Tag Archives: universal declaration of human rights

The 10-Minute International Librarian #50: Re-read the universal declaration of human rights

A key argument for the existence of libraries is not just that they are useful for their communities, but also deliver on key rights.

Central to this is the right of access to information, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, agreed in 1948.

Spelt out in full, this gives everyone freedom of expression, including the rights to seek, receive and impart information.

This is Article 19 of the Declaration, but there are 29 others!

A number of these refer to key issues for libraries, such as education, privacy, cultural participation and beyond.

These can be helpful as you thinking about your own work in an international context, as well as provide references for your advocacy.

So for our 50th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, re-read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Think about which articles refer to issues which matter for libraries, or where libraries can contribute.

You could even write down a couple of ideas about how you, through your work, you deliver on each of the articles you identify.

Share your ideas about which articles matter for libraries, and how you contribute in the comments below.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 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 below.

7 Days to Human Rights Day: Libraries and Freedom from Discrimination

In the first of seven daily blogs in the run up to Human Rights Day, and to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, today’s post looks at Article 7: Freedom from Discrimination.


Article 7 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights includes the statement that: ‘All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination’.

While discrimination comes in many forms, it is undeniable that people with disabilities are particularly exposed to it. Thanks either to active prejudice, or a failure to take account of their needs, they often experience less access to opportunities to learn and gain skills, and in turn greater levels of poverty and unemployment.

Libraries have a duty to all of their users. In a number of countries, library laws and policies underline that users with special needs deserve specific support.

This makes sense. Those facing greater difficulties to integrate into society may have greater need for information, for example to identify opportunities or support, or find guidance for dealing with health issues. They of course, also, have equal rights to education (Article 26), free expression (Article 19), and participation in the cultural life of the community (Article 27), all rights that libraries help realise.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, of which 3 December is the anniversary, underlines these points, as a presentation from this year’s World Library and Information Congress stresses.

In order to deliver this, libraries are not only looking to ensure that their existing services are accessible, but in many cases are designing specialised programmes to reach out to users with disabilities. Such programmes, while ‘positively’ discriminating in favour of people with disabilities, can make an important contribution to ensuring ‘equity’ – i.e. that everyone enjoys the same outcomes.

This blog is necessarily short. A survey of libraries carried out last year by IFLA’s Section on Libraries Serving People with Special Needs (LSN) offers a wider view. And we know that there is still more taking place beyond this.


Library Services and Universal Design

The idea of Universal Design refers to the idea that spaces – and services – should be designed to make life easier for everyone.

Indeed, this was the subject of a session at the latest World Library and Information Congress, underlining the links between this and human rights, and the guidelines produced at both the national and global level to make a reality of it.

There are many examples of universal design in practice in libraries. At the Russian State Library for Young Adults, for example, there have not only been efforts to adapt buildings, but also to ensure that users with special needs can access them at will, just as any other user might.

In Catalonia, a project on universal design has seen innovative technologies used both to support physical accessibility, provide materials, and offer relevant training to staff. With a number of libraries based in historic buildings, this work is not simple.

In Latin America also, discussions around the Marrakesh Treaty have led to training initiatives aimed at raising awareness of disability issues and available tools to respond.

Of course, access to books remains a key reason for people to come to the library. IFLA sections have played a major role in helping to establish standards for accessible books and other media. Partners have emerged focusing on accessible format books for library users, and there are welcome steps in Australia, for example, to ensure that all books published are accessible from the start.

Finally, and within library associations themselves, there are welcome steps to ensure the accessibility of conferences, notably in the United States, Norway and Sweden.


Going Further

Clearly work to adapt library spaces, services and collections to make them accessible to all is necessary. It is a key principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that everyone should be able to benefit from this.

But there is also an argument for specific efforts to ensure that everyone benefits from services. It may not be enough to ensure that everyone can access a building, when they may find it difficult even to leave their homes. As with others, users with special needs may well need books and materials that reflect their needs and experiences.

Such steps can be important in providing equity – fair outcomes, rather than just fair opportunities. Given that all have a right to education, access to information and participation in cultural life, ensuring that people with disabilities can also realise their rights has to be an objective.

Libraries around the world are therefore also looking to develop tailored services, to reach out to those with special needs, rather than wait for them to come through the doors. The opportunities provided by digital technologies can be particularly powerful in this respect, as experience from Kenya indicates.

Such activities can often involve partnerships, as a number of examples from the United States indicate. Here, library spaces and services combined well with external groups to allow for projects such as Autism-friendly book discussions, sensory-friendly Saturdays. The creation of targeted book-clubs also featured in the Catalonian initiative mentioned above.

In Guangdong Province, China, accessibility principles were introduced for library buildings some time ago. But after 2000, there was a new focus on efforts to offer ‘extended’ services, with more visits to the homes of people with special needs and dedicated clubs.

Finally, the Marrakesh Treaty allows for people with print disabilities and the libraries that serve them to bypass some of the copyright laws that lead to the ‘book famine’ – the chronic shortage of books in formats for people with print disabilities. Such laws are not (yet) in place for other library users, and so represent an effort to go further in order to help people with print disabilities achieve equity.



Clearly libraries are working to deliver their obligation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not to discriminate, in particular against people with disabilities. Clearly this is an ongoing process, as a study of Nigerian University Libraries underlines. IFLA’s Library Services to People with Special Needs Section is working hard to provide guidelines, and support training and other efforts to move forwards, with a summary of their work presented at the World Library and Information Congress.

There are also steps that others can take to help in this respect. Effective ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, with no unnecessary or harmful costs or restrictions on libraries and users is crucial. IFLA encourages all countries to ratify and implement the Treaty, and to extend coverage (where possible) to people with other disabilities, so that all should benefit.

Here, but Not Evenly Distributed: Libraries, Innovation and the Right to Science

Every innovation with global impact nonetheless starts somewhere. The World Wide Web was conceived of at CERN in Geneva. Radio in Bologna, Italy, block printing in China.

Between the moment of invention – or discovery – and worldwide uptake, there is a more or less rapid spread, through communication, trade, and imitation.

Who is able to benefit from the results of scientific research and innovation (and when) has a major impact on development. A key example today is still the internet, to which only half of the world’s population currently have access.

This situation provides a reminder (if one was needed) of William Gibson’s quote about the future, which he described as ‘here, but not evenly distributed’.

It also provides a reminder (much more necessary, most likely) of Article 27a of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which 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’.

What was written in 1948 is as relevant as ever today. The need to support the spread of new technologies to developing countries features in the UN’s 2030 Agenda (SDG 17). In line with the overall objective of the Agenda, no-one should be left behind for want to access to existing ideas.

This is not just a question of luck or economics, but of fundamental rights. We need to make the road from invention and discovery to global application as short as possible.

What stands in the way?

A key issue highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights in her 2012 report is excessive privatisation of knowledge. There always needs to be means of giving access to science, of finding a balance between incentivising creation and giving everyone a chance to benefit. When the cost of articles, books or other materials is too high, people are excluded.

Libraries provide a key response to this. Through their own collections – and collaboration across borders – they have a major role in the spread of innovation and research. At the same time, they access content legally, and make a major contribution to the creation and publishing of knowledge.

In this same spirit, libraries have also been at the heart of the Open Access movement – trying to find a model of sharing knowledge without any financial barriers. Open Access also features among the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur.

The broader Open Science movement offers further possibilities, ensuring that it is not just the results of innovation, but the process itself that is as inclusive and effective as possible.


A focus on sharing not just technology, but all forms of knowledge, is arguably missing from the UN 2030 Agenda. And there are questions – around expanding internet access, and finding sustainable models for Open Access. Yet the key elements of any future drive in this area are in place in the shape of libraries.

Clearly we are still some way from delivering the right to science, but the Universal Declaration reminds us that the effort is worth it.