The Internet Governance Forum: Post-Event Reflections

As a network that shares and promotes access to information for the benefit of all, libraries are the original Internet. For this reason, the Internet in itself, and the way it is governed, are central to libraries and to the advocacy work of IFLA.

But what is Internet governance exactly?

The term refers to the set of policies and mechanisms that determine how the Internet works and develops. Since no one person, company, or national state controls the Internet as a whole – only certain elements for example – we talk about governance, and not ‘government’.

The idea is that, by bringing together representatives of the governments that regulate, the companies that provide infrastructure and content, and the civil society organisations that represent the interests of users, we can ensure that the Internet works for everyone. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), established in 2005 by the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, provides a key forum for achieving this.

The 12th IGF

The latest annual meeting of the IGF was held in Geneva from 17th to 21st December 2017. IFLA participated to the event to support libraries’ work from three different angles – connected libraries and communities, open Internet infrastructure, and empowered users.

Connected libraries and communities: for IFLA, in line with the original priorities set out by the World Summit on the Information Society, getting libraries and their communities online remains a vital goal. Collaborating with partners at the Internet Governance Forum provided an opportunity to encourage governments and donors to provide public access through libraries. The Principles on Public Access in Libraries already set out some key points to consider, with the session organised by the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access offering a chance to look further.

Maria Garrido, Senior Researcher at the Technology and Social Change Group (TASCHA),  emphasized how public access is fundamental for all and how libraries play a particularly important role for marginalised groups. Janet Sawaya (EIFL) reminded the audience that the Dynamic Coalition had been built on the idea that libraries are a vehicle for public access to knowledge and information. She focused on the potential of Universal Service Funds as a tool to support creativity and access for all.

Winston Roberts (National Library of New Zealand) noted that ever since the first WSIS Principles, there had been awareness of how important public access was. He underlined the need to ensure that when thinking about the Internet, educational, cultural and scientific goals should be considered.  David Ramirez-Ordonez (librarian and blogger) told the story of Colombia, where, after the recent peace accord between the government and rebels, libraries are playing a significant role as a reconciliation network, with presence both in communities, and in the capital alongside policy-makers.

Open Internet Infrastructure: connectivity isn’t enough when both governments and private players can influence what you can see online. IFLA has already argued that that blocking or slowing access to information, is wrong and made statements both on net neutrality and Internet shutdowns. At IGF we advocated for a free and open Internet and defended free speech and free access to information.

IFLA attended sessions from the importance of accessibility for all, the Domain Name System, Fake News, Freedom of Expression and Cybersecurity among others. We led a lighting session on Digital preservation and were invited to speak at a UNESCO session chaired by Guy Berger, UNESCO Director of Division Freedom of Expression and Media Development. This invitation was a great opportunity to set out our interest in a healthier and better Internet for libraries, librarians and patrons.

Empowered Library Users: the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours necessary to become a confident and proficient Internet user are an important area where IFLA is constantly engaged.

Libraries can be a key player on digital literacy – the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours necessary to get the most out of the Internet. Libraries offer everything from the most basic computer skills, to developing more sophisticated capacities, such as the ability to spot fake news. The IGF is a great opportunity to connect libraries with the many other actors and programmes out there developing tools and practices on digital literacy.

 

The IGF forum is an important moment to advocate for libraries and underline the vital role they have in shaping the way Internet is used, protected, enabled and implemented. The forum is also a tool to enable a truly democratic discussion about the Internet. In order to ensure that the long-term public interest continues to be reflected in how the Web operates, it is essential to maintain the debate active and realize that we all have a role in shaping the future for a better, more just Internet.

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