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.

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