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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

"an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers..."

ISC 16. IFLA Conference 2002 : Part 1 - Raising awareness about the GATS and "Women's Issues"

By Ruth Rikowski


I was successful in winning one of the 17 UK CILIP First-Timers to IFLA awards this year, and so attended the IFLA 2002 Conference in Glasgow in August. This 2-part article focuses on how I achieved the objectives that my application was based on, as well as providing an overview on some of the other meetings that I attended. The article concludes with my overall impressions of the IFLA conference and a look towards the future.

Part 1 of this 2-part article focuses on how I achieved the objectives that my application was based on, namely to raise awareness about the GATS (the General Agreement on Trade in Services). It then considers the 'Women's Issues' meeting at the conference that I attended, along with some further reflections about gender inequalities, and some of the potential opportunities for the female information professional in the future.

IFLA, the World Trade Organisation, the GATS, TRIPS, Libraries and Information

My application for funding was based on my wish to raise awareness about the GATS, which is one of the agreements that is being established at the World Trade Organisation (WTO, 1994), that could have serious implications for libraries and information. The other main WTO agreement that will have implications for information and libraries is TRIPS - Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights. TRIPS covers many different areas, such as patents and licenses, but copyright issues in relation to knowledge and information are the areas that are of particular concern for libraries. One can question, for example, the extent to which knowledge and information should be encapsulated within an 'intellectual property right', as opposed to the idea of information being open to all. In the future, concerns about TRIPS may well override current concerns about the European Copyright Directive amongst information professionals. Many other agreements are also being established at the WTO, such as the Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIM) and the Financial Services Agreement (FSA). Furthermore, the WTO incorporates a complex Dispute Settlement Process and tribunals operate in secret in order to settle disputes between member states. This may well lessen the capacity for nation states to be democratically accountable to their citizens. As Clare Joy, Campaigns Officer for the World Development Movement says:

By committing sectors to the GATS, governments are agreeing to tilt the balance of power away from themselves and their citizens and towards the needs of corporations. GATS will have an enormous impact on the ability of governments to pursue objectives in their service sector which conflict with the needs of companies trading those services. ( 2001, Information for Social Change , p.21)

Thus, once the GATS comes fully into effect, it will be virtually irreversible. Hence, the need to raise awareness about the GATS is urgent, given that on the current WTO timetable it is due to come into effect in 2005.

I started researching and writing on the GATS and its implications for libraries, about 18 months ago. Some extremely good research and writing has been undertaken on the implications of the GATS for other public service sectors, such as health and education. Professor Allyson Pollock, the Chair of Health Policy and Health Services Research at University College London and Director of Research and Development at UCL Hospitals NHS Trust, for example, has undertaken some ground breaking research and writing on health. This included an article that she wrote for the Lancet , entitled How the World Trade Organisation is shaping domestic policies in health care . Thus, my aim was to undertake some research on the GATS and libraries. I discovered that Steve Shyrbman had undertaken some extremely good research looking at the impact of the GATS on public library provision in Canada and that other people in the library world, such as Paul Whitney, Frode Bakken and Fiona Hunt had written articles on the GATS. Both Paul and Frode subsequently spoke at the fringe meeting that I organised at IFLA. I also found out that various library associations and library bodies, such as IFLA itself, had clear concerns about the GATS. As it says on the IFLA website:

There is growing evidence that WTO decisions, directly or indirectly, may adversely affect the operations and future development of library services, especially in the not-for-profit institutions. (IFLA, 2001).

Furthermore, the Canadian Library Association says clearly that:

The privatization of libraries may result from the proposals for expansion of the GATS Agreement. (CLA, 1999)

Meanwhile, the European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association (EBLIDA) in referring to the GATS on its website says:

It is essential that the library community is aware of these developments and can defend its interests. (EBLIDA, 2000)

However, no research and writing had been undertaken about the implications of the GATS for libraries in England. So, I am breaking new ground.

Indeed, far more research and writing needs to be undertaken linking the GATS to privatisation of many different services (160 different services are covered under the GATS) in general. Thus, my work can be seen to be one small contribution. This is necessary because the implications of the GATS are so far reaching and all-encompassing - it is about the liberalisation of trade in services. Its aim is to place various service sectors in the marketplace, so that they can be internationally traded as a commodity. This surely runs contrary to notions of the 'public good' and as IFLA notes "Libraries are a public good" (IFLA, 2001). So, my time at IFLA was one small attempt to draw peoples attention to all this.

My work on libraries and the GATS is now getting quite widely known. I edited a special issue of Information for Social Change on the theme of Globalisation and Information , which is available on the web at - . I also participated in a BBC4 radio programme, You and Yours, which discussed the GATS (see my article in December 2001 issue of Managing Information for further information). Furthermore, I have given various talks on the subject, at places such as the Library Association itself (as it was then called), Sussex University and the London School of Economics. I have also written some shorter articles on the subject.

This includes a 2-part article based on my talk The WTO/GATS Agenda for Libraries in the Public Library Journal , Summer and Autumn 2002 editions, for example; and another abbreviated version in Focus: on International Library and Information Work , Autumn 2002. Going to IFLA provided me with an opportunity to build on all this work.

I stayed for the whole week at Glasgow and it proved to be an interesting experience. As well as raising awareness about the WTO/GATS agenda for libraries I also attended some other informative and interesting meetings.

IFLA Fringe meeting - The profit virus: globalisation, libraries and education

In order to be able to effectively raise awareness about the GATS at IFLA, I organised a fringe meeting on the subject. It was not possible to get on to the main IFLA programme - this is finalised well in advance. So, a fringe meeting seemed the obvious alternative, and also meant that the issues could be covered in some considerable depth.

The fringe meeting was entitled The profit virus: globalisation, libraries and education and was held at Glasgow University on 22nd August. The meeting was very successful; there were a good number of people there, from a variety of backgrounds and different nationalities, there was a stimulating debate and the people seemed to be very interested in the subject. It involved me in a lot of work - obtaining the speakers, booking the room, publicising the event etc. However, the result was very positive, which made it all very worthwhile. Furthermore, some important and influential people in the library and information international community attended. An Associate Professor in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles attended, for example, as did an Associate Professor at Kota Open University, Kota, India. There was also someone from the Legislative Counsel of the American Library Association and representations from Scotland, which included someone from the National Library of Scotland, a Faculty Information Advisor from the University of Aberdeen and a Subject Librarian from the University of Glasgow. The speakers at the meeting were:

Steve Rolfe, Chair of World Development, Scottish Committee : 'An overview of the General Agreement on Trade in Services - the beginning of the end of public services?'

Paul Whitney, Chief Librarian, Burnaby Public Library, British Columbia, Canada; IFLA representative to the WTO Seattle Ministerial; past president of the Canadian Library Association and member of the IFLA Copyright and Other Legal Matters Committee : 'International Trade Treaties and Libraries: a Canadian perspective'

Dr. Glenn Rikowski, University College Northampton : 'The Woodhead Federation? The business takeover of schools'

Frode Bakken, President of the Norwegian Library Association and Co-ordinator of EBLIDA (European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association) WTO Working Group : 'Downsizing free public services: means or ends of global trade policies?'

Anneliese Dodds, Edinburgh University : 'The GATS and higher education: consultation or obfuscation?' - with particular reference to Scotland

Ruth Rikowski, University of Greenwich, Book Reviews Editor for Managing Information , member of Information for Social Change and member of EBLIDA WTO Working Group : 'The WTO/GATS Agenda for Libraries' - with particular reference to public libraries in England.

Shiraz Durrani and Gill Harris also both spoke briefly. Shiraz is one of the founding members of ISC and also won one of the CILIP First-Timers to IFLA Awards. He spoke about Information for Social Change, and how it challenges the dominant paradigms of library and information work and some of the diversity work which he has been involved with. Gill spoke about LINK and how it connects with library workers in the third world. Gill is co-editor of Link-up: the newsletter for north-south library development . Both ISC and LINK are organisations that are in liaison with UK CILIP.

Thus, the programme provided both variety and depth. Steve provided an overview and a basic understanding about the GATS. Paul and Frode provided an international perspective focusing on libraries, information and trade agreements. Teresa Hackett, the Director of EBLIDA also spoke briefly about EBLIDA's current position in regard to the GATS and some of the work that EBLIDA plans to do in the future - and its concerns about the likely implications of the GATS for libraries. Glenn and Anneliese looked at education; Glenn focusing in particular on the recently passed Education Act in England and how this paves the way for a business takeover of schools, whilst Anneliese focused on higher education and the GATS, and looked in particular, at Scotland. I focused on public libraries in England and how they were being affected by the GATS.

There was a very positive response to the meeting, with 35 people attending. Lots of copies of my various articles and flyers were taken - altogether, throughout the whole week about 400 copies must have been taken (having also put various material out in the main information distribution point at the exhibition centre at IFLA). One of the articles that I photocopied and distributed was an article that appeared in The Big Issue the week before the conference about libraries and privatisation (Mackenzie, 2002). Jane Mackenzie, the News Reporter, and Deputy Editor (News) at the Big Issue was not able to come to my talk at the Library Association in March 2002 on The WTO/GATS Agenda for Libraries , but she contacted me asking for further information on the subject. Following on from this, she wrote the article for the Big Issue . This is now available on Rory Litwin's Library Juice website - 5:27 - August 22, 2002 at (and is also in this ISC issue).

The only unfortunate aspect, as far as I was concerned, was that it was not really possible to convey a political message clearly enough at the meeting. It is important that the political dimension comes across and remains powerful, and that we are not left merely focusing on technical considerations.

Meeting on 'Women's Issues'

I also went to the meeting on 'Women's Issues', which was part of the main IFLA conference. Issues about gender inequalities and feminism are areas that I have been interested in for many years. Unfortunately, despite the many years of struggle, many of these issues still remain unresolved, as is well known. In fact, in some ways it could be argued that life has become more difficult for women, as they endeavour to excel at both home and work - the 'superwoman syndrome', but often without adequate recognition and reward.

The 'Women's Issues' meeting at IFLA was entitled Women, Democracy and Participation in the Information Society . Various issues about the problems and barriers that women still face today were discussed, particularly in relation to information. Leena Siitonen, Chair of the IFLA Round Table on Women's Issues, now the Section on Women's Issues, for example, presented a paper written by Anne Goulding and Rachel Spacey at Loughborough University entitled Women and the Information Society: barriers and participation . Goulding and Spacey argue that we are moving from an 'Industrial' to an 'Information' society, but that in this new 'Information Society' there is a gender imbalance. They say that:

The ultimate aim of the information society is the empowerment of all its citizens through access to and use of knowledge, but there is concern that some people, including women, are more distant than others from the opportunities presented by the changes being wrought by ICTs. (Goulding and Spacey, p.2, 2002)

So, the information society is being divided into the 'haves' and the 'have nots' and women, particularly those in poverty, immigrant women and women with disabilities etc, are suffering in particular. Goulding and Spacey note that men in general use the Internet more than women. According to the UK National Statistics Office, 2001, 57% of men had used the Internet, whereas only 45% of women had. They also speak about the fact that men are louder and more vocal in their use of email and refer to:

...male monopolisation of discussion lists and bulletin boards and the flaming and harassment of female users by male users. (Goulding and Spacey, p. 4, 2002)

They conclude their paper by looking briefly at 'cyberfeminism', which is a philosophy that recognises that there are gender inequalities in the use of the Internet and cyberspace in general, and wants to try to change this situation for the benefit of women.

An interesting discussion followed after all the papers had been presented. However, although all the people seemed very amiable and were very concerned about gender injustice, I felt that they were not addressing many of the really crucial issues of the day (even though Goulding and Spacey did themselves address some really important issues). And that this is precisely the problem that women face. They are often encouraged to focus on relatively unimportant subjects, which means that then they will not be part of many of the main decision-making bodies and processes and will not be involved with making really important decisions - i.e. they will become marginalised. These include decisions that are being made at places such as the WTO itself, at the European Commission and in various other large organisations. As has been well documented, despite the struggles that women have undertaken over many years, they are still discriminated against in many different ways. Furthermore, the pay differential that exists between the sexes seems to be as stark as ever. Tania Branigan reported in The Guardian on the findings of the Equal Opportunities Commision in June 2002, for example, saying that:

British women can celebrate 50 years of progress in the workplace, but still lack sufficient childcare, are concentrated in particular jobs, and earn on average 18% less than men... (Branigan, 2002, p.10)

Similarly, Jamie Doward noted in the Sunday Observer that:

...despite all the talk of closing gender gaps over the last few years, men still wear the trousers in the business world. (Doward, 2000, p.7)

Doward went on to note that a female FTSE 350 Director could expect to receive total earnings, including bonuses and share options, of £261,000, whereas her male counterpart could expect to receive a package of about £400,000. Furthermore, interestingly enough, Doward said that the 'patriarchal structure of the business world' might be quite unsuitable in the new knowledge-based economy of the future anyway. He argues that:

....the new knowledge-based economy places much greater emphasis on the need to create enduring working relationships between companies. More and more companies are sharing information, brands and personnel, calling for new management skills. (Doward, 2000, p.7)

Surely, then, this could present a great opportunity for female information professionals in the future. Finally, John Carvel reported in The Guardian of 4th December 2001, on a report that had then just been published by the Industrial Society, which showed that fewer than 10 women were executive directors in FTSE 100 companies and women were clustered at the lower levels of the management structure.

These, I feel sure, are all issues that the women's group needs to continually address. It might be particularly interesting to consider the role of female information professionals in the new knowledge-based economy and to also relate this to gender inequalities in cyberspace and cyberfeminism.


Bakken, Frode (2000) WTO and libraries - an introduction , Library of Buskerud, Buskerud, Norway. A paper presented at the 66th IFLA Council and General Conference, Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August. Available at:

Branigan, Tania (2002) Earnings of women still lag by 18%, The Guardian , 3rd June, p.10

Carvel, John (2001) No room at the top for women, The Guardian , 4th December, p.22

CLA (1999) Canadian Library Association: perspectives on the World Trade Organization meetings . Approved by the Canadian Library Association Executive Council, November 1999 at:

Dodds, Anneliese (2001) GATS: higher education and public libraries, Information for Social Change , No. 14, Winter 2001/02, pp.21-25

Doward, Jamie (2000) Glass ceiling shows few cracks: things may have got better, but women are still struggling to make it in the business world, Sunday Observer , 29th October, p. 7

EBLIDA (2000) World Trade Organization . European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association at

Goulding, Anne and Spacey, Rachel (2002) Women and the Information Society: barriers and participation . Paper presented at 68th IFLA Council and General Conference, 20th August

Hunt, Fiona (2001) The WTO and the treat to libraries, Progressive Librarian: a Journal for Critical Studies and Progressive Politics in Librarianship , Iss. 18, Summer. Reprinted in Information for Social Change , No, 14, Winter 2001/02. Available at:

IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) (2001) The IFLA position on the WTO treaty negotiations , Sep. Available at:

Joy, Clare (2001) Trading away basic rights: the General Agreement on Trade in Serices (GATS), Information for Social Change , Winter 2001/02, No. 14, pp.19-21

Mackenzie, Jane (2002) The Quiet Storm, The Big Issue , Aug 12th-18th, pp.10-11
Available on Rory Litwin's website - Library Juice 5:27 - August 22, 2002

National Statistics Office (2001) Internet access. London: National Statistics Office

Pollock, Allyson (1999) How the World Trade Organisation is shaping domestic policies in health care, The Lancet, Vol. 354, 27th November

Rikowski, Ruth (2002a) The corporate takeover of libraries, Information for Social Change , Winter 2001-02, No.14, pp. 25-60. Available at:

Rikowski, Ruth (2002b) The WTO, the GATS and the meaning of 'services', Public Library Journal , Vol.17, No.2, pp.48-50 (Part 1 of a 2 part article based on talk I gave entitled The WTO/GATS Agenda for Libraries )

Rikowski, Ruth (2002c) Takeover by stealth?, Public Library Journal , Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 73-76 (Part 2 of a 2 part article based on talk I gave entitled The WTO/GATS Agenda for Libraries )

Rikowski, Ruth (2002d) The WTO/GATS Agenda for Libraries (abbreviated version), Focus: on International Library and Information Work , Vol. 33, No. 2, Autumn, pp.53-65)

Rikowski, Ruth (2001) GATS: private affluence and public squalor? Implications for libraries and information, Managing Information , Dec, Vol. 8, No.10, pp. 8-10
Also available on Library Juice -

Shrybman, Steve (2001) An assessment of the impact of the General Agreement on Trade in Services on policy, programs and law concerning public sector libraries. Prepared for the Canadian Library Association, Canadian Association of University Teachers, Canadian Association of Research Libraries, Ontario Library Association, Saskatchewan Library Association, Manitoba Library Association, Industry Canada, British Columbia Library Association, Library Association of Albert and National Library of Canada. (Ontario, Canada, October)

Whitney, Paul (2000) Libraries and the WTO . Notes for a presentation to the 66th IFLA General Conference, Jerusalem, Israel, August 2000.

WTO (1994) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) , World Trade Organization, at:


Information for Social Change...

Ruth Rikowski, London, 1st October 2002, Email: rikowskiat


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