Tag Archives: world heritage convention

World Heritage Day: Libraries, Access, and Engagement

The International Council on Museum and Sites (ICOMOS) is a global non-government organisation working for the conservation and protection of cultural places. As libraries are important features of cultural places and contributions to knowledge on cultural heritage, ICOMOS and IFLA are partners on many joint initiatives – see our work on the report, Culture in the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda, for an example.

We are therefore excited to take this opportunity to reflect on the contributions of libraries to heritage discourse on ICOMOS’s annual World Heritage Day (18 April).

The theme of World Heritage Day 2021 is Complex Pasts: Diverse Futures.

Within this theme, “ICOMOS wishes to engage in promoting new discourses, different and nuanced approaches to existing historical narratives, to support inclusive and diverse points of view”.

Libraries are keepers of stories. We are also living spaces where everyone and anyone can meet, diverse points of view can be shared, and these stories can be told.

Libraries therefore have an important role in enabling complex pasts to be better understood, and diverse futures to be shaped.

UNESCO World Heritage

Visiting a World Heritage Site can be an awe-inspiring experience. Sites chosen for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List are deemed to be of outstanding universal value – meaning they offer a truly irreplaceable contribution to the shared heritage of humankind.

Visit the website of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to learn more about the 1972 World Heritage Convention and the List.

As impressive as a monument or site on the World Heritage list can be, there is often much more significance to be found beyond its façade.

Documentary Heritage and Historical Narratives

For World Heritage Day 2020, we explored how documentary heritage, namely materials on the Memory of the World register, can provide a deeper understanding of a related world heritage site.

An example that is equally relevant for this year’s theme is the World Heritage Site Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison (Barbados), looked at in parallel with the Memory of the World document An African Song or Chant from Barbados.

When one examines this site together with the testament of a life of enslavement, offered through the African work song, it is possible to get a far more complete picture of the human cost of colonialism.

See our blog article: Shared Stories: How documentary heritage enriches monuments and sites for more.

However, on this year’s theme, it is worth also examining how libraries as community spaces can help enable these discoveries and inspire conversations around them.

Inclusive Spaces for Diverse Futures

Cultural heritage is for everyone, but in order to support diverse points of view in cultural heritage discourse, cultural heritage spaces must be understood as being accessible to all.

In setting this year’s theme, ICOMOS acknowledges the role that the cultural heritage sector has in the critical examination of the past. The omission and erasure of points of view through the privileging of some narratives over others is a legacy that memory institutions must strive to reconcile.

For example, in recognition of this responsibility, International Museum Day 2020 was centred on Museums for Diversity and Inclusion. Within this theme, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) acknowledged that “there remains much to do to overcome conscious and subconscious power dynamics that can create disparities within museums, and between museums and their visitors.”

As champions of access for all, libraries too have a role to play in making cultural heritage not only accessible, but something in which anyone and everyone is invited to actively participate.

One way this can start is by engaging new audiences and emphasising inclusive and participatory ways to experience World Heritage sites.

Libraries as Accessible Spaces

As memory institutions, libraries are keepers of heritage through the materials they collect and make available. However, libraries are also living spaces – open to the public with a mission that centres on providing learning opportunities to all.

When present at a World Heritage Site, libraries help integrate the site with the greater social fabric of the community and reach new audiences through the services and programmes they offer.

For example, the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek is part of the “Classical Weimar” UNESCO World Heritage Site (Germany) and receives some 100,000 visitors each year. As a portion of the site’s value lies in its legacy of literary and scholarly achievement, it is appropriate that the library offers a publicly assessable, free-of-charge space for learning, research, and study.  Specifically, the library provides access to over one million pieces of media, including over 170,000 items on open-access shelving at the Study Centre which users are free to peruse or borrow.

Further cooperation with the World Heritage Site’s education and inclusion and diversity programmes invites learners of all ages and backgrounds to use the library while also enjoying the historically significant space.

Dynamic, living libraries can combine historically significant buildings and collections with services that meet the needs of modern users. In doing so, they invite people into spaces with which they may not have otherwise engaged.

Libraries are spaces for people to come together to discuss and learn, and this is a value that can contribute to the democratisation of heritage sites. How libraries can support inclusive and diverse points of view within heritage spaces is a question that certainly must be explored further.

There is more to do!

IFLA has explored how libraries of all kinds are promoters of cultural diversity through their role as multicultural hubs.

The IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto upholds libraries as gateways to a cultural diverse society. This Manifesto states that “libraries of all types should reflect, support and promote cultural and linguistic diversity at the international, national, and local levels, and thus work for cross-cultural dialogue and active citizenship.”

To this end, cultural heritage sites – World Heritage or otherwise – are encouraged to view libraries in their communities or within their boundaries as learning, cultural, and information centres, and as vectors to further the educational ambitions of the site, communicate its value, and engage new audiences.

However, in doing this, institutions must reflect the diverse perspectives of the communities they serve. This includes making an active effort to centre, value, record, share, and make space for diverse voices and narratives.

Libraries within heritage sites of all kinds are encouraged to be proactive in developing the relationship they have with their wider communities and enable inclusive conversations on the site’s significance.

Has your library made space for diverse voices to contribute to cultural heritage discourse? We would love to hear about it in the comments.

April Fool’s! Five things which aren’t true, but should they be?

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.