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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 16. IFLA Conference : Part 2 - Report on meetings and demonstrations attended, overall impression of the conference and a look towards the future

By Ruth Rikowski

Introduction

In part 2 of this 2-part article I will focus on some of the meetings that I attended and the demonstrations that I saw. These included the meeting on Palestine libraries, the Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) meeting, the 'Bridging the Digital Divide' brainstorming sessions with Kay Raseroka, the President-Elect of IFLA and the EBLIDA WTO Working Group meeting. The two demonstrations that I saw were the ProQuest Customer Forum and the Ebrary demonstration, and these will be considered. I conclude with some of my overall impressions of the conference and a look towards the future.

Meeting on Palestine Libraries

On Monday 19th August I went to a meeting on Palestine Libraries, that was organised by Frode Bakken, the President of the Norwegian Library Association. The meeting was well attended. Someone gave a brief report about the situation in regard to Palestine Libraries, and the amount of devastation and destruction that there has been. However, the point about the difficulty of obtaining accurate statistics in regard to the devastation was also made. We then discussed what we could do about this from both within the IFLA framework and outside the IFLA framework. A list was then circulated where people could enter their names if they wanted to be included on an email list, in order to take these issues forward. Erling Bergan, Editor of Librarians Union of Norway agreed to take a co-ordinating initiative for a network of supportive librarians and he emailed round to everyone at the beginning of September, outlining what he had done so far. A website has now been set-up at http://www.bibforb.no/lip/ with a few texts and links, which Erling will update once a month. The fact-finding mission is now in the hands of FAIFE (Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression) - as was agreed at our meeting. We also decided to undertake some supportive actions for libraries in Palestine. This is still under consideration but Erling has asked initially for any further information and ideas on this matter. So, an optimistic beginning which can now be built on.

Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) Meeting

On Tuesday 20th August I attended the Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) Update session, which was part of the main IFLA programme. The meeting was very well attended. Teresa Hackett, Director of EBLIDA (the European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association) was one of the speakers and her talk was on The European Copyright Directive - update on national implementation . Denise Nicholson, from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, spoke about Copyright and developing countries: a South African perspective . I also heard Denise Nicholson speak on a similar theme at a 2-day conference in London that I attended earlier this year, which was organised by the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights. Denise spoke about the fact that copyright laws are not really a priority concern in South Africa, as there are many more pressing social concerns. This includes high unemployment, poverty, poorly resourced schools and libraries, high book prices and the spread of HIV and AIDS. Furthermore, nearly 40% of the population are illiterate anyway. So copyright is a low priority even though it determines what information South Africans have. A lack of education and information has also helped to spread HIV and AIDS, Denise Nicholson said. Many South Africans do not even have a telephone, let alone a computer - only 2 million actually have access to a computer. She concluded by saying that copyright laws need to take into account literacy problems and poverty and that if one remains illiterate how can one understand the copyright laws anyway! Paul Whitney, Chief Librarian, Burnaby Public Library, British Columbia, Canada, a member of the IFLA Copyright and Other Legal Matter Committee, IFLA representative to the WTO Seattle Ministerial and past president of the Canadian Library Association provided an update on libraries and international trade treaties, including information about both the GATS and TRIPS, and he also informed people about my fringe meeting.

'Bridging the Digital Divide' - a brainstorm session with Kay Raseroka, President-Elect of IFLA

I also went to the 'Bridging the Digital Divide' brainstorm session with Kay Raseroka, the President-Elect of IFLA, which was about the theme that she has chosen for her presidential period. The session was extremely well attended. In pursuing its aims IFLA embraces 4 Core Values and each table took one of the themes and discussed it. The 4 Core Values are: freedom of access and expression; the importance of this freedom in social, cultural, educational, democratic and economic terms; the importance of high-quality library and information staff; and a commitment to the ideal that all IFLA members should be able to participate and benefit from the activities that IFLA undertakes. I joined the table with the Core Value on Equality issues, point 2, as this is something that particularly interests me. This Core Value is:

The belief that people, communities and organisations need universal and equitable access to information, ideas and works of imagination for their social, educational, cultural, democratic and economic well-being.

We each considered what work we could do ourselves to help to fulfil the core aim, what work the institution that we work in could do and what work IFLA could do. I spoke, once again, about my work on the GATS, and how the GATS could act as a barrier to equitable access to information. Each table took a couple of key points made from within the group, and reported back to everyone else at the meeting. Various conclusions were reached at the end of the meeting, such as the fact that IFLA needs to further raise its profile on the international stage. Also, that the delegates at IFLA should report back to those at the grassroots, so that they can become more aware of the work and core values of IFLA. Kay Raseroka said that she was very delighted with the overall level of discussion and the ideas that were put forward.

EBLIDA (European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association)
WTO Working Group Meeting

Finally, I attended the EBLIDA WTO Working Group Meeting. Frode Bakken, the co-ordinator of the EBLIDA WTO Working Group and the President of the Norwegian Library Association called this meeting. Shortly before going to IFLA I formally became a member of this group and Teresa Hackett, the Director of EBLIDA, updated the website with my details. See www.eblida.org/topics/wto/wto.htm for further details. The following people were at the meeting - Frode Bakken, Teresa Hackett, Britt Mari Haggstrom (President of EBLIDA), Toby Bainton (Secretary of SCONUL, UK), Kjell Nilsson (Director of Royal Library Bibsam, Sweden), Paul Whitney and myself. Frode invited Paul because of his knowledge in the subject area - he cannot be a formal member of EBLIDA as he is Canadian! It was a very useful and productive meeting. First of all, we had an interesting discussion around the subject of the GATS in general, as well as outlining the work that had already been undertaken on this within the international library community. We considered whether we should have an ideological position in regard to the GATS (but decided against it, at least at this stage). We discussed a draft letter that will be sent to the European Commission on behalf of EBLIDA once everyone in the group is in broad agreement in regard to the wording of the letter. It expresses our concerns about the GATS and its likely implications for libraries. This will then become EBLIDA's official position, and will go on the EBLIDA WTO website. We also decided that we would see if EBLIDA could hold a pre-conference meeting on the GATS at next years' IFLA conference. Teresa Hackett has also arranged a meeting with the WTO itself - which others from EBLIDA can attend. This sounds like a good opportunity to have a meaningful discussion and to raise some of our concerns. We also considered how to build up other relevant strategic partnerships and about how to divide up special responsibilities within our group. Britt Marie Haggstrom, for example, said that she would focus on the media and the GATS.

Finally, we also discussed the 2nd European Conference of Regional Ministers of Culture and Education that was due to take place at Brixen (Bozen-Sudtirol) on 17th-18th October 2002. The conference is entitled Globalisation of Culture and Education WTO and GATS: the implications of liberalising public services in the fields of culture and education . The aim of the conference was to look at globalisation and the WTO and to discuss the GATS and how it might affect museums, schools, colleges, libraries and culture in the Regions. The conference will assist in the drafting of a common position on the GATS negotiations for all Regions of Europe. The Assembly of European Regions (AER) is a political organisation of the regions of Europe and speaks for their interests at European and international level. Its mission is to bring together the regions of Europe and to allow them to act in the construction of Europe and European integration. See the website for further information at - http://www.a-e-r.org/COMMUN/A214b8gb.html . There are readings on different topics on the website - one section for GATS and Education, for example, another for GATS and Trade, and another for GATS and Libraries. In the GATS and Libraries section there is a link to Rory Litwin's libraries and GATS website which is available at - http://www.libr.org/GATS/ . This website provides links to various articles on the web about the GATS and libraries, including links to articles by Paul Whitney, Frode Bakken, Fiona Hunt, Steve Shrybman, and myself. Frode Bakken is going to speak at this conference. This surely helps to show the significance that libraries now hold on the international scene.

ProQuest Customer Forum

I went to the ProQuest Customer Forum given by Pro Quest at the City Inn, Glasgow on Tuesday, 20th August. They gave us a talk and a demonstration and also gave us some literature about ProQuest. Steven Hall, Senior Vice President and General Manager of ProQuest Information and Learning says:

ProQuest has no equal in the scale and variety of the digital scholarly content which it publishes and sells . (Hall, p.1, 2002)

Basically, the forum was about promoting the company's product and saying how good their product was. ProQuest also wanted feedback from others in the meeting about the product, presumably so that they can take on board any comments that seem particularly important and helpful in terms of helping to increase their sales. Describing the product in their literature ProQuest say:

ProQuest is your gateway to a world of electronic journal resources. It is a single, integrated platform that provides instant access to the full text of over 3,500 journals online and detailed indexing and abstracts for a further 3,500 journals. It is, quite simply, the largest academic research tool of its kind available (ProQuest, 2002, p.3).

However, as people such as Fox have pointed out, companies such as ProQuest are essentially about selling information. Questia, for example, is a similar company to ProQuest. It is an Internet company aimed at serving students in an academic environment, providing online information from books, encyclopaedias and journals in the humanities and social sciences for fees. Fox refers to Questia saying that it:

...sells information online directly to consumers the way amazon sells books online and the GAP sells clothes online. (Fox, 2001, p.1)

Therefore, I suggest that we should approach all such companies with caution.

Ebrary Demonstration

Later I went to see a demonstration of Ebrary at the Ebrary stand in the main exhibition centre. They also gave me some literature. In one of the articles they gave me, written by Mike Letts, Letts refers to the product saying:

Ebrarian is a subscription-based service, designed specifically for libraries, that offers simultaneous, multi-user access to Ebrary's catalog of titles. (Letts, 2002, p.4)

Essentially, Ebrary takes a PDF file, applies various business rules to it and then makes it available. Publishers submit their PDF documents, which includes images, maps, books, periodicals and monographs to Ebrary for free and then charges users for further use of the documents. The Ebrary catalogue holds titles on a wide variety of subjects, such as history, psychology, medicine, literature, technology, economics and social sciences. Letts talks about how Ebrary is gradually building up its business and its customer base and about its charging mechanisms. He says:

...a student or casual Web surfer who enters the Ebrary catalog, either from the Internet or through the Ebrarian service, can view and read any titles for free. However, the reader who wants to copy, save or print any of the material will be charged on a per-page basis. (Letts, 2002, p.5)

Micropayments are being used to assist with the process of charging fees. Ebrary also has a client-side plug-in called InfoTools.

These demonstrations provided me with some useful information about the products and what these companies are essentially about, which was interesting. Essentially, these companies and others similar to them, are about making money out of information and placing information in the market place. Information is becoming a commodity. This fits in neatly with the WTO agenda.

My overall impression of IFLA conference

I enjoyed meeting so many interesting people from a wide variety of different countries, particularly those that I had been contacting by email, as this provided me with the opportunity to meet them face-to-face. I also thought that the whole event was organised extremely well (for example, the efficient bus shuttle service that was provided from the station to the exhibition centre when the trains were not running). UK CILIP should be very much congratulated on this, and for ensuring that the whole event ran so smoothly and was so successful. Given the size of the event this was a particularly significant achievement.

However, I was disappointed in much of the level of debate and would have preferred it if copies of the papers had been made easily available prior to the papers being presented. Then, there might have been a better discussion in the meetings, as people would have had the opportunity to read the papers beforehand.

There also seemed to be a lot of 'hard-selling' going on. The name badges that all the delegates had to wear, for example, had 'EBSCO Information Services' on them. Many of the stalls and exhibits were about selling a product of one sort or another (not surprising really given that it costs £2000 to have a stall - who else other than profitable companies could afford this?) It is unfortunate that this price could not have been lowered, to enable a greater variety of different exhibits and viewpoints. Furthermore, much of the literature that was put out on the main information distribution point was of a selling/promotional nature, rather than providing delegates with real articles to read. It also seemed very much like many other library/information exhibition/conferences that I have been to, such as the Online Exhibition, Internet Librarian and the Library and Information Show. This I found to be somewhat disappointing as I had expected it to be something significantly different. Never the less, some of the stalls and exhibits were interesting and worthwhile and the international dimension certainly made it something quite different.

All in all, it was a worthwhile experience, and it was good to connect with so many people on the international stage. Furthermore, I did fulfil my mission - i.e. I did play some part in starting to raise awareness about the GATS in the international library and information world. Finally, one was certainly spoilt for choice in terms of the number and variety of meetings that one could attend on a wide range of different topics.

Conclusions and looking ahead

In conclusion, attending the IFLA 2002 Conference proved to be a valuable experience, in terms of meeting library and information workers throughout the world, having the opportunity to raise an issue that is important to me and having the opportunity to attend a variety of meetings and discuss different topics. The conference also helped to provide me with new ideas about how to raise other important issues in the future. It was, in total, a unique experience.

However, I think the Conference could be improved in a number of ways. First of all, it would be helpful if it was less bureaucratic and if it was easier to speak on the main programme. It seems that the 'old boy network' still needs to be broken down more, in various ways. Secondly, it would have been good if there had been more opportunity to have a higher level of debate. This could be achieved in a number of different ways, such as having copies of the papers made readily available before they were presented and allocating more time for debate and discussion on the actual programme. Thirdly, the 'hard-sell' approach could have been lessened. This could be achieved by lowering the cost of a stall, for example, and having a greater variety of different exhibits. Whilst this would obviously mean that less revenue would be generated surely one of the central aims of IFLA is to bring together library and information workers from around the world, and from a variety of backgrounds? It is not intended to just bring together library and information workers that have, or might want to buy certain company products. This should surely be given further consideration for the future. Delegates could also have been more adequately informed about the main information distribution point prior to the conference. Then, perhaps, more delegates would have taken copies of their own articles and other material, and put these out in the information distribution point. This would have provided a good counter-balance to the amount of promotional material that was made available.

The GATS - looking ahead

I want to build on the work that I have undertaken on the GATS and indeed, on what I achieved at IFLA in this regard. Being part of the EBLIDA WTO Working Group is very worthwhile in this respect. It gives me the opportunity to raise issues and concerns about the GATS and libraries and to be part of the EBLIDA WTO Working Group decision-making process. This means that I can now have a more formal voice on the international stage on these matters.

I also currently helped to organise a one-day event about the privatisation of UK public services and showing links between privatisation and the GATS, which was held at the London School of Economics on 16th November. It was run by ATTAC, London and is entitled Still at your service? The acronymn 'ATTAC' is French but in English means - the 'Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens'. ATTAC looks for alternatives to the 'dogmatic ideology of neoliberalism' and campaigns on issues such as Third World Debt, the reform or abolition of the WTO and wants to 'recapture the space that has been lost to the financial world'. ( http://www.attac.org/uk/attac/html/about.vm ). At the one-day GATS and privatisation event there was a variety of speakers and workshops on topics such as education, health, libraries, the police, the tube, pensions, legal implications of the GATS and an overview on globalisation and poverty. For further information, see the ATTAC website at: http://docs.attac.org.uk/twiki/bin/view/London/GATSAutumnConference2002

Furthermore, Anders Ericson a freelance journalist and former librarian from Norway has read much of my work and is very interested in it and he recently came over to England to interview me about my work on the GATS and library privatisation. He also interviewed John Pateman about the work he has been doing as the Head of Libraries in Merton, on social exclusion in Merton. Currently he is undertaking further research and will shortly be writing 2 articles about these topics for a Norwegian library journal, entitled Bok og bibliotek (Book and Library) at http://www.bibtils.no/bob/ .

Finally, Paul Whitney hopes to get the WTO/GATS agenda on to the main IFLA programme next year, and EBLIDA also hopes to hold a pre-conference meeting on the GATS at IFLA next year.

The Future

I hope that in the future IFLA will be able to build on the good work it has undertaken on a wide variety of issues, and that it will be able to involve many different people from the library and information world on the international stage in its work. Furthermore, I do hope that it will be able to retain and build on its fundamental principles and its 4 Core Values - they are all very worthwhile. They must not become subsumed under another agenda, such as the ever-increasing drive towards product promotion. I also very much hope that the GATS will be on next years' main IFLA programme in one format or another.

In regard to my own work, I hope (amongst doing many other things as well!) that I will be able to continue to raise awareness about the threat that our state-funded services are under from the GATS, focusing in particular on libraries, as I have described above. In this respect, it would be a great step forward if UK CILIP were able to pass a clear resolution against the GATS, or at least, make a statement expressing its concern about the possible implications of the GATS for libraries, in the same way that other library associations, such as IFLA, have done. There was almost unanimous support for such a resolution from the people that attended my talk on The WTO/GATS Agenda for Libraries at the International Group of the Library Association (as it then was called), meeting back in March of this year.

Thanks

I would like to express my thanks to a number of different people and organisations that have assisted me and offered me great support with all the work that I have undertaken on the GATS. I could not have made the progress that I have made without them. In particular I would like to thank Matthew Mezey, John Pateman, Glenn Rikowski, Frode Bakken, Paul Whitney, Shiraz Durrani, Gill Harris and Rory Litwin. In terms of organisations, I would like to thank, in particular, Information for Social Change, Aslib, UK CILIP, the International Library and Information Group of CILIP, the World Development Movement, ATTAC London, the Canadian Library Association, the European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association and the Norwegian Library Association.

References

ATTAC Britain website - www.attac.org.uk . For information on the ATTAC GATS event see http://docs.attac.org.uk/twiki/bin/view/London/GATSAutumnConference2002

Conference of the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights: how intellectual property rights could work better for developing countries and poor people, 21st-22nd Feb, Summary Report (2001). Published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development. Online at: http://wwwjisd.ca/linkages/sd/sdipr

EBLIDA (2000) World Trade Organization . European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association at http://www.eblida.org/wto/wto.htm

Ebrary website - www.ebrary.com

Fox, Megan (2001) Questia, and the for-profit online library trend. Simmons College Libraries Newsletter , Spring 2001. http://www.simmons.edu/resources/libraries/LibNewsletter

Hall, Steven (2002) ProQuest Information and Learning: Electronic Publications Catalogue, 2002 , p.1

IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) (2001) The IFLA position on the WTO treaty negotiations , Sep. Available at: http://www.ifla.org/III/clm/p1/wto-ifla.htm

Letts, Mike (2002) A new beginning for Ebrary, The Seybold Report: Analyzing Publishing Technologies , pp.3-7

ProQuest website - www.proquest.co.uk

ProQuest Information and Learning Electronic Publications Catalogue , 2002

Rikowski, Ruth (2002a) The WTO/GATS Agenda for Libraries . Available on ATTAC Britain website at http://attac.org.uk/attac/html/view-document.vm?documentID=120

Rikowski, Ruth (2002b) Library privatisation: fact or fiction?, Red Pepper , Dec (forthcoming)

WTO (1994) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) , World Trade Organization, at: http://www.wto.org

Websites

EBLIDA and the WTO... http://www.eblida.org/topics/wto

Information for Social Change... http://libr.org/ISC/

Libraries and GATS website (set up by Rory Litwin)... http://www.libr.org/GATS/

Ruth Rikowski, London, 1st October 2002
Email: rikowskiat symboltiscali.co.uk

 

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