Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, colour, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, birth or any other status. Simply put, everyone is entitled to basic economic, social and cultural rights including the rights to education, free opinion and expression and the enjoyment of benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress (copyright), without discrimination. On 10 December 1948, a landmark Declaration, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), was adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. For the very first time, there was a paradigm shift in the fundamental human rights history across the globe as this Declaration ensured universal protection. So what is with libraries and fundamental human rights?
Libraries are bridges. They act as equalizers in the society, opening their doors to all so that everyone can aspire to be free from the shackles of ignorance, poverty, and segregation. Libraries provide platforms for people to come in contact with dreams, ideas and activities of the past and present and to become energized to dream of possibilities and greatness of the future without boundaries restrictions or limitations. That is what the UN Declaration of Human Rights promotes – freedom to exist, to aspire to be.
Libraries exists for the public good, offering equality of access to information for every citizen. Libraries have proven to be vehicles through which many exercise their fundamental human rights. They depend on human rights to operate but on the other hand, have been forceful strategic partners with Governments, Development Agencies other decision making bodies to ensure social inclusion, promote education, encourage freedom of opinion and expression, affirm intellectual freedom and facilitate the enjoyment of benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress for all. More so in the 21 century, libraries have upped their game through the provision of innovative services aimed at serving patrons better, on an equitable basis. December 10, 2018, marks the 70th anniversary of the UDHR so let us see how libraries have fared so far in this regard. We present to you a cocktail of stories from library users and librarians highlighting how libraries help to promote and protect their fundamental human rights.
Daouda Sow, recounting his experience with what he fondly terms as “library made me”, narrates how as a young Senegalese with very limited opportunity at success after completing High School got the opportunities to be in touch with knowledge when there was no chance for him to pursue further studies.
“The only chance I had was to become a teacher in an Arabic elementary school, because the national education system does not then recognize my diploma for graduate studies, so I went to the rural area to teach Arabic, I decided to give up teaching after a long reflection, so I came back to Dakar to look for opportunities to pursue my studies.
I knew that the task wouldn’t be a piece of cake for me, being jobless with no financial support in a city where everyone is trying to survive. In this uncertain adventure, I began to frequent the library of the information resource center of the US Embassy, whose services were free of charge. It was a way for me to improve the little English that I had learned at school and to busy myself. But the paradox was; I did not understand much of what I read, but I still continued to read and read again, with this method I managed to write small texts and poems.
I started to have the taste of reading, and that what lead me to the University Library of Cheikh Anta Diop University, where I obtained a part time job as a library clerk, and I was definitely hired after three years. I took advantage of the quality of human and informational resources that the library offered to build a good background of knowledge. Perseverance and self-sacrifice made me worth to be admitted to the School of Library sciences (EBAD) on an exceptional basis in 2013, and I was able to obtain one of the best performances in the history of the school, with a Professional License in library and Information Sciences.” – Daouda Sow.
Shana Hinze, a US librarian, was a participant at the 2017 Next Library Conference held in Aarhus, Denmark. As part of activities, conference participants visited the Dokk1 Public Library in Denmark also had this to say about how libraries are now becoming more flexible towards delivering innovative services focused on education, recreation and relaxation.
“One of the most fascinating concepts was the library as a community meeting place juxtaposed with traditional library services and programs, civil services, television studios, restaurant and café, space for fine arts and spaces specially designed for different ages and needs. Dokk 1, at any given moment, could be hosting: driver’s license, passport, healthcare and marriage services, knitting group, gamer’s tournament, reading club, seminars, makers lab, musical performance and always available activities such as sand table, ping pong, air hockey, gaming, active play areas and meditation.” – Shana Hinze, Miami-Dade Public Library System. Read more on this story here:
And then there is the beautiful story of Micah who simply found it difficult to read. He frequented the library by walking about a mile from a group home where he lived. Stephen Bellah, one of the librarians, elaborates on how Micah confided in them that he could not read and how they rallied support to assist Micah to be able to read.
“…. I don’t know when or to whom but Micah revealed to us that he couldn’t read. Even simple children’s books were too difficult for him. That is when my staff shined their brightest, and showed how purposeful and helpful they were. Several members of my staff started to take the time to sit and read a book with Micah almost every time he visited. It eventually became a regular occurrence.
They were usually Level 1 or Level 2 children’s books. About 15 minutes each time, line by line, page by page, helping him sound out words and building trust and dedication. Soon, Micah was coming in every day, reading a book with us, improving his literacy skills, and finding the library a welcoming place. Soon, I became one of his library readers too, and Micah had no problem sitting and waiting for us if we were busy.
This summer, my staff and I have sat with Micah almost every day and read together. It only made sense for him to participate in the library’s Summer Learning Program. Why not? We read every day with him, filling in the boxes on his reading logs for every ten minutes he read.
He read with our staff for 1,000 minutes this summer. ONE. THOUSAND. That’s over 16 and a half hours. He completed the Summer Learning Program. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t read even the simplest book a year ago.” – Stephen Bellah. Read more on the story here.
Countless of such inspiring stories can be traced all over the internet but these few are profound enough. To sum our thoughts by way of questioning; have you ever visited the library to read or research or access the internet before? Have you ever consulted a librarian to assist you to fulfill any assignment before? Have you benefited from any skills and development training facilitated by a library before? Have you ever voted on the premises of a library before? Do you know of libraries which serve as community centres or have spaces for community gatherings? Have you accessed any of these services for free before? Do you know of libraries which temporarily hosted refugees or victims of natural disasters like flood, typhoons, and hurricanes?
If your answer to any of these and more is yes, then that affirms how libraries are facilitating its patrons and the community to exercise its fundamental human rights on a daily basis. Libraries have made significant strides yet more remains undone. Despite the many challenges which obviously need no repeating, libraries must continue to see themselves as indispensable stakeholders in helping people exercise their fundamental human rights. We soldier on!!!