Librarians and Human Rights

2010 Jean E. Coleman Library Outreach Lecture

By Kathleen de la Peña McCook, Distinguished University Professor
University of South Florida School of Information

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."  http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

Public libraries in the United States have exhibited continual progress in the expansion of services since the establishment of this public good in the mid-nineteenth century. While the discourse about public library services among its practitioners has evolved along the lines of general progressive thought, this discourse has been framed in a fashion that reflects U.S. values. Even after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 U.S. public librarianship has largely refrained from describing services using a more universal language of human rights.  The reasons for this have much to do with political decisions made outside of librarianship that nevertheless have affected the way U.S. librarians describe and activate services. Thus, while we assert that U. S. public libraries do provide services that embody human rights, we also recognize that the connections for front line public librarians in the U.S. to the larger global discourse have yet to be made in a clear manner.

In an essay Katharine J. Phenix and I have explored the legacy of human rights philosophy that will affect the future of public library services. (1)  For the public librarian, the human capabilities approach, which helps people to function in a variety of areas, provides a road map to extending service in the framework of human rights. The work of U.S. librarians has evolved in a manner that incorporates human rights values and precepts without having generally used the language that characterizes the philosophical and ethical goals of human rights and human development. Toni Samek has pointed this out in her reflections on twenty-first-century information work in support of librarianship’s responsibilities for the attainment of human rights in the context of the knowledge society. (2)

In 2000 a Millennium Summit was held to discuss the role of the United Nations in the new millennium. The United Nations Millennium Declaration that resulted included reaffirmation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and establishment of eight Millennium Development Goals for 2015. These are: The work of U.S. librarians has evolved in a manner that incorporates human rights values and precepts without having generally used the language that characterizes the philosophical and ethical goals of human rights and human development.

Millennium Development Goals
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
2. Achieve universal primary education;
3. Promote gender equality and empower women;
4. Reduce child mortality;
5. Improve maternal health;
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
7. Ensure environmental sustainability; and
8. Develop a global partnership for development (3).

The principles of the IFLA Public Library Manifesto were placed in a public library context by Ellen Forsythe who wrote that library staffs have expertise to contribute to the global initiative of the Millennium Development Goals in partnership with other groups of workers and thinkers. She noted that libraries are integral to community development and provide access to information and works of imagination in a variety of formats and languages contributing to social inclusion (4).

The Millennium Development Goals provide a global road map for reducing poverty and hunger, saving children and mothers from premature death, providing sustainable and decent livelihoods, and preserving the environment for future generations. Work to achieve these goals is not only a moral imperative, but reflects global commitment to live in a stable and prosperous world (5)

At the September 2010 Summit on the Millennium Development Goals a renewed commitment was made with the adoption of a global action plan to achieve the eight anti-poverty goals by their 2015 target date and the announcement of major new commitments for women’s and children’s health and other initiatives against poverty, hunger and disease (6).  

Access to knowledge, facilitated by public librarians, is fundamental to human development and resonates for all the Millennium Development Goals, but especially Goal 2:

Achieve Universal Primary Education
Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling

2.1 Net enrollment ratio in primary education
2.2 Proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach last grade of primary
2.3 Literacy rate of 15-24 year-olds, women and men (7).

In the years to come public librarians will review the outcome document of the three-day Summit – Keeping the Promise: United to Achieve the Millennium
Development Goals to strengthen librarians’ commitment to universal human rights (8). A vision for expansive service to all is also true for all nations in the world. By keeping in mind the Millennium Development Goals in service of a human capabilities approach, the path will be clear to achieving universal human rights with the support and commitment of public librarians. This work, which is our heritage, is also the future of our work as public librarians.

Notes

1.  “The Future of Public Libraries in the Twenty-first Century: Human Rights and Human Capabilities” by
 Kathleen de la Peña McCook and Katharine J. Phenix in Introduction to Public Librarianship 2nd Ed. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2011.

2. Samek, Toni. 2005. “Ethical Reflection on 21st Century Information Work: An Address for Teachers and Librarians.” Progressive Librarian 25: 43–61.

3. United Nations. 2010. “Millennium Development Goals.” http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/.


4. Forsythe, Ellen. 2005. “Public Libraries and the Millennium Development Goals.” IFLA Journal 31: 315–323.

5. United Nations Development Programme What Will It Take to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals? An International Assessment. New York: UNDP, 2010

6. United Nations. “We Can End Poverty 2015. Millennium development Goals Summit, September 20-22, 2010.  http://www.un.org/en/mdg/summit2010/

7. United Nations. MDG Monitor. 2010. http://www.mdgmonitor.org/goal2.cfm

8. Phenix, Katharine J. and Kathleen de la Peña McCook. 2009. "Librarians and Human Rights: Writings in the first decade of the 21st Century." SRRT Newsletter (September): 7-9 and see also United Nations. General Assembly Sixty-fifth session Agenda items 13 and 115 Integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields Follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit. http://www.un.org/en/mdg/summit2010/pdf/mdg%20outcome%20document.pdf 

In the audience at the Coleman Lecture on June 28, 2010, Kathleen identified dear ones, friends and colleagues for special commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She read one Article in their honor as follows:

Diane Austin, asst. director, University of South Florida, School of Information.

Article 27.
    * (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
    * (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.


Dr. Alma Dawson, Russell Long professor at Louisiana State University, School of Library and Information Science,SLIS, Equality Award Honoree.

Article 7.

    * All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.


Dr. Cora P. Dunkley, University of South Florida, School of Information Professor and Coretta Scott King Task Force;
Article 26.
• (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
• (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
• (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Barbara J. Ford, Mortenson Center distinguished professor, first Coleman lecturer and past.ALA President;

Preamble: Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

Dr. Barbara Immroth, professor at University of Texas-Austin, past president of ALSC, Beta Phi Mu honoree;
Article 26.
• (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
• (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
• (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Alicia Long, SPECTRUM Scholar at University of South Florida, School of Information.
Article 15.
    * (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
    * (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

William W. McCook, 47 year member of United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Married to Kathleen in 1991.
Article 23.
    * (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
    * (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
    * (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
    * (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. 

Satia Orange, past director of ALA OLOS-

Article 1: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Katharine J. Phenix, Adult Services Librarian (aka Experience Guide) at the Huron Street branch of the Rangeview Library District in Thornton, Colorado, past-chair ALA Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship. Collaborator with Kathleen McCook on a new model for library service using Human Rights principles.

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Dr. Henrietta M. Smith, Professor Emerita, University of South Florida, School of Information, ALSC Honoree, Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Practitioner Award for Lifetime achievement.

Article 26.
• (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
• (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
• (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.


Ann Sparanese, past Futas Honoree, Head of Adult and Young Adult Services, Englewood Public Library, NJ, Coleman Committee;

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.

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Kathleen de la Peña McCook is Distinguished University Professor, School of Information, University of South Florida in Tampa. She is also Visiting Scholar at Valdosta State University, Georgia for the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, “Librarians Build Communities” (2009-2012).

Kathleen received the Florida Library Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007; the Diversity Research Award from the ALA Office for Diversity in 2004; the Beta Phi Mu Award for distinguished service to education for librarianship in 2003; the ALA Elizabeth Futas Catalyst for Change Award in 1998, the ALA RUSA Margaret E. Monroe Adult Services Award in 1991 and the ALA Equality Award in 1987.  She was the Lauretta McCusker Memorial Lecturer speaking on “Public Libraries and the Public Sphere” at Dominican University in 2003. The Chicago Public Library honored Kathleen as its 2003 “Scholar in Residence” where she did a system-wide series of events on the role of the public library in building communities.

Kathleen was named 2002 REFORMA Latino Librarian of the Year (Trejo Award). In 1991 she was named Outstanding Alumna by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies where she earned the PhD in 1980. She earned the MA in Library Science at the University of Chicago, Graduate Library School in 1974.

Other writing by Kathleen in the 21st century includes Introduction to Public Librarianship (2011, Neal-Schuman); “There is Power in a Union,” Progressive Librarian 34/35 (2010); “Human Rights as a Framework for Reflection in Service Learning: ‘Para que Otro Mundo es posible’ ” in Service Learning ed. Loriene Roy (ALA, 2009); “Human Rights, Democracy and Librarians “(with Katharine J. Phenix) in The Portable MLIS (Libraries Unlimited, 2008); “Librarians as Advocates for the Human Rights of Immigrants,"  Progressive Librarian 29 (2007); “Rebuilding Community in Louisiana after the Hurricanes of 2005” (with Alma Dawson) RUSQ (2006); “Librarians and Social Movements” with Elaine Harger and Isabel Espinal in Proceedings of the First National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, 2006; “Social Justice as a Context for a Career in Librarianship,” in Perspectives, Insights and Priorities ed. Norman Horrocks (Scarecrow Press, 2005); “Public Libraries and People in Jail” RUSQ ( 2004); “Public Policy as a Factor Influencing Adult Lifelong Learning, Adult Literacy and Public Libraries, (with Peggy Barber) RUSQ  (2002); “Poverty, Democracy and Public Libraries.”  in Libraries & Democracy: The Cornerstones of Liberty, ed. Nancy Kranich (ALA, 2001); A Place at the Table: Participating in Community Building (ALA, 2000); Ethnic Diversity in Library and Information Science (Library Trends, 2000); Library Services to Youth of Hispanic Heritage with Barbara Froling Immroth (McFarland, 2000) and “Ending the Isolation of Poor People,” American Libraries 31 (May, 2000).

Kathleen is past president of the Association for Library and Information Science Education and has served on the faculties of Louisiana State University (1983-1993); the University of Illinois (1978-1983); and Dominican University (1973-1978).