2000 IRTF Report

International Responsibilities Task Force Report on Activities at the Chicago Annual Meeting, 2000
Al Kagan
Social Responsibilities Round Table Newsletter, No. 135, Spring 2001, p. 9.

The SRRT International Responsibilities Task Force held an especially stimulating program on "The WTO and Libraries: Perspectives on Globalization" on Sunday, July 9, 2000 from 2 to 4 PM. It seemed like the spirit of the Seattle demonstrations was in the room! The speakers rallied the 75 attendees resulting in some inspired discussion. It was encouraging to see that we got excellent coverage in American Libraries. Look for the papers to be published in the Progressive Librarian.

The program began with Rick Weingarten, Director of the ALA Office for Technology Policy, and ALA representative to the Seattle meeting. ALA had official NGO observer status in Seattle. Unfortunately he had to speak and run to catch an airplane to another meeting. Fiona Hunt, Information Literacy Librarian at Zayed University Library in Abu Dhabi, then spoke on "The WTO: a Threat to Libraries." Fiona is also the owner of the best listserv on globalization, mai-list@interchange.ubc.ca. Our third speaker was Jonathan Betz-Zall, who until recently was Children's Librarian at the Sno-Isle Library System just outside Seattle. He talked on "The WTO: A Local Perspective."

Let me just note that the Canadian librarians have really taken the lead on these issues for our profession. Their resolutions helped motivate IFLA to take similar actions, which in turn made it possible for us to pass a WTO resolution through ALA Council last January. I can report that IFLA had a good WTO program at the August meeting in Jerusalem. We need to keep our eyes open for further WTO discussions on their proposed General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS). This proposal would classify publicly supported library services as a "non-tariff barrier to trade!"

The International Responsibilities Task Force also co-sponsored a program with the ALA Black Caucus International Relations Committee on Monday, July 10 from 9:30 to 11 AM on " Access to African Materials in US Libraries." Many libraries want to buy African materials but do not know where to start. The program included concrete information on the easiest ways to acquire African materials as well as discussion of the overall African publishing scene. People eagerly took the handouts with vendor contact information. The speakers were Ismail Adbullahi from the Clark-Atlanta University School of Library and Information Science and Valerie Mwalilino from the Library of Congress African/Middle Eastern Acquisitions Section. Unfortunately our third speaker, Mary Jay from the African Books Collective in Oxford, UK could not attend so I read her paper.

Our task force activities in Chicago included adopting a detailed response to the ALA International Relations Committee Agenda for 2000-2005. This was a response to the IRC's call for comments on their new activity of creating a five-year plan. SRRT Action Council voted a resolution sending our recommendations on to the ALA IRC. This document was supported by the ACRL IRC and had a very good initial impact. The major points covered addressed both the Guiding Principles as well as the action items. For the Principles section, we noted the fundamental growing gap between the information rich and the information poor both between countries and within countries, stated the negative consequences of the increasing commodification and privatization of public information, and supported Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We urged ALA officers to seek funding from foundations, NGOs and IGOs instead of relying only on corporate and US Government sources. We advocated subsidizing appropriate international attendance at ALA meetings. We urged the ALA International Relations Office to support the work on the various ALA international relations bodies like our Task Force. And we specified that the IRC should work on freedom of expression, human rights, and issues around the WTO and globalization.

Finally, we affirmed our support for a solidarity project for the Gaza Medical Library and decided to develop a program on the Cuban library situation for the 2001 ALA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The Task Force will be co-chaired for the coming year by Elaine Harger, Mark Rosenzweig and Ann Sparanese.