Büchereiverband Österreichs
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A-1070 Wien

Tel.: +43/1/406 97 22
Fax: +43/1/406 35 94-22
E-Mail: bvoe@bvoe.at

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Public Libraries as a Human Right

Fair and equal access to education is a foundation of democratic society. A person’s social, geographic or cultural background must not determine his or her chances in life. Access to education and culture is a fundamental right.

A key factor in acquiring social competence and getting an education is literacy. More than a quarter of Austrian adolescents are functionally illiterate. All social institutions have to join forces to remedy this and other deficiencies that impede people’s personal and professional development.

Not all families are able to support children in acquiring knowledge and getting a good education. There might be many reasons for this: Parents might feel overworked and therefore find it hard to support their children’s education. Some parents have had only limited access to education themselves and do not know where to start and which materials to use. Immigrants sometimes lack the necessary language skills to help their children. Sometimes immigrants do not have the necessary language skills to help their children.

Kindergartens and schools do their best to close this educational gap. However, they cannot solve such a huge problem on their own.

Therefore libraries play an essential role in tackling these issues. Libraries grant free and direct access to books, magazines and digital media for children, adolescents and adults. Thereby they enable people to use media which they cannot afford or had previously not been introduced to – regardless of the person’s social, economic or cultural background.

All people in Austria should have fast and easy access to public library services. This requires a comprehensive nationwide network of libraries. The Austrian author Josef Winkler criticises the current situation by proclaiming that “libraries are a human right”.

Public libraries make a key contribution to social development, level of education and the dissemination of culture in society. Therefore it is a key public responsibility to strengthen the Austrian library sector and to ensure universal access to high-quality media and consulting services.

Libraries as Education Centres

Literacy is the key competence and the basis of all other forms of learning. Insufficient reading skills are a huge obstacle to personal development, learning, art and culture. Therefore we must ensure free access to media and we must provide an open space that enables life-long learning. Thanks to the expertise of their staff, public libraries offer a wide range of material and provide expert advice. This is a key contribution to promoting reading skills and language development among children. In addition, libraries help adults with personal as well as professional training and education.

Libraries as Cultural Centres

Libraries are centres for culture promotion and see themselves as a hub for cultural activities. The wide choice of fiction and non-fiction works available at libraries breaks down cultural biases and opens up a new perspective on culture: high culture is found alongside popular culture in magazines, literary works, audiovisual media and games. This range spans the entire world of knowledge and culture, breaking down the boundaries between cultural categories.
This is how public libraries preserve our cultural heritage and open up new perspectives. This light-hearted approach to reading has proved successful: While the number of book readers in Austria is declining steadily, public libraries see a steady increase in users.

Public Libraries as Social Integration Centres

Libraries grant fundamental rights by helping to close the gap between information haves and have-nots. They are meeting points and communication platforms, bringing together people of all ages, social status and cultural background. Public libraries grant free access to information for all citizens, regardless of their social, financial, religious, medical or ethnic status.

Public Libraries as Information Centres

Nowadays libraries are information, communication and technology centres - provided that they have the necessary financial means. They grant access to media for those who would otherwise be barred from the latest technical developments. Libraries collect local information and publications, edit them and make them available to everyone. Thereby they turn into regional knowledge and learning centres.

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