What librarians are saying about the war in Ukraine

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Some days ago, the question still was: So, the war started… what does the librarian say? Today we write March 3, Russia’s war on Ukraine is entering its second week, and librarians have had time to say many things.

By Mikael Böök

On March 1, IFLA’s governing board published the following statement:

“IFLA stands in solidarity with our colleagues in Ukraine – condemns all violent actions and joins the international community in their statements on the situation.

In alliance with the protest of the international Library community IFLA urgently appeals to the libraries all over the world to mobilise in favour of accurate information to be spread on the conflict as a means to support democracy and freedom of expression. IFLA also asks libraries to support any Ukrainian refugees, in collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organisations. We should be ready to find practical solutions and be prepared to provide Ukrainians with assistance and support as needed.”

In some of my previous blogposts, I have criticized IFLA’s policies, but this time I am quite happy which is why I quote their statement in extenso. Amidst the warmongering of the news and mass media, IFLA manages to hit a peaceful tone that is proper to librarians and the library as an institution. To condemn violent actions like the Russian aggression is of course OK. To appeal to libraries all over the world to mobilise in favour of accurate information is even more so. We are now witnessing a general drift towards a “Decoupling From Russia”, not only politically and financially, but also culturally and …

… in the field of science and scientific communication. Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe and Roger C. Schonfield write about this ominious trend in The Scholarly Kitchen, March 2, 2022. How gratifying that IFLA deviates from that Cold War mentality and practice!

The statement by by EBLIDA, NAPLE and Public Libraries 2030 (three important groups of the European library community) is a bit more shrill in tone. For instance, it does not appeal to libraries “all over the world” but only to “libraries all over Europe.” The question is, does EBLIDA suggest that the libraries all over Europe should break their cultural and scientific ties with the libraries all over Russia? I cannot believe that EBLIDA wants to see such “decoupling”. Yet I would have liked to see a statement to the contrary. Why did EBLIDA not say that now, more than ever, it is necessary to keep in contact with the libraries and librarians of Russia? Does EBLIDA believe that the Russian libraries and librarians support the Russian war party?

EBLIDA & Co stress the need to support refugees from Ukraina, which is good: “We urge libraries all over Europe to welcome refugees and to provide a warm and safe shelter away from their temporary housing, also providing access to library’s collections and services.”

For its part, The American Library Association (ALA) has produced the following:

“The American Library Association and its divisions support our Ukrainian colleagues and will work with the global library community to answer the appeal from the Ukrainian Library Association to provide accurate information as a means to support democracy and freedom of expression.

ALA has adopted into its policies Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.”

ALA continues to encourage our members to help raise public consciousness regarding the many ways in which disinformation and media manipulation are used to mislead public opinion in all spheres of life, and further encourages librarians to facilitate this awareness with collection development, library programming and public outreach that draws the public’s attention to those alternative sources of information dedicated to countering and revealing the disinformation.”

This statement, too, can serve as an indication that librarians are not warmongers, but rather pacifists. Are the librarians, then, able to “raise public consciousness regarding the many ways in which disinformation and media manipulation are used to mislead public opinion”? That is a different question. Anyway, it is certainly the duty of a librarian to try.

The Nordic National Libraries, in turn, have expressed their “solidarity with our friends and colleagues in the besieged Ukraine” and stressed “the importance of citizens’ access to free and undistorted information, especially in times of war and crises.” Allright, but should they not as well have extended their solidarity to their colleagues in Russia? Or should we imply that the Russian civil society or, more precisely, the librarians of Russia, are guilty of Russia’s attack on the Ukraine?

Anyway, the Nordic National Libraries added this reminder to their statement, and for good reason: “Russia has ratified UNESCO:s 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the 1954 Hague Convention. By doing so Russia has committed to protecting Cultural Heritage.” We can only hope that the Russian soldiers in Ukraine will not repeat something comparable the German soldiers did at Louvain in August, 1914.

I’ll end these notes with a question: Has the time come for all librarians and their IFLA to criticize the nuclear balance of terror, to join the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and to support the UN Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)? If not now, when?

Right now the balance of terror may seem to work, but for how long? The longer it drags on, the faster the ecological disaster approaches.

11 Responses to “What librarians are saying about the war in Ukraine”

  1. Українська бібліотечна асоціація
    Vedhæftede filer
    ons. 2. mar. 16.46 (for 1 dag siden)
    til mig

    Dear Jesper,
    On February 28 the Ukrainian Library Association sent the Appeal of the Ukrainian Library Association to IFLA President and Governing Board and IFLA Members.
    You may find full text on Facebook

    and attached.

    In this Appeal we ask the IFLA Governing Board for the exclusion of the Russian Library Association and all Russian library representatives from IFLA. We are absolutely sure that only complete isolation of Russia can stop this bloody dictatorship’s aggression against world democracy. Thus, we appeal to IFLA members to support it on their own behalf. I would be very grateful if you would pay attention to this document.

    Thank you for your support. It is greatly needed.


    Yaroslava Soshynska

    Executive Director

    Ukrainian Library Association

  2. Wake up NATO, Wake up EU, Wake up USA!

    What Ukraine needs today is not just your prayers and words of courage, but weapons! Weapons to enforce the No Fly Zone, since everyone seems to be too scared of Putin to enforce even the bare minimum of the No Fly Zone over human corridors to evacuate the civilians, women, children & the elderly.
    What is happening in Mauripol is genocide and ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians. 80% of the city had been destroyed and the Russians are actively bombing the civilian targets, while refusing to let them evacuate. This is the most evil, the most deliberate murderous action against the civilian population since the WW2!
    Ukraine immediately needs those Mig29 fighter jets, S-300/S400 anti air systems, more drones, more anti-tank/anti-armor systems, smart artillery systems and the Biden administration would do a lot if the US will start to transfer the Patriot missiles to the Ukrainian Defense forces. The Ukrainian forces need anti-artillery radar systems, to be able to identify and geo-locate the artillery fire, since this had been the #1 killer of the Ukrainian civilians: artillery & rockets from the Russian Mir!
    The civilized world has to wake up and wake up now! Prayers and kind thoughts are welcome, but they don’t kill the Russian invaders. Bullets & missiles do! More weapons to Ukraine immediately!

  3. My first reaction to David Dzidzikashvili’s comment is… no comment. Because David does not really comment on my writing “What librarians are sayning about the war in Ukraine.” He has a message, though. It goes like this: whatever librarians are saying about the war in Ukraine is beside the point. The point now is that the Ukrainians need more weapons to fight the Russian invader. Or, actually, whatever you (that is, me) say is beside the point if you are not (I am not) calling for more weapons to be sent to Ukraine. So according to David, I should be like himself — that is have a mindset like his and behave like him. I should think only of the ongoing war and on one side’s need to get more and better weapons and ammunition fast.
    Well, I, too, have been thinking about this ominous war, and my thinking has, if anything, strengthened my pacifist conviction. I do not support the decision of my goverment (of Finland) to send in more weapons. I am in favour of non-violent methods of defensive struggle, and as an alternative to offensive struggle. By the way, establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine is generally considered a particularly dangerous and therefore bad idea.
    As alternative measures instead of weapons deliveries I would therefore recommend the listing at https://davidswanson.org/30-nonviolent-things-russia-could-have-done-and-30-nonviolent-things-ukraine-could-do/ .
    Then I have another motive, too. One also has to think about the future, and even to dream about the future. It is here that the libraries and librarians come into the picture. The libraries and the librarians are preparing us for the future. It is quite possible that their work is in vain, and that they will perish in this war (if it escalates into a world war) or in coming wars (if a coming war becomes WW III). Yet for the time being the libraries must fulfil their mission.
    The libraries and the librarians need no armies, no war industries, no weapons export organisations and no warmonging tabloids. The librarians and the libraries ought to continue to do what they are supposed to do: help to prepare us all for the future. “The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities”, wrote R. David Lankes in The Atlas of Modern Librarianship. Start there!

  4. Mikael – I must comment here – you are proposing for Ukraina and David Dzidzikashvili (as comment to his very good message) a general pacifist approach and world view – no problem we all know the arguments pro and against pacifism and in every country there are some devoted pacifists – but this approach has very little support for example in Ukraine where people fight with all kinds of metods including non-violent methods but as a supplement to war wih weapons – in Norway we know this very well – fighting fascism in Europe which ended in victory 1945 was done with non-violence combined with violent fight – and with only non-violent fighting against the fascists it is most probable that we would still have nazi rule in Europe – what I do not understand is why you bring in pacifism : The whole question is: Should the russian library association be excluded from IFLA etc or not? To talk about pacifism is not interesting. Keep to the question.

    • (“No problem, we all know the arguments pro and con, and in every country there are some devoted pacifists”… “to talk about pacifism is not interesting) Forgive me if I’m misreading, but this sounds extremely arrogant and condescending…as if pacifists are a bunch of cooks we more realistic people will just have to suffer gladly. And it seems to me Mikael Book IS sticking to the question, which as you say is whether the Russian library association should be excluded. And can you clarify, what exactly to you find “very good” about Dzidzikashvili’s message…the call for bullets and missiles to help “kill the Russian invaders?” And is defending Ukraine with missiles and no-fly zones defensible, if it means escalation to a nuclear war and visiting on the rest of the world the horrors that the tyrant Putin has subjected to Ukrainian civilians to?

  5. Frode, the situation now is not like 1939. It is more like 1914. Except that in 1914 there were no nuclear weapon states, no nuclear weapons systems in the air, in the seas, on land, in space, and in or minds (yet we tend to forget about them). Nobody could have written “The Doomsday Machine-Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner” in the years that preceded the outbreak of WW1. That book is one reason why I have reached the insight that I should be a Pacifist and say so. And that is one reason why I answered as I did to David Dzidzikashvili’s comment.
    The other reason is that David Dzidzikashvili did not keep to the question: Should the Russian library association be excluded from IFLA etc or not? Instead he deemed such question irrelevant and demanded that more military weapons be sent to the Ukrainians. And not only weapons. He also demanded that a no-fly-zone be established over Ukraine. Did he mean that IFLA should support *that* demand? Probably not. There is no sign in his comment that he gives a damn about what the librarians say or support. So we may suppose that he just meant — like the most irresponsible commentators on the Ukraine war — that NATO should establish the no-fly-zone. Fortunately, the leaders of NATO, headed by US President Joe Biden, have so far rejected this claim.

  6. Should the Russian library association be excluded from IFLA etc or not?

    Forgot to include my answer on this: Absolutely YES!

    Russia should be completely excluded from every organization and association in the civilized world + face stiff economic penalties + embargo + sanctions + complete isolation, in order to force Russia change its course from violent measures and stop killing innocent civilians. Since the WW2 how many times we had witnessed such barbaric bombings of civilian targets? Premediated bombings of the civilian targets?

    Unfortunately the Putin’s Russia only understands the language of force and threats, because he is KGB operative and he views the world in extremely narcissistic zero-sum game view. Putin killed his own civilians and bombed Moscow apartment buildings just to bolster his ratings and support for the new Chechen war offensive. This is not a human behavior, psychopaths behave in such manner.

    Therefore, the Ukrainians should receive the complete support and isolation of Russia from the civilized world + weapons shipment, offensive lethal weapons.

    It’s wonderful to live in a pacifist viewpoint world, however you can not reason and compromise with a cancer, with a bully, with a psychopath…. You have to fight for survival. And that’s exactly where Ukraine is today.

    And every neighbor of Russia has felt the Russian aggression (directly or indirectly)… Just ask the Georgians, the Chechens, the Ingushs, Daghis, Azeris, Moldovans, Ukrainians, Cherkessians, Crimean Tatars and other ethnicities who had faced extremely deep-rooted hatred, Russification policies (to eradicate local languages) and discrimination since the late 1700s by the Russian Empire at first and then the Soviet Union who sought to conquer and enslave these people, these countries, erase their identity and make them into Russia’s loyal servants.

    Therefore, only extremely strict isolation policies of Russia + offensive lethal weapons deliveries to Ukraine will work here together as one package to deal with Putin and his “new empire” he is trying to rebuild. I understand and welcome all the pacifist views and I wish we could live in world peace, but at this point dealing with Putin peace seems impossible without Ukraine’s superior military firepower. And please remember: Putin was the first one to escalate!


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