Tag Archives: creativity

Learning, Making, Doing: Libraries as Incubators of Creativity and the Creative Economy

A vital component in realizing cultural rights, including freedom of expression and participation in cultural life, is supporting cultural actors. This includes those working in the creation, production, and distribution of, as well as access to, expressions of culture.

So, with 2021 being the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, IFLA has explored how libraries open the door to cultural participation and make space for cultural diversity.

This includes work to do so by providing access to lifelong learning opportunities and addressing gaps in the ability to participate in culture on digital platforms, as well as fostering environments where diverse cultural expressions are encouraged, valued, shared, and protected.

To prepare this overview, IFLA engaged with several of our Professional Units and carried out desktop research to find concrete examples of how libraries put these values into action. We have found examples ranging from libraries participating in national cultural strategies to carrying out community-level programmes. Some examples help elevate established creators, while others create spaces where new creators can explore and grow.

Let’s take a deeper look at how libraries can act as incubators of creativity and the creative economy in their national contexts.

Libraries as Partners: Contributing to Government Initiatives

Brazil: National Reading and Writing Policy

In 2018, the Brazilian Special Secretariat for Culture established, within the National Reading and Writing Policy, a permanent strategy to promote books, reading, writing, literature, and publicly accessible libraries (Law No. 13,696/2018) [source].  The Brazilian National Library Foundation is engaged as a partner in this strategy.

The Policy’s objectives include promoting access to books and reading, disseminating Brazilian literature, and valuing and encouraging national authors with an emphasis on bibliodiversity.

Initiatives carried out within this framework have helped stimulate the creative economy by supporting national authors through funding and participation in international literacy fairs.

For example, in 2018, a public call for original works in Portuguese on select themes regarding the history of Brazil was circulated. Fifty works were selected for funding, which contributed to promotion and dissemination efforts.

Colombia: Reading Colombia

The National Library of Colombia partnered with the Ministry of Culture, Vice-ministry of Creativity and Orange Economy and the Colombian Book Chamber on the “Reading Colombia” strategy [source].

A key focus of this strategy was to support the distribution of works by national authors in the international market in order to help increase visibility of contemporary Colombian writers.

In 2018, the scheme awarded 12 scholarships to support translation of the work of Colombian authors into six languages​. In 2019, this increased to 50 works of Colombian literature.

Ireland: Decade of Centenaries Programme

The Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023 has been an ongoing programme administered by the Irish Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the most difficult and transformative period of Irish history, 1912-1923.

The National Library of Ireland is partnering with Department and the Decade of Centenaries Programme to appoint a poet in residence to engage with this theme and create original works [source].

This year-long post is supported by a stipend. During this time, the poet will not only create original literary works, but contribute to masterclasses for practitioner-led, experimental or interdisciplinary programmes, participate in workshops to help engage new audiences with the Library’s collections, and work to develop good practice outreach models to connect their creative works with a public audience.

United States of America: Library of Congress National Book Festival

The National Book Festival is hosted annually by the Library of Congress, the national library of the USA. Over past years, more than 100 authors, poets, and illustrators had the opportunity to connect with over 200,000 attendees for book talks, discussions, book signings and other engaging activities.

This has historically been the largest annual literary gathering held in the nation’s capital but in 2021 will reach a much wider audience through a hybrid in-person / online programme.

Content will be available through videos on-demand, author conversations in real time and live question-and-answer sessions, as well as a podcast series, a national television special, and in-person events at the Library.

This Festival will also engage authors from across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, who are each invited to choose a book to represent their state or territory’s literary heritage. The Library of Congress will amplify these authors by holding conversations to discuss their books and what they mean for each State or Territory.


Libraries as Hosts: Artists in Residence

Jamaica: National Library of Jamaica Poet Laureate Programme

The Poet Laureate selected by the National Library of Jamaica carries out a three-year term, during which time he or she is tasked with stimulating a wider appreciation for Jamaican poetry. During this time, the Poet Laureate also helps encourage public involvement in poetry and spoken word arts, including by involving young people in appreciating and writing poetry. The scheme supports the poet during their term through a grant [source].

Within this programme, the Poet Laureate presents their own creations both locally and abroad, is involved in national events, and carries out participatory programmes to encourage developing poets, such as poetry competitions and school poetry reading tours [source].


United States of America: University of California San Francisco Library Artist in Residence program

This programme, carried out by the University Library, invites artists to promote health humanities through creative use of the historical materials preserved in the Library’s Archives and Special Collections [source].

The current Artist in Residence, Farah Hamaden, is a biomedical illustrator and animator, whose interactive storytelling project, “The City is a Body”, seeks to collect and bring to life San Franciscans’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out more about her project here.


Singapore – The National Library Board Creative Residency

This programme invites creatives from all different artistic disciplines to use the National Library Board’s collections to inspire their own works, and to reimagine them in ways that help engage a wider community with the collection [source].

Creative work produced in this role can take the form of videos, publications, literary works, artworks, musical compositions, or more. The 6-month post is supported by a stipend, and is open to all Singapore-based creative practitioners (individuals or collectives) working in any discipline or form of expression to apply.

Libraries as Enablers: Supporting New Creators

Trinidad and Tobago – NALIS First Time Authors Programme

National Library and Information Systems Authority (NALIS) highlights first-time authors of Trinidad and Tobago nationality or descent through their First Time Authors Programme [source].

Held on World Book and Copyright Day, this programme celebrates the accomplishment of first time authors, encourages new national writers, and raises public awareness of issues relating to intellectual property and copyright.

During the annual ceremony, national first-time authors of all genres are presented with appreciation tokens and their work is promoted online. See a recent example here.

Australia: Yarra Plenty Regional Library Maker Spaces and Maker Month

Yarra Plenty Regional Library (YPRL), a public library service located in Melbourne, Australia, has established Maker Spaces in 6 of their 9 branches. These spaces allow users to create, connect, collaborate, and learn in a fun and supported environment, and specialise in areas of textile and craft, mental health, gardening, writing and publishing, science and technology, and design

In 2020, the library launched a month-long, region-wide Maker Month programme. This went beyond the Maker Spaces, with a focus on entrepreneurs and events to support and empower those starting out in business or making the leap from hobby to “side hustle”.

This addressed an identified gap for support systems aimed at such microbusinesses, with many not knowing where to start in launching their own creative small business. Built on community feedback, the programme offered local makers opportunities to connect and network, get creative, and upskill. It provided tools to learn about business needs – from developing their idea to running and marketing their business.

Although hampered by the outbreak of the pandemic, many programmes were held online. These included topics such as: Using WordPress to make your own webpage, How and why to create digital content for your business, and How to plan for small businesses.

A number of sessions, including Turning Your Passion into Profit and How to Market Your Business Using Social Media continue to run in an online format.

The library is planning a smaller-scale Maker Month for July 2021, with a mix of online and in-person events including 90-day Business Planning and is launching a co-working space which will have an ongoing focus on business support.


This is just a look at different ways libraries can make a difference for creative actors, connecting them with opportunities to create, elevating and promoting their work, and encouraging learning and exploration.

Through their position in the social fabric and their role as champions of access to information and freedom of expression, it is clear that libraries are an essential piece in a thriving creative economy.

Through examples such as these, libraries contribute to the fulfillment of cultural rights and link them to economic opportunity for creative actors – both of which are needed to enable sustainable development.

This list is by no means exhaustive – we welcome additional cases from all types of libraries around the world! Send your stories to: claire.mcguire@ifla.org

The 10-Minute International Librarian #54: Think of a way in which your work supports creativity

This week, the Conference of the Parties of the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions takes place. IFLA will be observing, as well as taking an active role in today’s Civil Society Forum.

But delivering on the goal of the Convention – to encourage and support creativity by all, everywhere – is not just a question for international-level discussions.

Rather, it is something that requires mobilisation and engagement in every community.

Libraries have an important role to play here – arguably one that has often been underestimated.

Because while it can be easy to think of access to information being simply about making use of the works of other people, it is also a vital precondition for people to be able to create themselves.

Added to this are the possibilities libraries offer, through spaces, programming, and support, to encourage people to use their imaginations.

Around the world, we benefit from a stronger understanding of how libraries are key players in supporting creativity and innovation.

So for our 54th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, think of a way in which your work supports creativity.

Once you have an idea, think about how you can explain it clearly, for example to a library user, an artist, or a decision-maker.

Are there other things you could do to support creativity among the community you serve?

Let us know your ideas in the comments below!

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! Key Initiative 1.1: Show the power of libraries in delivering 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 below.

Library Stat of the Week #50 (Part 1): Where there are stronger, and better used public and community libraries, there tends to be greater participation in artistic and creative activities

In part one of the last of our mini-series on libraries and cultural data – and indeed the last of our regular Library Stat of the Week posts for now – we’re looking at data about libraries and the wider cultural field.

This follows two posts exploring the relationship between libraries and the book sector, measured in terms of the share of household spending on culture going on books across countries for which culture is available.

In this post, we make use of Eurostat data about frequency of participation in artistic activities (in general), and regularity of attendance at cultural events (cinema, live performances, and cultural or heritage institutions such as museums).

Once again, we also draw on data from IFLA’s Library Map of the World, combined with World Bank population data.

Given that Eurostat data only covers Europe, and that Library Map of the World data is not complete for every country, we have limited analysis to those countries for which data is available.

The goal is to explore what relationships exist between the existence and use of libraries and broader cultural participation. The thesis is that libraries can act as a gateway to culture, providing opportunities that are both local, and free, for people to discover creativity, both in others and in themselves.

The first part of this post looks at data around participation in artistic activities, compared to different metrics of availability of libraries (measured by the number of public and community libraries per 100 000 people), and their use (measured by numbers of visits and loans per capita).

Participation in such artistic activities can be used as a proxy for levels of creativity, as well as a broader indicator of the strength of culture.

Graph 1a: Public/Community Libraries per 100 000 People and Frequency of Participation in Artistic Activities

Graph 1a therefore compares the shares of the population reporting that they participate in artistic activities at least once a week, at least once a month, and not at all in the last year, with the number of public and community libraries per 100 000 people.

In this (as in all the graphs in this post), each dot represents one country. The higher up a dot is, the higher the share of people reporting that they practice an artistic activity at a given frequency. The further to the right it is, the more public or community libraries there are per 100 000 people in the country.

This finds little relationship between the presence of public and community libraries and levels of participation in artistic activities.

However, as in previous posts, it is worth looking at just those countries with up to 20 public or community libraries per 100 000 people (above the European and global averages) – this allows us to exclude more extreme cases.

Graph 1b: Public/Community Libraries per 100 000 People and Frequency of Participation in Artistic Activities (up to 20 Libraries per 100K)

Graph 1b does this, showing a much stronger link between the presence of libraries and participation in artistic activities. More public and community libraries tends to be associated with greater shares engaging regularly in artistic activities (and smaller shares not engaging at all).

For example, every extra public or community library per 100 000 people tends to be associated with a fall of almost 2 percentage points in the share of the population not engaging in artistic activities at all.

Graph 2: Public/Community Library Visits per Person and Frequency of Participation in Artistic Activities

Graph 2 continues the analysis, but looking rather at a key indicator of intensity of use of libraries – the average number of visits per person per year. This finds a similar trend as in Graph 1b, with more regular visits to libraries associated with higher engagement in artistic activities.

Here, every one additional visit to a public or community library per person per year is associated with an almost three point rise in the share of the population engaging in artistic activities at least once a month.

Graph 3: Total Loans per Person and Frequency of Participation in Artistic Activities

Graph 3 does the same but with the average number of loans per person per year, and again shows that more regular borrowing of books tends to be associated with more regular participation in artistic activities. Each additional loan per person per year tends to be linked with a fall of over two points in the share of the population not engaged in any artistic activity in the past year.

Overall, these graphs underline the connection between the presence and use of libraries, and wider involvement in artistic activities. Clearly, we cannot say for sure say that there is causality in one direction or the other. Indeed, both library use and other artistic activity could be the result of a single cause, such as a strong focus on culture in education or a wider appreciation of being cultured.

Nonetheless, it does support the argument that societies which are more involved in artistic activities – and so which arguably encourage creativity – are characterised by a greater number of public libraries (at least up to around 20 public libraries per 100 000 people), and more intense use of these.


The second part of this post looks at data around frequency of participation in specific cultural activities – namely visits to the cinema, going to live performances (theatre, concerts), and visits to cultural or heritage institutions (including monuments and museums).

This data, as far as it appears, does not include data on library visits. However, it provides an insight into the strength of the wider cultural sector. In particular, larger numbers of people going regularly to the cinema or a live performance, or visiting a cultural or heritage institution, bring advantages in terms of revenues for each of the sectors concerned.

The following analyses look at how the share of the population carrying out these different activities regularly (at least four times a year) compares with numbers of visits to libraries per person per year, as an indicator of how well used libraries are.

Graph 4a: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of 16+ Population Participating in Cultural Activities 4 or More Times Per Year

Graph 4a therefore looks at the share of the population aged 16 or more going to each of the three types of cultural event four or more times per year. It indicates a positive correlation – in countries where there are higher average numbers of library visits per year, there are also more people going regularly to the cinema, to live events, or to cultural or heritage institutions.

The most positive correlation here is between visits to libraries and visits to cultural or heritage institutions, with live performances and cinema following closely behind. For every additional library visit per person per year, there tends to be a rise of 1.4 points in the share of the population visiting cultural or heritage institutions regularly.

Graph 4b: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of 16+ Population with Low Education Participating in Cultural Activities 4 or More Times Per Year

Graph 4b looks specifically at the case of people with lower education (defined as less than primary and lower secondary education), given that people in this situation can be at risk of exclusion. A break-down of this data is not available for libraries, and so data for the whole population is used.

The graph indicates that levels of regular participation in different events or activities are lower than for the population as a whole. However, we see the same positive connections with even stronger correlations between average use of libraries (for the population as a whole), and participation in different activities (for people with lower education).

In other words, there is an indication that there may be links between use of libraries and participation in other events, even for those who may otherwise be at risk of exclusion.

Graph 5a: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of 16+ Population (by Education Level) Visiting Culture and Heritage Institutions Regularly

Graph 5a looks specifically at cultural and heritage institutions, given that these are, in other circumstances, often considered as part of a group with libraries (GLAMs). They can also have similar functions as community spaces, where visitors have more freedom to discover for themselves.

In addition to the positive link between library visits per capita and shares of the population as a whole, it helps underline similar positive links for people with both high and low levels of formal education. Interestingly, the strength of the correlation is highest for those only primary and lower secondary education.

Graph 5b: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of 16-29 Population (by Education Level) Visiting Culture and Heritage Institutions Regularly

Graph 5b repeats the analysis for younger people (aged 16-29) and comes to a similar conclusion – where there are more visits to libraries per person (again, for the whole population), there tend to be higher numbers of people regularly visiting cultural and heritage institutions.

Graph 6: Public/Community Library Visits and Share of Population (by Age) Visiting Culture and Heritage Institutions Regularly

Finally, Graph 6 looks rather at trends for different age groups. This finds very little difference in the relations between library visits (for the whole population) and for the share of younger (16-29 year olds), older (65-74 year olds) and the population as a whole (anyone over 16). In each case, the connection is positive.


This post has looked at different indicators of levels of participation in culture. Maximising this participation can be seen as a goal in itself, a driver of wellbeing for individuals, a support for the cultural sector, and as a foundation for strong economies and societies in general.

While, as always, correlation cannot be read as causality, there certainly are positive links between levels of presence and use of public and community libraries and engagement in artistic activities. The same goes for visits to public and community libraries and regularly going to the cinema, live performances and other cultural and heritage institutions, including across age groups and levels of education.

The data presented here therefore supports the argument that a well-supported and well-used public and community library field tends to be associated with wider participation in artistic and cultural activities, either as a gateway or as a complement. It can help support arguments for libraries to be considered as a key part of cultural policy, as a support for the wider creative economy, and indeed as actors in boosting creativity in general.

Part two of this post will look, finally, at data around the strength and use of public and community libraries and reading habits.


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.

Opening up collections in Libraries supports creativity

More and more libraries are working to open data from heritage collections. Many institutions (the Library Brasiliana Guita e Jose Mindlin in Brazil, the Auckland Libraries – Heritage Images in Australia or the Library Centrală Universitară “Lucian Blaga” in Cluj-Napoca for instance) are turning to digital, in line with the OpenGLAM principles, to realise the potential of the public domain: to promote access, use, re-use – including for commercial purposes – knowledge and skills of materials in the public domain.

Yet at the same time, funding for cultural institutions is declining in Europe and North America. With their means reduced, the development of strategies is dependent on the economic model of the institution.

In order to reconcile these two goals – opening data and collections, and ensuring financial sustainability – libraries and other cultural institutions are reflecting on ways to allow their reproductions to be opened. This means that heritage institutions are exploring different economic models in order to develop models that generate funding and that do not create additional barriers to knowledge from collections in the public domain in particular. In doing so, by opening up data collections from the public domain for commercial reuse, libraries also have an impact on the overall economy of the country.

This is not always easy. While large heritage institutions are committed to opening up heritage collections in public domain  (offering the possibility to download in good quality with extensive information on the use that can be done with the reproduction), this digital strategy is struggling to develop in smaller institutions

Still today, requests for the use of reproductions of images are handled manually by agents of the institution. This mission involves a considerable labour force and time to verify the status of the work (the rights applied to the artefact) and the status of the reproduction of the work. This is meticulous work which requires having a team trained in these issues.

In parallel with this situation,  where libraries have developed platforms which allow users to download reproductions of objects from library websites, it has been clear that investment is essential to building such a digital infrastructure. It also means investing human resources on missions related to collection datasets to clarify the status of artefacts.

In short, it appears that in both cases, human resources are needed to clarify the status of the objects and their reproductions, and then either add data and carry out the development of a platform, or deal with requests on a case-by-case basis.

However, several points seem interesting to take into account:

_ the time and  work of the employees

_ the initial presumption that the user will / must ask the institution for the image

_ the promotion and outreach of the collection

First, time. Time that agents spend responding to requests for images and other materials is relative to the size of the institution and the size of the collections. However, whereas agents can repeat the same action for several years on the same item, data integrated into the website relating to this item can be reused repeatedly, and is likely to be easier to use on other platforms also.

This means that even though providing clarity on the artefact data and the status of these objects is a long and precise job, once this job is done, there is no need to do it again. In the same way, an updated database filled with all the information will have little change over time.

Secondly, there is an assumption that users will ask the institution to use an image. While users affiliated with research institutions may well be experienced in making requests, but what about other users, such as:

_ Heritage institutions, start-ups, non-profit organisations and companies that aggregate heritage data in the public domain.

_ Students who must consult heritage sources in the public domain to facilitate referencing and reproductions in academic research.

_ Designers, artists, graphic artists and creators in general

Users’ digital practices show that they will not take the time to make an official request. In the best of cases, they will quickly seek a reproduction whose rights are free and in the worst case, they will use a copy which is not in the public domain.

Therefore, if libraries wish to enhance and promote their collections by promoting the re-use of materials in the public domain, it is necessary to facilitate access to users. This again speaks in favour of moving to easy-to-use platforms, rather than assuming that the possibility to request access is enough.

Finally, there is also evidence of the possibility to development of economic models based on the public domain, without violating fundamental principles of free access within cultural institutions.

For instance, the Rijksmuseum offers to its users the possibility to download collections in the public domain for free in high quality, but if the user wishes to have a poster, frame, reproduction in aluminium, it is possible to place an order for a fee. This decision reflects a desire to support creativity while developing an economic model.

From this example, it seems relevant to think about what a gift shop can bring in this direction primarily on the realisation of prints on objects (T-shirt, cups, bags for instance) or paper works on place, within the library.

We could imagine the possibility of imagining an online store based on a Print and Read model (linked to the Print and Play concept for games). It would be possible to produce objects publish works which are no longer issued for economic reasons with pictorial covers.

Some examples of re-use:

Items sold on Etsy from the Rijksmuseum collections: https://www.etsy.com/ca/pages/rijksstudio

On the Society6 site, Public Demesne offers items made from heritage collections in the public domain: https://society6.com/publicdemesne

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.

By All, For All: A World Book Day for the World

Books by all, for all: Libraries celebrate World Book Day 2019

Books have long played – and continue to play – a key role in recording the past, sharing knowledge, and creating inspiration. World Book Day offers an opportunity to celebrate this contribution to knowledge and culture.

In 2019, there is a particular focus on indigenous languages, given the International Year. This is a reminder of the importance of thinking about how books as a means of preserving and sharing all cultures.

For libraries, this diversity of production is key. As institutions with a mission to meet the needs of all members of their communities, there is a strong interest in supporting and promoting local production, in all languages spoken by users.

To celebrate World Book Day 2019, therefore, this blog explores the reasons why it is so important to make this a day for all readers and writers in all cultures.


Books By All

Traditionally, the cost of printing presses and the need to run distribution networks have meant that publishing has been an expensive business. Publishers have given different voices access to these opportunities, bringing their voices to the world.

However, for those who do not manage to find the support of a publisher, the opportunities have been much narrower. Writers who are only likely to reach a small audience – because of the subject, or the language – of their works have had fewer possibilities.

This is of course changing, with technology offering new possibilities to self-publish, or to set up smaller independent operations which help new and diverse voices reach public attention.

These new options complement the existing landscape, allowing for a more diverse range of books to reach the market.

Clearly new writers need support, especially when they don’t benefit from the sort of support that a publisher will often offer.

While libraries clearly can’t provide an advance, they do offer a number of other key services – classes in creative writing, free research possibilities, and in some cases a showcase for local talent.

We will be exploring some of these means of supporting new authors in a session at WLIC this year.


Books For All

It does not make sense to talk about World Book Day without a focus on access. Indeed, to look only at the production of books would run counter to the universal mission of UNESCO, the organisation that set it up in 1995.

Copyright has made it possible for the (intangible) content of books to be treated in much the same way as a physical (tangible) object, and allowed for the creation of the type of market for books that we see today.

However, there is the risk of failure. Traditionally, market failures happen when the full benefits (or costs) of an action are not taken into account by the actor.

This can be the case with books, for example where someone may not have the money to buy a book, but there are clear benefits to society as a whole from them having access (to learn, to research, to discover new opportunities).

Libraries already have a key role in overcoming such failures by providing access to knowledge and culture.

Complementing markets – which continue to sell copies of books to those who can afford them, and want to enjoy them forever – they ensure that everyone has the chance to gain from what books have to offer.

This is as important in cities in major developed countries as in rural communities speaking indigenous languages.


With World Book Day 2019 focusing on the importance of indigenous languages, and 2019 being the year that SDG 10 (Reducing Inequalities) is in focus at the United Nations, it is a great opportunity to remember that this can only be a truly global event if it looks at books by all, for all.

Libraries are key to making this a reality.

4 Days to Human Rights Day: Libraries as Champions of Free Expression

Libraries, Free Expression and Free Access to Information

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Freedom of access to information and freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). It provides a powerful basis for efforts to ensure the free flow of information.

As IFLA has argued, access to information is at the foundation of successful development policies, by ensuring not only that everyone can make better choices themselves, but can also take part in collective decision-making.

As with all human rights, constant work is needed to support their realisation, and ensure that people are not missing out. It is perhaps not by accident that within a year of the agreement of the Universal Declaration, the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto was also signed, stressing the importance of everyone having access to a place where they could learn and grow, without discrimination. Libraries have, arguably, become symbols of a societal commitment to freedom of access to information.

But what about their role around free speech? The original Public Library Manifesto argues that libraries ‘should not tell people what to think about, but […] should help them decide what to think about’.

Yet this element of libraries’ work is perhaps less known, and indeed can get lost behind the stereotype of libraries as quiet places, more focused on consumption, not creation, of knowledge and ideas.

This blog will look at two ways in which libraries are involved in linking together the two elements of Article 19, and indeed can be as strong a force in promoting free expression as they are in promoting access to information.


Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Libraries have a strong vested interest in free expression. Without the production of varied new books, articles and other materials, librarians will find it harder to develop diverse collections responding to the needs and interest of their communities.

For example, in order to serve users who belong to marginalised groups or communities, libraries may well require books that talk about their experience, and their concerns. Yet if writers are not allowed to take these perspectives, or approach these subjects, the supply of books dries up, and libraries cannot fulfill their mission.

In turn, by giving access, libraries can ensure that these works are read, and so help their authors reach more people than otherwise would be possible.

Initiatives such as Banned Books Week bring these two elements of Article 19 together by highlighting the impact of  censorship both on the ability of library users to choose what they want to read, and the ability of writers to have their voices heard.


Towards Convergence

Seeing free expression and access to information as two sides of the same coin nonetheless implies a binary view of the world – that there are some people who produce, and some who consume knowledge.

While this may have been true when publishing a book or communicating views required expensive equipment and infrastructure, this is no longer the case. It has never been easier or cheaper to produce an article or book, or record a new work, and then share it with the world.

Indeed, there is a strong argument that the most effective form of access to information is when someone is able not only to find, understand and use information, but also create and share it.

Through the production of new information, not only do individuals fully realise the potential of the information they have, but others benefit from the results. The results of these new possibilities are already visible through the huge variety of content and ideas available on the internet.

Here too, libraries have a role.

Many have long encouraged activities such as creative writing, but now are branching into maker spaces and other means of promoting creativity. Supporting the application of tools such as text and data mining on library materials allows for new research. And through Wikipedia editathons and community archiving, they are helping under-represented groups become creators themselves.


The summary of the first phase of IFLA’s Global Vision sets out that libraries should be champions of intellectual freedom. This implies breaking away from stereotypes, from the idea that libraries are only really about access. But it is a necessary break, and an opportunity to realise fully the potential of our institutions as drivers of development.