Tag Archives: research

Not Victims but Vectors of Change: Libraries, Climate Action and Peace

Climate change, if left untackled, risks not only being felt in an an ever-more-frequent series of extreme weather events, but also in a growing pressure on our socieites.

These pressures – less land, fewer resources, higher migration – have in the past been the cause of conflict. Without action, there is a justifiable fear that this could happen again.

As the United Nations Secretary-General sets out in his introduction to this year’s International Day of Peace, this is why it is important to address climate change in order to increase the chances of peace.

For libraries, both conflict and climate change can all too easily be seen as externalities – things that happen to our institutions without any possibility to respond. It is certainly true that it is hard to forget images of roofs blown off – by winds or bombs – and collections waterlogged or burnt.

However, libraries are far from powerless. For the reasons set out in this blog, they are not victims, but rather vectors of progress, helping to tackle climate change, and so preserve peace.


Better Prepared: Supporting the Reseach that Saves Lives

Clearly a core role of libraries is to support the production of, and access to, research. It is only thanks to the possibilty for experts to draw on evidence from the past, and to work together, that we have the understanding we have today of climate change and its impacts.

Libraries have of course done this for centuries, making it possible for scientists to take the work of those who have gone before, and go further. This has happened at a giant scale in climate science.

There is also a realisation that a complete understanding of climate change will also rely on bringing research in different disciplines together. Knowing what is going on is not just a question of meteorology, environmental science or any other single field, but will require insights from many different areas.

Libraries are already looking to do this, for example through their support to public health, or in realising the potential of old travel reports and maps in showing how our world is being altered over time. Open access will facilitate this significantly, as highlighted in the UN Global Sustainable Development Report.

Through this work, governments are better able to see what action is needed in order to relieve or reduce the pressures that can lead to conflict.


Behaviour Change, not Climate Change

Of course the fact that governments know they should be doing something does not mean that they will do it. A key means of ensuring that they do – as well as of reducing the factors that can drive unrest within communities – is by acting at the local level also.

Libraries have a key role to play here also. As set out in IFLA’s paper on libraries and sustainability, two key roles of libraries are as examples and educators, building understanding of the issues among citizens, and helping them to learn how to change their own behaviour.

This can be a key trigger, and support, for government action. Meanwhile, the support the libraries provide for the development of new technologies and new ideas will feed into the creation of new businesses and new jobs in future, as well as offering new ways of carrying out more traditional professions – such as farming – in a changed world.

This complements other work that libraries carry out to create a culture of peace, as highlighted in our previous work in this area in 2017 and 2018.


Libraries, therefore, are far from powerless faced with climate change and conflict. Instead, through acting on the one, they have a real contribution to make to efforts to reduce both, and in doing so, to build a more peaceful, more sustainable world.

Intellectual Property Is Important for…

We often forget that intellectual property rights – such as copyright, patents or trademarks – are not ends in themselves, but instruments at the service of development, creativity, innovation and welfare. Today, for World Intellectual Property Day 2019, we want to show this side of intellectual property, and how it has an impact on libraries and similar institutions.

Like all tools, they can be used well, or badly, and in some circumstances may even simply not be relevant. Copyright can contribute to these objectives, as long as the right legislation is in place.

However, it is not the case that more rights mean better outcomes. Scholars have underlined on several occasions how more flexibility contributes to development, rather than stronger protection. Exceptions and limitations are therefore key for many public interest activities. Copyright is not complete and does not fulfill its purpose without them.

In particular, when copyright laws are only written with the industry or and legal practitioners, there is a tendency to forget its strong impact on other sorts of institutions or activities. Unbalanced, unrealistic or unreasonably complicated laws can be a real problem for cultural heritage institutions for instance, whose staff have the important duty of understanding and interpreting copyright, and guiding users, students, authors and researchers through what they can and cannot do.

Copyright needs to be mindful of its impact beyond the most obvious commercial activities. Here are a few examples of where intellectual property has an impact, and so where relevant stakeholders’ views should be taken into account. Libraries, of course, have a key interest in all of these:

Copyright is important for cultural heritage

 Cultural heritage institutions hold collections of items protected by copyright law. Even if some are not necessarily protected, it is sometimes difficult to confirm this (when did the author die? Should the work be considered as being subject to copyright?).

Any activity involving such materials is then affected by copyright law, from public lending (in some countries), to preservation, to digitising and making available orphan works. Unless copyright adapts to support these activities, it will fail to promote this public policy goal.

Copyright is important for research

 Here again, decisions taken around copyright have a major impact. Most research material, for example articles, monographs or theses, have copyright protection. Apart from traditional issues such as plagiarism, or quotation (which should be protected by an exception under international law), new challenges arise as technology evolves.

Text and data mining (TDM), a form of processing information by machine, often involves copying, and so raises questions of whether the content processed is protected by copyright. If it is, then either permission is needed for every single work protected (impossible to manage), or a solution such as an exception is needed.

Exceptions for TDM, as well as other research copying, can make a real contribution to strengthening innovation and scholarship, while protecting the market for original works.

 Copyright is important for education

 Education is all about exchanging and sharing information. Information is present in the classroom, in forms of textbooks or online material displayed, at home with homework, or during examinations. Copyright has a strong influence on how education is provided, as it is applicable to most materials.

Traditionally produced textbooks, as well as digital course ware, play a helpful role, alongside open educational resources and materials produced specifically by teachers for their classes. Such materials should benefit from copyright protection, in order to reward the work of authors.

However, such rules should not stand in the way of educational uses which do not harm markets, or indeed make it unduly hard to create and share open educational resources. As set out in the provisional report by Professor Raquel Xalabarder at the most recent meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, the primary goal must be to make it easy for teachers to teach.

Copyright should be seen as a tool, amongst others, for achieving broader ends, including creativity, innovation, and the public interest activities such as the ones described in this above.



The Economist and the Librarian: What the Nobel Prize Tells Us about Open Access and Libraries

Open Access and Libraries

Paul Romer, one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Economics 2018, has been recognised for his work on how innovation can allow for continued growth. His insights into the nature and role of knowledge – and in particular of access to knowledge – offer welcome support for some of the key functions of libraries in providing access and skills to all.

Libraries and economics are rarely seen together in the same sentence. Indeed, libraries are seen by many as the reverse of economics – a public service aimed at promoting well-being. A long way away from business and profits.

They are, arguably, the answer to the failures of free market economics, which would risk seeing people on low incomes, or who are otherwise disadvantaged, neglected by businesses.

However, the Nobel prize for economics offered a couple of weeks ago to Paul Romer, alongside William Nordhaus, provides an important affirmation of what libraries do.

Paul Romer’s key achievement has been to create models that explain the contribution of research and innovation to long-term growth. The key document here is his 1990 article on Endogenous Technological Change.

Rather than seeing the development of new ideas it as something external, Romer underlines that it was possible – in theory as well as fact – for economies to keep on growing thanks to investing in research and innovation.

Importantly, this also meant that it wasn’t just the number of people, or the amount of capital (machines, computers, investment) that determined growth, but the skills of the population – human capital – that counts.


Why Knowledge – and Access – Matters

The key factor in Romer’s calculations is the unique nature of knowledge.

He underlines that knowledge – ideas – are not ‘rival’. Unlike a piece of food or clothing, one person having an idea does not mean that someone else cannot. Ideas are not exhausted by being known or used.

They are also not easy to keep to yourself. Economists talk about excludability – the possibility to prevent other people from using things. This is easy with a piece of food or clothing, but not so much with ideas and knowledge.

There are intellectual property rights, which create legal possibilities to exclude others from ideas as a means of ensuring some return on investment. However, as Romer’s model sets out, this exclusion is only ever partial.

Because in Romer’s model, it is the fact that knowledge is accessible – that it contributes to the sum of human knowledge – that means it can have such a positive impact on growth.

Once an idea or piece of research is produced, it feeds into the work of others, who can then come up with new ideas and research. While intellectual property rights stand in the way of reproducing and selling the same piece of work, it is possible for everyone to be inspired by it, and go further.

This removes the limits that a certain population – or amount of capital – places on growth. Thanks to wise use of knowledge, promoting accessibility while finding means of rewarding creators for their work, it becomes easier to sustain the growth that pays for crucial public services.


Libraries and Open Access

There is plenty here that speaks to the role of libraries.

As institutions dedicated to supporting access to knowledge, libraries play an important role in realising Romer’s key point that innovation benefits from full access to the stock of existing ideas.

Romer underlines the importance of trade in facilitating the spread of ideas and innovation. Libraries, through cross-border activities, help achieve the same.

Open Access plays a vital role here. Free and meaningful access makes a reality of Romer’s suggestion that new ideas join a stock that is available to researchers and innovators everywhere as a basis for further progress.

Paywalls risk weakening this effect, and this potential.

For researchers in countries at risk of being left behind, they can lock them out completely. One of the more chilling conclusions of Romer’s work is that in some situations, there risks being no incentive to invest in research, seriously damaging the country’s growth prospects. We need to fight against this.

Clearly, free does not always mean accessible. If there is no effort to make a piece of research easy to discover and use, it will not really join the stock of knowledge out there promoting human progress.

Libraries help here also through managing repositories, developing standards, and helping researchers find what they need.

Libraries also respond to Romer’s key policy recommendation – the value of developing human capital (skills) in an economy. This – rather than efforts to extract money from those who make further use of ideas in order further to support rightholders – is the most practical way to boost innovation.


Paul Romer’s ideas have had a major impact on how governments, and intergovernmental organisations think about growth, and how to support it. While not mentioned in his key article, supporting libraries and open access seems a good way to go about it.