Access to information: a human right with implications for libraries in the digital age, especially for services to children

Marian Koren


Access to information is necessary for both human development and democratic participation of all human beings. The digital age offers challenges and threats as every new age does. What direction do libraries take? Whose side are they on? With regard to their users, are libraries prepared to offer new integrated services to all of them? Do young and old benefit from free access to information?
The new IFLA/UNESCO Guidelines for the development of public libraries (2001) outline the special responsibilities to meet the needs of children and young people. What are the implications for services in the digital age? What are good examples?
In a modern society, information plays an essential role, but has also become a commercial matter. Children grow up in this global context and are sensitive to new developments. How do they perceive the world. What are their interests and information needs? Many children seem to be quite familiar with new technology, but not all of them. On one hand they are encouraged to acquire knowledge and use new media, on the other hand access to information might be denied on various grounds or by technical means.
Children are protected, as all human beings by human rights. They do not have to deserve these rights, they are born with them. One of these rights is the right to information. This right relates to the question of human development and education: knowledge about human life, how to be a human being? In the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, the right to information is mentioned in various ways, including that children should learn about their rights: human rights education. Libraries have to play their role in co-operation with schools and other organisations.
Media-education is another topic which librarians should take up, preparing users for the future. Technical training is only one part of it. The other party is learning to formulate questions, a search strategy and a critical mind about sources of information.
Some recommendations are made with regard to legislation, policy making, services, training and research to meet the ethical, legal and social implications of libraries in the digital age.

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