In his report to the CLA, Shrybman states that "[p]ublic sector libraries are
the expression of a public policy agenda that intends to correct the failure of
free markets to meet broader community goals such as universal access to
information and literacy" (1).
For this reason, he feels that "[i]n many ways
the rationale for public sector service delivery is in conflict with the
principles of trade liberalization that are fundamental to [. . .] GATS"
(Shrybman, i). This statement is at the
heart of the fear that many library
advocates have about the effect that GATS will have on libraries. It is important to
note throughout this discussion that even Shrybman admits that the exercise is
"largely speculative" and that the impact GATS will actually have on libraries
is not clear (Crawley, 5). Schrybman does
support his opinion, however, by
pointing out that in previous disputes "Canada has consistently underestimated
the Byzantine nature of trade law - and lost"
(Crawley, 5). It is therefore
necessary to consider the effects that GATS may have on libraries and to act now
to ensure that negative outcomes are avoided.
Of the 145 Member Governments that compose the WTO, 13 countries have
committed their library sector to GATS and they are: Bolivia, Gambia, Iceland,
Sierra Leone, Venezuela, Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Japan,
Signapore, Ecuador, Hong Kong, New Caledonia, and the USA
Shrybman notes that "Canada has as yet made no commitments with respect to
library services as defined by the service sector classification scheme" but that two
of its largest trading partners, the United States and Japan, have placed
libraries on the GATS schedule of services as part of their national commitments
so it would seem likely that Canada will be under increasing pressure to do so
as well (iii). The situation is further
complicated by new proposals in the
current round of negotiations "to expand the GATS from a bottom-up agreement
which requires all services covered to be listed in the [a]greement to a top-down
agreement where all services are included unless specifically exempted"
(Whitney, The IFLA). If this change were
to take place, library
advocates would need to take a very proactive role in lobbying governments to
exempt libraries from these commitments. So far lobbying efforts on the part
of libraries regarding GATS have met with only mild interest and kind
reassurances from governments.
The commitments that Canada has already made are of particular concern to
library advocates because some of the committed service sectors have analogs in
publicly funded libraries. Although it was noted above that Canada has made no
commitments under GATS that specifically discuss library services, the
government has made commitments
in the areas of computer technology, communications, and research and
development sectors may affect library services and funding
Under the description of Canada's computer technology commitments, there is an
database services, which Shrybman states are "defined sufficiently broadly to
capture at least some of the on-line services that libraries may provide"
Shrybman also states that there is "clear overlap with certain library services"
and the research and development commitment that Canada has made
(23). Shrybman is
particularly concerned about Canada's commitments in the communication sector, which
specifically list online information and database retrieval, electronic data
interchange, and online information and/or data processing, as these are services
that publicly funded libraries in Canada offer and government funding for such
services may be judged to be in conflict with these GATS commitments
These concerns have been raised in the American library community but appear
to have generated less public concern within that community than they have in
Canada. In 2001, Fiona Hunt started the debate in the American library community
when she published an article critical of the WTO and illustrating potential
threats that public libraries face under GATS. Specifically, Hunt pointed out
that the Canadian government was certainly looking at libraries as a potential
exportable service when in 1999 the Department of Foreign Affairs and
International Trade sent out "a questionnaire to public libraries asking them to
identify where libraries might have 'export' interests"
(32). Although her
analysis was dismissed by Weingarten, Nisbet, and Sheketoff
in the following issue of American Libraries, (her views were later defended by
Paul Whitney, the IFLA representative to the WTO, in a letter to the editor of
that journal) her comments did generate some activity in the American library
community. John W. Berry, the president of the ALA at that time, expressed
the ALA's concern
about GATS potential affects publicly funded libraries in the United States to
Robert B. Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative. Zoellick gave assurances
that "the interests of publicly supported libraries are and will continue to be
protected" (Weiner and Susman, 16).
It is surprising that this assurance alone appears to have mollified the ALA.
Weiner and Susman do not raise any concern about the veracity of this
statement in their article. They report that Zoellick stated that there was
"no intention of
diminishing the role of public libraries in this country, nor to diminish
government support for libraries' core services"
(Weiner and Susman, 16).
Paul Whitney takes exception to the Weiner and Susman article as he states
that the "ALA correctly asserted that a negative impact on libraries by GATS
was not intended by its drafters. It is safe to say [. . .] they never think
of libraries. What has to be of concern are the potential GATS unintended
consequences for libraries and other public sector institutions" [emphasis in
original] ("Libraries" 2). As mentioned
above, Canada's commitments in the
communication, research and development, and computer technology sectors may
have an impact on libraries but the definitions of these service sectors do not
specifically mention libraries in their scope. It therefore appears that any
effect on library service or funding at all because of these commitments would
be unintentional. Paul Whitney advises that the "ALA Washington Office staff,
and the US trade officials with whom they consult, would be well advised not to
be too complacent based on their current reading of ambiguous GATS language"
Shrybman advises that "[t]he most effective way to guard against the
corrosive influence of this regime would be to establish that public sector
libraries are entirely exempt from the application of GATS disciplines as
services delivered 'in the exercise of government authority' under Article I:3
of the text" (Shrybman, ix). To this end
representatives from IFLA, ALA, and
CLA attended the GATS meeting held in Seattle in 2000. The WTO invited more
than 700 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to attend those meetings.
Unfortunately, since NGOs have not played any role in GATS negotiations in the
past, there were no invitations to attend the individual meetings even as
observers and, as a result, their concerns were not advanced during these
negotiations; however, the library agenda was raised in informal meetings of the
NGOs in attendance (G.F., 32). At this meeting,
Brian Campbell of Vancouver
Public Library said that the meeting was useful for advancing the library agenda
because "most of the groups there had not thought about library services" and
the informal talks raised awareness of common issues with these other
organizations (G.F., 32).