Heather Joseph is the executive director of SPARC. She spoke at the press conference hosted by Internet Archive ahead of oral argument in Hachette v. Internet Archive.
Access to knowledge is a fundamental human right.
We depend on being able to freely share knowledge each and every day. It’s foundational to how we navigate the world – from how we learn to how we work, to how we share our culture and understand our collective history. It’s also the lifeblood of how we advance discovery, and attack the biggest challenges that we face as a society. From cancer breakthroughs to climate justice, we rely on being able to access, build on and benefit from the knowledge generated by those around us.
We take for granted that knowledge is just – there, and that ANYONE can get it when and if they need it. But the reality is that too often, this simply isn’t the case. Especially in the world of scientific research, knowledge is treated as a commodity, and often carries a price tag that makes it unaffordable to all but the wealthiest individuals and institutions.
This is never more evident than in times of crises. From the avian flu to the global COVID 19 pandemic, we’ve seen the same pattern play out over and over again. When a health crisis looms, one of the very first thing that happens is that scientists, the public and policymakers have to plead with publishers to lower their paywalls and make sure that those who desperately need access to knowledge can get it. Whether it’s access to develop treatments and cures, or to make sure students can continue to learn, knowledge shouldn’t be kept locked behind glass that can only be broken in the event of an emergency. It should be readily available to all.
Libraries play a critical role in making this happen. They are designed to empower everyone – regardless of who you are, where you live, or your economic or political status – to access and use knowledge. Whether you walk into a physical library like the New York Public Library, or log into a digital one like the Internet Archive, you don’t need a PhD or a billion-dollar bank account to access the knowledge they hold.
We depend on libraries to do the crucial things they have done for centuries. Libraries collect. They preserve. And libraries lend. They collect materials to ensure access to the broadest range of ideas and facts. They preserve these materials for the long haul, because access to knowledge should not be ephemeral. Stable, consistent, long-term access is how we promote continuity and ultimately understand truth. Lending – one copy of a physical or digital object to one person at time is the bedrock process that libraries use to ensure free, fair and equitable knowledge sharing.
Libraries like the Internet Archive exist to ensure the universal sharing of knowledge. Sharing knowledge is a fundamental human right. Nothing could be more important to protect than that.