Congress theme: “Libraries beyond libraries: Integration, Innovation and Information for all”

IFLA & UNESCO – Important partners

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Jānis KārkliņšThe following is a short interview with Jānis Kārkliņš, Assistant Director-General of Communication and Information of UNESCO


What are the main areas that UNESCO is working with IFLA in at the moment?

IFLA is one of UNESCO’s strategic partners and we have number of on-going activities: we are cooperating on the preservation of the world’s documentary heritage in the framework of the Memory of the World Programme; promoting access to multilingual and multicultural content through the World Digital Library which is a joint UNESCO / US Library of Congress project; promoting media and information literacy and principle of open access to information, as well as collaborating in following up on the decisions of  the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

IFLA has agreed to be a co-organizer of an international conference on digital preservation that UNESCO is planning to hold in September 2012. The aim of the conference is to raise awareness of policy makers on digital heritage protection, as well as providing further contributions on practical solutions for digital preservation and digitization policies in the countries around the world. The conference will revisit the Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage which was adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2003 and will examine necessary adjustments or changes which should be introduced in the text taking into account the technological advancements of the past 10 years. IFLA’s expertise in these issues is indispensable and we count on the close cooperation.

UNESCO has been working with IFLA’s Information Literacy Section on the production of Media and Information Literacy indicators. Can you tell us how this work is going?

UNESCO together with experts analyzed the specificities and similarities between Information literacy and Media literacy. This analysis showed an overlap of skills in both as well as other types of literacies. The work on Media and Information Literacy (MIL) should be seen as a process towards more inclusive holistic approach which describes the core competencies (skills, attitudes and knowledge) necessary to function successfully in the emerging/ growing knowledge societies.

The Information Literacy Section of IFLA, one of UNESCO’s important partners, kindly accepted to review and critically assess the validity of the MIL theoretical and conceptual framework, as well as the MIL methodology. The workshop is scheduled to take place on 11 August and all IFLA information literacy experts are invited to participate.

On 14 July in Istanbul, Turkey, at the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) Annual Conference, UNESCO presented the MIL concept and indicators to more than 30 experts from media studies, media education, gender, social anthropology, etc. Although the overall assessment of the concept was positive, comments were made about the need to reinforce elements that ensure freedom of expression and pay more attention to collective competencies. The outcome of the expert discussions in Turkey will be presented during the IFLA experts meeting. I hope that the San Juan meeting will provide information experts’ perspective to the concept which will complement and conclude the round of expert consultations on this subject.

It is worth mentioning that UNESCO has developed a comprehensive MIL curriculum for teachers training which was presented during the recent (15-17 June 2011) international conference in Fez, Morocco, and will be piloted in dozen countries around the world.

UNESCO recently hosted a conference on E-books in Italy. What issues came up that libraries should pay attention to? Are E-books a ‘game changer’?

The conference on e-books which took place earlier this year in Monza reached several important conclusions. The e-book modifies the relationship with the reader and it implies a change that is not only deep but very progressive in the publishing professional profiles. It was also observed that the e-book is not a "book" that has become “electronic”. It is completely different, being more similar to a license or an authorization limited in time. Discussion has shown that e-books and printed books actually exist side by side, sometimes in a complementary way, and even reinforcing each other.

It was observed that the traditional production and distribution chain evolves and is changing in depth, but it still exists. In other words, we still have authors, publishers, illustrators, translators, editors, distributors, booksellers and librarians; but we also have e-publishers, literary blogs, web illustrators and graphic designers, on demand booksellers, and, of course, new digital tools will be further developed in the production process of traditional printed texts.

In the context of libraries the conference concluded that the digitization of libraries is a point of no return, an irreversible process, which encourages and facilitates their networking. They become more important and have a greater impact on society due to the expansion of their activities and of their publics. Throughout history, libraries have never served as many readers as they do today. But digitalization also implies challenges for libraries: accessibility, data conservation and safeguarding, financing, etc. We need to address these issues in an open and inclusive manner with a view of finding the most rational models for different type of economic environments which would be based on freedom of expression, free access to information, respect for authors’ rights and the quality service for customers.

As the online population of the world rises above 2 billion people and Internet access becomes more common, what challenges and opportunities are on the horizon for libraries?

Libraries in many countries of the world will remain the hubs of unrestricted access to information, including through the use of new technologies. Internet creates a new paradigm of access to information; access to enormous amount of information has never been so easy. One can speak about a deluge of information which is now accessible on-line and which requires the development of a new set of skills by users. In that respect, the role of libraries and librarians remains important in helping people with their informational needs.

Media and information literacy becomes an increasingly important skill and should be addressed at all levels and stages of education. Life-long learning programmes which are part of library agendas play a crucial role in promoting MIL and facilitating readers’ ability to navigate in the ocean of information.

Libraries work in bridging the digital divide and democratize access to a variety of content. They are confronted with the challenge of developing new skills as well as (re)defining the professional profile of information managers. All librarians need to be well trained themselves and must be able to provide necessary information services to the customers, including those with special needs, people with disabilities, socially marginalized people.