Magazine article American Libraries

Danes Advance IFLA Action on Free Expression

Magazine article American Libraries

Danes Advance IFLA Action on Free Expression

Article excerpt

Principles of free access to information and freedom of expression resonated through the 63rd Council and General Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in Copenhagen, Denmark, August 31-September 5. Urged on by an ad hoc committee and a coalition of Nordic librarians, IFLA council established a standing committee to help strengthen the federation's ability to deal with the threats to these principles that libraries are facing around the world.

Danish Minister of Culture Ebbe Lundgaard surprised delegates with an offer to establish an office in Copenhagen to support the committee's work and handle cases of censorship and human-rights violations in libraries, in concert with Article 19 of the UNESCO Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "Denmark wants to ensure that IFLA focuses on these issues," he said. "Information technology must serve as the great equalizer."

The establishment of a permanent Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression has been in process since the federation met in Istanbul in 1995 and was furthered along in Beijing last year. This IFLA conference, attended by a record 2,976 people from 141 countries, saw the ad hoc committee through hearings, meetings, a report to the IFLA executive board, and finally a resolution making it official.

The ad hoc committee, chaired by Tony Evans of the United Kingdom and representing 32 nations - including Turkey, Russia, China, Cuba, and the United States - was established after word of a renegade resolution singling out Turkey for human-rights violations reached Ankara and threatened to disrupt the 1995 conference (AL, Oct. 1995, p. 886). Despite the political poles represented in its composition, the committee reached consensus.

The ad hoc committee's study and recommendations will form the basis for the charge to the new IFLA standing committee, which will advise the executive board and IFLA headquarters in the Hague. This major work of diplomacy produced a document remarkably free from ideology, but the new permanent committee is viewed as just the beginning. A wide variety of questions raised about the protocol of handling the delicate issues likely to be brought before the new committee means that "a mechanism for action" must be worked out. Clearly, however, IFLA's willingness and ability to influence the free flow of information throughout the world has been strengthened.

IFLA council also approved a strongly worded resolution urging the government of France to take "urgent measures to guarantee the ability of public libraries and librarians to act in accordance with the [UNESCO Public Library] Manifesto" (AL, Oct. 1995, p. 885) in the wake of recent censorious actions by the far-right National Front (AL, May, p. 31). Delegates also signed a petition urging the French government to support librarians' right to develop services that provide unfettered access to materials that reflect plurality and diversity.

Copyright and intellectual property

Copyright and threats to the concept of "fair use" also were major issues at IFLA Copenhagen. The council passed a resolution establishing a Committee on Copyright and Legal Matters to advise on matters of copyright and intellectual property, including economic and trade barriers to the acquisition of materials, disputed claims of ownership of library materials, authenticity of electronic texts, subscription and licensing agreements, and other matters of international significance to libraries and librarians.

A council resolution urging that Chinese be added to English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish as an official "working language" of IFLA will be taken under advisement by the professional and executive boards, which will work with IFLA staff to study the costs associated with offering simultaneous translation and other services in an additional language.

Freedom of expression was thrust further into the spotlight by featured speakers, both during the opening session and in three guest lectures. …

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