13 March 2012

Formation of a new Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries at the Internet Governance Forum

IFLA is pleased to report that a new Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries has been approved by the Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). IGF Dynamic Coalitions are informal, issue-specific groups consisting of stakeholders that are interested in particular issues. They gather academics, representatives of governments, and members of civil society interested in collaborating, participating in debates, and engaging in the coalition’s work.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) are the organisers of this coalition and we are now seeking more members who are interested in the topic and wish to be kept informed of the DC’s activities, discussions and progress.

Background

At the IGF 2011 (see video above), 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 think 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, on how Internet-enabled public libraries can contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The workshop discussion finished with an agreement between participants to move ahead with the creation of a Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries to explore these issues further in an IGF setting.

Necessity

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. 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 formation of a new Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries creates a space within the IGF to address the Internet governance issues relating to public access, and will 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 would be truly multi-stakeholder – 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 would benefit from the participation of representatives from all these groups.

Objectives

  • 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 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.

Interested Members?

The first phase of building an effective dynamic coalition is to gather supporters. We are therefore seeking interested organisations and individuals from all stakeholder groups to contribute to the work of the Dynamic Coalition. As with other IGF coalitions, collaboration can range from following and participating in discussions on the DC mailing list, to active participation in workshops and events at the main IGF and related regional/national IGFs. IFLA and EIFL already plan to participate at the EuroDIG, and those interested in this topic may also be interested in the forthcoming Beyond Access Campaign which works to promote the role of public libraries in delivering development goals.

Internet access, Access to information, Public Libraries, Internet Governance Forum

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