Tag Archives: intellectual freedom

The 10-Minute International Librarian #74: Think of a way in which you can promote intellectual freedom

Libraries have a clear commitment to promoting access to information as a key pre-condition for the fulfilment of the rights to education, research, culture, democratic participation and development in general.

We work to combat barriers to this access, linked not just to resources, but also to policies which may risk censoring content.

Yet access is only one part of the broader concept of intellectual freedom. This also includes the possibility to share information – freedom of expression.

Indeed, the ability to apply existing information and create new knowledge is arguably just a logical continuation of the possibility to access. It is also of course what guarantees that there will be new works in future.

Libraries therefore have a strong interest in promoting broader intellectual freedom, with many already seeing promoting creativity and expression as central to their mandates.

So for our 74th 10-Minute International Librarian Exercise, think of a way in which you can promote intellectual freedom.

What can you do, not just to help readers access materials which they wouldn’t otherwise be able to read, but then to draw on this information, to express themselves?

Is it a question of skills, or of confidence? Are there restrictions that are holding people back, and which need to be removed?

What platforms can you provide for people to think freely, and realise their potential?

Share your ideas in the comments box below.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! Key Initiative 1.4: Shape public opinion and debate around open access and library values, including intellectual freedom and human rights

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.

What do we talk about when we talk about access? 10 Suggestions to support library advocacy

We talk a lot about the importance of access to information in advocacy around libraries.

This access is at the heart of what libraries themselves do of course, helping users to find the information that they need to take better decisions, and participate in the life of the community.

Our institutions have been doing this for thousands of years, helping leaders, researchers, creators and other citizens to achieve their missions.

In advocating, we focus on why this matters so much, underlining how, in different policy areas – healthcare, innovation, democracy itself – access to information helps deliver goals, and in turn, how libraries deliver this access in an equitable way.

However, in doing this, it’s worth keeping in mind the different issues that access encompasses, and the different struggles this can imply, if only to be clear for ourselves.

This blogs therefore looks at just ten different aspects of access, and how this can play out in work on library advocacy.

1) Access as the possibility to find a work in the library: libraries have a key role in ensuring that ability to pay does not become a determinant of whether people can enjoy their right to information. This applies as much to those who would not be able to buy textbooks or children’s books, as to those who may only need certain parts of a book, and are not ready to pay for the whole book just to access extracts.

This is why it is so important that libraries can acquire all types of material, without barriers. Unfortunately, refusals to sell to libraries (or only to do so under very restrictive terms) make this difficult, and arguably require further investigation.

2) Access as preservation: access is an ongoing priority, and one that is threatened by the loss of materials due to decay, destruction or other reasons. It is particularly important – for researchers, for citizens – to know that todays information will be available into the future, in order to make it possible to support re-evaluation and accountability.

For example, government records need to be saved to allow for future study into decisions taken, while science itself is based heavily on the idea that research results should be reproducible – i.e. future researchers can access the same materials and reproduce the results of experiments.

3) Access as (reliable) connectivity: with so much information available online, including many materials that may previously have been produced in physical formats, internet access has become almost unavoidable as a form of wider access to information.

IFLA focuses strongly on this, underlining the need for libraries and users to benefit from high quality connections that are reliable – it is unlikely that people and businesses will be ready to invest in internet-enabled activities and approaches if they cannot be sure that it will stay on.

4) Access as a lack of barriers: access is not just about whether the library itself can add – and maintain – works in their collections, or whether they can connect meaningfully to the internet. Access is about whether library users can take advantage of this possibility. To do this, we need to work towards the absence of practical barriers to use, such as those felt by people who live far from a library, or who face challenges linked to physical mobility or other disabilities.

A number of tools can help in this regard – the internet is an important one of course – as can the sort of reforms promoted by the Marrakesh Treaty, that helps ensure that copyright does not pose an unreasonable barrier to creating and sharing accessible format works. With over 100 countries now signed up to the Treaty, we can aim for universal coverage in the coming years.

5) Access as literacies: access is also, crucially, about the skills of the person receiving information to understand and make sense of it. The skills involved can go from basic literacy to much more advanced forms, including critical thinking. Especially for those trying to work through the wealth of information online, being able to find the right knowledge is vital.

Basic literacy has long been an area of library expertise and experience, with increasing efforts to take information literacy training out of academic libraries and into public ones, to the benefit of the whole population. A priority here is to ensure that such support continues to be available to all, throughout life .

6) Access as use: access can imply a relatively narrow way of using information – for example being able to take, open and read a book. However, while for some library users this may be enough – simply taking pleasure or interest from the words on the page – for others it is not. They need to be able to quote, analyse or otherwise use works. For them, access without the possibility to use is pointless.

This is a core point around much work on copyright, with libraries arguing that once they have legally acquired a work, a core set of uses should be possible without restrictions or additional payment needed. These uses should be seen as part of the original price paid. Clearly this would not count uses that could cause unreasonable harm to rightholders, but trying to licence every single type of use is a recipe for market failure.

7) Access as the counterpart of expression: as set out in the previous point, a key ingredient of access is the possibility to use the information found in future work. As well as copyright issues, this can also implicate wider ones about freedom of speech. This is because the possibility to access and use information is less powerful if there are then limits on what can be done with it due to censorship or other controls.

It goes without saying, as well, that the fact that there is a variety of information to access in the first place depends heavily on the possibility for creators to express themselves and produce works in the first place. This is why libraries are encouraged to do what they can to champion intellectual freedom.

8) Access as relevant content: closely linked to the first point is the importance that people can find information that is relevant to them. This can be a question of finding books and other materials in the right language, and that tackle the issues that matter for the reader.

Clearly, the internet has created exciting possibilities for people without access to publishing houses, distribution networks or radio stations to share their ideas. However, it can also encourage a narrowing of horizons onto a single global set of materials. A key challenge then for libraries is to understand what materials users need, and to identify and provide access to this, including by promoting further creativity,

9) Access as feeling welcome: closely linked to the previous point, as well as those on skills and disability, the possibility to engage meaningfully with information can depend in large part on the possibility to relax and focus. This raises the question of how to ensure that people feel welcome and comfortable in libraries – and other places where information is accessed.

This can make a big difference for people who may feel otherwise excluded, For example, those with low literacy may feel intimidated by libraries, or those looking for information about very personal issues may feel awkward otherwise. It is therefore important, as part of all policies focused on access, to help people feel at ease, and avoid steps that could discourage information seekers.

10) Access as privacy: while linked to the previous point about feeling comfortable, the value of privacy in information access cannot be underestimated. Feeling that you have someone looking over your shoulder (literally or virtually, thanks to cookies or other digital tools) can have a chilling effect, limiting what a user is ready to look for.

This is why protecting privacy in the library environment, and doing what is possible to help users of third-party services to keep themselves safe, is such an important part of ensuring that access is meaningful for all.


We hope that these ideas are useful for you in thinking about the ways in which we talk about access, and welcome further ideas in the comments below!


Sen and Sensibility: Why Libraries’ Universalism is Worth Protecting

Public libraries, as underlined in the IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, have a clear mandate to serve their entire communities. As such, they can be described as ‘universalist’ – for everyone, not just a selected group.

This is an increasingly unique characteristic of public services at a time of growing pressure to show that resources are being used most effectively.

This part of the nature of libraries’ work can lay them open to the accusation that they are serving people who do not need help, for example through lending books that readers could buy.

However, it is also backed up by the universalist message of the Declaration of Human Rights, itself cited in the IFLA Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom.

The question of whether and how far a public service should be limited touches on a long-standing debate in social policy about the merits of universal, as opposed to targeted benefits and services. It is also one where the work of one key contributor – Amartya Sen – has received a Nobel Prize.

So what does Sen tell us about the relevant merits of targeting vs universalism, and how does this affect libraries?


Targeting vs Universalism

On the side of those favouring targeting, there is an expression of concern about the apparent waste of public (or private) money that comes from serving people who do not need services.

Money and effort which could be spent on the poor goes to the rich. They argue that targeting can ensure that most – if not all – goes to those who are ostensibly in greatest difficulty.

The implication is that it is only people below a certain income who are able to access certain services or benefits. And too often, services for the poor risk becoming poor services.

However, there are strong criticisms of this approach, not least those of Amartya Sen, as mentioned in the introduction.

The means of working out who is eligible or not are far from perfect. It can be difficult to measure income – some will lie in order to gain support, others will hide their poverty out of pride.

This point is an important one. In many countries, it is seen as shameful to be poor. People do not want to admit that they do not have money, and so will avoid situations where they have to do this.

Targeting, it is argued also creates the risk of reducing incentives to improve your situation, given that this could lead to a withdrawal of support. Why work those extra hours that could take you over a certain threshold when it means you might end up worse off once support is cut?

Finally, targeting implies that the population involved are just that – targets – rather than agents in their own right, something that also risks damaging the self-respect of beneficiaries.

Sen does note that some adaptation of services may be valuable, for example due to disability, or social status. These can have a useful levelling-up effect.

However, they should come against a backdrop of universal support and services. Indeed, such an approach tends to be associated with greater overall equality.


Universalism in the Library

The work of libraries not only provides an example of universalism at work, but also brings in another key aspect of Sen’s thinking – that of ‘capabilities’.

Linked to his objection to the idea of the poor as being ‘targets’, he focuses on how to ensure that people in difficult situations have the possibility to improve their lives. These ‘capabilities’ allow for ‘functionings’ – taking part in economic, social and cultural life.

Key capabilities in this regard are skills such as literacy and the right and possibility to share and receive information.

Libraries provide these, as underlined in the Development and Access to Information report. And of course, crucially, they do this in a universal way, building capabilities for all.

In doing do, they provide a means of participating in culture which neither excludes people because they have too little money (like the market), or because they have too much (risking stigmatising users as being poor).

The same goes for education and research.

Finally, by offering a space where everyone is welcome, libraries also contribute to a sense of community – something that Sen and others have underlined as being a function of welfare systems more broadly.

Libraries are one of the few institutions in our societies which are genuinely open for all. This is something worth protecting, given the contribution this makes both to economic and social goals.

The emphasis in key IFLA texts – not least the Public Library Manifesto and the Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom, which respectively turn 25 and 20 this year – on access for, and service to, all, are as relevant as ever.


Read further:
Cautherley, George (2016), Should Social Welfare be Universal or Means-Tested, in EJInsight, 18 April 2016, Accessible here: http://www.ejinsight.com/20160418-should-social-welfare-be-universal-or-means-tested/

Mkandwire, Thandika (2005), Targeting and Universalism in Developing Countries, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/meetings/2005/docs/Mkandawire.pdf

Sen, Amartya (1995), The political economy of targeting, in Public spending and the poor: theory and evidence, edited by D. van de Walle & K. Nead (John Hopkins University Press, 1995), pp. 11-24. Accessible here: http://www.adatbank.ro/html/cim_pdf384.pdf

Will Your Collections Be Next? Library Amongst Internet Archive Pages Flagged as Holding ‘Terrorist Content’

The news that the French Internet Referral Unit has flagged over 550 URLs on the Internet Archive as terrorist content is a serious concern for libraries, not least the Smithsonian Libraries, whose page there is among those singled out.

Clearly governments have a duty to protect against terrorism, as well as to ensure that the laws they pass are effectively enforced. The past two decades, however, have seen this move from being a duty to an obsession, with those agencies (and lawmakers) tasked with acting in these areas allowed to proceed with little if any regard for the other things that governments are supposed to protect, such as free speech and access to information.

This has already impacted upon the work of libraries, with requests from security agencies to access the records of library users. Some libraries have worked to minimise the impact of this by deleting user records as soon as legal retention obligations are finished.

However, it seems that the focus now is on content.  As institutions that also host and give access to a lot of this – either through their websites or through platforms – libraries have a major stake in any rules that determine their ability to collect, preserve and give access to material.

IFLA’s own Intellectual Freedom statement demands freedom in this, with professional judgement playing the key role, specifically underlining that: ‘Libraries shall ensure that the selection and availability of library materials and services is governed by professional considerations and not by political, moral and religious views’.

As before, there may well be situations where materials are not appropriate for the open internet (at least not without safeguards). However, decisions to block materials need to be taken in a responsible, transparent, and proportionate way.

The direction of travel indicated both by this move by the French Internet Referral Unit, as well as legislation due to be voted on in the European Parliament this week, does not do this. Here are three reasons why:


A claim of terrorist content can affect any library website, anywhere…: clearly the Internet Archive is an American organisation, although one that is famously creating a copy in Canada for fear of interference from the US government. New European legislation on terrorist content would also apply to any website to which EU internet users have access (which, by default, is all of them).

Libraries themselves are increasingly using the internet as a means of facilitating access to their collections, fulfilling their mission to spread information and knowledge. Many have invested heavily in building platforms, or in digitising works to be held elsewhere. There is no fundamental reason why this access should be blocked for users in some parts of the world.


… and any type of content…: one of the striking points in the Internet Archive case is the sheer breadth of the requests, with entire category pages for ‘Television’, ‘the Grateful Dead’ and of course ‘Smithsonian Libraries’. These pages contain thousands of pieces of material, all of which risk being taken offline at least temporarily.

As the Internet Archive itself points out, even if there are guidelines about what content can or should be defined as terrorist, it is not clear that the French Internet Referral Unit has even applied its own principles here.


… without any serious opportunities for appeal: the breadth of application of the French Internet Referral Unit’s own rules, as well as of upcoming EU ones, already massively fails any test of proportionality. The situation is made only worse by the very short deadlines given to websites to respond. In the case of the Internet Archive, this is 24 hours – a very short period of time to go through millions of items and carry out a proper check.

The new rules being discussed in the European Parliament would be worse still, with only an hour for response. And of course Europe’s new copyright rules imply that content suspected of infringement should not even appear at all. Without serious steps to protect the work of libraries – and their users’ right of access to information – it may be inevitable that sites need to comply first, and respect fundamental rights later.


Clearly the loss of any sense of proportion in applying rules around online content is not unique to Europe. Mexico has already passed laws which allow content to be taken online on the mere suspicion of infringement, and there are efforts to do the same in South Korea. The claims by the French Internet Referral Unit do, however, underline the risks that short-sighed national (or regional) decision-making can have on libraries everywhere.

Intellectual Freedom and Access to Information: Some Emerging Issues

In its internal structures, IFLA deals with copyright and other legal matters and freedom of access to information and freedom of expression through different committees. This does not mean that the two issues are not connected, or of course that the committees work in isolation. Indeed, the two work together on ongoing policy issues, and co-organise a session at World Library and Information Congresses.

The most recent such session – held in Wroclaw in August 2017 – focused on open access. This has an obvious importance from a freedom of access to information point of view – indeed, Article 27(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, underlines that ‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits’.

However, in recent weeks, there has been renewed attention on a number of lists and blogs about whether open access policies – and in particular an obligation on researchers receiving public funding to publish open access – are compatible with intellectual freedom. This blog raises four questions for libraries about the cross-over between issues relating to access to information, copyright and intellectual freedom.


Do Open Access Mandates Restrict Freedom to Publish?

This is a contentious topic at the moment. In Germany, a number of academics have challenged an open access mandate implemented by a regional government, arguing that this limited their choice of where to publish their works. Given that the career progression of researchers can depend on publishing in a journal with the best possible ‘impact factor’, it is understandable that in the short term, it is frustrating to have to publish in a journal that has a lower impact factor.

Nonetheless, others have questioned whether an obligation to publish open access is a restriction on academic freedom. A blog by Dr Danny Kingsley from Cambridge University’s Office for Scholarly Communications sets out the case against this argument. Others, such as Rick Anderson, have suggested that open access publishing limits the opportunity for an author to turn their works into (paid-for) books or other works in future.

  • Libraries have already expressed their support for open access, in particular for publicly funded research (Statement of 2011). What can we do to convince researchers of the value of open access?


Can We Have Freedom of Expression Without Freedom to Publish?

Arguably, no. Under the current dominant way of doing things, the publishing industry does invaluable work in supporting authors (i.e. through the advances that give them the time and freedom to write), and ensuring the quality that gets to the market. If publishers are subject to censorship, persecution or harassment, they are less able to fulfill this role.

The importance of freedom to publish has been highlighted by the success of the International Publishers Association’s Prix Voltaire, which honours publishers who have fought to defend this. Libraries have a strong interest in promoting freedom to publish, that this is a key factor in ensuring that libraries can acquire works for the benefit of their users. Keep an eye on the International Publishers Association website for details on when to nominate.

  • What can libraries do to support those who have the courage to exercise the freedom to publish in the face of restrictions and oppression?


Is Freedom to Publish the Same Thing as Intellectual Freedom?

Again, no. Intellectual freedom is broader. Freedom to publish is just one part – an essential part – of this broader freedom, in just the same way as formal publishing is just one form of expression.

For example, intellectual freedom relies on the possibility for quotation and criticism, without payments or requirements to seek permission over and above what is necessary to access a work in the first place. Nonetheless, only quotation is currently the subject of an obligatory limitation or exception to copyright under the Berne Convention, although not all countries or regions (such as the European Union) have implemented this properly. There is no obligation to allow for an exception for criticism, satire or parody – itself a serious concern.

Creators benefit from more flexible copyright exceptions and limitations. As the Authors’ Alliance has underlined, fair use – a flexible approach based on principles rather than rigid rules can empower writers. Clearly those who choose to live by their writing need to have the possibility to earn enough to do this. The need for a balance in copyright exceptions which both allows writers to exercise their rights, but then also have the possibility to be remunerated, is the goal.

  • How can libraries make the case for balanced exceptions and limitations as allowing both for intellectual freedom and enjoying the fruit of their work?


Electronic Access: Sacrificing Privacy for Convenience?

Intellectual freedom also depends on the confidence and safety of researchers. While the Internet and other digital tools have massively facilitated access to information, this is not without risks or costs.

In IFLA’s work on licensing, it has been clear that the shift to electronic resources has too often meant that exceptions and limitations to copyright in law have been made meaningless. In addition, electronic access makes it much easier to track user behaviour. As IFLA’s 2015 Statement on Privacy in the Library Environment underlines, excessive data collection can have a chilling effect on society. The challenge then is what constitutes ‘excessive’.

Will a potential shift to giving access to academic literature by individual user, rather than by IP address, mean that researchers can no longer benefit from privacy in what sources and works they are consulting (see this this piece by Lisa Hinchliffe, and this by Aaron Tay for more)? The same applies to potential obligations to use rightholder APIs to undertake text and data mining, rather than being able to use their own (see IFLA’s position on TDM in the ongoing EU copyright reforms). In both cases, the potential to build up a profile of the behaviour researchers grows, and with it the risks to privacy.

  • How can libraries understand the challenges posed to researcher privacy, and act to educate and protect their users?


One blog is certainly not enough to get into any depth on these points. But with discussions current on all of these themes, there is certainly plenty of cross-over where further reflection is valuable.