Author Archives: library-policy

Digital Day 2021 – Towards a More Green, Creative and Diverse Digital Future

19 March marks the European Digital Day – an occasion for stakeholders from Member States and the EU to discuss the challenges of navigating the digital transformation, and commit to action towards a greener, more robust, fair and sustainable digital future.

This gives libraries – not just within the EU, but around the world – an opportunity to reflect on their own roles in this transformation. The Digital Day agenda points to a few key topics at the forefront of the discussion: these include fostering green digital solutions and a diverse and robust tech startup ecosystem.

What is the library angle on this – and how can libraries contribute to these priority goals?

Together for a greener digital future

Clearly, library field’s ambition to support sustainability and help reduce damage to the environment is longstanding (with many initiatives, for example, spotlighted and launched by the Environment, Sustainability and Libraries Section of IFLA). What does this mean for their role in the digital information society?

On a larger scale, the relationship between environment protection and digital transformation goals is fundamentally two-sided. Reflections on this duality can clearly be seen, for example, in the conclusions and main take-aways from the 2020 Internet Governance Forum Environment track.

On the one hand, participants underlined the vast potential of technology to measure, monitor, examine, and help address the current environmental crises. On the other hand, the ICT ecosystem consumes vast amounts of energy, and the CO2 emission is produces cannot be ignored – not to mention other environmental considerations such as e-waste.

In fact, the summary of takeaway messages notes that there are studies indicating a negative correlation between digitisation and progress towards climate and environmental SDG goals. One of the key questions this raises is how to bridge the digital divide in an environmentally sustainable way – and what is needed to leverage ICT to build a more green and sustainable future.

Open Data

Crucially for libraries, one key part of the answer here is that of opening data – a key prerequisite for developing technology solutions to help meet environmental and sustainability goals. IGF stakeholders reiterated that a lot of relevant and crucial environmental data is already being collected – but not always shared by private or public bodies, or is not easily available for others to access, use or act on.

In an earlier blog, we have looked into the diverse roles libraries play in championing and supporting the open data movement. Academic libraries assist researchers in using and contributing to available open data, curate and help ensure easy use and access to open datasets. There are excellent examples of public libraries helping engage the wider public and non-experts in open data initiatives – or partnering with public bodies to help build user-friendly open data portals which support and encourage engagement.

These competencies and potential can certainly be leveraged for opening data that helps address environmental crises. Similarly, libraries are in a unique position to offer equitable opportunities to learn skills of working with data, programming and coding to better address these challenges (see e.g. Brooklyn Public Library’s “Coding Environment” virtual offering).

Digital device economy

An equally pressing question is the sustainability and environmental impact of connectivity devices. Association for Progressive Communications has recently released a preview of a Guide to Circular Economies of Digital Devices, which highlights the current impact of a linear digital device economy model, and makes the case for circular digital device economies.

One of the interesting points the guide raises is:

“If we consider that devices are valuable for their computing resources, then we should focus on the right to use a device, not on the right to ownership. Maximising circularity asks us to see devices as collective property that circulates among users until they are finally recycled.”

Naturally, the key insights this points to focus on reuse and circulation of devices, as well as recycling to extract the value of raw materials.

However, for libraries, this also raises interesting questions about the value of the kind of collective use and public access to devices libraries offer – from PCs and printers to creative equipment like cameras and 3D printers. So it would certainly be interesting to further examine what kind of role public and shared device use models can take in the discussion of device use, as opposed to device ownership.

Together for a robust and diverse tech innovation ecosystem

Another key element of the Digital Day agenda emphasises dialogue and commitments to foster a robust, diverse and sustainable tech startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Certainly, this goal and ambition isn’t unique to Europe (see, for example, the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa).

One of the persistent challenges the IT sector has been working to address are gender and diversity gaps in tech startups. While this is certainly a complex issue requiring comprehensive and multi-level solutions, is there a way for libraries to contribute their part – and support tech innovation at large?

As the experience of some libraries suggest, they are well-positioned to deliver a unique combination of two outreach initiatives that can help make a difference.

On the one hand, from Singapore to South Africa to the United States, libraries offer digital skills learning opportunities – from classes to makerspace workshops, helping nurture people’s interest in, and even develop competencies that can useful for employment in, the IT field.

The idea of diversifying the tech sector through such clubs and learning opportunities is not new, of course. But the unique position of libraries as a wide network of trusted and open institutions shows how much scope there is for amplifying these efforts and reaching more people.

And on the other side, there is libraries’ experiences with helping people find employment – including their support for business and entrepreneurship. Library support can range from access to databases with valuable information, market research and company data, to helping navigate questions IP rights, and more.

Taken together, these library capacities can help bring more people into the sector, foster creativity and tech innovation – and mode towards a more fair, sustainable and diverse digital future.

Five Ways That Libraries Offer Meaningful Connectivity

A guest blog by Teddy Woodhouse, research manager at the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI).

Parking lot Wi-Fi hotspots in the United States, mobile vans in Ghana, and mobile phone lending in India. These are just some snapshots of how libraries have helped people stay connected through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beyond just access, libraries can help offer meaningful connectivity – where internet access can advance personal, professional, or educational development. We at the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) have identified four factors of internet access that are important thresholds for connectivity to become meaningful: a 4G mobile connection; smartphone ownership; an unlimited broadband connection at home, work, or a place of study; and daily internet use. Libraries are part of this mission towards greater meaningful connectivity for the greatest number possible – and here’s five ways how.

  1. Libraries broaden the network of connectivity ‘oases’.

A key indicator for meaningful connectivity is daily access to an unlimited broadband connection. These points of high-capacity connectivity are a core part of people’s experiences with the internet. These might be found at home for many: however, libraries are unique in their ambition to offer this level of connectivity to anyone in their community.

Along with schools and places of work, libraries add to the constellation of access points that increase connectivity across a community and build the reliability of internet access as a regular part of someone’s life and as a way of learning and doing business.

  1. Libraries provide connectivity to the most vulnerable.

Libraries play an essential role in the access to ICT ecosystem, especially for low-income and first-time users who lack the financial means or digital skills basis to maintain their own private connection. Access through institutions like libraries also helps pool the cost burden among a wider number of users, make access more affordable in more remote or marginalised areas, and can, in ideal cases, also provide a basis for wider projects such as community networks.

Through this, libraries ensure that the digital divide does not become a simple copy of income inequality and that an individual’s wealth does not predetermine how meaningful their internet access will be.

  1. Libraries extend skills and safety along with connectivity.

Libraries are also trusted institutions. In a time of peak misinformation and greater social distrust, libraries have a unique trait in that people from all walks of life are more likely to trust them and the services they offer. The digital divide is not just about infrastructure – it is about the skills gap as well. This boundary – which disproportionately affects women – is one where libraries can be especially effective in providing trained staff and gender-inclusive spaces for learning that enables each individual to develop their skills and become digitally autonomous.

  1. Libraries help find and grow locally-relevant content.

Librarians help people find information that’s useful for them. This support system enables people to discover locally-relevant content in a way that global search engines cannot replace. It responds to the range of characteristics such as language, gender, or background, which can  influence what information is relevant to an individual. Through the trusted support of a librarian, more people are able to learn how to find the information that matters to them online.

In addition to finding locally-relevant content, libraries can help increase the presence of such content online. In a time where just over 60% of the web is in English, there are huge gaps in the world’s knowledge and what parts of that knowledge are available online to speakers of different languages. As connectivity grows in an area, so too does the amount of locally-relevant content. Libraries can support these initiatives through the digitisation of records, hosting Wikipedia edit-a-thons, and other activities.

  1. Libraries offer new equipment for users to try and to learn.

Many libraries also provide access to equipment that users would not be able to afford themselves. This can be as simple as a desktop computer or extend to specialist equipment such as cameras and 3D printers. While many of these devices would not be affordable for individuals to own and keep within their household, communal access through a library helps expand the possibilities of an individual to use and to build their digital skills around new ICT equipment.

As countries look to the digital economy as accelerators for their post-COVID recovery, skills-building and devices will play an essential part in the broader ecosystem of affordable and meaningful internet access.


Libraries are worldwide, but they need – and deserve – better support. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Library Map of the World counts 2.6 million libraries across six continents, but only 381,000 (⅔ of those reporting, and roughly 14% of the total) of those libraries say that they have internet access. Part of this challenge is the availability of data about libraries and their capacities: part of the challenge is connecting those that remain unconnected. If each library were connected to the internet, could expand the global footprint of such public access points nearly seven times over and could be transformational in the informational landscape for those who are currently unconnected or lack the financial means to buy their own connection.

Governments can do more to support libraries and their potential to expand meaningful connectivity. Libraries should be included in national broadband planning processes as stakeholders in consultations, as key institutions to include within targets for connectivity, and as priority opportunities to investment. This includes setting targets for meaningful connectivity. Governments can also sign the Every Community Connected pledge, which identifies libraries as essential to the post-Covid recovery.

Digital inclusion is the foundation of a scalable digital economy. At A4AI, we advocate for affordable and meaningful internet access for everyone precisely for this reason: without widespread access, the possibilities of the internet to help lift people out of poverty and for countries to reach the Sustainable Development Goals are inherently more limited. Realising this goal requires blending together different business models and investment strategies, including public access through libraries, to connect the world.

Teddy Woodhouse is a research manager at the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). A4AI is a non-profit organisation, based in the United States, that represents the largest, global multi-stakeholder coalition that tries to drive down the price of broadband through policy and regulatory reform.

Data Privacy Day 2021: Standing by Key Library Values in Challenging Times

28 January marks the annual Data Privacy Day, dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating this crucial right in communities across the globe. The past year saw important shifts and developments in discourses around privacy – and now is a good time for libraries to reflect and consider next steps.

Where does privacy discourse stand at the beginning of 2021?

Data protection, privacy and security continue to be among the key elements of discussions around how we should govern and regulate the internet and other digital technologies. Over the past months, significant developments in this area include:

  • The growing new generation of privacy laws and regulations around the world. The way in which the personal data of more and more of the world’s population is collected, stored and used is now subject to new privacy regimes which attempt to respond to a digital world. A recent report by Internet & Jurisdiction and ELAC, for example, points out that in Latin America and the Caribbean alone, there are several states reforming or modernising their data protection legislation or discussing bills at present. 2020 saw a new privacy act in New Zealand and the entry into force of the Californian Consumer Privacy Act, and more legislative measures can be expected around the world.
  • Data privacy considerations of COVID responses. Of course, measures taken to try to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have also been at the heart of the discussion on data privacy.

Looking at this issue through a human rights lens, the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy recently examined two key privacy aspects of pandemic responses – data protection and surveillance. While the report clarifies that much more data is needed to assess the necessity and proportionality of various measures, it is nevertheless crucial to keep in mind the dangers of non-consensual methods and the danger of function creeps – including in technology-based responses.

  • Privacy and the ‘leap to digital’. And of course, there is the broader reality of a rapid ‘leap to digital’ that many countries experienced during the pandemic, with the urgency of moving online risking coming at the expense of a full exploration of the implications of the choices made. From organisations and businesses grappling with the data privacy implications of remote work, schools and others needing to bear in mind what leaving cameras on during lessons could reveal about pupils and teachers alike; and to social, leisure or study activities that people carry out online – all these raise important considerations.

Libraires, of course, have fully felt the impacts of these trends. Librarians, just like the communities they serve, have faced the trends set out above, in particular as regards the need to shift to working from home – with all the staff data privacy implications this entails. For those remaining open, some have been asked or required to collect, store and process health and/or visitor data.

Many have broadened their offering of digital materials for users to lend, which emphasises the importance of longstanding discussions about third party vendor privacy policies – for example around the data that publishers and others collect about how readers use materials.

Already in the first half of the year, patron privacy considerations were particularly pressing for school and academic libraries, with urgent questions around student data and remote learning.

Similarly, other efforts – from online storytimes to homework help – all come with crucial choices on how to protect patron privacy.

The global library field responds. When faced with these questions, the library field has seen a vast array of active and vigilant responses. Libraries have spoken out about the importance of patron privacy – from the Japanese Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee to CILIP’s Policy Statement on COVID-19 that highlights, inter alia, the importance of upholding the right to privacy when implementing measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Members of the global and national library fields – e.g. in Italy, the US and Czechia – collected and disseminated useful information, including suggestions and ideas on how to navigate privacy considerations during the pandemic. They also shared practical guidance, key questions and good practices around the new patron privacy considerations.

Standing by key library values. It is encouraging to see that libraries continue to be strong privacy champions and advocates even in these times, finding more ways to support the privacy and digital wellbeing of their communities.

From Singapore to the Netherlands, we have seen traditional online safety and security skills support programmes migrate online – for example, as published tip-sheets or courses, or live webinars. New ideas are being explored – from awareness-raising virtual exhibits to the potential of a library VPN for patrons.

Ensuring library capacity and resources – a key priority. These responses demonstrate the evolving application of twin library priorities – safeguarding patron data in library processes, and helping build their communities’ awareness and skills to defend their own privacy, outside of library environments. However, as the past year showed,  the new circumstances – particularly the shift to digital – raise challenging new questions and demands.

News from Finland, for example, points out that many libraries need to address patron privacy in new ways – including questions which may require legal advice. Similarly, Public Libraries Victoria discusses libraries’ experiences with helping seniors navigate online services –  a crucial part of their offering; however, the shift to digital here can also put increased pressure on library staff in navigating complex privacy questions when offering hands-on support.

This highlights the importance of making sure that libraries have the capacity and resources to carry out these tasks. This includes, inter alia, IT resources – since cybersecurity and data privacy and fundamentally linked. As libraries face new and increasing tasks and duties – to meet the demand and expand digital offerings while maintaining data privacy and security – it is crucial that they have the resources to do so.


Many key challenges and developments of 2020 continue to impact the work of libraries around the world. As they continue to face these, libraries maintain their support and ethical commitment to privacy – and we look forward to another year of active dialogue and exchange of good practices in support of data privacy!

COVID-19, libraries and human rights: Notes from Italy

As most people know, Italy was the first European country to be affected by the pandemic with significant consequences (up to October 15, 2020, 382,602 recorded cases and 36,372 deaths). Already in February 2020, the first ‘red zones’ were set up to try to stop the spread of the contagion. At the governmental and regional levels, between 30 January and 11 March 2020, several government decree-laws were issued that severely restricted people’s daily lives, affecting individual and collective rights: the obligation to stay at home (except for carrying out essential needs such as shopping – only food), the interruption of cultural and social sports activities, closure of schools and universities and numerous production activities, suspension of a large part of health care services, the prohibition to visit the sick and the elderly.

For the public, from the perspective of human rights at large, the most striking limitation was related to mobility, with the prohibition on moving more than 200m away from one’s home to take a walk. Another severe limitation concerns participation in democratic life, with the impossibility of holding meetings, assemblies, public demonstrations, debates, and participating as citizens in the proceedings of town councils. As regards to the freedom of information, it is essential to point out that a reason considered to be valid for leaving one’s home was to go to the newsstand to buy the newspaper or magazine, a necessity considered on a par with buying food or going to the pharmacy.

Libraries were officially closed from 9 March 9 to 30 April, but several libraries already imposed substantial restrictions in services or closed from February 23, and many only reopened towards the end of May or later. At the time of writing (October 2020), some libraries are still closed.

In response, the National Public Libraries Committee of the Italian Library Association launched a participatory process in the spring, involving librarians from different regions of Italy, to start a public debate on the future of library services from the perspective of their current experiences [1].

Library online events: helping deliver on the rights to information, culture and education

Libraries’ responses to the pandemic varied. For example, university libraries operated according to rules set out by their host institutions (related to the interruption of lessons in attendance, teaching activities, and remotely held exams). Public libraries tried to restore lending services as soon as they could. In contrast, events, guided tours, reading groups, activities with schools were canceled. It has been calculated that in the Emilia-Romagna Region alone (about 1,500 libraries), more than 2,000 events in libraries and archives were canceled during the lockdown period [2].

However, many libraries worked to make up for the closures with home loans and by organising online events focused on “distance reading.” Many activities were dedicated to children and young people, to support and supplement school activities, or to support children staying at home. Libraries organised hundreds of events to help deliver on the rights enshrined in the “Rights of the Child” Convention – their right to information, special needs, education, rest, leisure, and play.

One example is the readings for children at the Municipal Library of Cisterna di Latina. Other activities were organised for adult target audiences – for example, a contemporary poetry reading at the Library “Il Mulino di Vione” in Basiglio (Milan)[3].

Digital content and resources: adapting to circumstances and responding to demand

For the society at large, the rapid shift to digital in education, work, and leisure saw some evidence of a forced “digital training” of the population in Italy. Evidence of increased readiness to use the internet for daily tasks can be seen, also, in the development of e-commerce during the lockdown. There, for example, it is estimated that by the end of 2020, there will have been a 26% increase in e-commerce revenue. In parallel, people shared music made from home in #iorestoacasa.

Libraries have worked to extend their digital offer to keep pace with these changes. A great deal of work has been done on digitizing the collections of museums and historical libraries, with numerous art exhibitions and museum collections turned into digital guided tours. As cultural institutions were closed and leisure travel was forbidden as well, these actions were particularly effective in order to guarantee the right to education, and participation in cultural life.

Libraries have also been engaged in promoting digital resources, particularly the MediaLibraryOnLine (MLOL) platform, which already existed but was underused until now. Of particular interest are the growth figures of this newsstand service platform.

USE (Jan. 1 – Sept.1) Growth in 2019 compared to 2018 Growth in 2020 compared to 2019
Reading sessions + 25,32 % + 97,45 %
Titles + 9,66 % + 0,11 %
Users + 18,91 % +82,32 %


Table 1 – MediaLibraryOnLine (MLOL) Increase of Sessions and users (courtesy Giulio Blasi – Horizon Unlimited)


Even with the “official” reopening of the libraries, it remains complicated to consult materials, and practically impossible to read newspapers in libraries. As a result, this push to use digital resources should be encouraged so as to avoid the reduction in the possibilities of access to information in a country like Italy.

This is important, given that the right to information is a relatively recent social right, as set out in Constitutional Court resolution no. 420 of December 7, 1994, which enshrines the necessity “to guarantee the utmost pluralism of information channels to satisfy, through multiple diverse voices, people’s right to information”.


Enrica Manenti (Italy) – IFLA FAIFE Network

October 28, 2020




[1] See <> (last checked October,28 2020)

[2] See Turricchia, R., L’impatto del Covid-19 sulle biblioteche dell’Emilia-Romagna, AIB Notizie, 6 agosto 2020 <> (last checked October, 18 2020)

[3] For evaluating first effects of lockdown on libraries see AIB Studi , vol. 60, Jan./Apr. , 2020, <> (last checked October, 18 2020) and the on-line window on National Italian Libraries’ Day – BiblioPride <>

Banned Books Week Image by Camden Forgia

Banned Books Week: Amnesty International Guest Blog

Banned Books Week:

Amnesty International calls attention to the plight of people who are persecuted because of what they write or publish.



It’s September, which means that Banned Books Week is almost here!  For libraries across the United States – and increasingly around the world – the last week of September is a time to celebrate freedom of expression and freedom to read while calling attention to very real threats to these freedoms. During this time the American Library Association highlights the work it does to document book challenges in (mostly) American libraries, meanwhile Amnesty International USA brings to light abuses of the human rights of people in the publishing world — particularly those who have been harassed, threatened, imprisoned, exiled, or killed because of what they write, publish, or read.  As such, the work of the two organizations complement each other.

In late August 2020 AIUSA launched a reinvigorated approach to Banned Books Week, calling attention to ten people in seven different countries who face harassment, long prison terms, and even death for what they have published, as well as their work as journalists, photojournalists, writers, and online activists. This year four cases are drawn from across Asia (China, India, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam) as well as Yemen, Russia, and the United States.

Several of the featured writers, artists, and journalists have been detained, charged with crimes, or sentenced and imprisoned. Three of the cases — an artist/activist from Russia, an award winning photojournalist from India, and a short story writer from Sri Lanka — are facing between six and ten years in prison if found guilty of the charges against them. One journalist has already been sentenced to seven years in prison for reporting on an environmental disaster in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, a Chinese / Australian novelist, academic, and blogger has been detained since January 2019 and charged with crimes that carry a penalty from three years’ imprisonment to death, and in April 2020 four journalists, detained since 2015 in Yemen, were sentenced to death.

Finally, AIUSA is calling attention to a journalist in the United States who was pepper sprayed, arrested, detained, and charged in the context of her work as a journalist covering the Black Lives Matter protests.

In honor of Banned Books Week, Amnesty International USA asks people around the world to take action to support these individuals and the right to freedom of expression. The easiest way for individuals to take action is to visit the 2020 Banned Books Week website, learn about the cases, and sign the online petitions.


By supporting the Banned Books Week initiatives of both the American Library Association and Amnesty International, libraries can reach out to their communities while further advancing the principles of free expression as articulated in the IFLA Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom and elsewhere.

Libraries and bookstores can get in on the action in an organized fashion by reviewing the “Libraries & Bookstores” toolkit and exploring the ways that they can support the effort, connect with the community, and promote freedom of expression.

Augment Book Displays

Ideas in the toolkit include creating a simple “banned books” display that features information about the Amnesty International cases and links to the ‘take action’ webpages amid a display of books that have a history of censorship and books written by authors whose rights have been violated because of what they write. See the Banned Books Week website for printable case sheets, flyers, bookmarks, and a related booklist.

Reach out to Local Amnesty International Groups

Libraries and bookstores can also reach out to local Amnesty International community and college groups to explore ways to partner. Information about how to find a nearby U.S. based Amnesty International group is in the toolkit. International partners may view Amnesty International country contact information via the website in order to get in touch with their national section.

Add Case Stories, Words, and Images to Virtual Readout Outs

With the COVID-19 pandemic many events may have to move online. However, organizing a virtual read-out with links to online actions would be an exciting local event if a live in-person read-out is not possible. Perhaps local authors, librarians, and booksellers could speak about censorship while Amnesty International members or others from the community tell the story of the people featured this year, including their words and images in the event where possible.

Add and Feature Books Written by Authors Imprisoned or Killed for their Writing

While there are many booklists related to censorship available on the web, libraries and bookstores may be particularly interested in the 2020 AIUSA Banned Books Week Book List that features more than two dozen books written by or about authors who have been harassed, imprisoned, killed, or exiled because of their writing.

Making these books available to the community takes a stand against censorship. By raising awareness of these creators and their ideas, the intent of censorship is thwarted while your community gains a greater understanding of the world around us. In the words of  Russian LGBTI activist/artist Yulia Tsvetkova, published in The Art Newspaper, “the government, ironically, did not silence us, but made it possible to loudly declare injustice.”


Join Amnesty International USA for Silenced Voices: A Banned Books Week Event, featuring the voices of journalists facing criminal charges for what they publish, on September 24 at 8pm Eastern Time and take action throughout October on these important cases.

The American Library Association (ALA) has been leading Banned Books Week in the United States since the early 1980s to celebrate the freedom to read and call attention to book censorship efforts. During the 1990s Amnesty International USA began to call attention, during Banned Books Week, to “the plight of individuals who are persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read.” In 2013, ALA honored Amnesty International USA with an Office of Intellectual Freedom award recognizing AIUSA’s approach to Banned Books Week that focuses on the “logical consequences … that follow when governments are allowed to censor” noting that “beyond the removal or burning of books comes the removal and physical harm to authors, journalists and others.” Following the 2011 death of Thesil Morlan, AIUSA volunteer and Banned Books Week coordinator, AIUSA Banned Book Week efforts diminished but the tradition was carried on by several local and college groups across the United States. 2020 marks a structured return to a national commemoration led by AIUSA staff and volunteers.


Ed McKennon

Library Faculty, Glendale Community College

Amnesty International USA Working Group for Banned Books

The EU General Data Protection Regulation, Two Years On

On May 25, 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in the EU. This marked a fundamentally new approach to data protection, privacy, security and user rights. Naturally, libraries as controllers of user data – patron registration data, library website uses, and much more – saw new obligations, responsibilities and processes that they needed to implement. Two years on, where does GDPR stand, and how will it continue to impact the library field?

The implementation and enforcement of GDPR has given rise to a flurry of activity over the past two years. Access Now points out that more than 140000 complaints have been submitted between May 2018 and May 2019 alone. Those found guilty of breaching its provisions have been held to account, with 231 fines or other sanctions levied over the past two years.

Indeed, just a few days ago, the Irish Data Protection Commissions issued a draft decision regarding Twitter’s GDPR compliance, moving closer towards the completion of a major cross-border GDPR case. Earlier, national authorities have already administered fines to Facebook, Google and WhatsApp; and several countries across the world introduced data privacy legislation inspired by GDPR or the global conversation it had launched.

Nonetheless, despite these arguably positive stories of authorities acting to protect privacy,  the Access Now report also points out the challenges that GDPR implementation has faced – such as the resource constraints Data Protection Authorities may face or the challenges of cross-border cases. Similarly, in their Open Letter marking the second anniversary of GDPR, European Digital Rights calls for more action to address the GDPR enforcement gaps.

Keeping Up with Events

The timing is helpful. A formal review of GDPR is due for its second anniversary. In addition, the area of data regulation will likely see more significant activities in the coming months and years. Just a few months ago, the European Commission led by Ursula van der Leyen has unveiled an ambitions EU Data Strategy, which will aim to facilitate data flows throughout the EU and enable broader use of data in services and products.

As a result, in 2021, Europe can expect a proposal of an EU Data Act; which will of course be linked to GDPR when it comes to such questions as data sharing and user rights (e.g. portability).

Of course, the current pandemic has also raised questions pertaining to GDPR. The COVID crisis has, for example, prompted questions about the more extensive use of health data for research purposes, employee data, or tracing applications and geolocation – and how these relate to the privacy and security protections guaranteed by GDPR rules.

The European Data Protection Supervisor has reiterated that GDPR is designed to be a broad legislation, with rules and regulations which are applicable to crises situations such as this. Nonetheless, there will be a lot of value in an evaluation of the degree to which violations of the right to a private live have been justifiable, and whether tougher or clearer rules are necessary.

Libraries and GDPR, looking ahead

This points us to the question of what these developments can mean for libraries. With the demand for digital library offerings and services surging during COVID, it is particularly important to keep in mind the need to at all times ensure the privacy and security of user data that such activities generate.

GDPR highlights the importance of “privacy by design”, meaning that privacy and security measures are taken into consideration and embedded into the design of new data processing operations from the outset. Similarly, data controllers need to ensure the privacy and security of users’ data when making use of any new third-party platforms or services.

If you are introducing new digital services or processes to your library, it’s crucial to consider whether these might entail collecting any new personal data, or processing it differently. On what grounds would the new data be processed? Are third party suppliers also respecting privacy?

We are yet to see the long-term impact of the pandemic on library services – including the question of whether this large-scale shift to digital will be sustained. In the meantime, it is crucial for libraries to continue putting privacy and security first in any new services or offerings, and keep an eye on any possible future legislation in the field of data regulation!

World Information Society Day: The Case for Public Access in Libraries Beyond 2020

During the 2003 and 2005 sessions of the UN-based World Summit on the Information Society, representatives from 175 countries charted a roadmap towards a digital society which would be open and accessible to all. A series of documents – the Geneva Plan of Action, WSIS Action Lines, the Tunis Commitment and Agenda – lay out the agreements and measures to overcome the digital divide between and within countries.

One of the key WSIS targets was connecting all public libraries with ICTs: as repositories of crucial information, public internet access points and learning hubs, libraries were among the actors that could help build the information society WSIS envisioned. This year marks the WSIS+15 milestone: an opportunity to take stock and reflect on what public access in libraries means today.

Over the years, public libraries have brought many new users online – with millions having accessed the internet for the very first time in a library. However, public access can sometimes be seen as a stepping stone towards individual use and subscription/device ownership – a transitional measure on the way to a more universally available home access.

But is that the case? What value can public access solutions offer as a complement to individual home or mobile access, rather than a temporary substitute? What shapes could they take in a post-COVID world, as we work to overcome the persistent digital divides?

Digital skills learning opportunities

For libraries and similar facilities, an important part of the public internet offer has long been the digital skills learning opportunities and on-site support for their users. A lack of digital skills can prevent people from going online even if access is available.

But the need for ICT skills goes beyond the connected/unconnected binary: once a person becomes an internet user (which could, of course, entail getting an individual subscription and device), their digital skills continue to impact both how they make use of connectivity and what outcomes they can achieve.

A safety net

Even when home and individual access is prioritised, public access facilities can be highly valuable – and valued – when such access is temporarily unavailable (on an individual level – e.g. among people experiencing homelessness; or community level – e.g. anchor institutions offering internet connectivity and electricity during emergency or disaster situations).

It is also worth considering whether, as some of the societal adaptations from analog to digital may be here to stay; and a UN/DESA brief points out that governments and economies may want to speed up the adoption of digital innovations to boost future resilience. This could mean that the cost of staying offline – as more and more public and economic activities go digital – may continue to rise, and so the need for alternatives to assuming private access grows.

The complement: keeping the costs down

Globally, mobile-only internet use is on the rise, and new subscriptions for mobile broadband are growing at a significantly faster rate than fixed broadband. While mobile broadband subscriptions and access devices may be comparatively more affordable, many mobile broadband users remain cost-conscious and limit their data use to keep the costs down. As a 2019 Alliance for Affordable Internet report points out, in such cases users can combine public and individual internet access, relying on the former for most of the data-intensive tasks.

And of course, while at the moment some Internet Service Providers are lifting data caps or postponing price raises, once these temporary measures are lifted public internet access can offer a free/low-cost alternative in case future price raises make individual access less affordable – especially in light of potential poverty and unemployment rises – as well as providing a back-stop that prevents private providers from over-charging.

A robust individual network

There may also be benefits to having the opportunity to access the Internet from several locations. Reisdorf et al (2020), for example, suggest that a broader range of internet access modes (home, mobile, library, work, etc) may be able to support a broader range of online activities, because different types of access more easily lend themselves to different tasks and activities. Fernandez et al (2019) also mention that breadth of internet access points could be particularly important for vulnerable communities, where a single point may become restricted or temporarily unavailable.

The COVID pandemic also pushes us to further consider our online privacy and data security, and what could be the role of public internet access in a post-COVID world – especially in libraries, places dedicated to upholding the privacy of their users. It could offer a connection and workstation that can help separate your data from pervasive advertisement tracking, profiling and data collection – and learning opportunities on how to protect your security and privacy online.

Helping deliver end-user connections

Finally, some libraries have been able to use their connectivity to deliver internet access to patrons’ homes or other in-demand locations, bringing their experience closer to that of individual connectivity. From offering Wi-Fi through bookmobiles (or even parking bookmobiles in areas with known connectivity issues), to mobile hotspot loans, to using TV WhiteSpace to set up remote hotspots for their communities.


These are just a few ways that public access in libraries can complement and add to private and individual subscriptions. Over the last few weeks, the challenges of the digital divide have been amplified manifold by the ongoing pandemic as work, study and socialising all moved online – and many who lack reliable home access have been further isolated. We have seen examples of libraries working to adapt and continue offering internet access whenever possible: for example, through WiFi in their parking lots, or even by offering access to library workstations with a strict safety protocol.

The social distancing measures in some areas begin to gradually soften, but we still don’t know how and for how long it will continue to affect the world. However, the pandemic has already shown us in no uncertain terms the full urgency to overcome the digital divides as soon as possible. All tools need to be mobilised to help bring the remaining billions online – and public internet access is part of a comprehensive approach to ensure inclusion.

World Press Freedom Day: Libraries Supporting Intellectual Freedom during the Pandemic and Beyond

May 3rd marks the annual World Press Freedom Day, and this year’s dedicated campaign launched by UNESCO focuses on the theme “journalism without fear or favour”. This day puts the spotlight on challenges to press freedom and independence, safety of journalists, and gender equality in media. For libraries, these issues are of course deeply connected to their core mission and values of access to information and intellectual freedom.

Where does news media stand in 2020?

On World Press Freedom Day 2020, journalism and news media are facing new and remerging challenges, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. A recent statement by the Council of Europe, for example, highlights that some legislative initiatives against disinformation can have significant and disproportionate impacts on press freedom and people’s right to receive information. The International Press Institute points out the different challenges that have emerged or intensified: from increasing restrictions on ‘fake’ news, to limits on journalists’ access to information, financial or accreditation challenges, and more.

On a larger scale, the newly released 2020 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) highlights the key pressures that impact the future of free, independent and diverse journalism. These include: geopolitical and economic crises, the evolution of digital informational ecosystems where journalism and advertising, political, economic and editorial materials coexist and compete, and hostility and mistrust towards journalists.

The good news is that the overall global indicator does register a small overall improvement of press freedom in the world since last year. That being said, the RWB report emphasises that the coming decade will have a profound impact on the future of freedom of information and media.

What is the role of libraries?

Naturally, there is a significant degree of affinity between journalistic and library values – as a 2019 Nieman Foundation Report points out, both fundamentally work to inform and empower communities. This can work as a powerful starting point for collaboration – so can libraries help address some of the key challenges the RWB report outlined?

The economic crisis: hybrid models and partnerships

One of the big impacts of the economic crisis in news media is arguably the financial sustainability challenges that local news faces. One possible solution to this challenge that is being discussed over the last few years is providing support to local newsrooms, for example by providing space in such public facilities as libraries or post offices – or even libraries delivering local news directly.

While this is still an emerging idea, libraries and local news organisations continue to explore ways to cooperate. Some collaborations are a continuous arrangement – like a grassroots local online news organisation NOWCastSA housed inside the San Antonio’s Central Library in the United States. As a Nieman report points out, this partnership also allowed them to team up and carry out joint events, and to highlight some of the library’s programming in NOWCastSA’s reporting.

Some initiatives have even evolved to adapt to the difficult COVID situation. For example, in New York, an independent news outlet THE CITY launched a joint project with the Brooklyn Public Library called “The Open Newsroom”. Already in 2019, they had started hosted public meetings in library branches to identify key neighbourhood concerns and see how the local news can be more collaborative and better serve the needs of the community. Now, in the face of the pandemic, the plans for a second round of meetings have been adjusted, and the public meetings will be organised filly online, allowing the project to continue!

Tackling the crisis of trust and technology

If a lack of trust and confidence in news and media – especially in the hyper-dense online environment – is one of the pressing challenges to journalism, media literacy can definitely be an important part of the solution.

A draft Council of Europe study on “Supporting Quality Journalism through Media and Information Literacy” identified five main models of MIL activities; and libraries and community media play a key role in the “training model”. Reports drawing on Swedish and Finnish approaches to MIL, for example, also show how libraries can be actively engaged in delivering MIL training to their communities.

Partnerships in the area are also common: for example, NewsGuard – a company developing “nutritional labels” for popular news sites to mark how correct the information is – has a partnership program for libraries in Europe and the US.

Advocacy: together for Intellectual Freedom

Naturally, libraries and library institutions are often actively engaged in promoting and standing up for Intellectual Freedom. The Canadian Federation of Library Association, the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, and several library associations, for example, recently celebrated the Freedom to Read week, a campaign focusing on promoting freedom of expression, freedom to read and report the news. Such library initiatives clearly show the significant overlap between libraries’ Intellectual Freedom values and the freedom of press.

Drawing on library expertise – news media digitisation and preservation

Even though perhaps less relevant for current day-to-day journalism but rather for historic records, libraries can also help preserve the news that has been published. News archiving and preservation in the digital age can be a challenge: a recent Columbia Journalism Review report, for instance, points out that many news agencies they had interviewed don’t see the value in preserving their output, or do not have established preservation policies and practices.

This is also a prospective area for collaboration. The University of Missouri Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and University Libraries, for example, have received a grant for a joint project to explore ways to preserve today’s digital news. They plan to set up visits with US and European news agencies to see how their policies, equipment and operations impact their preservation processes.

Another example is a web archive launched by several Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation librarians, aimed at preserving some specific areas of at-risk online news web content. These are a few examples of how libraries can help make sure the valuable work of journalists is preserved.

Similarly, libraries have been clear in underlining that applications of the principle of the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ should respect press freedom. In a recent joint statement with the International Council on Archives, IFLA stressed also that broader privacy legislation should not lead to the deletion of news articles in collections, and so their non-availability for future generations.

All these and other areas show the connection between libraries and journalism – and their shared values. World Press Freedom Day is the opportunity for us to celebrate intellectual freedom, freedom of expression and access to information – and see what can be done to uphold these.

Libraries and Open Data

7 March marks the 10th Open Data Day, an annual international event to promote open data and explore the ways it can be used to address societal challenges. The goal is to push for more data – whether cultural, financial or scientific, data on the weather or the environment, or data produced by statistical offices – to be available in convenient and usable (machine-readable) formats for anyone to use, reuse or redistribute.

Data can be conceptualised as “the lowest level of raw material from which information and knowledge can be derived”, and opening access to data means that more and more people can make meaningful use of it – whether for societal benefit, self-empowerment, innovation, or other valuable ends.

Libraries have a natural affinity with the goals of the open data movement. One of their key aims is to provide access to information – as widely as possible, to as many people as possible. Libraries’ expertise in helping people find and access the information they need – as well as their efforts to promote citizen engagement and digital inclusion – makes them a natural partner for open data initiatives.

Libraries as stewards, educators, publishers and partners: from traditional functions to new roles

Given this affinity, more and more libraries are supporting various open data initiatives. More governments are developing open government plans, moves towards Open Science entail support for Open (research) Data as one if its key pillars, and the OpenGlam initiative seeks to ensure open access to cultural heritage – also a source of data. Libraries can play an important part in realising the full benefits of open data in all these spheres, often simply through traditional library tasks and services.

Consider for example the role libraries – particularly academic libraries – can play in promoting Open Data. As the materials prepared by the EU FOSTER project point out, libraries can support Open Data, inter alia, by training and supporting researchers in their institutions to help them make wider use of and contribute to Open Data.

There is also a large scope for impact through libraries’ Research Data Management (RDM) practices: they can play an important role by improving the availability, findability, re-usability and curation of research data sets. Both of these roles can be seen as an evolution of the traditional roles of academic libraries, but crucially, FOSTER points out that libraries could need to develop new processes and skills to assume these new functions.

Libraries as educators

More broadly, providing inclusive learning opportunities for the public is also a role that many libraries (especially public libraries) traditionally take on. Here, too, libraries can draw on their experience to promote Open Data understanding and awareness in their communities. Robinson and Mather (2017), for example, point out the importance of supporting the demand-side of Open Data – engaging the wider public and non-expert users in Open Data initiatives and helping them make meaningful use of the available data. They make the case that libraries can be well-suited to act as intermediaries and support this demand.

We can already see such initiatives in practice: there are several libraries and library organisations working to raise awareness and equip people with the skills needed to engage and make use of Open Data. For example, in the United States, the Kinder Institute and the Rice University Fondren Library have worked together to deliver a data literacy training for youth in two under-served communities.

Meanwhile, California State Library and the Washington State Office of Privacy, with the help of public and academic libraries in California and Washington, have developed a curriculum to teach open data literacy and awareness to both librarians and community members. Such initiatives are key to generating engagement among the broader public and making sure that a lack of skills is not a barrier for engagement and use of open data.

Taking on new roles

Government and civic data, generated by national, regional and local government and other civic organisations, are at the heart of the Open Data movement. As pointed out in a 2017 White Paper prepared by Temple University Libraries, libraries have often assumed the task of collecting and preserving local government data, beginning with paper formats. Building on this role, some libraries have partnered with various agencies and organisations to curate, host or otherwise improve access to their data.

For example, the Chapel Hill Public Library manages the Chapel Hill Open Data site, providing easy public access to datasets released by the local government departments. The web portal encourages community engagement – users can download, use and reuse data, build chats, maps or visualisations with the build-in tools.

Libraries’ unique competencies could help them effectively assume such roles. Their expertise with metadata, preservation and curation can be very valuable for such undertakings – and so is their expertise with ethical handling of data and information – as pointed out, for example, by Throgmorton, Norlander and Palmer, 2019.

Cultural heritage and open data

And of course, libraries themselves can be sources of valuable open data as well. Consider, for example, the experience of the Hamburg State and University Library with ‘culture hackathons’. During the 2016 Coding da Vinci Nord, software developers and engineers and culture institution specialists came together to create new and inventive ways for the public to access, interact with and make use of digital cultural collections, from interactive mobile city tours to quiz apps or social media tools.

In short, the roles libraries can play in open data are truly diverse: from community engagement and capacity-building to curation, publishing new data, supporting local organisations and agencies and more. The Civic Switchboard Guide has developed a classification of different roles libraries can take, and offers advice , inspiration and resources for each of them!

Celebrating the Open Data Day

Given the important roles libraries can play in the Open Data movement, their continued participation in the Open Data Day comes as no surprise! This year, two recipients of the Open Data Day mini-grant are from the library field: a Malawi librarian at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources is organising a training for librarians about open data and its benefits, and the Zimbabwe Library Association will host an event focusing on the ways open data can be used to support and empower women and girls.

Other libraries – for example, in Finland and Canada – are hosting events and taking part in the celebration. Open Data Day is an opportunity for your library to highlight the work you are doing around access to data, get inspired to take action, and find likeminded partners to cooperate with.

Take a look at the map of planned events around the world, Open Data Day event resources, and share your work!