23 December 2016

Different Paths, Same Principles – Discussing Library Codes of Ethics

The work of libraries in providing access to knowledge is not a simple one. As well as much discussed constraints linked to levels of funding, staffing and copyright laws, librarians and library workers must also solve questions where fundamental rights and principles come into play. In a digital age, with not only more information available than ever before, but also more ways to control or monitor it, these issues are as pressing as ever.

IFLA’s advisory committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) has long acted as a focal point for these discussions within the library community. With the launch of the FAIFE Network, there is a reinvigorated means of sharing ideas, building alliances, and creating momentum.

In recent weeks, FAIFE Chair Martyn Wade has brought this message to a number of countries, encouraging the library community there to make their voices heard in the debate.

Gateways, not Gatekeepers

At the heart of the debate is libraries’ central role in delivering Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This underlines the importance of freedom of access to information. Libraries work to help people exercise these rights by making knowledge available, and giving them the tools and space to use it. Crucially, they are guardians of, gateways to information, not gatekeepers.

This right is challenged everywhere – by censorship, by rules imposed by companies, by violations of net neutrality, by the risk that library users cannot enjoy privacy when looking for information, by pressures from individuals and communities, by the need to uphold other people’s rights. In some cases, the ethical issues are clear, in others not.

At the International Summit of the Book in Limerick, EUROLIS in London, and at the Round Table on Freedom of Access to Information in Academic Libraries in Croatia, the FAIFE Chair underlined these issues, and the tools IFLA has produced to help national library associations. They also saw librarians from different countries discuss their approaches. These may vary, given different national perspectives and experiences, but the principles remain the same.

The promise of fuller access to information – more empowered, more creative, more innovative citizens – is universal. We look forward to discussing further how to achieve this on the FAIFE Network.

For more information, see Martyn's papers for:

The International Summit of the Book

EUROLIS

The Croation Round Table on Freedom of Access to Information

FAIFE (Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression), Access to information, Freedom of expression, Croatia, Ireland, United Kingdom, Professional ethics, Code of Ethics

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