Tag Archives: access to culture

Celebrating the Public Domain 2021

2021 has finally arrived, and as always, the new year brings another celebration: Public Domain Day.

This is a big deal. Why? Because the public domain means that works can be used and modified by anyone without authorisation. As such, this enriches the range of books, articles, art and beyond that brings us pleasure, inspiration and insights without copyright-related restrictions.

This matters for libraries, as institutions focused on maximizing access to information, in particular of works which have been carefully preserved for years.

Why the Public Domain?

All works that reflect the original expression of the mind of an author are protected by copyright law as soon as they are created, for a long time.

Copyright protection has been regularly extended through time. The key international law on the matter – the Berne Convention – establishes protection for the life of the author plus a further 50 years. Yet countries can go further. In 1998, the United States agreed via the Copyright Term Extension Act to extend copyright protection to 70 years after the death of the author. This decision has been followed by additional countries, delaying the entry of works in the public domain, with some offering as many as 100 years of protection after death.

Until these works enter the public domain, they are still subject to restrictions on use, despite that fact that the commercial value of works is generally only in the first few years after publication. As a result, plenty of works are not easily available, and therefore subject to oblivion.
As a result, any extension of protection limits libraries’ ability to provide wide access to works.

Further risks come from the fact that the public domain too often does not exist as a concept in legislation (it is rather implicit, resulting from the lapsing of protections). This can create uncertainty, leaving open the possibility to create new restrictions.

What is Public Domain Day?

Public Domain Day falls on is the first of January of each year and is celebrated during the whole month. It is about celebrating the public domain, recognizing the importance of protecting it, and fostering the use of materials by all communities.

This date was chosen because calculating copyright protection can be complicated. As a result, many countries have decided to simplify it by choosing the 1 January following the anniversary of the death of the author as the release date for works entering the public domain.

As a result, in countries with a copyright term of life plus 70 years, the works of authors who died in 1950 are now in the public domain. Thanks to earlier reforms in US law, books and films released in 1925 have also now lost copyright protection.

What are the next steps?

Are you willing to celebrate the public domain and make the most of it with your Library?

Whether you are in an academic library, a heritage library, or a public library, this is an opportunity to showcase works newly in the public domain. The library can highlight works via a conference, communications on blogs and social media, a wiki edit-a-thon to add these new works in Wikisource or to complete Wikipedia pages.

Several approaches are available:

Pick a specific work that is now in the public domain. Who is the author? Why is this book unique and what did it tell us back in time? And now? Make a thread on social media or share it on your blog!

Build understanding about copyright: this is also a good time to share more about copyright laws, and library issues. Use Public Domain Day to discuss the public domain, common goods and the importance of unrestricted access.

If you are interested in more information, a few articles might be interesting: here, here, here (US), here and here (France), here and here (Spain), here in Colombia, here in Portugal.

Here is the Wikilist of works entering the public domain in 2021.

Gateways to Cultural Diversity: Libraries as multicultural hubs

Cultural diversity is a force for development.

It nurtures a climate of mutual understanding, celebration of differences, and critical thinking to combat pre-conceived notions of the “other”. This is a vital component of building peace, stability, and development.

UNESCO states that three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension.

In order bridge these divides, we must begin with the acceptance and recognition of cultural diversity as being central to peacebuilding. This is reflected in UNESCO’s cultural conventions, including the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Fully realising cultural diversity as a driver for development will take cooperation at all levels: from the local to the international, from memory institutions to civil society, individuals to policy makers.

With our mission of facilitating access to information, our role as defenders of free speech, and our responsibility of protecting and sharing the heritage of our communities, libraries are key players.

To celebrate the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (21 May) this article will explore and hopefully inspire reflection on some of the ways libraries act as cultural hubs – as gateways connecting our communities to one another, and to diverse expressions of culture the world over.

Access to Culture

International human rights law guarantees the right to culture, to freedom of expression, and to engage in the cultural life of one’s community.

Politically motivated intolerance of different cultures, silencing voices from minority and indigenous groups, and targeted destruction of cultural heritage – these are all very real threats to the enjoyment of these rights by everyone.

In the face of this, libraries have long been champions of free speech and access to information and culture.

Upheld in IFLA’s Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers, core principles for the work of library and information professionals include:

  • Ensuring access to information for all for personal development, education, cultural enrichment, leisure, economic activity and informed participation in and enhancement of democracy.
  • Rejecting censorship in all its forms.
  • Ensuring that the right of accessing information is not denied to anyone, regardless of their age, citizenship, political belief, physical or mental ability, gender identity, heritage, education, in-come, immigration and asylum-seeking status, marital status, origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.

These principles carry over into the IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto:

The public library, the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision- making and cultural development of the individual and social groups. It is a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.

Providing their communities, no matter their identity, with the freedom to read, to access information, and to participate in cultural life is central to libraries’ roles as cultural hubs.

For reflection: how can libraries uphold these key ethical principles in both their physical and digital spaces? Where are the gaps? Which members of your community may not have a platform to express and share their culture, and how might libraries help mediate that?

Preserving our Heritage

The importance of cultural heritage, in all its expressions, lies in its ability to tangibly bridge the gap between generations and between cultures. The experiential quality of monuments and sites, intangible cultural heritage, movable and documentary cultural heritage gives them an incredible potential as learning tools.

To put it simply, heritage places, objects, and expressions can make culture come to life – both for those experiencing their own heritage and those learning and appreciating the culture of others.

Libraries have multiple roles to play in this.

Preservation

On one hand, preservation and conservation work at libraries help ensure that our documentary heritage can be passed along to future generations.

On the other, access to information regarding the historical study of heritage, and the way culture was written about in the past, gives us a perspective for historical context and lessons-learned. This enhances our ability to improve representation and methodology in the study of culture today.

Access

Beyond the preservation and conservation of documentary heritage, UNESCO’s 2015 Recommendation upholds that the ability to access this heritage is equally important.

This Recommendation encourages member states to provide appropriate legislative frameworks, empowering memory institutions to provide accurate and up-to-date catalogues, and to facilitate partnerships that will enhance access.

Digitisation is an important aspect of access – and indeed when libraries’ doors are closed, an essential pre-condition.

Libraries and documentary heritage professionals are vocal supporters of digitisation policy, and the legal framework that will allow for it. For a good example, please have a look at the Guidelines to Setting up a Digital Unification Project. More information and tips for digitisation is provided online by IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres: PAC Frequently Asked Questions.

It is also important to ensure that a more diverse range of content is becoming digitised. IFLA, together with partners in the UNESCO PERSIST project, are working on updating the Guidelines for the selection of digital heritage for long-term preservation. This update seeks to expand on the Guidelines, such as including emerging technologies, to better support practitioners in the preservation of digital heritage.

For reflection: how can the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage be more inclusive? How can expressions of cultural heritage be used as learning tools, while still staying authentic to their core value as traditional social practice? What role can libraries play in connecting their communities to these expressions of cultural heritage? 

Libraries as Multicultural Centres

Libraries exist at an intersection of culture, education, and community, and through this, they become a hub for fostering cross-cultural dialogue and active citizenship.

The IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto puts this quite clearly:

As libraries serve diverse interests and communities, they function as learning, cultural, and information centres. In addressing cultural and linguistic diversity, library services are driven by their commitment to the principles of fundamental freedoms and equity of access to information and knowledge for all, in the respect of cultural identity and values.

In a world where refusing, silencing, and – at times – destroying evidence of cultural diversity is politically-driven, then providing a space for cultural diversity is a powerful and profound act.

Libraries can lead their communities by example. They can be hubs for dialogue, spaces for performance, repositories for expressions of culture, and providers of services that nurture inclusion.

For reflection: How can libraries best determine what materials and services will best meet the cultural needs of their communities? How can libraries use their position as multicultural hubs in to advocate for more inclusive spaces in their communities? Collecting and sharing success stories can be powerful testimony for the importance of libraries, how can libraries do this more effectively?

***

Now more than ever, the need to keep connected with one another and with cultural life is felt acutely. As many countries are grappling with the interface of the COVID-19 epidemic, economic hardship, and possibly civil unrest and natural disasters, these are times where support is greatly needed. Culture is connection and comfort, and cultural diversity is a powerful reminder of our shared humanity in the face of hardship.

This period of raised awareness of and participation in culture on digital platforms can be an opportunity for libraries to seek out better ways to keep the door to culture – and connection within their communities – open.

 

Libraries – The Hidden Wealth of Cities: the World Bank Report on Public Space in Urban Development

At last month’s World Urban Forum, the World Bank launched a new report – The Hidden Wealth of Cities* – exploring on the importance of public space. Taking public space to mean all spaces in urban areas which are open to the public, both outside and inside, it includes a particular study on the place of (public) libraries.

Why focus on this, especially given the Bank’s reputation for being more focused on hard economics and major infrastructure projects? And why the interest in libraries in particular?

This blog looks to answer both of these questions, and to provide some key talking points you can use in your advocacy.

 

Public Space for Better Lives

As the introduction to the report sets out, cities are not only home to a growing share of the world population, but also account for a large share of the global economy. By concentrating workers, ideas and energy, they have allowed for new businesses to form and innovations to emerge.

However, the coming together of so many people and businesses puts pressure on available space, with competition between industry, commerce, residential and transport uses. Too often, public spaces – either outdoor ones like parks or riverfronts, or indoor ones such as libraries – risk being forgotten, given that they do not represent an immediate and easily measurable return on investment.

Yet losing or failing to create such public spaces brings costs. As the report underlines, the availability of public spaces and facilities can be a major factor in city and community attractiveness (p4).

On a purely economic level, this can lead to higher property prices and tax returns (p4). Taking a broader perspective, they can lead to greater trust, less social isolation, and more faith in government (p3).

The report provides a useful overview of the issues to bear in mind in including public space into broader urban development strategies. It highlights the importance of:

  • Inclusive planning (rather than top-down decision making by city halls);
  • Finding solutions for ongoing operation and maintenance (not just focusing on capital expenditure);
  • Resisting the privatisation of space; and
  • Developing a capacity to plan strategically

For example, it suggests that there is value in ensuring flexibility in public spaces in order to allow for responsiveness to need (p39), in creating clusters of services that help build a sense of space (p13), in recognising and making use of historically and/or culturally significant buildings (p18), and in ensuring that other rules and laws (on licensing, or potentially copyright) work to favour use of these spaces (p25).

The report is also firm in underlining that just because a space is public, it doesn’t make it accessible or welcoming. Factors ranging from criminality to distance or a lack of physical accessibility can reduce the quality of spaces, in particular for different groups (p38).

As the report underlines, ‘to unlock the value of public spaces, cities must adopt effective strategies across their life cycles within specific contexts to plan, design, develop, deliver, and maintain these assets—always prioritizing their value to people by making them accessible, inclusive, and attractive to diverse individuals and communities’ (p30).

 

Libraries as Public Spaces

The report’s inclusion of indoor public spaces is welcome, and certainly reflects the experience of the libraries themselves, where there has long been an understanding of the value of library spaces alongside library collections.

The positives it sets out also tally with reflections within the field about the contribution that libraries can make to well-being, a sense of community and solidarity, and to the vibrancy of an area.

From pop-up libraries or mobile libraries, which can represent a first step towards ‘reclaiming’ an area for public use (such as in Beijing, where creating a small children’s library meant that a new project became more attractive for families – p213) to opening institutions as new public spaces and hubs of activities, libraries clearly can be part of any public space strategy.

As an example of the latter, the report draws on the example of Gusandong Library Village, in Seoul, Republic of Korea (p321). In response to demand from residents, many of whom were families, a cluster of older buildings were repurposed to create a library alongside other services. In an area that had been culturally under-served, Gusandong gained a new centre which has proved a strong draw for youth in particular, and which has won prizes for architecture while preserving the character and shape of the area.

Other examples mentioned include that of Medellín, Colombia, where libraries alongside cable-cars and public outdoor escalators helped improve access to services and create a sense of belonging, and so turn Medellín into a model of ‘social urbanism’ and innovation (p6).

Yet there are also issues to bear in mind. Many of the issues and concerns mentioned in the previous section apply to libraries, both in terms of the way they are planned by local and regional governments, and in the way they operate themselves.

Responsible authorities certainly need to consider the need for ongoing support for libraries, beyond initial investments. They also need to ensure that libraries are able to respond to – and work with – their communities in order to provide the best service possible.

At a system level, they should work to give everyone as easy an access as possible to high-quality libraries alongside other amenities. While the report does not single library directors and librarians out itself, there is the implication that they, like other stakeholders, should be involved in decision-making.

Libraries themselves of course also have responsibilities to ensure that they are not only open, but also welcoming. The World Bank report indeed suggests that libraries are only semi-open, given the potential need for registration or other limits on access to and use of facilities (p49-50).

This is not a characterisation that is necessary particularly welcome – or even accurate – for many, but it is clear that there is a perception that may need to be addressed.

 

Conclusion

That the World Bank should recognise the importance of public spaces in general – and libraries in particular – is certainly welcome. It underlines that the need to consider not just short-term economic growth, but also well-being, social cohesion, culture and liveability is now in the mainstream.

In taking this approach, of course, the World Bank also underlines a number of challenges which will be familiar to libraries both in their own operations and in their advocacy to governments and other funders. The report, hopefully, will act to accelerate progress in both, and so better places to live for all.

 

Key Advocacy Messages

  • Public spaces – indoor and outdoor – are an essential ingredient in creating attractive, liveable cities.
  • Libraries can and should be part of this strategy, with the World Bank citing examples from Korea to Colombia to back up this message.
  • To achieve success, local and regional governments should give individual libraries the flexibility and funding to respond to needs, and promote library systems that offer equitable access across their territories.

 

* Kaw, Jon Kher, Hyunji Lee, and Sameh Wahba, editors. 2020.
The Hidden Wealth of Cities: Creating, Financing, and Managing Public Spaces. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1449-5. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO

Libraries: Culture, Connection and Transition

When cities leverage their heritage for development, there is the possibility of gaining their investment back in social and economic dividends. Investing in cultural heritage can make a location more attractive for tourism, new residential growth and business investment – changing the landscape of a community and the way people interact with it.

I recently attended a webinar on this topic offered by EUROCITIES, an economic, political and social development network connecting many of Europe’s major cities.

Experts spoke to their experience of social and economic returns on cultural heritage investment, including finding balance between social and economic benefits of urban renewal and the negative effects of gentrification and over-tourism.

When considering cultural heritage as a tool for development, this was a very interesting concept and it got me thinking – as memory institutions, where do libraries fit into this?

Urban Transition in Bakklandet  

This discussion focussed on heritage and social and economic valorisation – that is, the process of creating social and economic value from cultural heritage resources.

The example I’d like to focus on is from the Bakklandet neighbourhood of Trondheim, Norway. Today this area is a must-see for tourists in the city, who enjoy the traditional wooden architecture, colourful buildings, and plentiful cafes.

Colourful buildings in Bakklandet

Colourful buildings in Bakklandet (photo by darolti dan on Unsplash http://bit.ly/3bc3xVI)

However, this was historically a working-class area, which in the 1960s faced the threat of being demolished to make room for a highway. The neighbourhood was saved by locals, whose grassroot campaigning successfully opposed the demolition plans. Given this history, the area for a long time has been home to a deeply engaged local population.

Bakklandet is now in a period of urban transition – valued by tourists for its cultural capital, and therefore valued by investors and businesses for its economic potential.

How does a city in transition balance the benefits that economic returns on heritage can bring while preserving authenticity and social capital for residents?

I would argue one answer lies in libraries, as memory institutions and as public spaces.

Third-Party Preservation of Memory

I wondered if there was any information in this case study on the role of libraries and archives in keeping local’s connection to culture at the heart of Bakklandet’s transition.

The speaker from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who presented this case study informed me that residents themselves have taken action to record the history of their community.

Locals have created an online archive, rich with historic photos and stories about the neighbourhood’s long history, alongside current news and events connecting residents to one another.

The speaker referred to this repository as a third-party preservation of memory. It is a wonderful blend of memory, history and social connection. It is a community centered around a deep connection to its neighbourhood, preserving its memory and building social capital among its residents.

Check it out here (in Norwegian): https://blvel.wordpress.com/hjem/bilder/

The Role of the Library

What if a physical library could function the same way?

Could it become a hub for local history, preservation and social connection to balance the changing landscape that comes with urban transition?

Could it itself be an attractive stop for visitors, which helps connect them to the local heritage through exhibitions, public events and cultural expressions?

What could libraries do to build up their role as providers of connection and social capital, while balancing the negative effects that a changing city can face?

Like the example of Bakklandet, the answer could come from the bottom up. Engaging the local population, especially in areas of urban renewal and transition, could be a valuable first step towards reimagining the library as a hub of culture and connection.

 What can be done?

Are there local stories in your archives waiting to be told? Are there grassroots preservation initiatives that could benefit from a physical space? Could cultural heritage be a method by which to engage both locals and tourists?

Many libraries have already taken note of the value they can bring their communities in this way. From community archiving initiatives to IFLA’s own Local History and Genealogy Section, we are certainly seeing these suggestions in practice within the library profession.

Collecting best practices, sharing evidence of the impact of such programmes, and cooperating with other sectors within cultural heritage and development are positive steps that can be taken to advocate for libraries in this space.

We encourage you to consider these questions, then share your thoughts and ideas!

Government, Culture and Access: Where Did you Go, André Malraux?

The French Ministry of Culture is celebrating its 60th birthday. In its day, it was a rarity – indeed, France was the first major democracy to create one. Sixty years on, it is almost the idea of not having a ministry of culture, with a minister, that seems odd.

Clearly governments were supporting different types of culture previously in various ways. Through direct patronage, through support for preservation, and through arts education, there was help. But it rarely came with the prestige of a full ministerial position.

The French Ministry’s creation came soon after General de Gaulle came to power. He was committed to promoting France and its production internationally, and in doing so, underlined that culture was a major policy and political issue.

In André Malraux, a novelist and resistance hero – the first Minister for Culture – the General found a man who believed in exposing people to great works, as well as promoting the idea of the writers of today building on the work of those who came before, through a ‘library of the imagination’.

In his own words, the new ministry’s role was to ‘make accessible the chief works of humanity, and first of all of France, to the greatest possible number of French citizens, to ensure a wider audience for our cultural heritage, and to favour the creation of art and of the spirit that enrich it’ (Founding Decree of 1959).

 

1959: Access First

Malraux’s statement is significant. He clearly places access first among the goals of his ministry.

Clearly this was a personal passion. But it also recalls one of the core missions of government – to look after the wellbeing of the population as a whole.

Obviously, Malraux doesn’t only talk about access. Heritage – and implicitly its preservation – as well as support for creativity are also there, as key factors underpinning access. But access definitively comes first.

This is a view that will echo with libraries, who share a dedication to access, not at the expense of creativity or heritage, but in order to support it.

This is because access allows for the emergence of new readers, new buyers, and new creators. But more than this, a focus on access fundamentally legitimises any government’s investment in the field of culture in the first place by delivering on the duty under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to enable everyone to participate in the cultural life of the community.

In other words, it fulfils two of the broader roles of government – to act where the market will not in the interests of future prosperity, and to deliver on fundamental rights for all.

This is clearly not just the something that libraries do. Malraux also talked about the imaginary museum, or the museum with out walls. All culture, he argued, had a vocation to be available to all.

 

2019: Access Last?

Sixty years on, and it is noticeable that the order of priorities chosen by the ministry has changed.  In the dossier prepared by the Ministry for its own birthday, it sets out its work in the following terms:

‘For 60 years, the Ministry of Culture has protected and supported heritage, stimulated creativity, promoted cultural diversity, and favoured the access of all to art and culture’.

Clearly most of the ideas are the same – around heritage, creativity and access, with diversity (thankfully) now added. However, the order is different. Heritage comes first, support for creative industries second, and access only last.

In effect, the focus seems to have moved from the people to the producers, from demand to supply.

This is only confirmed in the ministry’s own summary of its work to promote access, which, instead of talking about ensuring that everyone has the possibility to enjoy culture (itself a human right), focuses rather again on preserving heritage and supporting creation.

Clearly, libraries will not be against protecting heritage and promoting creativity – these are things libraries do on a daily basis, and a core part of their mission. However, they are primarily means to an end – democratic access to information and culture for all. Losing sight of this is a cause for concern.

 

Why this apparent shift has happened is open for discussion. It certainly seems to bring the risk of forgetting the key message of Malraux – that the job of governments when they get involved in culture must first and foremost be to ensure that it is democratic and open to all. It is a message worth remembering.