At the IGF 2011, Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) organised a workshop to discuss the findings of a recent study of perceptions of public libraries by policy makers in six countries in Africa. The study revealed that policy makers still thought of libraries in terms of printed media, and not as spaces for catalysing internet access and use.
Evidence was presented that public libraries that offer innovative and ICT enabled services based on free public access to the Internet can contribute to positive change in their communities and support development goals in vital areas including health, agriculture, employment, education and children and youth at risk. The lively workshop discussion underlined the need for a shared vision and dialogue by policy makers, civil society, private industry and librarians, of how Internet enabled public libraries could contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
The discussion focused on the public library as a trusted place for the community to learn about the world of digital information, how to harness ICT’s and the Internet for social well-being and economic livelihoods, the potential to reach out to poor and marginalised communities and help them bridge the digital divide through innovative library services, thus catalysing change.
Within the UN 2030 Development Agenda, the importance of access to information has been recognized across the Sustainable Development Goals. Libraries are the key to ensuring universal access to information through the Internet, as an existing sustainable and trusted public institution where investment in technology will be supported by trained staff who can ensure that the public has the skills they need to fully benefit from access. In addition, libraries can provide the starting point for internet infrastructure in communities that are not yet connected, acting as the hub that provides affordable universal access where home access cannot yet be achieved.
While the number of Internet users worldwide now tops two billion, it is important to remember that a significant percentage will not have their own network connection. Instead, hundreds of millions of people utilise the Internet through shared connections, or through providers of public access to the Internet such as libraries. It will not be possible to maintain or increase the number of worldwide users without continued support for public access to the Internet – something that is even more important in times of financial austerity when the role of public libraries, and the gateways they offer to free or low-cost Internet access, becomes even more crucial to people’s opportunities in areas such as employment, education and health.
However, libraries still remain largely overlooked as community development partners. Recent research in 6 African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe) shows that national and local government decision makers, as well as library users and non-users are ready to support public libraries. At the same time, there is overwhelming agreement that public libraries in Africa are under-funded and under resourced. Sustainability of library services and funding is needed to make sure that libraries meet existing community needs today and can continue to work to meet the changing needs of communities in the future.
Within the context of the IGF, no arena currently exists for the discussion of Internet governance issues relating to public access intermediaries such as public libraries. Public access to the Internet is tackled in a cross-programme sense, but the sheer reach of libraries – there are over one billion registered library users on the planet – demands that special attention be paid to the challenges and opportunities faced and offered by these crucial institutions. Everyday libraries face challenges offered by serving disparate user groups – children and young people, the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled and many other mainstream and marginalised groups. They may be the only places in communities that allow access to social media or Internet telephony, or provide gateways to e-government services. Public library staff must be aware of and able to serve the needs of users, while at the same time remaining aware of privacy and human rights issues.
The Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries provides a space within the IGF to address the Internet governance issues relating to public access, and enable a discussion to take place about how the existing expertise, networks and infrastructure offered by public libraries can contribute to the goals and spirit of the WSIS process. This discussion is truly multistakeholder – public libraries are funded by the taxpayer and embedded in government infrastructure, they are frequented by members of civil society and the entrepreneurs behind SMEs, and they frequently partner with the private sector to provide buildings and services. A Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries benefits from the participation of representatives from all these groups.
- To place public access to the Internet through public libraries on the agenda of the IGF as a cross-cutting issue on a number of IGF key themes, e.g. Internet Governance and Development; Access and Diversity; Security, Openness and Privacy; Youth.
- To ensure that EIFL and IFLA, as representatives of libraries and their users, are consulted on issues of Internet Governance within, and outside of, the context of the IGF.
- To create a dialogue between library representatives and policy makers on the potential of public libraries in major policy areas such as social cohesion, education, employment, community development, health and agriculture, in pursuit of sustainable funding and favourable policies towards libraries.
- To feed in IGF-related activities to existing EIFL and IFLA work programmes for ICTD in 2012 and beyond.
- Engage with the national, regional and international IGFs, by
- Drafting a statement on public access in libraries for discussion by the members of the IGF.
- Developing action that IGF stakeholders can take to support public access in libraries.
- Proposing workshops on libraries, public access and issues affecting public access at each annual IGF as well as speaking up about Internet access through public libraries in relevant IGF sessions.
- Holding a meeting of the Dynamic Coalition at each IGF.
- Ensuring the participation of library representatives at two or more regional IGFs (including EuroDIG and at least one regional IGF in a developing country each year).
- Mobilising EIFL and IFLA national members to engage with national IGF initiatives including through proposing and participating in workshops at regional IGFs.
- Providing a discussion list for the Dynamic Coalition and regularly posting relevant news about public access to the Internet through public libraries.
- Expanding the multi-stakeholder list of organizations belonging to the Dynamic Coalition and keeping them up to date through the mailing list, with the aim of bringing the debate about public access in public libraries to the different strands of the IGF forum each year.
- Integrating IGF activities within the context of library activities annually, such as at annual library conferences including the World Library and Information Congress (WLIC), and by presenting learning from the Dynamic Coalition interactions and exchanges and leading discussions on ‘Public Access through public libraries’.
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This Dynamic Coalition is a joint effort between two major global library organisations, Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL - www.eifl.net), and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA www.ifla.org) and Institutions. Between them these two organisations represent the interests of thousands of public libraries, and millions of users, in all countries of the globe. They also count on a vast network of partners – national and international funders, development and technology agencies, local and national authorities in developed and developing countries, publishers, related professional networks – which can be mobilised for this coalition.
- Global Libraries
- CAFEC (Centre Africain d'Echange Culturel)
- Goethe Institute
- Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington Information School (http://tascha.uw.edu/)
- UNECA (UN Economic Commission for Africa)
- DC-PAL Annual Report 2022
- DC-PAL Annual Report 2021
- DC-PAL Annual Report 2020
- DC-PAL Annual Report and Thematic Paper
- IGF 2022 DC-PAL Session Report
- IGF 2018 DC-PAL Session Report
- IGF 2018 DC-PAL Paper on the SDGs
- IGF 2017 DC-PAL Session Report
- IGF 2017 DC-PAL Substantive Paper
- IGF 2016 DC-PAL Session Report
- IGF 2016 DC-PAL Substantive Paper, 'Delivering Inclusive Development: How Libraries Worldwide Lead in Bringing People Online and Helping Reach the SDGs'
- IGF 2015 DC-PAL Session Report
- DC-PAL Report on Asia Pacific Regional (APr) IGF - July 2015
- DC-PAL Report on EuroDIG - June 2015
- IGF 2014 DC-PAL Session Report
- IGF 2013 DC-PAL Session Report
- IGF 2012 DC-PAL Session Report
Stephen Wyber – Stephen.Wyber[at]ifla.org