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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 19. Background and overview to the book - 'Globalisation, information and libraries: The Implications of the World Trade Organisation's GATS and TRIPS Agreements', Chandos Publishing, Oxford, 2004

Ruth Rikowski

1. Background

I have recently completed writing a book, which is entitled 'Globalisation, Information and Libraries: The Implications of the World Trade Organisation's GATS and TRIPS Agreements', and is due to be published in November 2004. This builds on the many published articles that I now have on this topic. I originally became interested in the subject of globalisation when I read Glenn Rikowski's book The Battle in Seattle: Its Significance for Education (G.Rikowski, 2001). I told John Pateman, one of the founding members of Information for Social Change (ISC) about it, and after he read the book he suggested that I edit a special issue of ISC on the theme of Globalisation and Information. I had not been a member of ISC for very long, but I thought it sounded like a good idea, and so I agreed. That was now over 3 years ago, and an incredible amount has happened to me since then!

I started to gather information and make contacts with various people for the special issue, focusing in particular on the GATS (the General Agreement on Trade in Services) and its implications for libraries. During this process I made contact with Clare Joy, the Campaigns Officer for the World Development Movement, and this resulted in me participating in a BBC Radio 4 programme, You and Yours , on the GATS in 2001. Leading on from this, Graham Coult, the editor of Managing Information (MI), the Aslib (The Association for Information Management) magazine invited me to write an article about the programme. This article was published in the December 2001 issue (R.Rikowski, 2001). The editor then asked me if I would like to be the 'Book Reviews Editor' for MI, which I accepted. My first published article was published in Managing Information , in 2000 and I have had the 'writing bug' ever since then!

The special issue went on the web in January 2002. Then, during 2002 I gave various GATS and libraries talks and wrote several articles on the subject as well. Firstly, I gave a talk at the informal group of the International Group of the Library Association at the Library Association's (as it was then called) Headquarters in London. Following on from this, I gave a talk at Sussex University, as part of an evening session that considered the implications of GATS across a variety of different public service sectors and there were a number of different speakers. I was also involved in organising two very successful events. The first of these was a fringe meeting at the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) conference in Glasgow. I obtained funding to attend the conference, and my application was based on my wish to raise awareness about the GATS. I then found that I could not speak on the main programme, as that had been established well in advance, so I organised my own fringe meeting. I also helped to organise a successful event at the London School of Economics through ATTAC (the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions), which again, focused on the implications of the GATS across a wide variety of different public service sectors and there were a variety of speakers. Information for both of these events is available in previous issues of ISC, on the web.

I also became an observer on the EBLIDA (European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association) WTO Working Group in 2002, at the invitation of Frode Bakken, the then co-ordinator of the group and the President of the Norwegian Library Association.

Meanwhile, two journalists contacted me in regard to my work. One of these was Jane MacKenzie, the then News Editor of the Big Issue. A piece about libraries and the GATS, including information about my own work was published in the August 2002 edition of the Big Issue - and again, this has also been reproduced in ISC. Anders Ericson, a freelance journalist and librarian from Norway then contacted me, and said that he would like to come to England and interview me about my work on the GATS and libraries. He subsequently did that, and he interviewed John Pateman as well, and wrote two articles that were published in BOB (Bok Og Bibliotek), a Norwegian library journal - one based on John's work on social exclusion in the London Borough of Merton, and one based on my work (Ericson, 2002)

In 2002, different articles of mine were published in a wide variety of journals on the GATS and libraries. I thought the issue was just so politically significant that I wanted to get the message out to as many different people as possible - the privatisation of our libraries is no laughing matter. This included getting articles published in the Public Library Journal , the Commoner , Focus , Link-up, Relay, BIS (Bibliotek i Samhaelle) - a Swedish library journal, the IFLA Journal and the UK House of Lords report on Globalisation .  

The following year (2003) I decided to move on and examine TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) - the other agreement that is being developed at the WTO that is likely to have significant implications for libraries and information. This proved to be very challenging! Three articles of mine were then published on the topic, in Managing Information , the IFLA Journal and Business Information Review . I also gave talks on TRIPS at the Library and Information Show, Excel, Docklands and at Kingston University to a group of MSc students there. I also gave another talk on the GATS at the UK Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Umbrella Conference in Manchester, in summer 2003.

At the end of 2002, representatives from EBLIDA and IFLA met with representatives from the WTO and the EC and asked them a number of poignant questions in regard to the GATS and libraries, and they asked them some questions on TRIPS as well. The report of this, by Kjell Nilsson, who is now the co-ordinator of the EBLIDA WTO Working Group, is also on the ISC website. In January 2003 CILIP issued a powerful statement about the GATS, raising its concerns, which I was obviously delighted about. This followed on from all the work that I had undertaken in this area, and a short piece that I wrote for the January/February 2003 issue of Managing Information (R.Rikowski, 2003). I concluded this short piece by saying that it would be helpful if CILIP were to issue a statement on the GATS as various other library associations had done. However, there was no reference to either myself or to ISC in the statement. This statement is also now on the ISC website. EBLIDA will be running a 2-day conference on the GATS and TRIPS in the UK, probably in spring 2005, which it is likely that I will be helping to organise through the EBLIDA WTO Working Group, and I have also been invited to speak on TRIPS. Finally, Barbara Schleihagen, from the German Library Association made contact with me in June 2004, wanting to know more about my work on the GATS and libraries, as the German Library Association are also planning to issue a statement about it shortly.   She was very appreciative of the information that I gave her.

Having written so many articles, I then decided that I really wanted to write that book! Dr Glyn Jones from Chandos publishers asked me if I would be interested in writing a book for the Chandos Series for Information Professionals, and that was it. I obtained a book agreement and I was away. Dr Jones then offered me a position as a Series Editor for Chandos, which is essentially the role of a Commissioning Editor, and I accepted this. Hence, if anyone is interested in writing a book for the Chandos Series for Information Professionals, do get in contact with me. For the last few months, I have been very busy writing my book. The second half of this article will provide a brief overview about what the book contains.

2. Overview 2a. Critiquing capitalism and analysing the WTO

So, what is in my book? The main drive behind my thinking and my main motivation for writing, is to understand, explain and critique capitalism and expose its intrinsic workings, and to demonstrate that the world will always be an unfair and an unjust place whilst we live in capitalism. Instead, we need to terminate capitalism, and replace it with socialism and eventually with communism, as far as I am concerned. So, one of the really important questions that one needs to ask is - what are the main motivating factors driving global capitalism forward at the current time? It seems to me that one of the main factors is the World Trade Organisation and the agreements that were and are being developed there. The WTO is basically endeavouring to create a world order for trade. Many people argue that communism has all but died, with the collapse of the Soviet block, the continued watering down of Chinese communism and the collapse of the Berlin wall etc. The argument is then often put forward that we are now one big happy 'global family' all living together in this wonderful global capitalist world, which is based on the market, free trade, commodification and competition. Obviously there still are some communist countries, such as Cuba, which John Pateman has written about extensively as we know, and he is continually informing people about the wonderful libraries in Cuba. But many argue, or endeavour to argue, that communism is all but dead. This is tied up with the notion of 'TINA' - There Is No Alternative. This philosophy preaches that capitalism might have its faults, but it is the best possible social system that we can possibly have, so we just need to find ways to get it to work more effectively. The WTO is seen to provide one such mechanism. Clare Short, who at the time was the International Development Secretary in the UK, articulates this view, saying that:


Globalisation is here to stay; the political challenge is to manage it well. (Short, 2001, p.17)

I find it a very bizarre way of thinking. We can use our intellect to travel in space, and to create complicated computer systems etc, but we cannot use our intellect to conceive of and work towards a better social, political and economic system. That instead, we have to live in a system that causes so much death, misery and injustice, it seems. This does not make any sense to me.

So, we all live in global capitalism now. We are all one big happy, global family apparently. The question then becomes, how can we work more effectively together? The argument is that global capitalist institutions, such as the WTO, prevents anarchy from surfacing, as it establishes a global framework for trade between its members. And obviously, ideally the WTO would like all countries throughout the world to be members of it - so then, we would have a supposed world order.   There are currently some 150 WTO members, and the number of members is continually increasing. China joined quite recently. Some people might think this all sounds quite appealing, until one starts to uncover the fact that the WTO is very much weighted towards the benefit of rich countries and large corporations, and the developing world suffers, in particular. All this is considered in detail in my book.

The important point to note, then, is that the WTO represents the sharp edge of global capitalism - it is driving global capitalism forward at a rapid pace. So, if we want to effectively see where some of the most important decisions are being made in global capitalism today, we need to look at the WTO. Within this context I decided to focus on the two agreements that are being developed at the WTO that are likely to have significant implications for libraries and information - namely, the GATS and TRIPS. Given that I come from a library/information background, this was obviously the sensible thing for me to do. Furthermore, I am convinced that although libraries are often perceived as being something of a backwater, they are in essence very important institutions. Many acknowledge the fact that we are now moving into the knowledge revolution. I have argued in a number of my articles that the knowledge revolution is the latest phase of capitalism and so it is knowledge that is driving global capitalism forward in many ways. As such libraries can play a big part in shaping the future - hopefully for good rather than for ill.

This, then, provides the background to my book and why I decided to examine the WTO's GATS and TRIPS agreements. My aim was to analyse one of the main areas that was driving global capitalism forward but then to place all this within a theoretical perspective, so that we can understand, explain and critique global capitalism, thereby bringing theory and practice together. For me this means adopting a Marxist theoretical analysis, and the last part of my book focuses on an Open Marxist theoretical analysis of value and the commodity, which I begin to relate to the GATS and TRIPS. However, it is a complex subject, so I only introduce it in this first book of mine. This will all be explored in more depth in my future works.

2b. Contents of the book

What, then, is contained in my book? Firstly, I consider the meaning of globalisation itself, and this is followed by an overview of the World Trade Organisation. I then provide an overview of the GATS itself, and consider the GATS, libraries, information and cultural services within an international perspective. I consider which countries have committed their library services to the GATS, under Sector 10C: Recreational, Cultural and Sporting Services, and examine a number of different countries. This includes: Canada, the USA, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the developing world in general, India, South Africa, Europe, UK, Chile and Singapore. I then examine real-life examples of how the GATS is impacting on libraries in the UK, focusing in particular on public libraries, which is based very much on my article in the ISC special issue, which is entitled The corporate takeover of libraries, with some amendments and revisions. This also includes the development of a framework for analysing the GATS and public services. I then outline some of the statements, positions and activities undertaken by various library associations and library, information and cultural bodies internationally in regard to the GATS. From here, I move on and consider TRIPS. Firstly, I provide an outline of the TRIPS agreement. Then, there is a chapter on TRIPS, copyright, libraries and information, followed by a chapter on TRIPS, patents, traditional knowledge, information and libraries in the developing world. The following chapter considers the implications of TRIPS for the library and information profession, and also examines this within an international perspective. This includes looking at copyright, particularly the balance in copyright, patents and the WTO in general. The specific countries that are examined include India, Canada, USA, Africa, Europe and the UK.  

The final chapters start to posit all this within an Open Marxist theoretical framework, focusing on value theory. Value theory is one of the most important parts of Marx's theoretical analysis of capitalism, as far as I am concerned, because it is value that sustains capitalism. This is why I have chosen to focus on value theory in particular. I emphasis that capitalism is sustained by value, and not by any set of moral principles. Value is created by labour and can only ever be created by labour. As Marx says ".human labour creates value." (Marx, 1887, p.57). Furthermore, that labour is the 'substance of value', and as Postone says:

We have seen that labour, in its historically determinate function as a socially mediating activity, is the 'substance of value'; the determining essence of the social formation. (Postone, 1996, p.166)

This value then becomes embedded in the commodity. And this is where the GATS and TRIPS fit in. I am arguing that public services (through the GATS) and intellectual property rights (through TRIPS) are being transformed into international tradable commodities, and that these commodities are then traded in the market-place. In such a scenario, concepts such as the public service ethos become a nonsense. Once these areas have been commodified (and the logic of capitalism is the commodification and marketisation of all that surrounds us, and this even extends to our bodies - let us be clear about this), then the value that is created and extracted from labour becomes embedded in these commodities. This value seems to be a 'gift from nature' as far as the capitalist is concerned. The capitalist then sells these commodities, and from this process profits are derived, but this profit is ultimately derived from value itself. Thus, in essence, capitalism is sustained by value. This value is created by labour, and through this process labour is exploited, alienated and objectified. Furthermore, value in the knowledge revolution, through mechanisms such as the GATS and TRIPS, is extracted more from intellectual labour than from manual labour. The concepts of manual labour and intellectual labour are considered further in the other article that I have in this ISC issue - On the impossibility of determining the length of the working-day for intellectual labour . Thus, the GATS and TRIPS will enable more and more areas of social life to be commodified and the value that is derived from exploited labour is then embedded in these commodities. I conclude my book by saying that:

There is only one real solution - to terminate capitalism, and to replace it with a better, kinder, fairer social system - to replace it with socialism, and eventually with communism. Let humans rejoice, then, in the world that they have developed with their labour - do not let them be dominated by it. Let us look towards a better future and a brighter world.


BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) (2001) The WTO and the GATS: a transcript of BBC Radio 4 programme, You and Yours , 12.30 - 12.50pm, 17th October.

Available at: and also at:

Ericson, Anders (2002) Privatisering bit for bit, Bok og bibliotek (BOB), Vol. 69, No. 7, pp18-19

(In Norwegian) (Anders Ericson interviews Ruth Rikowski about her work on the GATS and libraries). Available at:

Marx, Karl (1887) (1954 - reproduced text of English edition of 1887) Capital: a critique of political economy, Vol. 1, London: Lawrence and Wishart

Postone, Moishe (1996) Time, labour and social domination: a reinterpretation of Marx's critical theory . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Rikowski, Glenn (2001) The Battle in Seattle: Its Significance for Education , London: Tufnell Press

Rikowski, Ruth (2001) GATS: private affluence and public squalor? Implications for libraries and information, Managing Information , December, Vol. 8, No. 10, pp.8-10

Available at: and at p df?documentID=119

Rikowski, Ruth (2003) The significance of WTO agreements for the library and information world, Managing Information , Jan/Feb, Vol. 10, No. 1, p.43

Short, Clare (2001) Making globalisation work for poor people, Education International , July, Vol. 7, No. 2, p.17

N.B. This list of references does not include references to all the articles of mine that are referred to in the text in this article, or to the material that is on the ISC website. The latter can be found by going on the ISC website at - . Also, much of my material, and other readings on GATS and libraries on the web can be found on the GATS and public libraries website at - .

If you would like any of my other material, please contact me at -

rikowskiat   or rikowski.ukat

Ruth Rikowski, Visiting Lecturer London South Bank University and University of Greenwich and Series Editor for Chandos Series for Information Professionals.

Author of:

'Globalisation, Information and Libraries: The Implications of the World Trade Organisation's GATS and TRIPS Agreements, Chandos Publishers: Oxford, 2005. ISBN 1 854334 084 4 (pbk); 1 84334 092 5 (hdbk)

See more about this book from Chandos website

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