Open Journal Systems
Emerging Democracies and Freedom of Information. Edited by Barbara Turfan with Kathleen Ladizesky and Inese A. Smith. London: Library Association Publishing, 1995. xiv, 174 p. ISBN 1–85604–170–0.
Conference proceedings are notoriously difficult to convert into monograph form. This present volume doesn’t really succeed in living up to the expectations raised by its title, although there are some interesting chapters. The aim of the conference organizers — the International Group of the British Library Association — was to look at emerging democracies (defined as those countries deemed to be changing to a democratic form of government from a non–democratic one) and freedom of information within these countries (defined as including both free access to information and the right of free expression). The Conference was carefully timed: it was held in Oxford, England, in September 1994, to see if by considering the issues at this time, it might permit some influencing to take place before positions had become established. In their Foreword, the editors admit that theirs was an over–ambitious aim for a weekend conference. An added complication was that the availability of speakers — mainly from the United Kingdom — determined which topics could be addressed.
There are four sections. The first (of 21 pages) is labelled “Overview”, although only the first item, the Keynote Address, really qualifies for this heading. Former IFLA Vice President and recently retired Deputy Chief Executive of the British Library Association, Russell Bowden, makes the case for librarians to accept their social responsibilities, without which they have no case for being regarded as true professionals. These responsibilities include opposing censorship and ensuring that every citizen is aware of their right to information they seek whether, in UNESCO’s words, “it be for professional advancement, performance of ... social duties or recreational reading.” Papers on the work of PEN and Article XIX follow, which although brief, are relevant to the conference title. The others, a report on a recent visit to Malawi, the concerns of the British Library Association that libraries are increasingly being asked to charge for services, and a report on the 1994 IFLA conference in Cuba, seem somewhat tangential to the conference theme.
The second section is labelled “The Far East” but looks only at two countries — Hong Kong and China. Hong Kong, soon to become part of China, seems strange choice for “emerging democracies” (as did its parent, Britain, in the first section).
Section Three is more substantial, covering more countries under the heading “Ex–Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” While there is no discernible logic to the choice of countries, the authors do endeavor to discuss the role of libraries and publishing within the overall infrastructure of the countries concerned. Not unnaturally, perhaps, the source of the Conference is much in evidence; see, for example, the chapters on “The (British) Library Association and Latvia and Estonia,” and “The British Council’s role in Library Development in Poland during the Period of Transition.” A strange ending to this Section is a paper based on one presented to the British Society for Middle East Studies in 1991, and published in the Arab Review in 1992. It is a philosophical paper on “Islam and Democracy,” with little seeming relevance to the Conference theme.
Section Four is in many ways the strongest portion of the book. The heading is “Africa,” and although only three countries are represented — Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa — in the longer space allowed to them the authors do present a more solid account of the issues facing these countries. A cavil, however, would have to be, given its present rulers, whether it is justifiable to even consider Nigeria as an “emerging democracy.”
Overall, this volume is a useful “state of the art” survey of the concerns and issues which will continue to face librarians and policy–makers in many countries. Those interested in comparative librarianship will find many articles likely to stimulate further and deeper investigation. For all librarians, it is a useful reminder of the twin, key issues at the heart of our profession: opposition to censorship as it is so often practiced in both established and emerging democracies, let alone those countries where democracy has yet to emerge; and the rights of all citizens to have access to information.
Norman Horrocks teaches at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. He retired in 1995 from Scarecrow Press, where he served as Vice President, Editorial.
© 1996 Norman Horrocks.
Horrocks, Norman, “Review of Emerging Democracies and Freedom of Information, edited by John H. Lorentz,” Third World Libraries, Volume 6, Number 2 (Spring 1996).