or Critical Race Theory-related content.

Yet these challenges often do not have success in court. In one recent case, a Texas court ordered initially-restricted content be restored [Little v Llano County, 2023 WL 2731089 (W.D. Tex.)], and in another, a new Arkansas law regulating content in public libraries was held unconstitutional [(Fayetteville Public Library v Crawford County Arkansas, 2023 WL 4845636 (W.D. Ark.)].

Why do courts protect a patron’s access to a wide variety of content in public libraries?  Such access is essential to a free and democratic population.  It is so essential that many courts have concluded that it is a Liberty Interest under the U.S. Constitution which cannot be deprived unless the requirements of Due Process are satisfied under the Fifth Amendment.[i]

As the Texas court observed: “First Amendment right to access to information in libraries, a right that applies to book removal decisions … many courts have held that access to public library books is a protected liberty interest created by the First Amendment.” Little v Llano County, 2023 WL 2731089, *8 (W.D. Tex.). The case is currently on appeal; Little v Llano County (23-50224, 5th Cir., April 4, 2023). Oral arguments were heard on June 7, 2023. A decision is expected this fall.[ii]

Texas court decided to “follow[] our many sister courts in holding that there is a protected liberty interest in access to information in a public library.” Id. at *9.[iii]

The nature of the public library Liberty Interest has solemn historical origins.: “Our founding fathers understood the necessity of public libraries for a well-functioning democracy.” Fayetteville Public Library v Crawford County Arkansas, 2023 WL 4845636, *3 (W.D. Ark.). Over time, the public library emerged as the prime source of the supply of information in society – and the legal protections that support libraries endure in our changing information society. “By 1956, Congress formally acknowledged the need for all citizens to have access to free, public libraries by enacting the Library Services Act, which authorized millions of dollars in federal funds to develop and improve rural libraries and fund traveling bookmobiles to serve rural communities. Through public libraries, free access to knowledge became possible for all Americans, regardless of geography or wealth.” Id.at *4 *footnote omitted). The Texas court observed similarly: “Silencing unpopular speech is contrary to the principles on which this country was founded and stymies our collective quest for truth.” Fayetteville Public Library v Crawford County Arkansas, 2023 WL 4845636, *5 (W.D. Ark.).

The Arkansas law used an “appropriateness” standard when considering challenges to library content, vested final authority for removal (and acquisitions) not with trained library professionals but with local officials, and removed the immunity for libraries from criminal prosecution for having library materials that are obscene or harmful to minors content. A public library belongs to the people, not the government that funds it.

The court commented that: “By virtue of its mission to provide the citizenry with access to a wide array of information, viewpoints, and content, the public library is decidedly not the state’s creature; it is the people’s.”  Fayetteville Public Library v Crawford County Arkansas, 2023 WL 4845636, *5 (W.D. Ark.).  “The State is wrong on all fronts, starting with its treatment of Pico. The Pico case [Board of Education, Island Trees Union School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982)] does not stand for the proposition that there is no constitutional right to receive information.” Id. at *20.  The right to receive information is best accomplished through the free public library. As best said in the seminal Kreimer v. Bureau of Police for Town of Morristown, 958 F.2d 1242, 1255 (3d Cir. 1992) case: “Our review of the Supreme Court’s decisions confirms that the First Amendment does not merely prohibit the government from enacting laws that censor information, but additionally encompasses the positive right of public access to information and ideas. Pico [Board of Education, Island Trees Union School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982)] signifies that, consistent with other First Amendment principles, the right to receive information is not unfettered and may give way to significant countervailing interests… this right… includes the right to some level of access to a public library, the quintessential locus of the receipt of information.”

On this day celebrating access to information, let us celebrate the critical role that our public libraries play in that achieving a free and open society.

[i] “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militi[i]a, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

[ii] The restricted content in the Texas case were the following titles: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson; Called Themselves the K.K.K: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; Spinning by Tillie Walden; In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak; It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robie Harris; My Butt is So Noisy!, I Broke My Butt!, and I Need a New Butt! by Dawn McMillan; Larry the Farting Leprechaun, Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose, Freddie the Farting Snowman, and Harvey the Heart Has Too Many Farts by Jane Bexley; Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings; Shine by Lauren Myracle; Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle; Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero; and Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark.

[iii] Other courts have come to similar conclusions: “The right of the public to use the public library is best characterized as a protected liberty interest created directly by the First Amendment. Since the right is not absolute, it can be lost for engaging in conduct inconsistent with the purpose of public libraries.”  Doyle v. Clark City Public Library, 2007 WL 2407051, *5 (S.D. Ohio) and Wayfield v. Town of Tisbury, 925 F. Supp. 880 (D. Mass 1996) (4-month suspension from public library without a hearing in response to a disruptive event): “this court finds that Wayfield states a sufficient claim to support a finding that the suspension of his access to the library was a deprivation of a ‘liberty or property right.’” Id. at 885.

 

Libraries on the political compass: advocating to politicians from different perspectives

This blog starts from the fact that libraries find themselves having to make the case for funding and support to decision-makers with a wide variety of positions, and looks at what sort of arguments could work in each case. It is with thanks to Antoine Torrens-Montebello, who sparked the idea for it. 

In order to be able to offer their services to users for free, libraries rely on support from others – host institutions, funders, and in many cases, governments.

As such, libraries do need to work with people who, at least in democracies, have come to power because they have promoted a certain view of the world. But even outside of this, politicians inevitably have a particular set of attitudes and beliefs about people and society.

While we certainly need to avoid becoming political footballs, library advocates have to be able to explain their contribution to people with different opinions, including to those we may not agree with.

Fortunately, libraries are versatile institutions, and it is possible to argue in favour of libraries in many different ways, in order to convince others. This is not to compromise on our own values, rather to ensure that we can continue to deliver services that we know are important for the people we serve.

A simplified way of thinking about what these arguments are comes from the Political Compass. This provides a way of placing yourself (and others) on a chart along two axes – from economic left to right, and from authoritarian to libertarian.

In our version, we adapt this slightly, and look at axes from economic left to economic right, and from social liberal to social conservative.

As underlined, this is a highly simplistic approach, but a useful starting point. More sophisticated approaches are possible! In each section below, we’ll look at one part of the compass, and the arguments that can be used for libraries to convince people who are there.

Economic right, social conservative

This part of the compass is where you will find politicians who tend to believe in less regulation for business and a smaller state, but also who are relatively less focused on issues of personal freedoms or combatting inequalities. They tend to be more traditionalist or even nationalist.

For libraries, the arguments that are likely to be most effective will centre on the fact that we are institutions with a long history and tradition, as well as a key role in safeguarding heritage for the future. Politicians here may also be positive about ideas focused on libraries supporting community-building and social cohesion, even if this is more from the perspective of avoiding insecurity or social challenges.

Economic right, social liberal

This covers politicians who also believe in a small state and supporting the private sector, but more because they believe that this can and should be a way of helping everyone to achieve their potential, and are ready to regulate accordingly. They can be friendlier to immigration, readier to address social issues, and challenge tradition.

For politicians in this space, libraries can be presented as a great, efficient way of helping people to access a variety of possibilities, and deliver on their potential, if they are ready to take the initiative. The fact that libraries are services for everyone can be promoted as a means of being more effective in delivering services, while their cross-cutting function can be talked about as being innovative.

Decision-makers in this space may also be sympathetic to ideas based on individual rights and freedoms, and how libraries help to make this happen, as well as potentially as a basis for supporting community initiatives.

Economic left, social conservative

Here is where we come across politicians who believe in stronger state spending, including a generous welfare state, as well as broad nationalisation of services and industries. This is accompanied by a relatively strict view of society, and an expectation that everyone – including newcomers – should look to assimilate in order to participate.

When advocating to people in this part of the political compass, libraries may gain from underlining their role as part of the wider welfare state, for example as a key provider of (or portal to) education to people throughout life, a complement to public health initiatives, and beyond. Decision-makers may also be sympathetic to the history of public libraries in some countries, where they were an early form of public service, focused on helping people in the greatest need to develop their knowledge and skills.

Economic left, social liberal

Finally, this is the part of the compass for politicians who combine a readiness to spend money to support both social programmes and wider investments. At the same time, they also tend to be readier to accept and celebrate diversity and downplay nationalist or traditionalist feelings.

Here, libraries can focus strongly on their role in providing adapted services to everyone, as a very modern example of the welfare state at work. Indeed, our approach can even be contrasted with more focused actors like the police, schools or hospitals, and our locations – as dedicated non-commercial spaces allowing diverse communities to come together – can be celebrated. Politicians here are likely to feel warm about spaces where a strong mix of people meet, and equity promoted.

 

This is, as already mentioned, a highly simplified way of looking at how we can promote libraries to people coming from different political viewpoints, including those we may not personally agree with.

Of course, there also need to be red lines. There are policies and attitudes that we simply can’t work with, given that they stand in opposition to the idea that everyone has a right to be able to access information, knowledge and culture. In such cases, we need to work to find more moderate voices, and work with them, in order to ensure that our communities can continue to benefit from our services.

Overall, there is a strong potential set of arguments for libraries when working with politicians of a wide variety of tendencies, reflecting libraries’ own versatility. Do share your ideas and experiences in the chat below.

IFLA Brings Library Voices to Discussions on Open Culture, AI

What does Open Culture mean for libraries, creators, and consumers?

2022’s UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development – MONDIACULT resulted in a declaration that affirmed culture as a global public good. This means States have recognised the benefit that culture can and should bring to all, and governments’ role in providing clear legislation to ensure accessibility and openness.

Concurrently, what ‘Cultural Openness’ can mean has been under discussion among libraries, NGOs, governments and creators. Collectively, we have an interest in ensuring art and heritage locked away from the public and their creators.

As the international community continues discussing what culture as a global public good means in practice, IFLA and likeminded partners are underlining the importance of open cultural content as part of the broader UN Digital Public Goods agenda. IFLA is working to ensure that perspectives from the library field are being heard in these discussions.

Open Culture Roundtable in Lisbon (May)

Johanna Lilja, the National Library of Finland

I was asked by IFLA to represent the Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee (CCH) at the Open Culture Roundtable organized by Creative Commons. The purpose of this event was to start shaping an initiative towards building a UNESCO Open Culture Recommendation. In addition to CC and UNESCO, Roundtable participants came from the fields of law, library science, policy, design, anthropology, history, museum curation, and international organizations. The CC team was Brigitte Vézina, Director of Policy and Open Culture; Connor Benedict, Open Culture Coordinator; Jennryn Wetzler, Director of Learning and Training; and Jocelyn Miyara, Open Culture Manager. Brigitte Vézina also shared thoughts on the event on CC’s website.

Before the Roundtable we met online and shared our ideas of Open Culture. The actual Roundtable day in Lisbon we were divided into small group working sessions and discussions.

We started with the history of Open Culture, which naturally included the history of copyright and ownership. The second step was to discuss the context around Open Culture, including the political climate, internal and outside trends, economic climate, technical factors, stakeholder needs, and uncertainties. The ‘platformisation’ of culture – in which large companies control distribution of media – and a predominant focus on Western ‘culture’ were recognized as risks. Advancing developments in AI were seen to have both potential risks and benefits.

Finally, we considered bold steps that could be taken to move Open Culture forward. More public-private partnerships are needed. Ethics of Open Culture must emphasize a global perspective. Last but not least, economic resources are needed to make Open Culture sustainable.

Picture: Visualization of the third session (© Creative Commons / Abdul Dube and Mona Ebdrup, CC BY 4.0)

The Open Culture Roundtable was an inspiring opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds working with similar questions than we librarians. It is crucial that IFLA – and the library sector in general – are represented in this work which continues in virtual meetings and in the CC Summit in Mexico City in October 2023.

Mozfest, Amsterdam (June)

Matt Voigts, IFLA HQ

I joined Johanna at CC’s Open Culture Roundtable.  I came to the library field from anthropology and am used to considering ‘culture’ as a dynamic, lived practice. It is what you do more than what you put on a shelf. What you can take off a shelf, however, becomes a part of cultural practice and should not be locked away arbitrarily. The Mondiacult Declaration presents an opportunity to advocate for openness and accessibility for culture as a global public good. Heritage informs us best when we can actively engage with it, and libraries play a key role in both preservation and access. Open Culture supports the integration and accessibility of preserved heritage and IP within everyday life.

Creative Commons is active in the area, and its licenses have been important in providing practical ways to share content in line with creators’ and users’ interests. The Lisbon conversation continued in Creative Commons’ session in MozFest in Amsterdam on on Generative AI. The ‘Open’ world has tended to emphasize the value of the commons, which is currently being exercised and tested by AI training models. If you’ve read the news this summer, you’ve likely heard about it – I’ll be speaking on the topic at WLIC as will other library professionals.

The MozFest discussion, however, prominently brought in creators. AI utilizes large amounts of human-created work to enable the creation of new works – and could positively or negatively impact how creators make a living. It could be used to make work easier by taking over time-consuming, menial aspects of jobs (as many technologies have done), or displace skilled workers and their artisanal output with cheap, inferior knock-offs (as many technologies have done). Often the line between the two (art and banality) may not be easily distinguishable – I linked above to the photocopier as an example of ‘technology that made work easier’, but the CC discussion used typesetting as an example of a once prominent, now diminished art.

There are two takeaways I’d like to share I’ve been turning over in my mind. The first is that how we create changes and adapts with time. As one session participant described, our choices are about what skills we want to keep and what tasks we want to delegate to technology. This is the strain of the conversation that doesn’t want AI to do the work of artists and humans to do the work of Roombas. The second key thought is that AI and other technologies should support creatives’ ability to make a living, and consumers’ capacities to access their creations. While ‘openness’ may be framed as something to fear for creative workers, the AI come to take their hard-created stuff, I see a bigger threat in established, powerful commercial entities using licenses, contracts and the law to capture creative works and the tools of creation from creators and the public. Creators’ and libraries’ interests in openness are here very much aligned.

This summer’s Hollywood strikes of the film writers’ and actors’ guilds have expressed concern over AI, which captures both of these takeaways – the need to innovate thoughtfully, in ways that support creative workers. The writers worry that AI could be considered the original ‘author’ of scripts they are called on to ‘re-write’ (and thus they would be denied credit and given less pay). The actors worry that after an hour’s work, AI could be used to modify their likenesses indefinitely. In these cases, studios would continue to profit, and humans would be cut out of the loop. These concerns are less about the technology itself, and more about how it could be used to minimize creators’ legally remunerable contributions. Meanwhile, streaming services are pulling original movies and shows that lack physical releases, depriving creators of residuals, the public of access, and libraries of their long-established role in preserving this heritage beyond immediate commercial considerations.

Creators, the public, and libraries have a shared interest in ensuring these works aren’t ‘closed’. ‘Cultural Openness’ is about more than just ensuring creations remain accessible, but also of ensuring that creators’ contributions aren’t ‘captured’ by licenses. The future will ultimately be determined less by technology, and more by the personal, professional and policy decisions we make about how to use it.

Too brief a brief? A comprehensive approach to a more effective multilateral system needs a stronger focus on culture

The Summit of the Future, planned for 2024, looks set to be a key moment not just in the evolution of the United Nations’ work on its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but also in what comes next.

It will bring together many of the key workstreams launched in the context of Our Common Agenda, itself a response to the declaration of the UN’s Member States for the organisation’s 75th anniversary. A common thread throughout this the focus on how to enhance the capacity of the UN and wider multilateral system to deliver, correcting some of the weaknesses and blind spots of current structures and agendas.

The Culture2030Goal campaign is built around the understanding that for the sustainable development agenda to realise its goals, it needs to give a stronger and deeper role to culture. As underlined in our statement on the SDG Summit – due in September this year – we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of 2015, leaving culture out of comprehensive policy agendas. 

While our statement is focused on what is coming up later this year, the same logic applies – perhaps even more intensively – to the Summit of the Future. As a campaign, we cannot conceive of an effort to boost the UN’s ability to achieve its goals that doesn’t include an effort to include culture. 

So how is it going so far? This blog explores the eight Policy Briefs which have already been published by the UN Secretary General as part of the process of preparing for the Summit of the Future. In each case, there’s a short description of the brief, and then an assessment of whether it contributes to a stronger consideration of culture in the UN’s action. 

Beyond GDP (link)

This paper looks to advance work to complement Gross Domestic Product with other indicators that provide a fuller, and more forward-looking idea of where we stand, and where we are going. It proposes to launch work to identify a basket of 10-20 indicators, as well as to boost statistical capacity.

What does it say about culture?: unfortunately, nothing. Despite the well-acknowledged positive impact of culture on wellbeing as well as a wide variety of other goals, there is no mention of it in this paper, risking meaning that future policy-decisions will be made based on highly incomplete data.

Future Generations (link)

This paper aims to advance efforts to integrate considerations about the future more firmly into decision-making. It proposes doing this through more investment in foresight, an envoy or the future, and a Forum to pool expertise and ideas. 

What does it say about culture?: the brief provides welcome recognition that the practice of integrating the interests of future generations is a long-standing practice in the cultural field, and that these have inspired many efforts to do so today. It also notes that work to preserve heritage also, by definition, is about safeguarding the possibility for future generations to access it. The brief could be improved by a more explicit reference to the need to reflect cultural considerations in future efforts in this space, in particular through any forum on foresight work.  

Youth engagement (link)

This brief focuses on the desire to ensure a more consistent and meaningful level of engagement of young people in processes across the United Nations, both as a means of ensuring better decision-making, but also to build a sense of involvement and confidence. 

What does it say about culture?: very little unfortunately. While the brief mentions the need to adapt institutional culture, there is little thought about what role the cultural field could play in developing new forms of engagement, or indeed in building wider cultures of engagement. 

Global Digital Compact (link)

This brief refers to the drive to bring together the various different processes underway around the governance of the internet and the wider digital world, based on a number of shared principles. There is a strong focus on tackling divides, both at the level of individuals, and that of governments when it comes to the ability to regulate the digital world. 

What does it say about culture?: there is a welcome focus on the need to connect cultural institutions to the internet and enable them to engage fully online. More broadly, the brief also recognises the importance of cultures and behaviours in a digital world that will need to evolve. Nonetheless, the cultural sector remains viewed simply as a provider of content. 

Information Integrity (link)

This policy brief builds on parallel concerns about misinformation, disinformation and hate speech spread by private and governmental actors. Complementing work going on in parallel at UNESCO, it suggests a code of practice on information for governments and private actors, aimed both at tackling lies and building skills and resilience

What does it say about culture?: once again, culture tends to be seen in a relatively passive light, with it noted that digital platforms have transformed cultural interactions. There certainly is reflection on the role of behaviours and attitudes among internet users, but the response is mainly to regulate and provide training, rather than to mobilise cultural actors to build possibilities to deepen understanding. 

Outer Space (link)

With major increases in numbers of satellites launched, more private sector engagement and new ambitions to visit deep space, this policy brief sets out a way of ensuring that there are the right governance mechanisms in place. 

What does it say about culture?Again, very little, although it does underline the potential for ambitious programmes to trigger the imagination and get other people thinking about the future. There is also a reference to the chance, some of the references to the need to manage shared resources effectively could build on lessons about traditional cultural approaches to this. 

Financial Architecture (link)

At the heart of this policy brief is the sense that responses to financial crises are all too often inadequate, especially for poorer countries, while the resources available to support development are too scarce. It calls for reforms within financial institutions, better coordination, and a big increase in development spending.

What does it say about culture?: there are no references to culture in here, although it may be possible to interpret calls to give a greater weight to achieving the SDGs and wider sustainability in funding by the IMG and development banks as potentially, in future, allowing for greater investment in culture. 

Emergency Platform (link)

This policy brief looks to learn the lessons from the most recent crises – in particular the pandemic and the cost of living crisis – and proposes a set of protocols that could be activated the next time the world faces a complex crisis. Through this, it should be possible to ensure stronger coordination, and more of a focus on the needs of the most vulnerable.

What does it say about culture?: there is no reference to culture in the paper, despite the key role it  can play both in ensuring resilience upstream of crises and enabling recovery subsequently. Of course, the brief is focused on governance, but this too needs to be based on better information and insights (something that culture can offer), as well as the mobilisation of relevant stakeholders, which should of course include the culture sector. 

Transforming Education (link)

This brief follows on from the 2022 Transforming Education Summit, and calls both for a re-emphasis on the importance of education and lifelong learning as a global public good, and efforts to address the parallel crises of equity (everyone should be able to benefit from education), relevance (people need to learn how to cope with a changing world), and the financing of education.

What does it say about culture?: references are again limited, although there is recognition both of the role of education in addressing more harmful cultural beliefs and practices, and in the value of creative education. The paper also notes the value of ensuring that education adapts to the needs of communities. However, in its thin references to cultural education, and none at all to the need to work with and through culture to ensure effectiveness, there is much that could be improved.

A New Agenda for Peace (link)

This brief addresses the concern that just as polarisation and conflict appear to be on the rise again, the infrastructures in place for addressing them are weakened. The brief calls for a reaffirmation of the values of trust, solidarity and universality, and promotes a more holistic, preventative approach to peace-building, as well as referring to the value of potential UN reform.

What does it say about culture?: sadly, very little at all. There is recognition that conflict within societies can easily be reflected in conflicts between countries, as well as the harmful effects of a lack of understanding or sense of togetherness between peoples. It talks also about ‘cultures’ of peace, but again, does not go into enough depth on questions of peace-building and prevention and how cultural initiatives can help in this respect. A particular concern is that there is no reference to the role of protecting heritage and ensuring its survival as a basis for recovery.

UN 2.0 (link)

This brief looks at the changes the Secretary General believes are necessary in the United Nations itself in order to be a more impactful and sustainable organisation. It sets out a ‘quintet of change’ – actions around data, innovation, digital, foresight and behavioural science, within the context of wider efforts to promote forward thinking and bring about cultural change within the organisation. With a combination of efforts by the UN system and Member States, this should leave the UN better able to achieve its goals, with a plan proposed for 2024-26.

What does it say about culture: a lot in fact – there are more references to culture in this brief than in all of the others put together. The emphasis, however, is on culture understood broadly as a set of attitudes and beliefs which condition the way we work. This is applied both to the UN as a whole (calling for culture change in the organisation) and in policy implementation (where the value of investing in behavioural science is highlighted). However, there is relatively little exploration of how this change can happen, and no reference to culture as the set of cultural institutions and actors, and how their insights and work can help.

 

Across the briefs, there is certainly space for culture to play a role, and in particular in the final one. However, this approach remains piecemeal, and leaves plenty of gaps, and so is likely to offer an insufficiently strong drive to realise the potential of culture. Based on the MONDIACULT Declaration of 2022, there is both the scope and substance for a policy brief focused on culture, starting the process of correcting the mistakes of 2015.