Participants at WIPO Workshop on the Treaty of Marrakesh, 28-29 July 201The need to combat the ‘book famine’ for the blind, visually impaired, and other people with print disabilities was at the heart of the drive to pass the Treaty of Marrakesh. With the lack of resources particularly acute in poorer countries (only an estimated 1% of books are available there in accessible formats), visually impaired people in Africa stood to gain most from its signing.


African libraries have therefore been amongst the most active supporters, both of the Treaty, and of the goals it sets out to achieve. Collectively, libraries hold a wealth of books in accessible formats, and through their day-to-day work, seek to offer the widest possible access to knowledge for all of their users. At a political level, they work closely with national governments, and international institutions, in order to achieve change.


Three years on from its agreement in 2013, there is a date for the Treaty’s entry into force (30 September), at least in the twenty countries around the world which have already passed the necessary national laws.


This, however, represents only a small fraction of World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) members, and so of the potential beneficiaries of the Treaty globally.


There was, therefore, good news at a recent workshop in Gaborone, Botswana, where a number of African countries indicated that they were making rapid progress towards ratification.


In front of an audience of leaders and senior officials from copyright offices across the continent, IFLA, represented by Dick Kawooya (Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, USA) welcomed these positive signs. In a well-received intervention, he set out what libraries are already doing to widen access in general, their approach to implementing the Treaty, and the value to governments of cooperating with them in achieving this.


More broadly, with the legislative process still incomplete in many countries, there is still a crucial role for libraries and library associations across Africa and beyond to play in ensuring that the laws that are passed ensure the best outcome for the visually impaired. In this, they share the objectives of associations representing the visually impaired and other beneficiary groups.


Libraries need to be particularly vigilant about efforts to place undue financial or legal barriers on their ability to make accessible books available to those who need them most. The Treaty of Marrakesh’s entry into force on 30 September is, it is important to note, just one step towards its underlying objective.


The World Library and Information Congress, to be held 13-18 August in Columbus, United States, will offer the opportunity to hear about what libraries are already doing to help the visually impaired get access to books internationally. Please feel free to follow the Congress (#wlic2016), and share your views.