Globalisation, Information and Libraries: The implications of the World Trade Organisation’s GATS and TRIPS Agreements by Ruth Rikowski, Chandos Publishing 2005
A Review by Paul Catherall
This text by Ruth Rikowski comprises a thorough yet accessible overview on the effects of Globalisation resulting from the policies of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), specifically regarding implications for the public sector.
The book reveals the profit ethic of the WTO in enabling business to run public services. State-run services are usually run at cost, rather than for a profit margin, thus public funds benefit public users of these services, reflecting a social ethic where resources are distributed for the benefit of society. However, the WTO directives discussed by the author could increasingly see public services owned or managed by private business, whose aims are for profit (rather than social justice). The accumulation of profit from hospitals, libraries and schools clearly indicates a shift in the ethics of public service provision – the implications for corporate provision may result in lower quality services, a reduced range of services and poorly resourced staffing (due to retention of funds as profit).
The continuing agenda of privatisation and commercialisation of public sector services is evident in the UK as a result of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), i.e. City Academies replacing comprehensive schools, private clinics/ hospitals and corporate involvement in library provision – these aspects are discussed in some detail in Rikowski’s book. The author also demonstrates how the text is informed by an ‘Open Marxist theoretical analysis of value’, illustrating how in the modern climate, intellectual labour is pivotal to the economic system and how the WTO is attempting to integrate intellectual property and knowledge-based services into the business sector and ultimately within the global market.
Part 2 considers ‘The General Agreement on Trade in Services’ (GATS), describing how this WTO directive is having important implications for public services across WTO member countries, including sectors such as education, libraries and health services; Rikowski illustrates how this WTO agreement will liberalise (i.e. release or open) government funded sectors to competition from the private sector.
In part 3, the author desribes the ‘Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights’ (TRIPS), which Rikowski indicates is “about transforming information, knowledge and ideas into intellectual property rights which can then be traded on the global market in the form of international tradable commodities” (p.187); Rikowski describes how concepts of IP (intellectual property) conflict with the free flow of information and access to information. For the author, the ‘balance in copyright’ described in TRIPS favours the protection of business interests in exploiting intellectual property (i.e. via royalties), rather than allowing for the open dissemination of research for the wider community (such as pharmacutical research for the development of new medicines).
In conclusion, this book is highly ambitious, attempting to convey the big picture on factors driving the transfer of public services to coprorate ownership and the ethical and theoretical objections to commercialisation. Additionally, the author considers practical approaches for Information Professionals and other individuals to get involved in the wider discussion on the GATS and TRIPS agreements.
This is an important text and highly recommended for anyone concerned by the privatisation of library services or the wider public sector in general.
Ruth Rikowski has served as an observer on the EBLIDA WTO Working Group (European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations), she is a Visiting Lecturer at South Bank University and the University of Greenwich and is the Series Editor for the Chandos Series for Information Professionals (Chandos Publishing). Ruth was also the Book Reviews Editor for Managing Information, the Aslib monthly magazine, from 2001-2004.
Paul Catherall is a Web Developer at the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education and a postgraduate research student with the Department of Information and Communications at Manchester Metropolitan University, he is also the author of Delivering E-Learning for Information Services in Higher Education (see http://draigweb.co.uk ).
Information for Social Change activist Web site and e-journal. http://libr.org/isc [Accessed 01/08/06.]
Rikowski, R. (2005) Globalisation, Information and Libraries: The Implications of the World Trade Organisation’s GATS and TRIPS Agreements, Oxford, Chandos Publishing
The Flow of Ideas – Web site of Ruth and Glenn Rikowski. Includes information about the Rikowskis’ various publications and talks and the events that they have been involved with. http://www.flowideas.co.uk [Accessed 01/08/06.]
The GATS and Libraries (Portal to GATs information on libr.org). http://libr.org/gats [Accessed 01/08/06.]
UK Government PFI Web site. http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/documents/public_private_partnerships/ppp_index.cfm [Accessed 01/08/06.] To order copies contact: Turpin Distribution Services Ltd, Blackhorse Road, Letchworth, Hertfordshire, SG6 1HN, UK. Telephone: +44 (0) 1462 672555 Fax: +44 (0) 1462 48097. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ISBN 1 854334 084 4 (pbk); 1 84334 092 5 (hdbk) See more about this book from Chandos website http://www.chandospublishing.com/catalogue/record_detail.php?recordID=35