In many parts of the world, 1 April is a day for playing pranks on others – April Fool’s Day. In some countries, there’s a tradition even of newspapers or other media publishing hoax stories as jokes – to take two examples from the BBC, the story of the spaghetti harvest in 1957, or of flying penguins in 2008.
Of course, with much concern at the moment about the impact of fake news, published with more sinister motivations than just to amuse people, it’s clear that it’s not only on 1 April that it’s necessary to apply critical thinking to what we read, hear or watch.
To mark the day, we’ve gathered a collection of five imaginary headlines which are definitely not true, together with short discussions about why (or why not!) we might wish they were.
World Heritage Convention extended to documentary heritage!
The 1972 World Heritage Convention is a crucial agreement in the history of international cooperation and norm setting around culture and heritage. As well as recognising the importance of heritage itself, it underlined the key connection between human and natural heritage.
On the basis of the Convention, there is an ongoing process of work bringing together governments and civil society, and of course the well known World Heritage Programme and its designated World Heritage Sites.
However, the definition of heritage in the Convention does not cover the sort of documentary heritage held by libraries. Indeed, while there are Conventions for underwater heritage, intangible heritage, and cultural diversity, there is nothing at Convention-level specifically concerning the sorts of works in library collections.
Ensuring that the importance of library collections is properly recognised – and so also of the work that libraries do – is a key area of work for IFLA in its advocacy, as well as in its support of the teams at UNESCO working with documentary heritage.
We cannot realise the full potential of culture and cultural heritage to support wider societal goals if we do not consider all elements of culture properly.
Debates about the role of major digital platforms extend to scholarly communications!
Discussions are intensifying in different parts of the world about whether and what action should be taken in response to concerns about the size and power of major digital platforms.
A key issue has been not just their dominance in particular markets, such as search, but rather what happens when they are active in different markets, and their power in one gives them an unfair advantage in others. For example, Google has faced challenges linked to whether Google Shopping results are prioritised in web search results.
However, it is not only at the level of the traditional internet platforms that there are concerns. Within the scholarly communication field, in addition the dominance of journal publishing by a small number of large companies, there have also been worries about what happens when other research services or infrastructure are bought up by the same companies.
Initiatives such as SCOSS are working to keep them independent, and so resist situations where researchers find themselves locked-in to specific companies’ services.
For the time being, the energy spent on chasing (admittedly much larger, but sometimes less profitable) American internet companies has not yet extended to the scholarly communications field, but a deeper look would certainly be helpful in order to understand the situation – and the risks – better.
New Sustainable Development Goal to be Added for Culture!
IFLA has placed the SDGs at the heart of our advocacy work, not just because they represent a core area of work of the United Nations, but also because they provide so much scope for talking about all the ways in which libraries contribute to progress.
Of course, one of the risks with being important across different policy areas is that no single ministry, agency or team can fully take account of the value libraries bring.
The same goes with culture, including cultural institutions like libraries. As the Culture2030Goal campaign review of culture in SDG implementation underlined, there are plenty of agreements about the cross-cutting importance of culture, but relatively little practical action to realise this in national development plans and reports.
A key reason for this is likely to be the fact that culture was not recognised as a standalone goal (as well as a cross-cutting factor of development). The chances, of course, of amending the 2030 Agenda are very low, and so efforts for now need to focus on ensuring that governments do more to integrate culture into planning.
But looking ahead to what comes after the 2030 Agenda, maybe this headline could be true one day?
Right to a Library Declared by Human Rights Council!
The freedom to seek, impart and receive information – Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – is at the heart of IFLA’s values, and of the work of libraries globally.
Indeed, libraries have a role in delivering on many of the rights set out not just in the Universal Declaration, but also in other Conventions, such as that on the Rights of People with Disabilities or on the Rights of the Child.
In parallel, in countries where there is library legislation, this is often based on an obligation on actors (often at the local or regional level) to provide library services, with these described to a greater or lesser level of detail, in effect setting out that people should have a right to a library (see the EBLIDA study for more).
What chance is there of such a provision making it to the international level? This is unclear, both because the right to a variety of library services is already covered by the texts mentioned above, and because trying to set out any specific level of library service to be provided could end up risk becoming a ceiling rather than a floor.
At the same time, stronger recognition of the role of libraries as part of the infrastructure for delivering on human rights for all is always welcome, and IFLA’s Advisory Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression is active in underlining this role in submissions to the Human Rights Council, building up the bank of examples that can be used in advocacy.
Amazon to Open a Physical Library!
A lot has been made of Amazon beginning to open physical bookshops, alongside supermarkets and other services, given that of course the company has traditionally been seen as harmful to retail. There are 24 dedicated bookstores, and 34 shops selling books and other products across the US already.
The venture into physical stores may likely be down to a recognition that for many things, the physical experience is important, both in terms of making choices, and simply for wellbeing.
Of course, Amazon also has its Prime service, offering subscribers wide access to eBooks for a monthly fee. Could a next logical step be to develop, effectively, a physical subscription library?
There could be arguments in favour, at least for the company. Greater proximity to, and interaction with, readers is valuable, as of course is information about what and how they read. Operating a library could also open up segments of the population which cannot, or can only sometimes, afford to buy books.
Of course the downside, from a library point of view, would be that any such initiative would clearly have a commercial focus, and so lose the emphasis on meeting the needs of readers (rather than maximising profits). There would be little incentive to provide the wide range of other services that libraries offer, and of course there could concerns about how reader data would or could be used.
For all these reasons, libraries should be in a position to hold their ground if they can clearly articulate their value, although as will be underlined in an upcoming interview, concern about the role of Amazon is a reality in other areas.