21 November 2019

International Day for the Universal Access to Information Endorsed by UN General Assembly

Four years after its creation by UNESCO, the International Day for the Universal Access to Information has been formally added to the United Nations calendar. In a resolution passed by the General Assembly, Heads of State and government, and their representatives, agreed that 28 September should be the opportunity to recall, and celebrate, the importance of this for development and democracy.

IFLA focuses much of its advocacy work on the importance of access to information, and the role of libraries in delivering it. Access is an enabler of progress and well-being across the board, allowing people to discover opportunities, take better decisions, and hold those in power to account.

Towards a Universal Day

The idea of a Universal Day stems from decades of work in Africa in particular, where non-governmental organisations have underlined the particular importance of access to government information.

They drew attention to the fact that when governments can operate without oversight or accountability, they risk focusing more on their own interests, rather than those of the people.

Through a Universal Day, they argued, more pressure could be applied to those governments which do not have proper laws on access to public information, or which do not apply them well.

With the existence of such laws now an indicator associated with Sustainable Development Goal target 16.10, there is a welcome means of measuring this progress.

UNESCO, at its 38th General Conference in 2015, agreed to the creation of such a day, and in doing so called on the UN General Assembly to offer its support. Through the Resolution agreed last month, this has now happened.

An Opportunity for Libraries

Libraries have often been at the forefront of efforts to promote access to government information.

Parliamentary libraries for example have a key role in supporting scrutiny, and increasingly in informing the public about how decision are made and delivered.

Law libraries preserve and give access to works, while public libraries can be spaces not only to access, but also to gain the skills and support needed to make use of information. See our article on libraries, access to information and democracy for more.

Of course, access to information does not only concern government information.

As UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay set out in her message for the day in 2018, it is also about access to information about culture, education, health and science, and the skills to provide it.

All libraries, in their own ways, provide this, from helping people get the legal knowledge they need to make use of justice systems to supporting global research initiatives such as on climate change.

Crucially, they do it in an equitable, non-commercial way, that ensures that access to information truly is universal.

Time to Celebrate

The Resolution agreed at the UN: ‘Invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, to celebrate the International Day in a manner that each considers most appropriate’.

Libraries will be looking forward to the first fully UN-endorsed Day in on 28 September 2020 to do jus this.

Read more about IFLA's work on libraries and development and the Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report.

Access to information, Access to knowledge, Development, UNESCO

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