Tag Archives: HRD2018

2 Days to Human Rights Day: The Right to Culture

Image for 2 Days to Human Rights Day Blog - the right to cultural participationAt two days to Human Rights Day 2018, the second-to-last of IFLA’s daily blogs looks at the right to participate in the cultural life of the community, or in short, the right to culture. 

Amongst policy areas, culture is often seen as one of the least important. It rarely grabs the headlines in the same way as security, education or defence.

As such, it can seem like an easy area to cut when there is a need to make savings. Something that is nice, but not necessary.

Yet the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers a strong counter-argument. Article 27 underlines that ‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community’.

This offers a confirmation of the central role of culture in the development of individuals and society, and the duty of governments to ensure that all can access it.

This is also an affirmation of one of the core roles of libraries, alongside promoting education and research. Our institutions provide a gateway to literature, from children’s books and bestsellers to the classics. They are key vehicles for delivering cultural policy – and human rights.

Yet as with the rest of the Universal Declaration, there is no obligation to deliver access to culture in any particular way. Is it more appropriate to focus efforts on those who cannot afford access in any other way, or should solutions be universal?

This blog looks at this question from the perspective of library services.


Levellers: Targeted Support to Enhance Access

Culture is not necessarily cheap. For people to be able to devote their time to writing, to theatre, or to other creative activities, they need – and deserve – support. Indeed, Article 27b of the Universal Declaration recognises this right to the material benefits of creativity.

Many others add value, through perfecting works, and then helping distribute them.

A variety of mechanisms are in place to support this activity, such as subsidies, benefits, or tax cuts. Yet selling works – books, films, plays, art – to consumers remains the key source of income in most cases.

For consumers who have a solid income already, this is clearly not a problem.

Yet this is not the case for everyone. In the case of young parents, for example, this can be crucial, as the cost of buying all the books a child will read can be high.

Libraries do indeed have a particularly important role in providing access to culture for people who may not otherwise be served by the market. This of course includes those who, in future, will earn more and buy more books.

Evidence from the United States indicates higher level of reliance on libraries by groups more likely to be marginalised. This suggests the potential of libraries as ‘levellers’ when it comes to access to culture.


A Universal Offer

While targeted support may be more cost-efficient in the immediate term, it implies differentiating between groups in society.

It is unfortunately the case that when a service is seen as something for the ‘poor’, people will start to avoid it out of pride. Some will be excluded, despite the need they face.

This is why the nature of libraries as a universal public service is so important. They are explicitly for everyone, not just specific groups.

And while they may have a particular duty to help people more at risk of exclusion from culture – such as those with low literacy or people with disabilities – this is not at the expense of their broader community role.

Libraries themselves work to build collections and services that respond to the needs of everyone.

And while this may mean that the possibility to borrow books is open to all, this can act as a powerful discovery tool, giving new authors an opportunity to meet new readers. Libraries, of course, also buy content, providing an important source of income to authors.

The universal focus of libraries also makes them more attractive as a meeting place for all members of the community. With few other public spaces for groups to come together, this can be a key driver of social cohesion.


The right of access to culture is perhaps one of the strongest bases for the existence – and activity of libraries.

In order to drive equity – equality of outcomes – they may need to make special efforts with some groups. But, crucially, it is their universal focus – to allow everyone to participate in cultural life – that can make libraries so effective.


Read also IFLA’s submission to the call for contributions on the tenth anniversary of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights.

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.

6 Days to Human Rights Day: The Right to Education is The Right to a Library

The second in our series of daily blogs leading up to the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights focuses on education. This is also the subject of a major global conference – the Global Education Meeting – taking place in Brussels on 3-5 December.

It underlines the vital and complementary role that libraries play to schools and other formal education institutions in ensuring that everyone has the possibility to learn and improve their life.


The right to education features in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a key enabling right, one that should give everyone the possibility to play a full part in society in the future. This is borne out by the evidence – some of the most spectacular stories of successful development in the last century have been based on investment in teaching and learning.

Yet when we discuss education, it is easy to focus on schools and universities – ‘formal education’. Indeed, many people associate learning with sitting in a classroom or lecture hall, and absorbing knowledge.

Of course, many libraries are based within schools and universities, providing students and teachers with materials and skilled support. They can even be the heart of their institutions, as is the case for some school libraries.

However, learning is much broader than this. And it needs to be. The world we live in, and the jobs we do, are evolve and become very different from those for which schools prepared us. Formal education can offer a valuable starting point, but it cannot be enough.

This is where the world’s 350 000 public libraries can come in. As was recognised in the original UNESCO Public Library Manifesto in 1949, libraries are ‘a living force for popular education’.

Many of the countries which do best in terms of formal education also invest heavily in their libraries, such as Finland and South Korea, in order to promote the right to education throughout life.

This is just as true today as almost 70 years ago. This blog looks at two ways in which libraries complement formal education.


Helping Young Learners in the Community

In many countries, libraries have a strong focus on supporting young learners. They are part of the ecosystem that ensures that children have access to books from a young age, especially when parents are not able to buy books themselves.

There are many examples, for example those run through Boekstart in the Netherlands, which provides valuable support to parents – and a complement to schools – in developing early years literacy.

As children grow, they offer a different environment – quieter often than school or home – which for some at least can make a real difference to their chances of success.

Libraries can also fill in gaps where schools are not able to offer the resources – or spaces – for young learners. Many of the projects run by EIFL’s Public Library Innovation Programme focus on giving young people access to tools, materials, and support they may not get elsewhere.

Libraries can also provide skills, for example media literacy or coding clubs, which help children grow, develop, and seize opportunities.

As set out in an IFLA article for World Teachers Day, librarians and teachers are natural partners.


Education Throughout Life

Of course education does not stop at any particular age. As highlighted in the introduction, changing technologies and changing jobs mean that people need to continue to learn.

Libraries can provide a vital gateway in this respect. Many offer basic education about how to make best use of the internet, for example to access eGovernment services or look for a job.

Some provide more advanced course in coding for example, or programmes aimed at personal fulfilment, such as creative writing or local history.

They can be attractive – and effective – as venues for learning precisely because they are public buildings, but are not as intimidating as formal education institutions.

They are particularly important for refugees, the focus of this year’s Global Education Meeting. For people arriving in a new country, at whatever age, there is always a need to learn, be it language, skills, or simply how the system works.

Libraries across host countries have looked to reach out, providing specific resources and support, especially around languages. And in refugee camps, actors such as Libraries Without Border are bringing these benefits to people who might otherwise struggle to carry on learning.


If the right to education is to be a reality throughout life, the need for libraries is clear. Libraries need to be a core part of education, training and lifelong learning strategies, engaged in conversations, and supported accordingly.