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Within the context of the Internet Governance Forum (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.
EIFL and IFLA jointly, and in close partnership with other stakeholders, have submitted to the IGF secretariat the proposal to establish a Dynamic Coalition for Public Access in Libraries, with the main aims 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, and 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.
We are pleased to report that this Dynamic Coalition (DC) has been authorised by the IGF secretariat, and that IFLA and EIFL are now continuing to work together to fulfil obligations of DC by creating a mailing list, website, prepare for this year’s IGF meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan and monitor national and regional IGF meetings. Soon you will hear more on how to join Dynamic Coalition for Public Access in Libraries.
In 2010 and 2011 EIFL organised workshops as part of the Internet Governance Forum, reaching out to policy makers, civil society and the private sector that convene once a year in this multi-stakeholder forum. The 2010 workshop at the IGF Vilnius "Why We Need an Open Web: Open Knowledge Governance for Innovation" advocating for open access and 2011 workshop at IGF, Nairobi: “Do policymakers understand the role of libraries in mobilising the Internet as a catalyst for development, innovation and freedom?” The theme was building on EIFL's recent research into perceptions of public libraries in Africa, which reveals that policy makers still think of libraries in terms of printed media, and not as spaces for catalysing internet access and use.
Speakers presented evidence 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 Internet enabled public libraries that 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.
This workshop is now available to watch in its entirety on the IGF’s YouTube Channel.
For those unable to spare an hour to watch the full video, read the transcript
Read the full description of the workshop.
The participants of the workshop unanimously agreed that the formation of a new Dynamic Coalition on Public Access and Libraries will make 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 will be 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 and Libraries will benefit from the participation of representatives from all these groups.