The 2021 edition of the European Dialogue on Internet Governance offers an opportunity to take stock of recent developments in the policies and practices within the digital ecosystem which can be of interest and impact libraries in Europe – and around the world.
1) Moving ahead to champion Open Science
Open Science, particularly its digital dimensions, was among the key topics of interest in this year’s EuroDIG. Noting the many helpful local, regional and international (e.g. discipline-specific) open science initiatives, UNESCO and other stakeholders discussed the value of developing a comprehensive shared definition and normative approach; and UNESCO itself offered an update on its draft Recommendation on Open Science.
Here, a summary of key points raised by various stakeholders and Member States during the UNESCO consultation (to which IFLA also contributed) included references to the importance of infrastructure (e.g. internet connectivity), of Open Science monitoring, and of non-profit and sustainable services and infrastructures to support Open Science in light of the risks of commercial monopolisation. In November 2021, the draft Recommendations are due to be submitted to the UNESCO Geneva Conference with a view to their adoption, followed by anticipated adoption among Member States.
Open Data. A closely related topic which may be interesting for libraries working in this area is open data – particularly how to open and share data which is more sensitive and requires further safeguards. Noting the current legal provisions which govern the lifecycles and usage of such data (e.g. laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation), the speakers pointed out some of the existing and possible approaches which can help enable such data-sharing to take place securely in practice. These include, for example, various licensing models, or setting out rules on access to such sensitive data – e.g. for specific purposes, or to limited types of stakeholders.
This discussion also pointed to the importance of investing in infrastructural support, education, and awareness-raising, to help researchers navigate the questions around opening sensitive data. These discussions are of course highly relevant for libraries offering support or training on research data management, licensing or copyright for their institutions.
2) Online learning: where do we stand today?
Digital divides and inequalities. The 2021 EuroDIG also offered an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from the rapid shift to digital in learning and education, which has taken place in many parts of the world over the past year. One of the most prominent challenges here is, of course, the widely-noted digital divide – inequalities in access to suitable connectivity or devices (or even suitable spaces) for learners, and the ability to use them effectively.
The social element. The social dimension of learning is another consideration – with concerns expressed over the possible impacts of all-digital learning on students’ social interactions and wellbeing. Some survey data suggests, for example, that parents reported positive impacts of remote learning for students’ math and reading competencies – but see it as having a more negative impact on their social skills. This raises the question of whether it is possible to leverage existing (and develop new) applications and digital mediums to further promote meaningful interaction and wellbeing.
These points relate to the questions many libraries themselves have been grappling with since they introduced virtual programming to support learning and social interaction for children – from storytimes to creative workshops or clubs.
Platforms, walled gardens, educational content discoverability. Another part of the discussion focused on digital learning platforms and tools themselves. Here, stakeholders noted that it is crucial for platforms to not only optimise learning – but to also take fully into account learners’ digital autonomy, digital self-determination, privacy and ethics.
Another consideration is the “walled gardens” of some commercial learning platforms – those characterised by limited interoperability and a lack of access to their learning materials from outside of the platform (e.g with access cut off once a course ends). For libraries, this latter point relates to their own concerns over equity and availability of access to digital learning materials. One of the draft take-away messages also highlights the importance of tools that increase the discoverability of educational content across the various available platforms.
3) Privacy and data protection – not an obstacle to productivity
Built-in privacy. Another well-noted impact of rapid digitalisation is the immense increase in the amount of data being generated and collected in the process. Naturally, this puts into the spotlight questions around data privacy (especially for personal data) and data protection.
This echoes some of the questions libraries themselves had to answer during the pandemic – which platform can be used for virtual programming? How to minimise data collection? What initiatives targeting particular user groups are possible?
Some of the suggested measures to address these concerns included clear internal policies and processes which build in privacy at the outset, increased transparency and accountability, and, importantly, actively promoting the idea that “data protection is not an obstacle to productivity and innovation”.
Digital skills. Another element that can help preserve privacy and data security is, of course, learning – both for staff members (to help guide internal processes) and users (to help understand and navigate their own use of the internet – e.g. online financial services). This will be familiar to many in the library field who are increasingly focused on supporting digital literacy and confidence within their communities.
4) Paths towards a greener digital future
The complexity of the relationship between the ongoing digital transformation and environment and sustainability is, of course, well-noted. Technology has immense potential to help track and mitigate today’s environmental challenges. Yet it also contributes to these challenges in various ways, from energy consumption and resource extraction to e-waste.
A part of the EuroDIG discussions dedicated to environmental sustainability focused on a broader public perspective: the impacts of lifestyles and consumption patterns around technology.
As such, one of the key needed changes the participants highlighted were policies, practices and infrastructure facilitating the reuse and repair of technology. Another important element was raising public awareness and education, to enable communities to make sustainable choices – which also requires access to quality information and transparency about technology.
Such questions are of course of interest for libraries: from public procurement, to repair workshops held in libraries, to raising awareness about sustainable consumption patterns.
A related point focused on the link between sustainability and equality of access. Here, it can be worthwhile also to examine models of access that support equitable digital inclusion while keeping the number of new devices entering circulation lower (whether it is distributing refurbished technology, free public access to ICT, and others).
These are just some of the discussions from the 2021 EuroDIG which can be worthwhile and interesting for libraries to keep track of – with more sessions exploring questions around freedom of expression and content moderation practices online, formal and informal media literacy learning practices, and more.
You can take a look at the draft EuroDIG2021 takeaway messages, access all session recordings, and stay engaged with internet governance discussions to share insights, perspectives and good practices from across the global library field!