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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997


Marian Koren
The Hague, Netherlands


A story

A child was born and grew up. He looked at his parents, family and friends. He saw the many things that were bought to bring comfort to his life. He thought of his games, adventures and the things he had discovered. He knew that there were children who were not able to play, who did not have comfort, because they were ill, lived in poor circumstances, or were separated from their family by war. Even in his own neighbourhood, he noted the differences in the way certain children and their families were treated. He himself experienced difficulties because of his appearance. He also discovered that even when people were affluent they would inevitably become ill, once in a while, and ultimately grow old and die. Of all the many questions that were floating around in his mind, there was one that came directly from his heart: Why am I living? He pondered on the purpose of living in these ever-changing and inequitable circumstances. This question was so all-pervading that he had to find information about growing up, about life. He felt that if he did not find a satisfying answer he might as well stop living. He intended to ask this question to every human being he met. But, as he wanted to be sure to obtain an honest answer, he invoked the help of a judge to have his case and question decided before a court. As a result, a judicial proceeding began based on his accusation of being brought into this world, without a clear aim. All kinds of other people were called to court, and had to present their stories. Particularly, those who had been able to see and hear much as they were professionally involved in information and stories of human beings had to be present in order to defend themselves for being alive, to explain the purpose of life. Life itself was taken to court.

The children's librarian was eager to answer the child's question, and pulled out many books which were well written. They had nice illustrations and were not too difficult for the child to read. The children's librarian mentioned even more titles, pointed at the catalogue and the shelves, and explained the storing system. She took pride in having everything in order and knowing many books by heart, in order that she might find the right book for everyone. It was pleasant to have someone with whom to share the joy of a book. She loved reading and telling stories herself and considered them as a means of communication, which is most important in life.

The school librarian was pleased with the question of the child, finally a serious question for which a lot of seeking strategies could be explored. So he started off with a multi-media encyclopedia and showed how the child could find his way through the CD-Rom with the help of key words. Then there were various educational sites on the Internet which could be of help. The child could also join a discussion-group and meet other children, who might have similar questions. When he would be tired of surfing he could look in the various maps with older newspaper clippings or also read a book about adventurous people who had undertaken world trips in order to find answers. In fact, knowing how to use all these different media was most important.

The community librarian welcomed the child as he belonged to a minority group for which the library had developed specific policies. She guided him to a special corner in which a variety of specific material was collected and which was furnished according to his culture. She was sure that the child would feel at home and encouraged him to join a kids-club which would meet every week and have all kinds of activities based on stories and topics of interest. Joining a group, being part of the community and having a say in the activities was important in life.

The business librarian had little time to listen to the question of the child. But as he was always looking for new markets, he had to pay attention to every potential customer. He explained to the child how he worked to give quick and up-to-date information. The quicker the better, for time is money. So one should only ask questions to which there was an answer. Databases and other information technology made it possible to have the answers even before questions were posed. The challenge of life was to have that information available and make a profitable business from it.

The scientific librarian was a bit irritated because she always told the young students to avoid big themes and to narrow their topic. But as the child looked hopefully at her and the surrounding stacks with thick volumes she smiled. She explained that the best approach is to work and live systematically, then one would never get lost. But one needed endurance because seeking information presupposes discipline and perseverance. Every answer created a new question; and nowadays new seeking tools required new skills in order to avoid information overload. Most important in life was to never give up asking questions.

The national librarian was surprised to find a child in his library as he did not allow persons under 18 years of age to enter the national library. Yet he recognised something in the child's question which made him responsive. His library had a lot of volumes from various cultures which as such contained the heritage on human values. They needed conservation in order to survive and be available for future generations. But how could they be preserved when political decisions were only in favour of economic expanse to be expected from information technology. Life was at best a question of balancing economic and cultural interests.

After so many voices, the court-room fell silent. The child looked at the judge who remained silent, as if thinking to himself. People had given so many different responses to the questions: Why am I living? What is the purpose of life? They had all given their own story of their profession and life. The only clear answer the child had received was that he had to find out for himself. This seemed to be the solution everyone else had found thus far. They had grown up and somehow found a way of life. These grown-ups did not give him much comfort. How would he become a grown-up, how could he find out about growing up and how would he know that he had not been betrayed? The judge saw his distress and said: `In spite of all these witnesses, your question remains; there is little I can do, but as a human being you are protected and sustained by human rights. Therefore, wherever you seek, you will be supported: you have a right to information.'

Stories, traditions and values

Stories are not only the professional domain of children's librarians. The story is the object of increasing interest in various fields of society. (2) Apart from the literature studies in narratology, focusing on analysis of storytelling techniques in fiction, economists, historians, theologists and psychiatrists are also interested. They all make use of stories. Even judges, occupied in reducing real life stories into admissible facts, cannot do without. Story and counter-story are indispensable for a good judgement. (3)

The interest in narrativism cannot only be considered as a reaction to positivism, scientific rationalism and formalism. It seeks to draw attention to areas or aspects which are approached with difficulty by scientific rationalism - mostly expressed in statistics - , because of the contextuality of many phenomena in society. Narrative reason has its own place and forms a continuation of formal science. (4) Narrativism may also be seen as an attempt to return to the story in the original sense, as the art of storytelling is in decline, if not a lost art. (5) Walter Benjamin explains that the original story was related to the immediate experience of life. The storyteller could give advice on questions of life, based on his own experience. Therefore, he belonged to the teachers and the wise. (6)

All of the great cultural traditions have in their own way given answers to the fundamental questions of life. They have provided models on how to live as a human being, in fact prototypes demonstrating how to develop and become a true human being or an authentic human being. In this sense, the traditions disposed of a theory of development embedded in the story of man, which represented essential values. (7) Children and parents, the whole community was educated by reference to these values and could take refuge in the guiding story while attempting to cope with the hardships of life.

Although post-modernists have analysed our times as putting an end to all great stories, (8) it will be clear that humanity cannot do without some sort of basic values to protect human life. This reflection has become especially pervasive after the Second World War and forms the foundation of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration which serves as a global standard of human rights, for example the right to life, the right to education, and the freedom of expression. The latter includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

The Universal Declaration has inspired many other treaties and human rights instruments. Some of them are related to a specific region, for example the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (1961) or the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). Others are concerned with a specific sector of human activity, like the Unesco Public Library Manifesto (1994). The Manifesto underlines that democratic rights presuppose satisfactory education and free and unlimited access to knowledge, thought, culture and information. Hence the important social and cultural role of libraries.

A recent human rights treaty concerning a specific group of human beings is the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations in 1989. As children are often considered as `not-yet' human beings, and treated more as objects than as subjects, the need for protection of their rights resulted in a separate convention. One of the rights protected by the Convention is the child's right to information.

Protection of human development by human rights

Human development is of universal and basic importance and should be regarded and protected as a human right. Two notions of human development can be discerned. One is on the level of the individual, the other on the national level. The latter is often identified with the economic and social progress of developing countries. In legal terms the right to development is described as `comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom.' (9)

The right to development is considered as a collective right of a nation or people to advance in economic and social respects by removing poverty, illiteracy and disease. Access to essential markets, international exchange and support and sovereignty over natural resources for self-reliance are essential pillars. Economic growth is not enough for sustainable development. The quality of economic growth is important as growth may otherwise be jobless, ruthless (widening the gap between rich and poor), voiceless (without democratisation and political participation), rootless (without reference to cultural identities) or futureless (wasting natural resources). Apart from financial poverty there is capability poverty which means too few possibilities for people to influence their own situation and to get away from poverty by better nutrition, health care and literacy. Investments in education are necessary to parallel economic growth and human development. (10) The right to human development puts an obligation on the international community to cooperate in abolishing poverty and support democratic participation. Various programmes seek to establish North-South cooperation. The Social Summit in Copenhagen in 1995 introduced the `20:20 compact', meaning that developing countries will spent 20% of their budget on basic social provisions whereby industrialised countries will spent 20% of their budget for foreign help on such human-directed activities. It can be argued that providing information on basic services is a basic service itself for the benefit of all people. Public libraries could play a role in such services of community information and additional self-education.

The other notion of human development is the development of the individual human being. The question of human development is a question for every human being. Becoming a full-grown human being is not the result of a natural process of maturation or reaching a certain age which legally fixates majority, but essentially living in spiritual maturity, which means realising the highest human values. Great traditions may differ in their methods and approaches, but all are concerned with human development, guiding the way of human beings towards achieving human values, living as authentic human beings.

Human development is a lifelong process, in which various stages have been discerned (11) . The earliest stages have attracted most attention and study because these developmental changes are larger, better discernable and seemed to follow a more fixed pattern. Therefore, individual human development is mostly associated with children.

If one considers the role of information in human development, it is obvious that information plays an indispensable role and relates to the physical, emotional, cognitive and social development of the child. This process of information exchange starts even before birth. (12) The way in which a child learns to walk and to talk; and, how he plays and communicates to others is also due to the information he has received. The human values of which parents are aware and which they have integrated in their way of being, form the frame of reference for the child in developing his views on the world and himself. When parents encourage asking questions, the child will feel free to inquire and seek information. New sources of information are accessible to the child when he comes into contact with others outside the family environment: peers and adults in school, in clubs or in the street. He also uses various forms of mass communication including books, video films, computer games and TV programmes. He will find a variety of media in the school library and the public library. Having easily access to such libraries and getting acquainted with various sources of information, with the processes of selection and elaboration, the child will develop skills which will be useful, also for his life as a citizen. He will not be satisfied with just one source or just one opinion but seek other sources and a broad orientation. The library could offer him a reliable environment for these processes.

The values embedded in human development touch the core of human dignity and should therefore be protected as human rights. Conditions for the protection and promotion of human development should be found in access to information, access to knowledge, access to culture and generally access to education. Human rights oblige the international community to realise such conditions in stimulating cooperation. Although the process of human development is an internal individual process - the result of learning and inner reflection and understanding - depending on the specific qualities of the individual, a lot can be done to create favourable conditions for these processes. One of them is taking the right to information seriously.

Concept of the right to information

Little attention has been paid to the right to information, possibly due to its abstract formulation and the variety of other terms which seem to be related to it, for example: the freedom of information, the freedom of expression, the right to know, the right to communicate, and the free flow of information. The roots of this rather unclear legal concept can be found in the freedom of information and the concept of the free flow of information. It seems to have been President Roosevelt who used the term `freedom of information' for the first time as a unifying term for both the freedom of speech and of expression. The freedom of information was not only used as a slogan to counteract false information and propaganda, but also to require freedom for journalists to freely move around the world in order to seek and gather information. It was argued that freedom of information was necessary for the public because reliable information about other nations, other people, would support common understanding and promote world peace. A Resolution of the UN General Assembly bears the same reasoning and puts information at the core of the United Nations's work:

In the broad sense freedom of information was considered the same as the freedom of expression. In the narrow sense it was the notion of the freedom of gathering information. Both notions are taken from the perspective of the mass media. A third sense was developed later from a different perspective, namely the receivers of information. It was considered important that individuals had access to broad and reliable information, on which public opinion could be based. A free flow of information across borders, using international sources was therefore considered necessary. In this view, people had a right to know, a right to unbiased news. This expression has been used until today in various studies on the information needs and wants of everyday citizens (14) and also in library activities. In 1992 American Libraries started a campaign called `Your right to know: librarians make it happen'. A background study dedicated to the youth's right to know concludes: `Youth's right to know is somewhat less firm than that of adults legally (...) It is important to remember that, despite the lack of absolute legal underpinning or definition, an implicit right can still exist. There are certain things a young person simply must know to survive, to grow up and to have a productive life in 21st century America.' (15)

Information plays an important role in the development of a human being, in the forming of an identity and in personal development as a unique human being. The second aspect is the role of information in human development as a social being, supporting social and cultural participation. Information plays a role in the development of both aspects.

However, whenever the right to information is considered as an individual right it is mostly presented only in the perspective of citizenship. The right to know about the decisions and activities of authorities, the right to have information for the formation of political opinion and participation. An organisation called ARTICLE 19 referred in this respect to nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and the spread of Aids which have `contributed to the realization that full freedom of information is not a luxury but may be literally a matter of life and death. The denial of information vital to health (...) is censorship to be opposed just as much as the more classical manifestations of censorship in book banning, radio jamming or the destruction of the printing press. In the name of state secrecy or national security, people everywhere are routinely denied access to information they have a right and need to know.' (16)

In the context of the right to information there are few references to aspects of individual human development, for example `the right to know and the right freely to seek the truth are inalienable rights of man', as a draft Declaration on Freedom of Information put it. (17) Or in the words of Pope Paul VI at a Unesco seminar in Rome considering `the purpose of information [is] to help man better to guide his destiny and that of the human community'. (18) Others have considered the right to information as a natural extension of the right to education. Not the interests or prejudices of those who control the production of information, but the human dignity of those who are justified in expecting of it the means of free thought should have a right to information. Information then becomes a social function in the service of intellectual emancipation. (19) The long and intensive debate on the freedom of information has also resulted in the rise of a general right to information of every human being, as a continuation of the right to education, which can be considered as a vague social right. (20) An explicit formulation of this right can be found in the German Constitution in article 5.1 which states the freedom `sich aus allgemein zugänglichen Quellen zu unterrichten'. Both individual and public sources are envisaged. The public sources are all those from which a human being can educate and teach himself: newspapers, magazines, books, audiovisual material, radio, television, - and one could add electronic databases -, regardless whether it is a private or governmental source of information. All these are considered as generally accessible sources. (21)

Another example of an explicit general right to information can be found in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in article 17 which reads:

This article 29 describes the aims of education. So one has to conclude that this right to information - or in better terms: the right of access to sources of information - is related to an educational aim, and put in a perspective of general education and human development.

At this point one may wonder how and why is the right to information a condition for human development? Studying the Convention on the Rights of the Child in this respect reveals that attention has been given to the role of information for both personal development and social participation or citizenship. But not all references to the right to information are as explicit as the freedom of expression in article 13 and access to information in article 17. Implicit references, those which presuppose a right to information in order to be realised are important as well. Such examples are not only references to the upbringing by parents, but also to the preservation of cultural identity, private life, the freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to express views on matters concerning the child himself. In the field of social participation one should also notice the right to information implicitly present in the freedom of association, the right to cultural participation, the right of access to education and the right to know one's rights. States Parties have obliged themselves to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known to adults and children alike (article 42).

The right to information takes the perspective of the information seeker, the library user. This means that conditions and provisions have to be created for a successful information process, while the final initiative and selection of information remains with the library patron himself, as his own responsibility. Human development cannot come about without a basis in human conscience and individual responsibility.

The reference to the general aims of education is a further point supporting the role of the right to information for human development. The formulation in article 29 can be found throughout international documents on human rights - especially in Unesco-agreements - , not only referring to children. The aims are described as: the development of one's personality, talents and physical abilities to their fullest potential; the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations; the development of respect for one's cultural identity, language and values, the values of one's own nation and those of other cultures; the development contributing to a responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin; and, finally, the development of respect for the natural environment. These basic human values reflect a human image which comes within the spirit of developing and living as an authentic human being.

Information related to human development sheds a special light on the right to information. Human development as such is not confined to a certain age but is a lifelong process. The development as an authentic human being is not a task for children alone but for every human being, as it is the potential of all human beings to realise basic human values. Therefore, the right to information is significant not only for the child, but also for every human being and must be considered not only as a child's right, but also as a general human right.

Libraries and human rights

Principles and professional values fundamental to librarianship and library services reflect the library's respect for basic human values. They have been formulated in the various versions of the Unesco Public Library Manifesto. (22) The 1994 Manifesto is aimed at convincing local and national authorities of the fundamental values protected by public libraries and their important contribution to the community and democracy in general. (23)

The Manifesto derives from the fundamental human values of freedom, prosperity, the development of society and individuals, and the need for well-informed citizens who are able to exercise their democratic rights and play an active role in society. The public library is defined as the local gateway to knowledge, which provides a basic condition of lifelong learning, independent decision-making and cultural development for the individual and social groups. Furthermore, the Manifesto is related to the Statute of Unesco as it proclaims Unesco's belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.

The Manifesto sets forth the principles of public library services, such as equal accessibility for all, without discrimination. The principle of plurality requires that material must be relevant to the needs of the different age groups and reflect current trends and the evolution of society, as well as the memory of human endeavour and imagination. The principle is further safeguarded by the principle of independence: collections and services should not be subject to any form of ideological, political or religious censorship, or commercial pressures.

The key missions relate to information, literacy, education and culture. Creating and strengthening reading habits in children from an early age, is mentioned first of all. Other items take up various forms of education, including self-conducted education; and, opportunities for personal creative development.

With respect to cultural life, the Manifesto seeks to promote awareness of cultural heritage, appreciation of the arts, scientific achievements and innovations; provide access to cultural expressions of all the performing arts; foster inter-cultural dialogue; and, favour cultural diversity, by supporting, inter alia , the oral tradition.

In order to serve the community, the library should aim at ensuring access for citizens to all sorts of community information and at providing adequate information services to local enterprises, associations and interest groups. It is also considered a task of the library to promote literacy, both in the traditional and modern sense by supporting and participating in literacy activities and programmes for all age groups, initiating such activities if necessary; and, by facilitating the development of information and computer literacy skills.

A short comparison with the former formulations of the Manifesto makes clear that the main elements of free access to all; promoting reading habits by a variety of collections; public funding; and, specific legislation have remained, but differences in accents and approaches are significant. A shift in accent is made from education (1949) to culture (1972) and then to information (1994), although these three terms are present in all Manifesto's related to the goals of Unesco. In 1949 an appeal was made to every citizen as a potential user of the library, which should be seen as an institution operated by people for people. Educationalists, social and cultural workers and community leaders were addressed in 1972. It could be in line with this historical development to consider the international community and its institutions as the next stage for a supportive and legislative frame work. Likewise the focus and definition of the public library's aim may turn to education once more, stressing one's possibilities and responsibilities for self-education and lifelong learning.

With respect to the child's right to information as an example of the general right to information it is useful to compare the Manifesto with the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Its reference to the aim of education in article 29 in particular reveals various similar aspects. Personal development is mentioned in the Manifesto several times. Respect for different civilisations corresponds with the Manifesto's aim of fostering inter-cultural dialogue and favouring cultural diversity. The fostering of peace and spiritual welfare is a Unesco expression which is found in both texts. Preparation for a responsible life in a free society, an aspiration of the Convention, can be achieved by the library services of community information and support of interest groups, which may also include educational and vocational information as mentioned in article 28(d) of the Convention.

The right to participation in cultural life, mentioned in article 31 of the Convention includes access to performing arts, and opportunities for personal creative development, as proclaimed by the Manifesto.

In the field of literacy, the Manifesto provides references similar to those in the Convention's article 28(3). The dissemination of children's books is expressly mentioned in the Convention, and can be considered as a support for libraries in their role as one of the main distribution channels for children's books. Respect for minority languages is expressed both in the Convention, articles 17(d) and article 30, and in the Manifesto. The library's support of oral tradition may also serve this aim. The Manifesto explicitly mentions the principle of non-discrimination including a prohibition against age discrimination. As a result, one has to conclude that children have access to the library services, not as a grant but as a right. (24)

This short exercise on the development of the Manifesto and the comparison with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, reveals that the Manifesto is in line with the spirit and many provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. On the basis of their aims, the Manifesto and the public library should therefore be considered as means of contributing to the implementation of the right to information.

The Manifesto is the basic document for public libraries on an international level and from the viewpoint of human rights. It protects fundamental human values. As the Manifesto has inspired other Charters and Declarations with regard to the aims of the public library, additional support for its goals can be found in these texts at a national level. The Charter for Public Libraries in the Netherlands, for example, explicitly states: `Public libraries play an important practical role and have substantial professional responsibility with regard to human rights and fundamental freedoms which are recognised by international law and the Dutch Constitution. These include the freedom of expression, the right to take part in cultural life, the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, the freedom of thought, conscience and belief and the right of citizens to have their privacy respected.' (25) The explanatory note to the Charter explicitly refers to the international standards set by, among others, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (articles 17, 18, 19), the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 15); and, the European Convention on Human Rights (articles 8, 9 and 10) and the corresponding articles in the national Constitution.

The implementation of the Unesco Public Library Manifesto will gain strength by making cross-references to these international standards.

Realisation of the right to information

The above description of the relationship between libraries and human rights clearly shows that libraries are committed to human rights and to protect human values. In the current situation of an increasing number of information suppliers and sources of information, libraries should follow a paradigmatic change and pay attention to the perspective of the users. (26) The realisation of the right to information is a condition for human development both in the individual sense and on a macro level. Libraries have excellent opportunities to realise the right to information by creating ways in which human beings can gain access to information both for personal development and for social participation.

In fact, other types of libraries are in similar ways related to human rights and the right to information, but the role of the public library shows the general approach.

First of all, the library has built up and made accessible to all a variety of collections of written and audio-visual material and sources of information in computerised form, which are of current interest, and meet the requirements of plurality and equal representation. These materials may serve as sources of information for every individual, regardless of age, who seeks information to support his personal development and his social participation. The library uses quality criteria in building up its collections. These criteria are professional criteria but differ from the narrow quality criteria set by the cultural élite. `The library from the point of view of its societal role, does not wish to neglect the principle of quality, or the principle of plurality. The principles of freedom and equality of the users are central to the actual realisation of the right to information. This democratic principle outweighs, that a library, on other grounds, can take the liberty to handle an elitist quality principle.' (27)

The library provides information services and may be regarded as part of the communication infrastructure of the social and cultural community. The library offers an open and free atmosphere, which invites knowledge, participation, and expression. Study corners, storytelling, information programmes on various topics, exhibitions, performances, and book reading by authors are organised to encourage the, often young, public. All this is well-known to those working in libraries, but is it mainstream knowledge for those involved in development programmes, city-planning and investments of information technology and education? It is in this area that the library has to make itself and its functions visible in a pro-active approach.

Defending the interests of the users is a second point in realising the right to information. This is especially important in an era where many others have placed themselves between the initial author and the individual reader/user, and all would like to benefit from the unique creation. The right to information is the basis for libraries to defend the rights of users in this respect. Libraries serve the right to information of human beings as information seekers not the push and pulls of the information society driven by economy. In cultural politics libraries should show the same alertness and have their own function. As a Danish minister put it: `Public libraries are cultural-policy institutions and not a branch of the amusement industry.' (28)

Because publishing, production and distribution have become international affairs, libraries can only be a partner in information issues when organised internationally. The initiative of IFLA to set up a Committee on Access to Information and Freedom of Expression is a clear action to safeguard fundamental human information rights. The concept of the right to information may prove to be useful in drawing the support of all types of libraries for these issues. It will be the challenge and strength of all libraries involved in IFLA to show that libraries take authors and users seriously and stand for a free flow of information for the benefit of human development.

Where the right to information refers to an educational aim and human development, a third action of its realisation may be found in the libraries' role in promoting and enabling self-education. Discipline and individual responsibility have to be learned. They can be learned in a compulsory school-system but are of greater value when they are developed in a free environment, such as the one that the library can offer. A human being's motives will be more honest and will be based on interest and curiosity and wonder. Biographies of great human beings, examples of great teachers and self-educators may stimulate this attitude. Libraries should be provided with enough room to study. Especially in developing countries compulsory and free education should go hand in hand. Partnerships can be arranged, whereby a library has the advantage of supplying the taste of liberty, a free choice of information.

Another aspect of the right to information is its essential role in the process of democratisation. Part of human development on a national scale is the provision of information and materials on developments in society. Better informed people make better choices. This goes for practical and political issues. The right to know based on the need for reliable information can also be expressed by libraries, speaking on behalf of their patrons. A lack of information for specific groups or on specific topics or in certain languages can be signalised with reference to the right to information. Fulfilling linguistic needs in this respect serves both informational and cultural aims. The main focus of attention should be placed on the democratisation process at the local level. The library has to show that it is part of and serves the local community in making decisions on all kinds of matters from housing and environment to education and cultural facilities. Where mainstream information might be easily accessible, the library should have an eye for alternative sources of information and have to make them available for the benefit of citizens' orientation. The right to information has especially significance for information which is not easily accessible, for example for economic or other reasons. Background-information and historical sources may give depth and add quality to public discussions. The position of librarians is not to take sides in such discussions, but to be engaged in and show concern for the human development of the community by offering appropriate means for democratic communication.

Although children have not (or not yet) the democratic right to vote this should not prevent them from social and cultural participation. Where formerly `protection' was the key-word for the engagement in human rights for children, `participation' announces a new paradigm, in which the child is seen as a worthy human being with thoughts, feelings and expressions of his own. The right to information as implied in both the Public Library Manifesto and the Convention on the Rights of the Child offers children a basis for their human development. The eldest examples of public libraries underline the public access and the benefit for children. `In Halicarnassus in Asia Minor in the second Century A.D., the works of a man honoured by the city were placed in the city's libraries at public expense in order to instruct the youth; this provision, while instructing broad access, was probably of greatest benefit to the children of the local aristocracy.' (29) The extension to other social groups in society took a long time and is not yet finished.

Libraries have a lot to offer in safeguarding children's rights. Only a brief sketch can follow, a separate paper would be needed. Three ways related to children's rights can be discerned. First of all the implementation of the right to information itself. The services of the library and its activities should aim at providing information for answers to the questions of the child and help him to orientate in life and society. This requires essential information on processes of life, on health and nutrition, on schooling and careers.

Libraries play a role in cultural life and provide possibilities to participate in cultural life. An early example of the library's contribution to children's culture begins with pointing to the lack of free choice for children as commercial interests increasingly direct children's need for activities. Adults, including librarians have a responsibility to indicate and provide for alternatives. All those involved in children's education should cooperate to realise a true freedom of choice for the child. In the local debates about the usefulness of libraries, the larger perspective is often forgotten, as expressed by Tove Nilsen: `The library has always been the symbol of how a society takes care of its own and former culture. Therefore - not for reasons of spiritual snobbism - libraries deserve their marble. Between the covers of the books there are not only dry words but there are questions and answers to the mysteries of human life.' (30)

A second aspect is the realisation of human rights for children through the library services. A library may help the child to realise his other human rights like his right to education by non-formal or self-education. Or his right to freedom of conscience and belief by consulting information on various cultures and beliefs.

A third approach regards the rights of children in the library. First of all, the library itself should respect the rights of children. The library has an obligation to respect the child's privacy, for example on the literature or information required by the child, the records of his loans, and his opinions. The library should also provide the means for children to express their views on the collections and services of the library, opening hours, the building and furnishing, the programmes and activities and the service of the staff. Such hearings or customer panels will give the children a feeling of participation, when their views are followed-up in one way or another. Furthermore, a right of complaint, including a clear and easy procedure should also be established for children. Communicating with children will also provide possibilities for clarifying the acquisition policy of the library. Various possibilities of participation in the library may also be offered. The staff should be careful not to offer only symbolic participation. Efforts can be made to create a library as a Children's Information Centre in which especially the participatory rights of children are respected. (31) On the whole, the realisation of children's rights in the library may mean a change of attitude and also make changes in staff management necessary.

In general, awareness of human rights and their moral implications should be daily work. They may make the library into a transparent, learning organisation from which staff and users may benefit. A striking respect for human rights, including those of children, may turn the library into a different place, a source of different experience. The library is not only a mirror reflecting human society, but also an institution which can hold a mirror up to society. (32) The library's aim is clearly based on a respect for human rights and human development as its core principle. This mission has to be reflected in the respectful behaviour of library workers towards their users and towards the cultural heritage they open up for those who are seeking information on human values.

Conditions and recommendations

These various descriptions and explanations lead us to the question of whether libraries are prepared for such role in the realisation of human rights, both for children and adults. In theory the answer is affirmative, the aim of the institution is absolutely clear in this respect. In practice, a great deal of the library activities and practices definitely serve children and adults in developing themselves as human beings. (33) However, some aspects may need further consideration. These aspects can be considered as recommendations to meet the conditions set by the right to information related to human development. These conditions require that a human being has free access to information. Social, financial or other barriers infringe the principle of equality. The material and services of the library should be regarded as an offer. The user may decide upon his use of the library, which can never be compulsory. The communication between librarian and the user is worthy of the same respect. The librarian is a competent professional who knows about stories in the many meanings of the word and who is aware of human rights. The librarian's integrity is ensured by being a reliable person. The integrity of the library as an institution must be protected by providing a commercial free environment.

In order to further the right to information, libraries should become more involved in the human values they seek to protect. The surplus value of libraries should be more widely known and made explicit. A transparent acquisition policy would provide a solid and legitimising instrument for the library's democratic role.

As to the availability and accessibility of sources, the first concern is the spread and quality of services. Information technology may help to provide for remote access to sources, but will not always be a guarantee for the actual provision of books and media. Librarians should take more into account the different styles of library use of their patrons. Browsing requires a different approach than seeking information on a specific disease or a language course. Further efforts to adapt the library as a whole to the needs of various user groups would be stimulated by a debate on user-friendliness and quality of service.

The manifold aim of the library would be well served by an extension of networks, not so much in the sense of electronic networks, but in the sense of functional relations to other fields of society. In some countries, public libraries are less identified with information and far more with culture. Such approaches have much to teach about the possible tensions between information and culture.

A library can only serve the community when it plays its role in local policy. It should therefore claim a role in the set up of an integrated information policy and policies for various groups. The library can offer a broader scope of activities and working relations with other organisations in order to engender further cooperation. Librarians could be more aware of their intermediary role in providing social information. (34)

The idea that using a library and having access to sources of information is something of a luxury granted to children and other groups, should be reconsidered in the light of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments. A debate on the transition `from grant to right' may support a change of attitude. In general, libraries should be more knowledgeable about the Convention and should also work more with the Unesco Public Library Manifesto.

As a support to the envisaged change, a basic document on libraries and human rights, including the right to information would be useful. A formulation of a plan of action at all levels of the library infrastructure should follow. Furthermore, the notion `to be at the service of the user' should be elaborated in a joint effort of library professionals and scientists of various disciplines.

In summary, the public library plays a crucial role in the realisation of the right to information. It fulfils the state's obligation to provide information, both for the development of the one's personality and one's social and cultural participation.

Libraries should use monitoring mechanisms of human rights to present their services. For example, until now, very few library organisations have paid attention to the implications of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; libraries are not mentioned in the state reports. IFLA should therefore urge the Committee on the Rights of the Child to scrutinise the state's obligations concerning the organisation of public library work and its service to children, including a check on free basic services, and on possible legislation safeguarding library principles as enshrined in the Unesco Public Library Manifesto.

Another recommendation regards the obligation to make the Convention widely known. Although this is an obligation of the states who are parties to the Convention, the NGO's also have a role in the monitoring process. IFLA should therefore make a serious effort to relate the Unesco Public Library Manifesto to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and encourage its member associations to make the public and other libraries play their role in the realisation of the child's right to information.

In the presentation of the IFLA Conference Theme two sets or views are presented around the Centre of Information and the Centre of Culture. Although these views may facilitate the discussion, one should be aware of the dangers in separating information and culture. If there is one really important task for libraries, it will be specifically the task of bridging information and culture by supplying a multi-faceted service inspired by a view on human development. When the notion of human development pervades the hearts and minds of the library staff and is expressed in their personal performance of their work and duties, then one can modestly say: the library serves as a centre for human development.

With the advent of the printing press, the possibility of hiding or protecting certain information or knowledge has all but vanished. It is also useless to keep others from spreading information contrary to one's own beliefs. Nevertheless, the history of the book is also the history of its destruction. Books and libraries have proven to be vulnerable, and very often religious works have been the first and foremost victims of theft or burning. (35) The freedom of a human being is first of all a freedom of heart and mind.

The history of the public libraries began with the establishment of the first free public library. The notion of `free' gradually unfolds. For a human being the library is free in the sense that the use of the library is based on free choice, a voluntary decision. The library is also free if no financial impediments are attached to its use. Free access and free use do not make a free library, unless the library remains free from political and commercial attachments and influences. A true free library sets human beings free by its services. The library offers sources of information which may help human beings to free themselves from whatever they feel binds them. Free human beings deserve to have their right to information protected by libraries.

A precondition for all activities directed at implementation of the right to information is the acknowledgement of human development, the potential of every human being to become a true human being, in the sense as traditional stories already envisaged. It means providing human beings with possibilities to taste the quality of authentic life. This quality is present as a dynamic force, a source from which all traditions and all creative beings have drawn. The results of these processes should be made visible in a cultural monument, in which the right to information could be realised. This plea for the `inexploitable' or the `useless' could find its form in a Silent Library . Texts on authentic life, drawn from various cultures and traditions should be brought together and presented. The library should be open for self-education and human development and may serve as a generally accessible source of information for every human being, as he has a right to information.



Article 17

States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well being and physical and mental health. To this end, States Parties shall:

Article 29

  1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

  2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.


  1. This paper is based on a Ph.D. study published as: Koren, M., Tell me! The right of the child to information, NBLC, Den Haag, 1996.

  2. Nash, C. (ed.), Narrative in culture. The Uses of Storytelling in the Sciences, Philosophy and Literature, Routledge, London/New York, 1990.

  3. Leijten, J., We need stories. Rede uitgesproken te Nijmegen op 31 mei 1991 bij gelegenheid van het afscheid als hoogleraar aan de Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen, Tjeenk Willink, Zwolle, 1991.

  4. Ankersmit, F., M. Doeser, A. Kibédy Varga (eds.), Op verhaal komen. Over narrativiteit in de mens- en cultuurwetenschappen, Kok Agora, Kampen, 1990, p. 10.

  5. Merkel, J., M. Nagel (eds.), Erzählen. Die Wiederentdeckung einer vergessene Kunst. Geschichten und Anregungen. Ein Handbuch, Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1982.

  6. Benjamin, W., Der Erzähler. Betrachtungen zum Werk Nicolai Lesskows, in: idem, Illuminationen, Ausgewählte Schriften, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1977, p. 386-388.

  7. See the Chapter `Theories Embedded in Religious Traditions' in: Thomas, R. (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Human Development and Education. Theory, Research, and Studies, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1990. p. 125-155.

  8. Lyotard, F., La condition postmoderne. Rapport sur le savoir, Minuit, Paris, 1979.

  9. UN General Assembly Resolution 41/128, 4 december 1986. Declaration on the Right to Development. See also Chowdury S., E. Denters, P. de Waart (eds.), The right to development in international law, Nijhoff, Dordrecht, 1992.

  10. See for example Human Development Report 1996, Oxford University Press, Cary NC, 1996.

  11. Piaget, J., B. Inhelder, The Psychology of the Child, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1969.

  12. Tomatis, A., La nuit utérine, Editions Stock, Paris, 1981.

  13. UN General Assembly Resolution 59, I, 1946.

  14. Williams, F., J. Pavlik (eds.), The People's Right to Know. Media, Democracy and the Information Highway, Erlbaum, Hillsdale NJ, 1994.

  15. Chelton, K., `Youth's right to know: societal necessity or national oxymoron?', in: Curry, E., (e.a.), Your right to know: librarians make it happen. Conference within a conference; background papers, American Library Association, 1992, p. 36.

  16. Information, Freedom and Censorship. World report, ARTICLE 19, London, 1988, p. xii.

  17. Draft Declaration on Freedom of information, in: Yearbook of the United Nations, 1960, p. 338-339.

  18. Unesco Seminar on the Freedom of information, Rome 7-20 April 1964, United Nations, New York, 1964, p. 9 (UN Doc. ST/TAO/HR. 20).

  19. Maheu, R., The Right to Information and the Right to the Expression of Opinion, in: Human Rights. Comments and Interpretations, Unesco/Wingate, London, 1949, p. 218-222.

  20. Meij, J. de, Wat is toch vrijheid van nieuwsgaring? in: Selectiviteit in de massacommunicatie. Opstellen aangeboden aan prof. mr. dr. M. Rooij, Kluwer, Deventer, 1971, p. 230.

  21. Gornig, G-H., Äußerungsfreiheit und Informationsfreiheit als Menschenrechte. Die Verankerung der Äußerungs-, Informations-, Presse- und Rundfunkfreiheit sowie des Zensurverbots in völkerrechtlichen Übereinkommen und in den Rechtsordnungen der KSZE-Staaten unter besondere Berücksichtigung rechtsphilosophischer und rechtsgeschichtlicher Hintergründe, Duncker, Berlin, 1988 (Schriften zum Völkerrecht, Vol. 88), p. 153-160.

  22. Unesco Public-Library Manifesto, published in: Unesco Bulletin for Libraries, Vol. 3, 1949, 7, p. 242-244, and Unesco Public Library Manifesto, revised in 1972, in: Unesco Bulletin for Libraries, Vol. 26, 1972, 3, p. 129-131.

  23. Unesco Public Library Manifesto 1994, IFLA, Den Haag, 1995. See for the drafting process also: Libri, Vol. 44, 2, 1994.

  24. Discrimination based on age may have recently become a highly debated topic in society. Children are, however, never mentioned. Even when age-discrimination is said to occur at `all ages', adults of 30, 40, and 50 years old are envisaged, not children.

  25. Statuut voor de openbare bibliotheek, adopted by the Dutch libraries in 1990; and English edition: The Charter for Public Libraries in the Netherlands, NBLC, Den Haag, 1991, p. 3.

  26. See also IFLA's Presidential Address delivered at the opening session of the 62nd IFLA General Conference in Being (China), on 25 August 1996, in: IFLA Journal, Vol. 22, 1996, 4, p. 277-279.

  27. Koren, M., Tussen tempel en agora. Cultuur in het openbare bibliotheekwerk, NBLC, Den Haag, 1989, p. 33.

  28. Interview med kulturminister Jytte Hilden. Bibliotekerne som væsentlige brikker i samfundsforvandlingen, in: B70, September 1993, p. 478.

  29. Dix, T., `Public libraries' in Ancient Rome. Ideology and Reality, in: Libraries and Culture, Vol. 29, 1994, 3, p. 289.

  30. Nilsen, T., Miraklenes hus, in: Gatland, J. (ed.), Fantasi og virkelighet. Om barn i bibliotek, Statens bibliotektilsyn, Oslo, 1989, p. 20.

  31. See for a set up of a first example in the Netherlands: Rietdijk, A., Kinder Informatie Centrum. Een bibliotheek van en voor kinderen in Haarlem-Oost, Stadsbibliotheek Haarlem, Haarlem, 1996.

  32. Schoots, P., Die Bibliothek als Spiegel menschlichen Zusammenlebens, Vortrag Verein der Bibliothekare an Öffentlichen Bibliotheken e.V., 10 May 1991, Kiel, in: Buch und Bibliothek, Vol. 43, 1991, 9, p. 754-756 (summary). Also in English, Chinese, Dutch and Italian.

  33. See also the international guidelines for children's services: Fasick, A. (ed.), Guidelines for Children's Services, IFLA, The Hague, 1991 (IFLA Professional reports, Vol. 25), and for young adults `between childhood and adulthood', in: Newsletter IFLA Section of Children's Libraries, SCL News, Vol. 48, May 1996, p. 2-8.

  34. Linden, F. van der, E. van Rooijen, H. Guit, Aanbod van jeugdinformatie nader bekeken. Diepte-onderzoek op basis van case-studies naar het functioneren van intermediaire kaders op het gebied van maatschappelijke informatie-overdracht aan jongeren in Nederland, Rijksuniversiteit Leiden, 1993.

  35. See for example: Haddad, G., Les biblioclastes. Le Messie et l'autodafé, Grasset, Paris, 1990; Rafetseder, H., Bücherverbrennungen. Die öffentliche Hinrichtung von Schriften im Historischen Wandel, Böhlau, Wien, 1988 (Kulturstudien, Vol. 12); and, Speyer, W., Büchervernichtung und Zensur des Geistes, bei Heiden, Juden und Christen, Hiersemann, Stuttgart, 1981 (Bibliothek des Buchwesens, Vol. 7).