Impressions of IFLA
World Information Congress Was All About Access
By Dick Kaser
How could they have known? Years back, when IFLA decided to hold its 69th
World Library and Information Congress in a reunited Berlin, how could they
have known how ironically fitting the setting would turn out to be?
Surely, when they picked Berlin, it must have been a different kind of symbolism
they had in mind.
Yes, it's true, they burned books here in the 1930s. Yes, in the '40s, this
was the seat of a propaganda machine. Yes, in the '60s, they put up a wall
to keep people in. But IFLA officially opposes all such things.
No, when they selected this site, they could not have been thinking about
those grim images, except to relish how it all turned out in the end. This
is, after all, also the city where good triumphed over evil and IFLA's core
values of "free access to information and freedom of expression" prevailed.
Berlin is the city where communism fell.
IFLA's visit here should have been nothing but a celebration of its high
But as it turned out, the agenda would, of necessity, focus on Berlin's darker
past, which came back at periodic intervals to haunt the federation's serious
discussions of information access in a post-9/11 world..
Bibliothek als Portal
It's hard to say simply what a conference of this magnitude was all about.
The organizers themselves needed to combine many words to make their point.
In English, they billed the program as "Access Point LibrariesMedia,
It rang better in French as "La bibliothèque point d'accès."
But it was with the German translation that they got it most right: as "Bibliothek
als Portal," the library as a portal. The library, port of access.
It was not the only thing the Germans got right. They also proved they understood
the theme of the conference.
To go along with it, the Federal Union of German Library Associations, local
host for the event, published a book called Portals to the Past and to the
FutureLibraries in Germany. The 100-page, nicely illustrated text,
in English and German editions, tells a history beginning with 15th-century
illuminated manuscripts and ending in a vision of libraries in the year 2015.
Wasting no time in getting to that digital future, two of the most significant
funders of library initiatives in Germany, the BMBF and DFG, used the occasion
to launch a brand-new pan-German online research portal. In champagne-toasting
ceremonies, they christened it vascoda "to conjure up images of the explorer
Vasco da Gama."
Every institution in Berlin having anything to do with libraries threw open
its doors for tours.
The Germans also put their euros where their mouths were. German delegates
came in droves to Berlin's architecturally famous ICC conference facility to
hear the program. One in five attendees was a local.
And when it came to putting on a show ... well, no one in attendance will
forget the brassy jazz band that ushered thousands to a dinner sponsored by
Springer-Verlag in the Palais am Funkturm. That bandand the night of
dancing that followedwas the only comic relief in an austere program
that often left its delegates looking somber.
World Update on Internet Filters
All was anything but song and dance. At every turn, the IFLA program was
Topping the critical news, IFLA published a report that showed 48 percent
of library associations in the world support filteringand not just to
protect innocent children from unwitting exposure to smut.
"I've been asked in some countries," remarked Christine Deschamps of France,
the retiring IFLA president, "if it is OK to give women access to the Internet."
Of the 42 library associations in countries that told IFLA they favor filtering
or favor it to a certain degree, 35 said it was OK if it protects children;
29 said it's OK if it safeguards public morality, national culture, or religious
values; and 15 approved if it prevents criminal activity or increases the national
"All kinds of privileges," said Deschamps, "get in the way of access: religious,
gender, class sensitivity...."
In response to the statistics, Alex Byrne of Australia, who chaired the committee
that produced the report, told the press, "We [the world's library associations]
are committed to access to information, not to controlling access."
But IFLA's own data shows that only 52 percent of the world's library associations
Library Damage in Iraq
Jean-Marie Arnoult, France's Inspector General of Libraries and recently
part of the UNESCO Expert Mission to Iraq, showed a stunned, tightly packed
audience vivid images from his just-completed tour of Iraq's libraries and
archives damaged during the war.
A prior UNESCO mission in June had been devoted to assessing the damage done
to Iraq's rich museum collections. This second mission in June and July was
aimed specifically at inspecting archives and libraries both in Baghdad and
to the north and south.
As for the good news ...
"The most important collection of manuscripts in the Middle East, if not the
world, is completely safe," Arnoult asserted. The director of that facility,
the Iraqi Center of Manuscripts, had transferred the ancient collection to
a bunker in Baghdad prior to the start of the war.
"The most historical part of the collection was moved and is presumed safe,"
he said. And it's a good thing, because "looters and
vandals," he added, "had the will to destroy completely
the national archives." They burned as many as 500,000
books and journals in small but highly incendiary fires
that even destroyed the metal shelves.
"It's difficult to burn a book," Arnoult observed, as the crowd packed into
a small room to hear his report stared silently at the impressionistic images
he was showing of charred rooms piled deep with ashes.
"A book is like wood," he said. "To completely burn a book is difficult. Yet
these books were completely burned."
Besides the official libraries and archives, Arnoult said: "We also know
that many private libraries were looted. And we now see the books appearing
for sale. There is a traffic in the books [on the black market]."
When asked why he thought the people of Iraq had looted the libraries, Arnoult
said, "There was a will of destruction in this building [the Federal Archives],
and it would seem to be the revenge of the people to destroy the symbol of
the old regime.
"But the public library in Basra," he said sadly, shaking his head, "was not
a symbol of the past. It was a library for people and children."
Arnoult's report and pictures left the audience stunned.
This session also apparently made an impression on IFLA. Before leaving Berlin,
the IFLA Congress passed a resolution urging action by governments to help
restore the library and information infrastructure of Iraq.
Report on the Post-9/11 Information Society
No sooner had the 100-plus delegates filed from the stuffy room where they
had just seen pictures of the destroyed librariesin Iraq, did IFLA take up
another side of the same topic: the effects of the war on terror on freedom
"September 11th," said Alex Byrne, introducing the IFLA open meeting, "was
a momentous event that had consequences for libraries.
"But," he continued, "it is only the latest development that threatens open
access to information. Libraries are harnessed by political ideas all the time.
Every year brings a new crop of incidents."
This year alone, he reminded the delegates, "we have marked three grim anniversaries:
the 70th anniversary of the book burning in this city in 1933, the 50th anniversary
of the start of the McCarthy era in the United States, and the 50th anniversary
of a brutal suppression of workers in East Berlin."
The book burnings in the '30s, Byrne said, were "symptomatic of the loss
of intellectual freedom in Nazi Germany. It was a two-sided coin. On one side,
the suppression of 'unacceptable' ideas and on the other, their replacement
with ideas the state regarded as 'correct.'"
During the McCarthy era, he recalled, American librarians feared having copies
of books describing socialism in their collections, since that might mean their
names went on the blacklist of suspected communist sympathizers. "American
libraries," he said, "eventually decided to stock the works of Marx and Lenin,
if for no other reason than in order to 'know thy enemy.'"
In the wake of 9/11, he reminded the audience, one of the first reactions
was a call to control access to information, especially on the Internet, since
terrorists had reportedly used it to plan and implement their strategies.
"The world has not changed as a result of September 11th," Byrne asserted. "But
we are more conscious of the power of those who want to make a statement without
regard for others, and for the power of governments, and for the changing global
"But a very concerning development in the United States," he said, "is the
passage of the PATRIOT Act, which seeks to counter terror, but gives increased
power to agencies to identify those who might perpetrate such acts."
And, ending on an ominous note picked up by those who followed him to the
platform, he implied, the real threat is that "there are attempts to emulate
the PATRIOT Act in other countries."
Down with the PATRIOT Act!
Stuart Hamilton, a Ph.D. candidate who has been conducting research for IFLA,
"Now, nearly 2 years after September 11th," he said, "libraries and their
users are still being affected by governments in the name of the war against
The response of governments has been threefold, he observed:
1. Data retentionGovernments have put pressure on Internet service
providers to preserve Internet-use records with specific times, Web sites visited,
and e-mailto be
made available on request.
2. Online surveillanceThe electronic equivalent of wiretaps
3. Re-evaluation of information
resources provided online (with the removal of information that could
relate to national security)
"These three come together," he said, "to form the anti-terror package that
has been up and running for more than a year in many countries, including France,
Germany, Spain, Italy, the U.K., and Russia, where there has been an attempt
to ban all forms of 'extremist acts.' But, it is in the United States where
the most extensive laws were passed."
Down the road, he warned, "these technological developments for surveillance
may be deployed to countries with poor human rights records."
Libraries, he said, have always been bound by national lawsand they
shouldnot break them. "But how can we not act when our users' intellectual
freedom is at stake?"
Repeal the PATRIOT Act!
Speaking last was Kay Raseroka, IFLA's new president, who gave the subject
its most interesting perspective.
During a Q&A session following the formal talks, she said of the PATRIOT
Act: "It extends a chilling effect, as with the McCarthy era, on individual
freedom. It affects all of us in all our countriessort of like a patent
that is picked up and applied around the world.
"I'm especially concerned," she said, "that in developing countries where
democracy from the First World country is just coming about.... Now, they will
say, 'surveillance is what the leading democracy in the world doesto
remove the very ideals of democracyso it is OK for us too.'
"I am afraid," she said of these new democracies, "they will move toward a
reversion of not so long ago: repressive habits and suppressing access to information.
The fact that countries have emerged from oppression does not mean that they
can't slip back very easily."
From the floor, a Russian delegate went to the microphone and urged IFLA
and ALA to oppose the PATRIOT Act so it couldnot be applied in other parts
of the world.
By the end of the conference, IFLAhad issued an official resolution to that
Achtung! Librarians in Action
IFLA organized numerous tours of local libraries, archives, and private
collections for delegates to its World Congress in Berlin last month.
And the professional librarians in attendance hopped on public buses
and U-Bahn trains to get to them.
Joining this particular tour of the Archives of the Political Parties
of East Germany were representatives of the archives in Mali; Papau,
New Guinea; and The Hague. ALA's executive director Keith Fiels was also
Housed in a facility at Lichterfelde, which was used in every era of
the German state, including as an American military base after World
War II, its collection includes documents found in the red suitcase of
a German traitor, and a note written on cigarette paper and handed to
The librarians on this exclusive IFLAtour wastedno time.As they entered
the otherwise restricted stacks, each pulled open a tray of historical
documents and started leafing through them.
In addition to the papers of various East German parties, this particular
branch ofthe German Federal Archives also houses the card file containing
the names of German Nazi party members. But don't expect to see it. German
privacy laws protect the list from being used for witch hunts.
Essential Reading from the
69th World Library and Information Congress
Pictures (along with the report of the UNESCO Expert Mission
to Iraq on the damage done to Iraq's libraries during recent hostilities)
can be found at http://www.ifla.org/VI/4/admin/iraq2407.htm and http://www.ifla.org/VI/4/admin/iraq2207.pdf.
The IFLA report, "Intellectual Freedom in the Information
SocietyLibraries and the Internet," which provides country-by-country
statistics on Internet use in libraries. Order from IFLA at http://www.ifla.org/faife/index.htm.
(ISBN: 87-988-01333, 240 pp.)
Federal Union of German Library Associations' (BDB; http://www.bdbibl.de) "Portals
to the Past and to the FutureLibraries in Germany," by Jürgen
Seefeldt and Ludger Syré (ISBN: 3-487-111713-4, 112 pp.)
"LibricideThe Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books
and Libraries in the 20th Century" by Rebecca Knuth (Praeger, ISBN: 0-275-98088-X,
250 pp., $39.95) http://www.greenwood.com
For an update on the World Summit on the Information Society,
see the paper "UNESCO, Library Development and the World Summit on the
Information Society," by Abdelaziz Abid
Get a copy of Stuart Hamilton's paper "The War on TerrorismTowards
a 'Less Free, Less Choice' Internet for Library Users?" at http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla69/papers/184e-Hamilton.pdf.
Dick Kaser is Information Today, Inc.'s vice president of
content. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.