Monthly Archives: December 2017

Libraries, Internet Access and Peace

IFLA was lucky enough to be present at a breakfast meeting organised by the European Internet Forum earlier this month, hosted by Julie Ward MEP. Please find below the transcript of our intervention:

I have one of the ‘difficult’ SDGs to talk about – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. SDG 16.

Difficult in that it wasn’t until late in the process that it was actually included in the 2030 agenda. But also difficult in that it is cross-cutting.

It is the SDG that talks about peace and good governance, as well as the right of citizens to access the information they need to learn, grow, innovate, and simply take better decisions about their lives. It therefore touches on agricultural extension services, public health information, broader opportunities to learn and find work, innovation, smart systems, and even evidence-based policy making.

It is an enabler of development – in all of the areas we have discussed today – rather than an end in itself.

It can also all too easily be taken for granted, because it covers things that you don’t notice, at least when they’re working well.

Clearly with less than half of the world’s population online, we face a challenge in giving people the possibility to access, engage with and apply information. What is perhaps more frustrating still is that majority of the unconnected do in fact live in areas covered by mobile networks, but a mixture of cost, and a lack of confidence, skills, and relevant content keeps them offline.

The need for a free entry-point to the Internet, with tailored support to help people make the most of the possibilities – not just an app – is clear.

Research indicates that libraries, with dedicated staff, a community focus, and the offer of other valued services in parallel, provide this. They are public, without being governmental. They can be shown to be more welcoming to marginalised groups. And they enjoy the trust that allows users to search for the most sensitive – but also the most valuable – information.  

A number of reports have suggested that providing public access – through community anchor institutions such as libraries, schools and health centres, much as the EU itself is looking to do with WiFi4EU, offers a highly cost-effective way of doing this.

This is what led the Colombian government to launch the Libraries for Peace initiative this year.

After decades of war, there was a clear need to help the citizens of formerly rebel-controlled areas – and in particular ex-fighters – re-integrate, and find ways to empower themselves in a post-conflict world. For years, these regions hadn’t had much in the way of public services – education, health, culture. Their ties with the government were – understandably – almost non-existent.  

The government chose to start this process of reconnection through libraries. It bought 20 mobile libraries, using the Ideas Box developed by French NGO Bibliothèques Sans Frontières, and deployed them to the Verdales region. For many, they were the first public service – other than the military – with which they had ever been in contact.

These libraries offer Internet access, or at least access to Internet content – an important step forwards in regions that have been cut off for years. Where connections are less good, an ‘Internet in a Box’ model is followed, with servers taken to the nearest town, and updated every week or so with new information. Courses are offered, educational materials provided, but so too is a community space where people can work together to apply the information accessed.  

They are also making more direct contributions to peace building – giving access to copies of the final text agreement, and working with people, many of whom have suffered traumas, to create personal archives with a view to reconciling themselves with the past. The national library association, conscious of this potential, has been ready to step up and think actively about how they can contribute to peace.

More broadly, libraries are also engaging in innovative projects to develop access. Working with government and coffee producers, it has been possible to access to unused spectrum – TV White Space – and so bring Internet access to some of the most remote regions of the country. Government, business and libraries working together to benefit users.

There are other exciting initiatives in the same country – again with government, libraries in Medellin have installed pollution censors, and are offering people the data literacy training needed to understand the information they produce. This is not only helping the government’s own efforts to track particulate matter, but engaging citizens in policy issues.  

These are only examples from Colombia, but around the world, there are so many similar ones.

As a trusted entry point to the Internet, as a hub for local connectivity, as a physical venue for getting to grips with the virtual world, as a platform for collaboration with other actors from all sectors, libraries have a firmly recognised potential to help ICT really work for development.

IGF Day 4: Signing Off

Leaving Geneva

Leaving Geneva


The final day of the IGF offered an opportunity to wrap up debates for 2017, and reflect on how to make use of the coming months.


IFLA attended sessions focusing on ‘publicness’ – the degree to which the Internet is redrawing the boundaries between the public and private – given both trends towards greater sharing of personal information, and the fact that information remains accessible for longer.


IFLA has previously engaged on the right to be forgotten, cautioning against making it too easy to hide legally published information from view. Indeed, in a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression on the same day, we highlighted concerns with too sweeping an implementation of this possibility.


We also listened in on the session of the Dynamic Coalition on Connecting the Unconnected, who we mentioned yesterday. The initiatives presented went from using radio-masts in Vanuatu to provide remote healthcare, to digital literacy efforts in the United States. There’s a lot to learn from the work the 1 World Connected project, which lies at the heart of this work, and we’ll be looking to share in the coming months.


In terms of where we go next, the need to set out a positive, but realistic agenda for the Internet, seems clear. For governments and firms, it’s clear that action is needed to ensure that activities that are illegal offline are also prosecuted online. However, smart solutions – ironically often involving human involvement, rather than blunt technological tools – will be needed to avoid taking down or blocking legitimate activities and content.


The need for libraries, both in order to help people get online in the first place, but also in order to support efforts to turn those who are already connected into proactive, confident users, remains clear. It was gratifying to hear many others at the conference spontaneously underlining how natural it was for libraries to take forwards this agenda. We look forward to doing this in 2018!

IGF Day 3: Interconnections and Inclusion

View from UN Building, Geneva

View from UN Building, Geneva

On the third day of the IGF proper, IFLA had the opportunity to join with the coordinators of the IGF’s Dynamic Coalitions – self-organised groups of people from civil society, governments and business interested in finding practical solutions to some of the challenges posed by the Internet.


There’s a wide range of groupings, from technical questions such as blockchain, to subjects like child online safety. As well as the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access on Libraries, jointly coordinated by IFLA and Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), a number of others look at ways of getting the remaining billions of the world’s population online.


The Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity explores the potential of community networks – physical networks build (or at least funded) by members of a community, independently of existing telecommunications companies. These can operate at the level of a village, up to that of a whole region, as in the case of in Catalonia.


They can provide a response to the lack of interest by private companies in investing in poorer areas, and offer greater freedom from invasions of privacy. Importantly, they turn on its head that connections to people are the ‘last mile’. They should instead, be the ‘first mile’ of networks built on a more democratic basis.


Libraries can play a major role in such networks, from simply being a physical hub connecting the community to the wider network, to supporting users develop the skills and confidence both to build infrastructure, and develop local content and services.


The Dynamic Coalition on Connecting the Unconnected has worked hard to collect evidence of innovative approaches to boosting connectivity in under-served regions. Their work spans the world, making it possible to take some first steps towards understanding what determines the success of efforts to get people online.


Anyone interested in understanding how we can get the remaining four billion people online is recommended to follow the work of these groups. IFLA and the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries will be looking for opportunities for collaboration.


We also took part in the kick-off consultation on the second phase of UNESCO’s Internet Universality project. This is an admirable effort to identify all of the factors that make the Internet accessible to – and usable by – everyone, and to determine indicators which make it possible to assess how individual countries are doing.


This work won’t be leading to a league table. Rather, it’s the mass of evidence that will be gathered in responding that will be most useful in terms of understand what makes for an inclusive Internet in each country. Covering everything from legal guarantees of access to knowledge to disaggregated data on who is using eLearning or eHealth services, this will make a major contribution to library thinking. IFLA will be responding to the second round survey, and encourages national associations and anyone else interested to do the same.


Tomorrow is the final day, and we’ll be offering a few reflections on the week as a whole.

IGF Day 2 Blog: Public Access, Long-Term Access

The second formal day of the IGF was the busiest so far for IFLA, with a session on Public Access in Libraries, and a lightning talk on digital preservation.


Public access in libraries plays a vital role, not only in bringing people online for the first time, but also as a complement to home and mobile access. Even in the best connected countries, people still come to the library to go online – because they need support, because they need new functionality, because they simply prefer to go online in the company of other people. As trusted institutions, staffed by experts, and conscious of the needs of their communities, libraries provide a unique and cost-effective means of providing access.


With the evidence of the importance of public access in libraries clear, the session focused on the policy actions needed to make it a reality. Universal Service Funds, telecommunications regulation, secondary liability of libraries providing information, broader free speech legislation, trust – all have a major impact on whether public access in libraries can happen, and realise its potential.


IFLA will be working on a report from this session that points the way to a toolkit of policies for public access.


We also organised a flash session on digital preservation, with the kind participation of Montserrat Canela Garayoa, Archivist at the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).


While digital technologies have dramatically reduced the costs of producing, sharing and receiving information, they do not come with the same guarantee of durability. In the case of the UNHCR, long-term access to information is essential both for the organisation’s own transparency, but also as material to help understand – in future – what has happened, and how crises can be avoided.


Montserrat highlighted the contrast between two major humanitarian crises. Following the Bosnian war, in 1996, archived material from the conflict was sent to UNHCR, it arrived in boxes. As the scale of the crisis in Syria and Iraq became clear, less than 20 years later, 95% relevant material would come over wires. Everything – from videos to e-mails – could be important. Without a proper strategy, it could too easily be lost.


UNHCR therefore implemented a full plan for preserving digital content, becoming a leader among UN institutions. It remains a concern that many institutions – public and private – have yet to do the same. Through the PERSIST project, IFLA is working to make this happen.


On Wednesday, we’ll be talking about public access again, and taking part in a UNESCO session on Internet universality.

IGF Day One: Global Conventions and Local Interventions

With the 12th edition of the IGF officially underway, Monday saw the first formal sessions. It was an opportunity for the biggest thinkers – and the biggest actors from business, government and civil society – to offer their assessment of how the Internet was working, and what needed to change.

It was in this context that we heard three different viewpoints. First of all, the Russian minister argued that governments – through the UN system – should be given the final say. This, he argued, was the only way to prevent the Internet going off the rails. This view has raised concerns for some, given that it is already governments that are involved in Internet shutdowns and censorship. More power risks further limitations on the flow of information.

Secondly, Anriette Esterhuysen (APC), backed up by Göran Marby (ICANN) made the case for an Internet run by ‘us’ – its users. Given how central the Internet is to people’s lives, it was essential that the people be at the heart of the Internet. The Internet Governance Forum itself is an example of this, and IFLA and libraries benefit from the possibility of being at the table, underlining the importance of access to information.

It was Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, who made a third suggestion – a Digital Geneva Convention. We’ll hear more about this later in the week, but if it models the original Geneva Convention, it seems likely to focus on preventing the most harmful or disproportionate acts by states – and others – online.

For libraries, these discussions are worth following. A series of national Internets benefits no-one, in particular those countries and communities who stand to benefit from universal access. Yet it is clear also, as highlighted in yesterday’s blog, that there is a growing consensus for action. Ensuring that this is done in a way that is genuinely focused on those activities that are genuinely harmful will be vital. Free expression and access to information cannot become mere collateral damage.

On a more practical note, at the session presenting the 3rd Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion project, we heard about the work of Kafuta Community Library in the Gambia. Alongside other innovative projects bringing people online and giving them the ability to make the most of it, Kafuta is providing everything from basic skills to coding.

Importantly, it retains its community role, offering books and other services. This is a great example of how the Internet and digital skills can be woven into daily life, potentially in a way that enhances uptake. In unconnected communities, where there may still be uncertainty about the Internet, the trusted, familiar role of libraries can be critical.

Work on any international rules is likely to take a long time. But projects like Kafuta are delivering already.


Tomorrow, we’ll be speaking at two sessions. The Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries will start exploring the policy levers available to make public access work (Room XXIII, 12:30pm), and IFLA is organising a Lightning Session on Digital Preservation (IGF Village, 2:40pm).

IGF2017 Day Zero: Is the Internet Broken, and Can It Be Fixed?

The Internet certainly is making it possible to deal with problems associated with distance and distribution costs, notably when it comes to access to information. To use an analogy used by Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, it is a power tool. However, when a power tool slips, it can do powerful damage.


Whether it is down to maturity, realism, or pessimism, there were was little in the way of unquestioning praise for the Internet and its potential at Day 1 of the 2017 Internet Governance Forum. Already in its 12th edition, it is clear that many of the negative behaviours and trends in the real world are simply replicating themselves online, and new harms, or impacts are emerging.


Just as laissez-faire has been abandoned in real life, there is a sense that action – intervention – is needed to ensure that everyone can benefit from the potential of the Internet. Just as good government should work to protect rights and bring benefits to all, so too should Internet governance.


We need an intelligent approach. Physical connectivity doesn’t mean that all users connect, let alone that they can use the Internet to improve their lives. Making apps and MOOCS available, doesn’t necessarily make for effective education. ‘Banning’ fake news risks censoring a legitimate opinion.


The two sessions IFLA attended on Sunday focused on ways forwards, and in particular how actors – businesses, content producers, schools, civil society, parents, and libraries – can work together to make the Internet work.


The first, organised by the IEEE, looked at how we can cooperate to deliver all dimensions of internet inclusion, with particular working groups on public access and digital literacy. Libraries have a key role to play in both, providing free, trusted services tailored to local needs.


The second, organised by Divina Frau Meigs – an author of IFLA’s Trend Report – looked at how to develop skills for a digital world. While libraries have long taught information literacy, the spread of the Internet has made this more important than ever.



With it increasingly widely accepted that the positive change promised by the Internet cannot be taken for granted, libraries have an important role in making it work for all.

Member, Partner, Host: Libraries and Civil Society

Logo for 2017 International Civil Society Week

Logo for 2017 International Civil Society Week

Libraries play a major role in supporting the development of literate, informed, and participatory communities. They in turn benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of individual users. Strong societies and strong libraries go together.

They can also have an important role in partnering with civil society organisations, such as charities, groups or movements. The relationship is not always easy to define though.

Libraries themselves are organised very differently from one country to the next – even from one state to the next. Librarians can be civil servants, public employees, or more independent. They certainly provide a public service, even though they tend to be seen as less ‘governmental’ by users who might be intimidated by a more formal institution.

Yet as professionals, they have a clear public-interest goal – to facilitate access to information – that is more durable, and deep-set, than shorter term political priorities. This is a goal that cannot necessarily be achieved purely by action within the profession.

Civil society itself tends to be defined by what it’s not – that is government or business – than what it is. The result is a highly diverse field of individuals and organisations, who look to represent larger or smaller groups or interests. In looking to reflect all of the different views and currents running through society, it can struggle to send a single message, and include many whose views may appear extreme. But it also contains many intelligent, passionate people whose goals align perfectly with the public interest objectives of our institutions. It is the best means we have of ensuring that the public interest is heard when decisions are being taken.

It is clear that there are opportunities, but also complexity. For individual librarians, it may not be possible in their professional capacity. Libraries as institutions may face strict rules about working with non-public actors. Library associations, which are often established as independent organisations, do potentially have a possibility here though.

The session organised by IFLA’s Section on Managing Library Associations focused on this point in its open session at IFLA’s World Library and Information Congress last year. Two of the papers in particular tell an exciting story of how library associations have developed partnerships with other organisations, and in doing so taken their place as partners – and members – of civil society. A third example, from outside, highlights how libraries can act as hosts, and in doing so gain from civil society organisations’ expertise.


Hungary – School Librarians Join the Fight for Public Education

A paper from the Hungarian School Librarians Association sets out their process of joining a coalition of non-governmental organisations fighting against legislation that would have radically centralised the public education system. Following a poll of their members, they chose to join with organisations representing teachers, students and parents. The umbrella logo selected for the movement – echoing the umbrellas carried by those who joined the biggest demonstration that took place – also provides a good metaphor for the convergence of sixty different groups.

Yet in their opposition to the legislation – and in their positive support for child-centric learning, equity, a focus on skills, democracy, autonomy and transparency – they found a single voice. This voice not only amplified the messages of the librarians, but also gave them greater profile.

As the article underlines, ‘the good school library and the democratic school strengthen each other. That’s why we have to stand for democratic values, in order to protect our long-term professional interest. We have to act proactively to maintain an optimal political environment which allows the school library to a democratic unit of the school; the information and learning centre where the student’s knowledge and creativity can take flight!’ Membership

Colombia – Libraries Find a Voice through Civil Society

A second paper looks at the Colombian library sector, and its journey from non-engagement in copyright reforms in 2011 to a groundswell in favour of change in 2016.

Copyright is at the heart of what libraries do. While on a day-to-day basis, they stick to the rules when making use of exceptions and limitations, it is usually reform that will deliver the best results for users. Fortunately, we are not alone in wanting to drive change, with organisations representing users also engaged in the same efforts.

In Colombia, there had previously been little focus on the possibility to engage with, and convince government. This changed, following the creation of Fundación Connector, which brought new skills and enthusiasm to the national library field. Through developing new tools and evidence, and supporting libraries in holding meetings, presenting at events and responding to consultations, it created a new energy in the sector. This means that libraries are now seen as an essential stakeholder in debates not just about copyright, but also about anything relating to access to information.

UK – Library Hosts Cryptoparties, Delivers Intellectual Freedom

Finally, an example from Newcastle, UK. This does not come from the Session at WLIC, but still illustrates a final way in which libraries can work with civil society as host and hub. In the case of Newcastle, it was through inviting privacy NGO the Open Rights Group to hold a cryptoparty at the City Library.

Privacy is essential to free access to information, implying that users can search for what they need without fear of surveillance or interference. Cryptoparties offer people knowledge and tools for doing this, and can provide a perfect fit for libraries which may not have the capacity in-house to do this. What libraries can offer is a space – one that is recognised and trusted by the community. Especially in the technical field, the importance of bridging the gap with less confident users is high, and the library can provide a means of doing this.

The Newcastle cryptoparty offers a great example of how a library with some autonomy can forge links with a civil society organisation that shares our values, but can also bring unique expertise.



A speaker at this year’s American Library Association Annual Conference described libraries as political, but not partisan. Promoting free access to information and free expression, especially when some would prefer to shut it down, is indeed a political mission. In achieving this, we have much to gain from working with – and seeing ourselves as – civil society actors.