Libraries and the World Social Forum

This note was written for the "Mural of Proposals" and for the "Map to build a new world", which is currently under preparation by the International Council of the World Social Forum (WSF). Thus, this note was not written for you library people, but for those social and political activists from all over the world who are most involved in the WSF. Hope you will find it interesting anyway.

We need to construct the Social Forums's memory, yes. [This refers to the Memoria Viva-project.] But, dear people, you have already forgotten something. I mean, of course, the library and the librarians.

The participants of the WSF should support the libraries, and the librarians should be documenting the WSF. To each town and village its own library and memory of the Social Forum!

The library is older than the Roman forum. Libraries existed in Sumeria and Babylonia (Iraq, as the area is called today) long before Europe was even being thought of.

The modern public library, though, is a young historical phenomenon. Its principle, to make all information immediately available to all citizens, is recent, like the womens' right to vote. This is the principle of intellectual freedom without which democracy cannot live.

The principle of intellectual freedom is now put to severe test. Information and knowledge is no longer regarded as a public good. The public information service, the library, is threatened by privatization and capitalisation. At the time when I write this (March 2005), eighteen countries, the USA and Japan among others, have already committed their libraries to "liberalization" under the GATS agreement of the WTO. Soon private corporations which operate in "the information market" will demand compensation for the library's state subsidies, in the name of "fair competition". The public libraries risk to become replaced by enterprises that sell knowledge products and/ or provide commercial information services to the consumers. The librarians are aware of this dangerous development. Library associations in several countries and the international library community have issued warnings against the potentially harmful implications of the TRIPS and the GATS for the libraries.

The WSF and the librarians should act together in order to reverse this trend and create a library-centered information society, based on the values of intellectual freedom and the sharing of knowledge.

The library and the free software movement also need each other. It is up to them to use free and open software to develop the services of the library, to install the library of the software in the public library,and to distribute the software from there.

The public library must become a new informational power, which balances and checks the traditional legislative, executive and judicial powers. The private media corporations and their "mainstream press" can no longer be trusted as "The Fourth State Power".

Let us start asking: why is the first World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) organised by engineers, by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)? Why is it not arranged by librarians, by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)? And let us constate, that the so called governance of the internet is not a suitable task for the governments. This, too, is a job for the libraries and the librarians. The library is certainly capable of keeping track of the computers and the digital information like it does with the books and the printed matters. The library is the legitimate heir of the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Read More:

The Cooperative Library (Letter to librarians Re: libraries and an article by Monbiot)

Böök, Mikael (2004): Librarians and World Social Forum, Unite!. Information For Social Change No. 19.

Rikowski, Ruth(2005): Globalisation, Information and Libraries. The implications of the World Trade Organisation's GATS and TRIPS Agreements. Chandos Publishing, Oxford.