Utilizing an information specialist and systems to help human rights advocates work more effectively

The Human Rights Centre at the University of Sarajevo focuses on improving access to information for human rights advocates. Staff members have built a strong information system and a central role for an information specialist. Use of this system and of the specialist’s skills has allowed other staff to better and more productively focus on their core programmatic missions.

Establishing a library or documentation unit within human rights organizations can help staff facilitate the flow of information, manage confidential documents, chronicle the organization’s history and improve day-to-day operations. Key elements of this tactic include the involvement of a skilled librarian or information specialist, an organized physical space, a core collection of materials and appropriate software and other information technology.

Human rights librarians have particular skills to offer a human rights organization, including knowledge of tech­nology and of human rights information and documentation. The role of the librarian is to acquire and evaluate materials in relation to the organization’s core mission, arrange them for efficient use and disseminate them within the organization. This last role involves working closely with staff to sort and prioritize information.

It is important to have sufficient space to organize materials and provide for staff interaction. At a minimum, a doc­umentation center includes space for the librarian’s office needs, including a networked computer and shelving and file units. The core collection of books and other resources depends on the mission and scale of the organiza­tion. In general, an organization should try to include information essential to its present and future programs.

Finally, an efficient documentation center will have appropriate software (for cataloguing, classification, indexing, and so on) and an Internet connection to allow the librarian to freely access information.


For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

Human rights practitioners can often benefit from institutional strengthening tactics that provide new skills, technology or organizational systems.

The work of the librarians at the Human Rights Centre in Sarajevo focuses on the information needs of human rights advocates themselves, allowing them to be more effective by freeing up their time and energy. The Cen­tre is a fairly large and well-funded organization, but nearly all human rights work now relies on timely access to complete and accurate information. When an organization has the necessary resources — even if that involves only to a part-time employee or dedicated volunteer — an information center could help provide that access. The librarians and information specialists themselves, however, may need to employ persuasion tactics to convince the organization and its members of the importance of work that may at first seem peripheral to the core mission.