At the 80th IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) World Library and Information Congress on Aug. 18, 2014, in Lyon, France, IFLA introduced the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information. It calls upon member states of the United Nations (UN) to make an international commitment to use the post-2015 development agenda—intended to succeed the UN’s expiring Millennium Development Goals—to ensure that everyone has access to information. Moreover, it notes that access to information must be coupled with the ability to understand, use, and share information.
The official launch of the Lyon Declaration occurred at the IFLA President’s Session. Joining IFLA president Sinikka Sipilä on stage to praise the announcement were Gérard Collomb, the mayor of Lyon; Bruno Racine, the president of the National Library of France; and Stuart Hamilton, IFLA’s director of policy and advocacy.
What the Declaration Says
The declaration begins, “The United Nations is negotiating a new development agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals. The agenda will guide all countries on approaches to improving people’s lives, and outline a new set of goals to be reached during the period 2016–2030.”
One principle behind the declaration connects equitable access to information and data with sustainable economic development. In turn, economic development leads to prosperity and people’s well-being. IFLA asserts that an informed population is essential to empowering people and that sustainable development, fueled by an informed and engaged citizenry, can eliminate poverty and inequality. IFLA also states that “a right to information would be transformational.”
The High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the post-2015 consultations of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), and the Open Working Group’s focus area report identified access to information as crucial to supporting economic development.
The declaration itself recognizes the multidimensionality of poverty; the importance of a human rights-based framework for sustainable development; the necessity of access to and availability of information, knowledge, and data combined with universal literacy; the value information professionals bring to all aspects of development; and improvements in ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure that allow libraries to bridge the gap between national policy and local implementation.
Positioning Libraries as Enablers of Development
According to Sipilä, the declaration is an important public statement. It positions libraries as enablers of development and as partners with governments and development agencies. From the IFLA perspective, Sipilä said, “It’s crucial that the voice of libraries is heard in these negotiations.” She thinks that the declaration will get the message about the importance of libraries “where it needs to be heard.” For an “active and engaged civil society,” the involvement of libraries is essential. This worldwide call to action will provide opportunities to show how libraries can do more than just provide access to information; they also support a culture of critical thinking and inquiry.
Access to information, in IFLA’s view, is a public right—and libraries are engines for development. Information professionals just need to convince the rest of the world of the importance of libraries. Libraries should be considered an investment, not an expense.
The Lyon Declaration is also intended to guide IFLA’s ongoing positions on trends and underlying principles. According to IFLA president-elect Donna Scheeder, “The Lyon Declaration is the foundation for reaching any of IFLA’s other goals. It’s the pillar for everything else.”
Hamilton noted, “Getting the UN to do anything is not easy.” However, he believes that IFLA and its members can convince countries to support IFLA’s position that access to information will help their citizens and boost their economies. Putting libraries into the policy debate can raise awareness of the many roles libraries and other cultural institutions play in their communities.
The initiative that led to the Lyon Declaration did not stop with its signing. Next steps include some analysis and research to refine IFLA’s strategy. IFLA will be providing an advocacy toolkit by the end of 2014 to help librarians who are meeting with government policymakers tell the story of how libraries contribute to economic development.
From Declaration to Action
Moving from simply declaring the importance of libraries and of access to information to the UN’s actual acceptance of the concept requires active engagement on the part of the library community. Hamilton said, “IFLA is at the start of a long journey to ensure that access to information is recognized in the final post-2015 framework.” The final framework should be revealed in December 2015.
At its launch, the Lyon Declaration had 134 signatories, making it the most successful campaign IFLA has ever undertaken. Additional institutions signed during the conference and, by Aug. 22, 2014—at the end of IFLA’s congress—more than 200 associations, federations, institutions, and libraries had signed the declaration. Although individuals are not eligible to sign, they can urge the responsible people at their institutions to do so. The full list of signatories has not yet been added to the Lyon Declaration website; it should be posted soon.