Growing the knowledge city: a new voice for libraries


Speech by Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Delivered at the IFLA President's Meeting, Toronto, Ontario
April 8, 2016
The speech was delivered in English. Check against delivery

I want to share my thoughts with you about what advocacy means for Library and Archives Canada and for national libraries in general.

What is the role of a national library in an age when there is such a pressing need to advocate effectively for libraries as key players in political, economic and social change?

How can national libraries influence policy, and how can we raise our voices collectively and individually on the national and international stage?

How can national libraries work together, and alongside others in the library community, to promote the values we share?

Values that include making sure everyone has access to information and knowledge,

and is able to understand, use and share that information to promote sustainable development and democratic societies.

These values are enshrined in the Lyon Declaration.

And they are united by the idea of freedom itself, in all its forms, secured through equitable access to information.

In an information world, access can spell the difference between a decent wage or poverty,

between acceptance or being marginalized,

between health or illness, knowledge or ignorance, despair or hope, even life or death

That is why libraries must be seen as crucial to our development as people, as nations, and as a world.

Libraries are a public good – and the library community has developed a capacity to advocate for our value.

Libraries are involved at every level of how society functions.

I like to think that libraries, and even communities of libraries, develop like great cities.

Lewis Mumford, in his classic work, The City in History, writes that:

"From its origins onward, the city may be described as a structure specially equipped to store and transmit the goods of civilization."

Among those goods of civilisation we find knowledge, of course.

As goods move about within the city, the city grows and changes and defines its own unique character.

The more these goods are freely exchanged, the better the city functions and grows.

One can imagine libraries and the knowledge community growing the same way,

from large networks like UNESCO, which look at the impact of information on a global scale…

…to more focused international groups like IFLA, the ICA, and ICOM, which translate these impacts to their members…

…to national organizations like CARL, CRKN, PTPLC and CULC, working to share information and advance efforts

…to government departments and agencies that play a unique role as national institutions – both within government and alongside other libraries and library organizations.

Yet, in our cities, libraries still need to demonstrate value, and often that translates into economic value.

Good work has already been done in this area.

Surveys of library users, circulation statistics, the study of the growth of businesses located next to libraries – for example the Knowledge Quarter around the British Library – and the willingness to pay for library services, are some of the methods that have been used to demonstrate the value of libraries.

For example, in this very city, the Toronto Public Library commissioned a study which concluded that the library delivered $5.63 of economic impact for every $1 it spent.

Direct value to users was estimated at over $600 million, with a value to the wider society estimated at $300 million.

That's really useful, and lots of other libraries have used those figures.

Still, it's hard to put a dollar value on freedom, gained by accessing information

And what about the social and cultural value of libraries?

That's very difficult to quantify, despite its utmost importance.

* * *

However important the role of libraries--economically, socially and culturally--government departments and agencies, including most national libraries, do not participate in advocacy activities

Our job is to analyse issues, provide so-called fearless advice and then implement the policies of government, which is democratically elected.

At LAC we believe that it is by understanding the views of international and national partners that we can undertake the most appropriate analysis and provide the most comprehensive advice to government.

That's why we have made engagement with partners and stakeholders a priority.

And I also personally believe that we are able to use our public programming, our outreach, and our engagement efforts, to express the value and the importance of libraries and archives.

I like to think of it as advocacy through action.

My discussions with colleagues in national libraries and archives in other countries lead me to believe they are developing similar approaches.

I was recently fortunate enough to have discussions with the British Library and the National Archives of the UK on this very topic, and advocacy is a concern for their stakeholders and partners as well.

The British Library makes a very clear distinction between the private advice they provide to government on issues and joining public advocacy campaigns.

The National Archives has a slightly different approach.  It advocates for the sector only where it is not in conflict with the government's position.

In other words, they work in ways that align their role as agencies of government with their role as catalysts with their national networks and communities

The IFLA National Libraries Section I have the honour of chairing is concerned with the full range of functions within national libraries.

National libraries have special responsibilities, often defined in law, within a nation's library and information environment.

These responsibilities vary from country to country.

In fact, my section of IFLA is currently conducting a survey to capture all of the functions of national libraries.

The strategic plan for the IFLA National Libraries Section, for 2015 to 2017, aligns with IFLA's overall strategic directions – including the association's master plan for advocacy

The Section's plan proposes actions to support IFLA's key initiatives:

These actions include

  • defining our activities so that governments can better understand what we do
  • encouraging access to collections through digitization, access policies and social media; and
  • working together with cultural heritage partners to promote open access to national heritage

The President's theme at IFLA this year is "A Call to Action" and it sets the stage for our work at Library and Archives Canada.

We support the open exchange of information at all levels, including bringing library issues to the table in discussions with our colleagues in government.

And we also add our voices to those of the library community – libraries, NGOS, librarians and the private sector, with a sense of common purpose – for the freedom to be informed.

One of the most important keys to freedom is literacy.

We advocate for literacy through the TD Summer Reading Club, a national program that gets children to read.

In 2015, 650 000 participants read some 1.2 million books.

The program is offered by LAC and the Toronto Public Library in partnership with the TD Bank Group and libraries across the country.

I want to mention the extraordinary contribution of the TD Bank not only to this program, but to literacy in general.

The TD Bank initiative reminds us that the private sector has an important role to play in advocating for literacy and access to information.

I believe that role is not mentioned enough.

Since 2004, TD has continued to be the leading sponsor of our bilingual program, which encourages children 12 and under to read throughout the summer.

Children get invitations, notebooks, web access cards, and stickers to encourage them to read.

They can read e-books, submit jokes and book reviews, share stories, and participate in a wide range of reading activities on the TD summer reading club website.

During the summer of 2015, over 2000 libraries hosted the program, helping children discover the fun of reading.

The summer reading club is one example of how we take action to ensure that LAC is an active player in Canada's cultural life.

Through public programs and special events, conferences and round-tables, exhibitions and an active loans program, we raise awareness of libraries and archives, and how important they are.

This is advocacy too. Advocacy through action

These actions are also part of building a network of support for what libraries do…

Taking action to promote the national library and the value of libraries is something we do in collaboration with our many partners: Canada's major documentary heritage NGOs.

It is also something we do when we are working with Industry Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage on topics such as the Copyright Act, the Marrakesh Treaty and WIPO, to ensure the voices of libraries are heard with respect to accessing the world's heritage.

I hope I've offered some useful insights into the advocacy model we are following at LAC, advocacy through action and fearless advice within government,

As well as a sense of how complex the issue is for national libraries and other government agencies, both in Canada and throughout the world.

There is no doubt in my mind that we help to promote the work of libraries through partnerships and collaboration both inside and outside of government.

And through dialogue, we can work together to support our collective values.

It gives me great hope for the future.

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