The Ombudsman looked into the services of libraries in relation to equality of conditions for EU citizens coming from other Member States and Czech citizens. “It is important that not only Czech citizens have access to library services, but also citizens of EU Member States do while respecting the principle of equality and the principle of non-discrimination,” said the Ombudsman Stanislav Křeček. However, the analysis of the 22 most important Czech libraries showed that this is not always the case. Certain libraries implement problematic conditions for EU citizens when registering, but especially when borrowing books and documents.
The research aimed to examine and compare the conditions of library services concerning EU citizens and Czech citizens. Ensuring equal access to library services is important as libraries not only provide meaningful leisure time but are also important for education or employment. Library services include providing access to books and documents, and also other services such as research, Internet access, copy services, or cultural and educational activities. The research focused mainly on the registration of new users, lending of books, and providing distance (online) services. Remote access has become more important during the covid-19 epidemic when it was necessary to provide services remotely.
The analysis included libraries established by the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education, the Czech Academy of Sciences, and Regional Authorities. The research showed that the library rules of two of the 22 libraries contained problematic conditions concerning the registration of foreigners from the other EU Member States. They had to prove permanent residence in the Czech Republic and there was a different age requirement in comparison with Czech citizens (18 years for EU citizens, 15 years for Czechs). Nevertheless, problematic provisions were more common in the rules for remote registration of new users. The Ombudsman identified this issue in four of the nine libraries that offer this form of registration. Some libraries also require that the applicant has to be a Czech citizen or they want proof of permanent residence or residence permit.
"If the library distinguishes between Czech citizens and EU citizens only based on the citizenship, it violates the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of nationality. The principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality guarantees that Member States must treat EU citizens in the same way as their nationals. This means that EU citizens must, as a rule, be granted the same rights and benefits as domestic citizens," the Ombudsman explains, noting: "Libraries are obliged to provide their services without any distinction." Differentiation in access to library services can only be justified if the library will do so on basis of objective and precisely determined criteria, or if imposed or permitted by a special legal regulation (for example, for the protection of young people, etc.). Therefore, the library cannot state that it will not provide its services to certain groups of readers.
It is, of course, appropriate for libraries to ensure the protection of their collections from non-return, theft, or damage. A completely legitimate requirement of the library for loans is, for example, proof of the address of an EU citizen in the Czech Republic to find out whether they are residing in the Czech territory and whether it is possible to contact them.
Recommendations for setting the conditions of library regulations in compliance with the principle of non-discrimination of EU citizens can be found in following infographics.
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