Eurolis 2016

On Friday 25 November our Communication Officers Philippa (Kings School) and Rebecca (UCA) attended the 2016 Eurolis conference at the Goethe Institut in South Kensington, London. Speakers from across Europe shared their ideas and experiences of developing inclusive information services that aim to empower individuals and contribute towards building cohesive communities.

Welcome address from Goethe Institut London


“We are a species that migrates”

Eurolis are a UK network of librarians from across Europe working in collaboration with CILIP to foster European languages and culture in the UK through seminars, the Eurotoolbox initiative, study tours and online activities.

Librarians, Libraries and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- Martyn Wade, Chair of Conference


“I became a Librarian because of human rights”

 Article 19.  Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Martyn is on the IFLA Advisory committee Freedom of Access and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE), which he described as an international professional network and a forum for exchange and advocacy. At the heart of FAIFE’s work resides Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, informing the committee’s mission and principles of ‘Good Librarianship’.

“People need knowledge to exert their rights as an individual”

Right are not absolute with challenges often arising such as privacy in an age of government surveillance and commercial data aggregation, thus Martyn views the information profession as “centred on ethics”. It is the role of librarians to empower individuals, for instance by increasing user awareness of technologies and resources that infringe privacy so that they may make an informed decision. The Library Freedom Project offers guidance.

Martyn endorsed open access as fundamental to equality in freedom of access to scholarly material. FAIFE updated their Internet Manifesto in 2014.



Information, Education, Culture: Libraries for empowerment, libraries for dignity- Barbara Schack, Libraries without Borders (France)

@schackb  / @lwbontheweb

“You win the war with soldiers, you win the peace with education and knowledge”

Libraries without Borders (Bibliothécaires Sans Frontières) is a charity that creates libraries for asylum seekers, providing education, training and a sanctuary where underprivileged individuals can ‘create, learn, connect and play’. The statistics are staggering- there are 60 million displaced individuals in the world and the average time spent living in a refugee camp is 17 years. Limited access to education or intellectual stimulation over a prolonged period of time can lead to poor mental health.

Delivering the ‘Ideas Box’ designed by Phillipe Starck is just the first step; each library is unique as the charity converse with humanitarian organizations and the underserved communities to determine the contents and programme of activities to be delivered by trained local librarians. Print material is sourced locally and a ‘Koombook’ makes access to eBooks and eResources possible as it emits a close-range wi-fi signal.

Success is measured through qualitative feedback and it is recognised that the charity has improved child protection, psychosocial reports, enhanced education and nurtured vibrant communities across the globe. The charity currently work in over 20 countries:


Breman Public Library- Culture on the Move- Britta Schmedemann (Germany)


Breman has approximately 550,000 inhabitants of which 26% are from a migrant background. The Public Library service is largely run by volunteers and recently won a Diversity award. Over 1 million people visit the library each year and 1.22 million access the webpages. Germany has welcomed asylum seekers, providing refuge for over 1,000,000 individuals in the past few years. This has presented societal challenges, however, it also created an opportunity to develop cultural and educational programmes, of which libraries play an important role.

Britta discussed the following inspirational practices that have taken place in Breman Central Library:

  • A warm, sheltered, safe and welcoming environment with access to IT/ Internet. Includes spaces for communication/ integration
  • Provision of newspapers from over 100 countries
  • Staff attendance at inter-cultural courses, i.e. Arabic
  • Free library card and tour of collections with information about services available for all using positive language that does not focus on rules.
  • Material to support German language acquisition and free access to linguaphones
  • Media for leisure activities in other languages (i.e. DVDs)
  • Cultural afternoons with information and refreshments to encourage natives of Breman to increase their awareness of other cultures.
  • Refugee children have filmed book reviews and promotional material.
  • Travelling sofa in local area involving two language readings.


Languages and books in the quest for Human Rights – Helena Topa Valentim (Portugal)

Libraries offer a “great melody of unique voices”

Helena discussed language acquisition and described books as developing our ontological understanding. Giving us the world, they also come to inhabit us. Books give us compassion and allow the reader to put themselves in the position of others. They trigger a process that leads the reader to interrupt and transmute what is not explicit in the text, what Helena described as “looking up from the text”. Personal narrative can promote respect for human rights and remind us of our own mortality.

“I was here, I was someone and I don’t want to be forgotten.”

The Right to Privacy Vs the Right to Access Information: a real-life case of the Right to be Forgotten- Paz Fernández (Spain)



Following the EU Court hearing (C-131/12) on 13 May 2014, information about an individual can be deleted once no longer necessary, if inaccurate or offensive. It is for the company hosting the information (i.e. Google) to prove that data cannot be deleted if considered to be relevant or pertinent. The Right to be Forgotten was strengthened by EU Regulation 2016/679 under Article 89 on Safeguards and Derogations. Unless information is of historical, public or statistical interest, it must be wiped thus resulting in a ‘collective amnesia’.

The Fundación Juan March Institute have received a number of requests for the removal of data following the digitisation of a newspaper archive made available through their website. A majority of claims were submitted by individuals who were harmed by the appearance of their name in relation to the past, i.e. political activism. Each case has been dealt with individually and could be time consuming. Outcomes have included erasing individual names from digital scans and withdrawing files from public access. In each case, IFLA guidance has been useful in helping to form a decision.

Diversity and Ethics: to foster dialogue about inclusion and ethics in libraries – Loida Garcia-Febo (USA)


“We each have our answers”

When faced with an ethical dilemma, information professionals can refer to professional codes for guidance such as ALA and IFLA. Skyping from New York, Loida recommended reading, reflecting and discussing as there are no ethical absolutes. Librarians should embody ethical reflection in our workplaces and promote ethical thinking towards our colleagues and communities.


Libraries foster a diverse and inclusive environment. Respect, equality and inclusion core values of our profession. Cross-cultural dialogue should be an integral part of our services. It is the responsibility of libraries to provide services needed by users and delivering sessions to linguistically diverse groups must be considered.

Books and Freedom – Dr Marino Sinibaldi (Italy)


“More books more freedom”

Public readership figures in Italy are low in comparison with other EU countries:

1871 (union of states)         80% of population illiterate

Today                                     42% Italians read 1 book in the last year.

This is below average for an EU country. Only 28% of South identify as readers. Only 5% strong readers (read more than 1 book a month)

Growing up without books is common (particularly in the South) and this has not shifted for decades despite increased private wealth and school attendance. Italians are the highest consumer of TV in the world with an average of 243 minutes viewing time per week. There is a perceived elitist nature to libraries and bookstores. A majority of Italy’s libraries are situated in the wealthier North, indicating that Libraries work best where they are less needed. Consequently they are missing where the [unperceived] need is greater.

Like the rest of Europe, Italy is undergoing a digital revolution and consequently reading behaviours have increasingly changed to horizontal scanning with minimal attention and concentration. A simplification of public discourse and blunt language has fostered populism. Whereas an education founded on reading helps reflection.

“Out of the library stride the slaughterers” Betold Brecht

The more that we read the more we understand the limits of our knowledge which leads us to more reading. Book festivals and fairs promote reading within Italy and people travel long-distances to attend. These are temporary events, alongside libraries must feed into cultural initiatives and build spaces of socialisation, a “piazza of knowledge”.

The Internet has rendered the role of mediation superfluous where cultural consumption is conveniently satiated. It is our role to find a connection with new generations, to cultivate new information literacy skills. Our job is not to promote the link between books and freedom, that link is already there – and probably always will be. Our job is to drag books into the battles of our day.

“We are here to drag books within the terrain of contemporary conflict.”

Panel Discussion


On the topic of funding cuts:

  • Access and advocacy the role of information professionals
  • Important to speak the language of policy makers and funders
  • Finding funding from other sectors, i.e. health
  • We are an economic society, everything is quantified by numbers. We have to be more competitive, integrated.
  • It is not enough to be important to the present community, we must be flexible and assume more responsibilities
  • Libraries should become places of awareness of our current reality
  • We can shift our efforts to make digital resources discoverable

On the topic of a ‘Post-Truth’ Society and the role of libraries.

  • Responsibility to teach our children how to use the internet
  • Printed material not necessarily unbiased as there is a publisher agenda, i.e. newspapers.
  • We are providers of content and we must aim to offer a range of accurate information from differing perspectives.
  • Neutrality important in areas of conflict (i.e. Libraries without Borders)
  • Our role is to get people to question the truth.

If libraries can do one thing to improve human rights:

  • To bring people together to exchange ideas and reflections
  • To encourage ethics
  • Invest in people
  • Need to update their vocation. Integration and personalisation or risk becoming irrelevant.


All presentations can be found on the Eurolis Blog at

Facebook and Twitter: @Eurolis  / #Eurolis  / #librariesforhumanrights


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