Tag Archives: faife

IFLA celebrates Open Access Week 2023

International Open Access Week is upon us!

The theme of 2023 is Community over Commercialization. Libraries are places of community, and – as has been meme’d online, possibly tracing back to Neil Gaiman – are one of the few public spaces people can visit without being expected to buy something. ‘The default setting of libraries is open’ is another oft-repeated phrase. We are a place where people can come to access information, without charge.

Open Access builds on the ideals of the library to address more specific issues of community and commerce. It is rooted in part in the logic that publicly funded research has already been paid for by the public, and should not be paywalled by private companies. This is evident in, for example, the US’ 2022 policy update that all federally-funded research should be released OA. It also creates research publication and access opportunities globally, supporting researchers and the public to be engaged, contributing members of the scientific community. OA makes steps toward a world where scholars aren’t limited by their institutions’ resources and prestige.

As I wrote after attending Eurasian Academic Libraries Conference (EALC), in Astana, Kazakhstan.

”Hearing speakers from around Central Asia enthusiastically and the world discuss OA, repository development, and other related ongoing projects, it felt like I had entered a space where OA and related policies were the norm and traditional publishing modes were the alternative. It clearly showed the vitality and utility of OA.”

IFLA offers a variety of resources on OA, including our advocacy-oriented 2022 statement in support of Open Access and 576-page guide to copyright for libraries (published open, of course).  IFLA is in the process of formalizing its OA working group into an advisory committee, which will provide dedicated support to Open topics.

Among the IFLA units and sections with an interest in OA, the Copyright & other Legal Matters (CLM) committee addresses the legal, contractual, and publishing aspects of OA, while the Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) committee supports OA’s role in furthering human rights and information equity.

IFLA’s Academic and Research Libraries (ARL) section hosted a 2023 WLIC satellite conference with the theme of “Inclusiveness through Openness”, emphasizing OA’s value in “equitable participation in the global research and scholarly communication system.”

At the conference, I was interested to hear about the work on OA being done around the world, including by services like the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) in addressing journal discoverability and curation.

OA – and libraries – help us build community, and IFLA celebrates OA this week and beyond.

So what can you do? For one, read and publish OA! Part of my goals before OA Week 2024 are to clear some half-finished publications off my own desk, and dig more into UCL Press’ OA catalogue (for example). Look to IFLA’s 2022 OA Statement an advocate for OA, and help build infrastructure and alliances! And watch for developments from IFLA, including our upcoming OA vocabulary sheet scheduled for publication before year’s end.


Matt Voigts

IFLA Copyright & OA Policy Officer

From the Earliest Age: Libraries and the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Services to children already represent an important part of the work of libraries.

Through spaces that provide comfort and security, services that develop literacy and a love of reading, and collections that open minds and horizons, they are key reference points in the lives of many children.

But, arguably, they are also associated with human rights.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed 19 years ago today, is a landmark document, developing the ideas already present in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This blog explores some of the key points in this document, and how they apply to libraries.


Children’s Rights are Human Rights

Much of the Convention is familiar. There is affirmation of the right to freedom from violence or cruel treatment, or to medical care.

In particular, the Convention underlines some of the key points from the Universal Declaration – freedom of expression and to ‘seek, receive and impart information’ (Article 13), the right to a private life (Article 16), the right to education (Article 28).

But it goes further on some points. For example Article 17 stresses that children should have ‘access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health’.

Governments are then requested to promote children’s books and programming, with a focus on the importance of access to a variety of sources, notably in the case of children from minority groups.

On education (Article 28), there is also a command to ‘promote and encourage international cooperation in matters relating to education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods’.


A Right to a Library?

While there is no explicit reference to libraries in the text, the contribution they can make is clear.

Accessing information through a choice of media is exactly what libraries – almost uniquely – do, and on a basis that includes everyone.

Libraries’ commitment to providing diverse collections responding to user needs come into focus in the obligation of states to provide access to a diversity of sources. And thanks to the work of librarians, materials acquired can be checked, and quality for young people ensured.

And of course through promoting international exchange and the development of new ideas, libraries allow for the flow of information and innovations which raise standards and improve services globally.

And, crucially, by being a free and welcoming space, they ensure that the realisation of these rights is not the privilege of the wealthy. This is a key issue – the group most at risk of poverty in the United States for example are young single parent families. There are similar statistics in the United Kingdom too for example.

In short, while libraries may not be mentioned in the Convention, it is difficult to imagine how it can be delivered without them.


Fortunately, IFLA’s sections are already on the case.

IFLA’s Literacy and Reading Section promotes the right to read. There are guidelines on school libraries, and ones on services to babies and toddlers, children’s library services, and for library-based literacy programmes.

And whole satellite event at IFLA’s most recent World Library and Information Congress focused in particular on providing inclusive services to children and young adults.

As we approach the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child next year, it’s clear that libraries – and IFLA – will continue to do their best to promote the rights of all of their uses.

What’s On Online? Current Issues for Libraries in Internet Governance and Policy

The core mission of libraries is to provide people with access to information. With flows of information increasingly taking place online, our institutions have a major interest in the way the Internet works.

In December of this year, the world will celebrate 50/50 – the point at which the share of the world’s population with Internet accesses passes 50%. This will be a success to celebrate, but also a reminder of how many people remain unconnected.

Moreover, serious concerns remain about the way in which the actions of governments and private actors can affect this access, and whether people themselves are equipped to make best use of the possibilities.

In short, if people do not have access, or if this access is subject to restrictions, then the mission of libraries cannot be achieved. This blog lists a few of the issues currently on the agenda.


Delivering Access – New Tools?

As highlighted in the introduction, the celebrations around giving half of the world’s population access to the Internet will be clouded by the fact that the other half remain offline. While the unconnected are concentrated in developing countries, there are still minorities in richer countries who are cut off.

New technologies and techniques are emerging for getting people online. Major Internet companies have their own projects for giving access, through satellites, balloons and other tools. While Facebook, for example, has apparently given up on its plans to use drones, it is now investing in satellites.

One technology is TV White Space (TVWS), promoted by its supporters as a particularly smart means of bringing Internet to remote areas. It works by using frequencies which currently are not being used for television, and dedicating them to WiFi. A number of projects using this approach are at work in the United States and Colombia.

There are also efforts by cities and wider communities to set up new networks. Sometimes these are run by local governments who recognise the value of faster connectivity (‘municipal broadband’). Sometimes, it’s residents themselves who come together to establish ‘community networks’.

In both cases, they bypass traditional Internet Service Providers (ISPs), often accused of doing too little to invest in higher speeds.

However, such projects need favourable regulation to work. With radio spectrum usually ‘owned’ by government, there are ongoing questions about who can access this for TVWS projects. There are also stories of restrictions on use of telegraph poles being used to prevent municipal fibre projects.

In addition, there have been some signs of renewed interest in Universal Service and Access Funds (USAFs). These collect funds from taxes on telecommunications providers in order to support connections to poorly served areas and populations.

However, they are frequently under-used, and can be subject to the same risks of corruption and bureaucracy as other parts of government. A recent report from the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) underlines how, if properly deployed, they could make the difference for women in Africa for example.

Libraries are both beneficiaries of better connectivity, and potentially drivers of new projects. To do this, they will need the right regulations and financial support to be able to give their users – and their communities – effective access to information.


Delivering Content – New Threats?

Yet not all connections are equal. Even when the cables are laid, or the masts turned on, what a user can see online will depend on the rules and practices in place.

The role of government is a key concern. Governments continue to engage in complete or partial shutdowns, as well as in focused censorship.

AccessNow’s monitoring of shutdowns shows that these are depressingly frequent, with everything from national security to school exams offering an excuse. The collateral damage caused by these moves – to businesses, to medicine, to citizens’ daily communications, is significant.

Censorship continues to be a problem. At the end of April, the anniversary of Turkey’s ban of Wikipedia was marked. Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom on the Internet report showed record levels of online censorship and blocking. Steps in Tunisia, for example, to oblige bloggers to ‘register’ are also worrying.

Meanwhile, concerns about ‘fake news’ have served as an excuse for some governments to take dramatic action against both writers and websites. Cambodia, Azerbaijan and Vietnam provide some recent examples. In parallel, as Freedom House (mentioned above) underlines, governments are also more than ready to share disinformation themselves using the same tools.

Yet it would be a mistake to focus only on government. As technology advances, and with it the possiblity to use data to make new connections and offer new services, the risk to personal information grows.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as other cases of dubious practice by major Internet firms, have shown what can be done with personal data. Data ethics has become a new area for discussion, closely linked to the explosion in the volumes of information collected online (including by the Internet of things).

The entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union offers a response, but much will depend on how effectively people take up the new possibilities it creates. Similar rules appear to be spreading to California and Brazil, and data protection is an increasingly high-profile issue in trade discusisons.

Furthermore, net neutrality remains on the agenda. In the United States, the resistance to moves by the government to allow companies to discriminate continues at federal level. Individual states are passing their own laws to guarantee equal access to all content as far as possible.

Elsewhere, the news is better, with India underlining its support for net neutrality, and steps in some countries at least to do away with zero-rating offerings (i.e. allowing users to access some services without this counting towards their data caps).

An additional issue arises where private companies are pressured to take steps that governments themselves cannot.

As highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, platforms are not independent. They can be pressured, for example, to block certain types of content (‘fake news’, explicit content, extreme content), or apply rulings such as the European Union’s right to be forgotten principle.

In doing so, they take on similar powers to governments or courts, but with less oversight or control. Moreover, when governments pass laws that only create incentives to block content, there is no guarantee that legal content will be defended. Laws such as FOSTA and SESTA in the United States and anti fake-news laws in Germany and France risk doing just this.

For libraries, this is an issue of growing importance. The content to which libraires give access is increasingly online, rather than on-the-shelf. And libraries are committed to broader access to information as a driver of development.

While there is a case for acting against specific content that genuinely poses a threat, indiscriminate restrictions imposed by governments or companies, including the chilling effect that surveillance and data-collection can create, are bad news for libraries.


Delivering Skills – New Focus?  

A final area of focus is on individuals themselves. Even where there is connectivity, and the connection is not subject to unjusitified restricitons, citizens themselves need the skills and confidence to get online.

As Pew Internet Centre research showed recently, a falling share of people see the Internet as only having brought benefits for society. Other surveys suggest growing levels of distrust and concern about about the risks encountered on the Internet.

There is a risk, when faced with such worries, that governments will feel empowered to take more restrictive stances (i.e. banning non-mainstream content). As a result, the need to give citizens themselves the confidence to deal with what they find online themselves is growing.

Digital skills training, however, remains minimal in many cases. This can be down to a lack of equipment, a lack of capacity among teaching staff, or simply a failure to update teaching. Moreover, digital skills cannot only be a task for formal education.

Meaningful digital skills training, as highlighted in IFLA’s statement on digital literacy, needs to be about more than just coding (important, but for now unlikely to be relevant to everyone in their future lives), and focus on a broader range of competences.

This should include, notably, an updated version of media and information literacy, adapted to a digital age. It may well also require a renewed focus on some of the ‘soft skills’ which are also important in the offline world.

A number of countries are adopting more holistic curricula, and the OECD is already incorporating concepts such as ‘problem solving in a digital environment’ into its own work. But we are likely to see more moves among governments to develop more comprehensive packages of skills and training in coming years.

Libraries are natural partners for delivering such skills, at least when they are suffficiently equipped and staffed. As welcoming places open to all of the community, regardless of age, they can complement the work of formal education.

With a focus, also, on providing the information (and information literacy) to meet real life needs, they can play a real role in shaping digital skills training for all.


The Internet’s potential to accelerate development is high, but not inevitable. As this blog indicates, there is a regular stream of questions, of doubts. How to make full use of all possibiities to get more people connected? How to avoid overreacting to ‘fake news’ and concern about certain content? How to give people the confidence they need to use the Internet effectively?

All are questions with a real importance for libraries, and to which libraries can help provide solutions.

Data Privacy Day: Call the Information Specialists!

Libraries are specialised in preserving, storing and giving access to information. They have long understood its power to drive research, creativity, and development. And they have done so since long before terms such as knowledge management, evidence-based policy-making, or anything ‘smart’ were invented.


It is this understanding that also makes libraries powerful contributors to efforts to promote data privacy.


A New Frontier Between the Public and Private… or none at all?

Thanks to the way the Internet works, it’s not just famous people, or significant events, that are the subject of data collection, but everyone. The servers of governments and Internet businesses contain libraries of information about normal citizens and their behaviour online. Libraries and library suppliers too can risk doing this, although fortunately there are now effective alternatives available that eliminate or minimise collection of data.


Meanwhile, social media has blurred the line between the private and the public, without many of us fully understanding the implications of publishing information about our families or political views to the world. In other cases, the implications are all too clear, for example in the case of phenomena such as revenge porn or witch-hunts against individuals.


This poses a significant question as to how the right to live without arbitrary attacks on privacy (Article 12 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights) can be defended.


Laws Are Not Enough

The law does of course have a role. Data protection legislation has the potential to cut back on speculative data collection by companies. In Europe at least, firms and others will have to be clear about what information they are gathering, and how it will be used. Citizens will have the possibility to ask to see what data is held, and for it to be deleted.


However, it is not clear how many will actually make use of these rights, or read the necessary small print. Moreover, governments will still be able to claim that national security – for right or for wrong – justifies attacks on privacy. The most effective response is to empower the individual, giving them the knowledge and tools necessary to look after themselves.


Information Specialists and Empowered Individuals

Thanks to their expertise – but also their trusted role in the community – libraries can play a powerful role. In line with the IFLA Statement on Privacy in the Library Environment (2015), library cryptoparties have taken place the UK, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, the US, Canada, and Germany, to name just a few.


These explore everything from specific tools, such as ToR routers or anti-tracking software, to simpler behavioural changes which can reduce or manage risks. While much of the discourse around cryptoparties focuses on government surveillance, good data hygiene is just as applicable in dealing with unwanted attention from businesses, hackers, or even members of personal networks.


Indeed, data privacy is a vital part of broader digital literacy – the ability to get the best out of the opportunities that digital technologies offer. When a user cannot be confident about what is happening with their data, this is not possible. Libraries can make the difference.

Remembering and Forgetting: Finding the Right Balance

Freedom of access to information depends heavily on privacy. People will not feel comfortable in seeking and obtaining the information they need if they are under surveillance.

However, free access and privacy – both of which are human rights recognised in the 1948 Universal Declaration – can also enter into conflict, for example when information concerns an individual’s private life. Search engines, by making discoverable information that would otherwise have lain undiscovered, have both helped make the Internet what it is, and accentuated this tension.

Access, Expression and Privacy: IFLA’s Approach to the Right to be Forgotten

Navigating the conflict between the right of people both to access knowledge, and to remove that which unfairly prejudices them, represents an ongoing challenge for libraries, as well as for courts, governments, and private companies.

IFLA’s Statement on the Right to be Forgotten offers some background, and sets out our approach. It underlines the interest of library users in being able to access as complete a version of the historical record as possible. It also cites the rights of information producers, who risk in preventing legally published speech from being delisted (and so effectively disappear).

Yet it also acknowledges that some information can be ‘unfairly damaging to an individual’s reputation or security where it is untrue, where it is available illegitimately or illegally, where it is too personally sensitive or where it is prejudicially no longer relevant, among other possibilities’.

As with any potential tension between fundamental rights, there are few easy answers. In its statement, IFLA stressed the need for judgements to be made on a transparent, case-by-case basis. It rejected both blanket refusals, and blanket acceptance of requests for delisting. In a subsequent open letter, it also underlined that such judgements would inevitably reflect local cultural preferences that would not be shared elsewhere. To this end, IFLA wanted against universal application of decisions.

Affirm or Upend: the Choice before the European Court

Two cases currently before the Court of Justice of the European Union could, however, have serious implications for the way right to be forgotten decisions are taken, and applied.

A first concerns an appeal made by four individuals against the decision of the French data protection authority not to uphold their request to have information about them delisted. The information in question concerned criminal proceedings and political beliefs, with the claimants arguing that any story containing personal information should be removed from search results on request. Such a position risks doing major damage to the freedom of the press, as well as transparency and accountability in public life.

A second opposes the same French data protection authority and Google, with the former arguing that right to be forgotten decisions should be applied globally, not just in the country where they are made. This case, the subject of IFLA’s open letter, risks seeing national courts effectively deciding what Internet users can view in other countries, regardless of the approach judges might take elsewhere.

The Need to Defend Balance

If it rejects these two cases, the Court will reaffirm the importance of taking a sensitive and thought-through approach to balancing human rights. It will also do a favour to information users and producers, as well as their own colleagues around the world.

This is not to say that the current set up is ideal – governments and regulators have doubtless been too ready to leave the task of responding to right to be forgotten requests to private companies, and transparency could be improved further. However, we can only progress on this front if the importance of finding balance is defended.

IFLA goes RightsCon!

This week Access Now’s RightsCon takes place in Brussels. IFLA is participating for the first time and does so by hosting a roundtable session on Friday 31 March 9am on digital privacy in the library:

Privacy for Everyone: Using Libraries to Promote Digital Privacy

The session will be chaired by FAIFE committee chair Martyn Wade and has an impressive line-up of speakers ready to share experiences and content that will help libraries promote and ensure digital privacy for all, inside and outside the library:

  • Damien Belvèze, Université de Rennes 1, who will talk about the why, how and what of arranging cryptoparties in libraries.
  • Seeta Peña Gangadharan, London School of Economics, who will present the Data Privacy Project which taught NYC library staff how information travels and is shared online.
  • Peter Krantz, National Library of Sweden, who will talk about the privacy checklist they’ve made for librarians to help them make sure their library is a digital privacy friendly environment for users.
  • Diego Naranjo, European Digital Rights (EDRi), who will present their Digital Defenders booklet for young people between 10-14 years and let us know the story behind it.
  • Melissa Romaine, Mozilla Foundation, who will talk about digital literacy projects Mozilla have run in collaboration with libraries.

I could write pages and pages (not that the A4 format applies to a blog) on libraries and privacy, but I think it’s a fact widely known that libraries historically have been defenders of their patrons’ privacy, e.g. by refusing to share records of materials checked out by the individual, providing a safe space for browsing information, and meeting other people.

It’s harder to apply this protection in a digital environment where personal data is both political and economic currency, and interlinked systems makes it harder to control where and how information is shared. The digital has done wonders for record keeping and accessibility, but at the same time it has compromised those values traditionally held in high regard by librarians (and championed especially by the IFLA FAIFE committee).

The technical development may seem to be too fast for librarians to keep up with, as it also brings so many other challenges: teaching people how to use a computer; how to lend an e-book; how to apply critical thinking; how to search in a database… basically, most librarians have full hands when it comes to catering the needs of a lifelong learning community trying to keep up with the latest digital goods and tools. Is there room for digital privacy?

Yes, there is! And in this session I hope people will find inspiration for new ways for digital rights advocates to collaborate with libraries to teach the average library visitor about encryption, cache, cookies, and webcams, whether it is through cascade training of librarians or co-hosting cryptoparties at the local library. Privacy is so important, we can leave no one behind.