The Crucial Role Libraries Can Play In The Transformation Of Closed Societies To Democracy

February 2, 2018

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By Vesna Crnogorac PhD, Senior Librarian and Information Specialist, Faculty of Art, University of Niš, Serbia

This blog was originally created as part of a briefing pack for the #DataPrivacyNY study trip, examining the theme of online data privacy and public libraries. As part of the briefing we were keen to present a number of different perspectives, including international comparisons. This blog examines data privacy questions for libraries in countries in transition, and Serbia in particular.

Further blogs on data privacy can be found here and more information about the wider project can be found here.

Countries in transition have to transform their societies from closed communities into democratic societies with active citizens who are ready and willing to initiate changes and in a new changing environment.  In this process librarians must maintain their ethical position.  In Serbia public libraries should not ignore the difficult social reality which is caused by transitional processes, nor the reform of the whole society.  Their new social responsibility lies in the need to become proactive actors of society, and contribute to the creation of social capital as a place whose space is used for the gathering of citizens, dialogue, debate, communication.

Public libraries in Serbia should be transformed into the go-to place for citizens looking to gain advice, inquiries, instructions and other help.  This will support their right to information under freedom of information legislation as well as their broader right to freedom of access to information.  Public libraries can also help to achieve transparency and implicitly could affect the exercise of that right of free access to information of public importance – all official documents of the public (government) institutions. It, also means a public library as a ”access point” for citizens in the area of freedom of information.

The most significant result of Serbia’s democratization is passing the Law on free access to information of public importance and Law on personal data protection. The libraries themselves today are not giving enough attention to rights and obligations the laws bring for both librarians and library customers.  Both libraries and librarians need to have an engaged, proactive role in the process of helping citizens realize their right to information access as well as the personal data protection of users.

It is very important that librarians know all the rights and obligations of these two important laws (which personal data can be taken from the users, what is ‘’particularly Sensitive Data’’… etc.).

It is also important that:

  • The education of librarians should include data and privacy protection principles and practices in a networked environment.
  • Librarians should have the knowledge and skills that could be defined as political (knowledge on legal and political system at all levels) for efficient operation and communication with the citizens.
  • Librarians should defend the privacy of their users and maintain confidentiality about the resources and services that individuals use.
  • Librarians should support online privacy, freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, as expressed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights