Googlization, Copyright, Public Awareness Take Stage as IFLA Continues in Helsinki
Popular IFLA speaker Siva Vaidhyanathan. Photo courtesy of IFLA.
Silvija Tret Jakova of Latvia, Claudette Thomas of Jamaica, and Li-Hsiang Lai of Taiwan “@ your library.” Photo by Leonard Kniffel.
Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) and professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia, delivered a dynamic and challenging speech August 15 on the fourth full day of programming during the World Library and Information Congress of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in Helsinki, Finland. Starting the day with a challenge to the world’s librarians to create a Human Knowledge Project, like the Human Genome Project, to counteract “the privatization of cyberspace,” Vaidhyanathan noted that the most radical aspect of his proposal was not that librarians dramatically alter what they do but that they instead take time to observe and think and move ahead slowly. Realizing that more businesses fail than succeed, whereas most libraries are successful for the long term, he recommended that librarians stop looking to business for planning models.
“I approve of Google doing what is good for Google,” he said, “but I don’t approve of Google presuming that it is doing what is good for us.” Segueing from a plenary session to a panel presentation, Vaidhyanathan went on to discuss the ways in which Google is changing its strategy to achieve its stated goal: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.” Originally Google did not interfere with search results; instead it shifted responsibility to the computer or the web, Vaidhyanathan said. Over the past 36 months, Google has moved toward more personalization of search results, more localization, higher user satisfaction, and “speed speed speed, more more more, new new new.” This is all about customer satisfaction, he observed, not any sense of universality or knowledge. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, “they want to become the operating system of your life,” Vaidhyanathan said, “to monetize the data flow in every part of our lives.” This has nothing to do with maintaining good libraries, he posited, chiding librarians for too eagerly relinquishing responsibility for book digitization to Google Books.
At the same session Päivikki Karhula of Finland talked about internet censorship, citing the Finnish Research Project Censorship and Control in the Internet Age. A digital civil rights policy is needed, she said. Karhula screened a film about a new Canadian law that allows surveillance without judicial oversight. Program emcee Stuart Hamilton, IFLA senior policy advisor, recommended studying the IFLA Code of Ethics with regard to censorship and access.
In another session, IFLA delegates shared ideas for implementing the Campaign for the World’s Libraries (@ your library) during a session led by Michael Dowling, director of the American Library Association’s International Relations Office. The presentation focused on how to increase the public visibility of libraries on a shoestring budget by using the materials available through the campaign. Li-Hsiang Lai of Taiwan, Silvija Tret Jakova of Latvia, and Claudette Thomas of Jamaica talked about their successful efforts. Thomas said the Jamaican campaign stressed reaching reluctant readers with the message “You can be a great athlete and a great reader.”
The fourth full day of the World Library and Information Congress concluded with the General Assembly, where the business of IFLA is conducted. IFLA President Ingrid Parent of Canada said the federation has a voice that is increasingly being listened to on the international scene. Achieving copyright and intellectual property exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives within the World Intellectual Property Organization is an ongoing priority. “We are making haste slowly,” she said (which would no doubt please Siva Vaidhyanathan). Parent also pointed to the work of the IFLA special interest group on indigenous matters, the federation’s training efforts to help build strong library associations around the globe, and the launch of an international leaders program. “My message has always been that we should never underestimate the power of libraries,” she said.
IFLA Secretary General Jennefer Nicholson reported to the membership on operational matters, reiterating key initiatives that can be found in the Annual Report and discussing how IFLA Headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, coordinates activities and strategic planning. “IFLA has become the global voice for libraries,” Nicholson said. She noted that annual conferences are now conducted under a new financial arrangement that gives IFLA total ownership.
IFLA Treasurer Donna Scheeder of the US reported that expenses of 1.446 million euros left a deficit last year of 223,599 euros, which was covered by reserves and still left the level of reserves required by policy. The loss was due to the global economic crisis, she said. Last year’s annual conference in Puerto Rico drew lower registrations than expected. Scheeder said that over 3,000 paid registrations were present in Helsinki, which bodes well for conference revenue this year. The second area of concern, she said, is publishing, which needs to be brought into the world of open access. Scheeder noted that membership numbers have also dropped by 4% across all regions and categories. She said that donations for core activities have also decreased and staff costs will no longer be subsidized by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation after this year.
President Parent reflected on the first year of her IFLA presidency and said she agreed with recent assessments of the Information Age. “It is now possible to be highly informed but not well informed,” she said, characterizing this condition as “information malnutrition”—like fast food, “cheap and empty calories.” Libraries can be an antidote, and the work of IFLA must continue toward that end by focusing on its key action areas, especially copyright and publishing. “The walls between different kinds of information will disappear,” Parent said, noting that one IFLA member has advised librarians, “Do not take crap from publishers.”
Above all, said Parent, “one thing never changes—our system of values.” Libraries are here to serve everyone, she added. Service inclusiveness means satisfying the needs of our users regardless of their background.
The IFLA conference continues through August 17.
LEONARD KNIFFEL is the former editor and publisher of American Libraries.