7 November 2012

IGF Baku - Workshop 130 outcomes 'Digital Inclusion and Public Access to the Internet'

At IGF 2012 Baku, Workshop 130

IFLA, EIFL and ISOC’s workshop on public libraries and digital inclusion kicked off the first afternoon of the 2012 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Baku, Azerbaijan. The workshop gathered a wide array of experiences and views on the role of libraries in providing public access to the Internet. Panellists presented concrete projects and engaged in fruitful discussion with the audience and remote participants in pursuit of the session’s driving question: What do policymakers need to fulfil digital inclusion objectives and how can libraries and other community services help them? The session discussed a variety of cases on the multiple roles of libraries in community building, providing access to remote areas in developing countries, and training and skill development.

Panellists from the Global Libraries programme of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Beyond Access and the Presidential Library of Azerbaijan stressed areas where libraries can provide key services for development and bridge the digital divide in education, health, job training and access to e-government services. In remote areas libraries can be the fundamental actor enriching the community by providing basic skills to participate in the digital world. Moreover the close connection with the local community ensures that libraries are able to provide the relevant content and knowledge.

The following example cases were discussed:

  • The Beyond Access initiative supported by the Gates foundation illustrated the number of projects from developing countries that participated at the first BA conference in DC (link), and its activities through the nine partner organizations to support and advocate the role of Libraries as agent for development.
  • The CEO of Tech Aid from Ghana presented a success story of providing access to information and local content through a mobile library on a Bus powered by solar panels and equipped with satellite Internet connection.
  • The representative of the Bhutan Government presented a number of country development projects involving libraries and stressed how they have been greatly infused by the Beyond Access initiative and multistakeholder discussion at the IGF. 

Dejan Cvetovic from Microsoft explained that technological development increasingly provides new opportunities for libraries as cloud computing and the possibility to host digital content in safe servers while libraries in developing countries would only need and internet connection and computers. Olivier Crepin-Leblond from ISOC spoke the role of librarians in the Internet’s development, and the need for them to remain engaged in developing better forms of search to help people in the future as data troves become too immense to interrogate effectively. He clearly outlined what he thought were the key offerings of libraries in the digital age: counselling/expertise; community building; physical access; development of skills and access to basic but essential services such as printing.

From the audience, an IREX representative from Azerbaijan shared the lessons learned from their experiences in providing access in remote areas through telecenters, stating that digital literacy and access to local content proven to be the two main burdens that hindered sustainability of the model. Panellists remarked how libraries can cope with these two issues thanks to their experience in providing literacy and storing local knowledge, with the valuable addition that libraries are often publicly funded institutions with a reliable budget (although can often be too small).

Findings from the workshop will feed into the main IGF session on Access and Diversity on Thursday 8th November.

The panel included:

From the funding sector:

  • Siri Oswald, Senior Program Officer, Global Libraries program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

From the government sector:

  • Paul Andre-Baran, Honorary Advisor to the Ministry of Communications, Romania
  • Sangay Khandu, Member of Parliament and the National Council in Bhutan

The library and community services representatives:

  • Ari Katz, Director, Beyond Access
  • Jamilya Talibzadeh, Director of the Presidential Library of Azerbaijan;
  • Olivier Crepin-Leblond, Chair of the ISOC England chapter

From the business sector:

  • Dejan Cvetovic, Regional Technology Officer of Microsoft, Central and Eastern Europe
  • Kafui Preibbie, CEO of Techaide, an IT social enterprise in Ghana 

WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society), Azerbaijan, Digital inclusion, Intellectual property, IGF, Internet Governance Forum

List all IFLA news