When countries around the world came together to discuss how to give visually impaired people easier access to books, libraries were at the heart of the drive for an ambitious, legally binding solution. These efforts paid off, with the Treaty of Marrakesh signed in 2013.

The focus now is on implementation. The World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), which manages the Treaty, is running a series of workshops looking at how the make change happen on the ground in different parts of the world.

At the most recent event in Panama on 21-23 June, Alicia Ocaso underlined on behalf of IFLA the contribution that libraries can make. Urging attendees from across government and civil society not to reinvent the wheel, she noted that libraries are not only already established across Latin America, but also have a strong record of supporting access to information for the whole population. A working group bringing together library associations from across the continent is already looking at how they can help visually impaired people exercise their right of access to knowledge and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed last April in Uruguay between IFLA and the Latin American Union for the Blind (ULAC).

 IFLA’s participation continued a record of strong engagement in initiatives that seek to meet the needs of the hundreds of millions of people worldwide with disabilities. The Panama meeting was particularly noteworthy for the caliber of participants, many of whom were key players in Marrakesh when the Treaty was adopted. On the back of this shared experience and common objectives, there was a strong belief among all that on the back of the Treaty, a better world could be built.

There were representatives from the Copyright Offices of nineteen Latin American governments and each country had at least one member of its national organization for the blind. Also present were the President of the Library Association of Panama and the Director of the National Library of Panama and colleagues from various library services for the blind in Panama and Peru. As well as IFLA, other participants included the Latin American Union of the Blind, the International Publishers Association (IPA), the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO) and Mr. Martin Moscoso, Chairman of the World Intellectul Property Organisation’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights.

The meeting saw IFLA and other organisations set out priorities for implementation of the Treaty. Government representatives then shared their practical experiences, helping build shared knowledge among the participants. There was discussion of how to accelerate the production and dissemination of accessible format books, with the support of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), before governments updated participants on the prospects for giving universal access to reading. Significantly, every speaker underlined the strategic role that libraries play in implementing the Marrakesh Treaty.

The Panama meeting marks a further step towards making a reality of the Marrakesh Treaty. Coming barely a week before the Treaty received its twentieth ratification, allowing the clock to start ticking to its entry into force, it helped point the way to a new phase in giving everyone access to knowledge. Libraries are proud to be at the heart of this.