Author Archives: library-policy

A positive approach to promoting information integrity

A particularly welcome trend in the past year at the United Nations has been evidence of growing recognition of the importance of knowledge and information in the achievement of wider policy goals.

We have seen the emergence of a scientific advisory council for the UN Secretary-General, reference to the possibilities created by advances in knowledge near the beginning of the Pact for the Future, and an upward trend in references to libraries in Voluntary National Reviews.

Perhaps the clearest recognition comes in the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief, which contains the seeds of the upcoming Code of Conduct on Information Integrity. This provides, as a definition, ‘the accuracy, consistency and reliability of information’, and sets out that ‘threats to information integrity are having an impact on progress on global, national and local issues’.

The Code of Conduct is not the only document in this space. The UNESCO Guidelines on the Governance of Digital Platforms were already released last year after an extensive consultation period. This too underlines how essential access to information (via the internet) is for development, but at the same time, that this is at risk.

However, and in addition to the ongoing need to distinguish clearly between the UNESCO and UN initiatives (a point likely to be made more complicated still once the Global Digital Compact is released), they nonetheless can risk missing key opportunities.

Despite the overall emphasis on access to information and information integrity, both are built around the role (and regulation of) platforms – an area which is likely to attract most media attention – and areas where the organisations involved have existing programmes and capacity.

For libraries, this risks not being particularly inspiring, and certainly does not reflect the full range of ways in which our institutions and profession contributes to advancing information integrity, in accordance with the definition set out earlier.

This blog therefore offers some ideas for principles for an approach to Information Integrity at the UN and elsewhere that would fully make use of the potential of libraries.

Be positive: a common feature in much work around information regulation is a focus on trying to avoid or defeat dangers. Clearly, there are indeed plenty of risks in the online world, but the challenge is that by focusing only on the negatives, we risk discouraging people from using the internet. A better approach to information integrity should explicitly be as much about how do we help people to be confident, but savvy, in using the internet.

Be people- and community-centred: in the end, the impact of information and knowledge come in their application in resolving development problems, from the individual to the global levels. We therefore should take the experience and needs of all people as a starting point for thinking through how we can both build people’s own skills and attitudes, as well as create an environment where it is possible to be a smart user of information.

Be broad-based: a crucial point is the need to avoid looking at just one actor or tool. For example, while the workings of digital platforms clearly have a major impact, they are only one part of the picture. Moreover, given the scale at which they work, actions via platforms by their nature are likely to be very much top-down. Similarly, when it comes to how to ensure a supply of quality information, we need to look beyond just the press, and consider all potential sources, including for example open access publishing.

Be convincing: the texts mentioned above take as an assumption that people recognise information integrity as something that is both good and necessary, but this does not necessarily take into account the attitudes and approaches of individual people. A comprehensive approach to information integrity would also include work to build appreciation of this in the population as a whole.

Be rights-respecting: a risk in any discussion around Information Integrity is that we end up supporting the actors and voices who would prefer that we return to the age of one-way broadcasting, and would be happy to set themselves up as gatekeepers. We cannot let information integrity become an excuse to shut down diverse voices.

Be globally-aware: a further challenge when discussing information regulation is differing perspectives about the relative risk posed by governments and business. In some places, there can be relatively strong faith that regulation will be fairly designed and implemented, but this is not the case everywhere. We need an approach that is realistic about how far we can trust in regulation to deliver information integrity, just as we need to be realistic about how much companies will deliver this on their own.

Be about libraries: clearly, we cannot and should not claim that libraires on their own can build a world characterised by information integrity, but at the same time, there are few other actors who can play such a broad role, both in terms of the communities we can reach, and the ways in which we can contribute. From provision of access to delivering skills to shaping wider policy, libraries should be in the picture!

Watch this space for a series of upcoming webinars exploring the different aspects of information integrity for libraires today

Ones to Watch in 2024: 6 Library Advocacy Issues to Keep an Eye on in 2024

Advocacy is about making libraries part of other people’s agendas, ensuring that those who take decisions about us (and those who influence them) see why our institutions and profession matter.

Through this, we can help ensure that we have the best possible environment in which to pursue our mission to help everyone enjoy their rights and fulfil their potential through access to information.

But what are the agendas that we’re most likely to be engaging with in 2024, and what does this mean or our advocacy work? This article sets out a few ideas.

Growing alarm about failures to meet development goals: while this is nothing new, the closer we get to 2030, the more worried leaders are likely to be at the UN about how much progress is needed in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

There have already been plenty of announcements of initiatives to accelerate progress, notably the High-Impact Initiatives last September, and this year will include a key moment with the Summit of the Future. This will include a Pact for the Future which is likely to be the key reference or the UN’s work in the coming years.

As set out in our briefing, there are plenty of opportunities to advocate for libraries within the different chapters of the Pact, both in terms of our work in New York, but also in engaging with UN Country Teams and those engaged in UN work nationally.

 ‘Something must be done’ about the internet: while the fact of creating an Internet Governance Forum almost 20 years ago shows that the idea that the internet needs regulation is not new, the pressure for intervention is growing. The power of major digital companies and the potential of digital technologies to do harm, but also the need to ensure digital inclusion to allow for wider inclusion, are behind an intensification of activity to create new rules for the internet.

With national governments and others engaging in a ‘regulatory arms race’ (given that whoever moves first is likely to set the example for others), the UN too has been getting more and more active, with this year’s Global Digital Compact likely to be a highlight.

The Compact, at least as far as documents already shared indicate, offers plenty of hooks for library engagement. However, we have the potential to go further, setting out a positive agenda for what a library-enabled digital knowledge society looks like. This is what IFLA is looking to do with its update to our Internet Manifesto. See our post on digital issues in 2024 for more!

Addressing threats to information integrity: a specific area of focus is likely to be around how the world reacts to mis- and disinformation and hate speech. This will be the subject of a code of conduct from the UN, but likely also many national initiatives. The fact that this is a year of elections in many countries only increases the pressure.

It is certainly a strong positive for libraries that there is so much recognition now of the importance of reliable and verifiable information as an enabler of other outcomes. However, action here risks being quite negative, primarily looking at platform regulation and building skills to spot fake news.

Better, perhaps, for libraries is to use the opportunity the focus on information integrity offers in order to make a more positive case for literate, curious, critical and informed societies, with strong library networks at their heart. See our work on information integrity for more.

 Regulating Artificial Intelligence: a parallel trend related to the above is the sense that the risks posed by artificial intelligence (AI) require regulation, even as countries look to compete with each other to lead in this space.

Libraries, of course, are already experimenting themselves with AI, applying our skills and values, and we should not be shy of sharing our own experiences as part of wider debates. We clearly also have an interest in ensuring that AI makes a positive contribution to the goal of supporting informed societies.

A particular angle is likely to be around copyright. Training algorithms does typically require ‘learning’ based on the processing of large volumes of information, much of which is likely subject to copyright. The concern is that fears around AI will open the door to stricter rules around what libraries and their users can do with the content they access, or at least administrative burdens that make work impossible. Read about the work of our AI Special Interest Group for more.

 Insecurity encourages conservatism: there seems to be little likelihood, sadly, that the world will get more peaceful in 2024, or that we will see fewer extreme destructive weather events or other natural disasters. An immediate area of focus will need to be the inclusion of libraries in wider efforts to plan for uncertainty.

However, this same uncertainty seems likely to encourage a rise in conservativism, in the face of concern around the future, and a desire to focus on our own safety and interests. While such a trend may potentially lead to a greater focus on heritage, it also tends to be associated with reduced public spending and less trust in shared services, such as libraries.

This is clearly a worry for libraries. At the same time, we do not need to be passive! Libraries’ emphasis on allowing people to empower themselves through information, and so the possibility to be more effective actors in their own destiny represents a key strength. From climate empowerment to promoting active citizen engagement, we have a strong message to send. Read our work around climate empowerment in 2024 for more.

 Recognising the role of culture: a final point, and perhaps an optimistic one, relates to the growing understanding we see, at least in international texts, of the role of culture in supporting the achievement of wider policy goals.

This of course covers the direct contributions of cultural actors and institutions (such as libraries), but also the need to recognise and work with underlying cultural factors that influence how people behave and respond. This makes sense at a time of concern about progress towards wider development goals, and the effectiveness of policies in place.

For libraries, there is an opportunity here, not just as part of the wider cultural sector, but also given our intrinsic nature as institutions which are attuned to the cultures and needs of communities. Read our piece about culture in 2024 for more.

Brazil G20 – Looking ahead to opportunities for library engagement

What opportunities does Brazil’s G20 Presidency offer for libraries and the issues that matter to us? We’re happy to share an overview of the priorities already set out, and what they mean for our institutions.

G20 Brazil logo - text: G20 Brazil 2024, Building a just world and a sustainable planet. design with wavy lines in green, yellow, red and blue, hinting at the shape of Brazil as a countryAlready on 1 December 2023, Brazil took over the presidency of the G20, the group of 20 of the largest economies in the world, providing a space for discussing, coordinating and launching joint initiatives.

G20 members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK, the US and the European Union, plus others invited on an ad hoc basis.

The G20 works though two high-level tracks. One brings together the ‘sherpas’ or representatives of heads of state and government, ahead of a summit in November, and oversees a group of 15 working groups, two task forces and an Initiative. The other is the finance track, with Finance Ministers and central bank governors, who discuss key economic issues.

In his speech at the G20 Summit in India, President Lula underlined a strong focus on equality, and in particular combatting hunger worldwide, as well as accelerating sustainable development in general. He was also strong in calling for reform of international financial institutions.

But what can libraries expect in different areas of activity over the course of 2024, and how could we get involved as part of wider efforts to secure recognition, and so support? This article looks at some key areas.

Digital Economy: the Digital Economy Working Group is in its fourth year, and focuses on how to harness the potential of digital to deliver wider policy goals. The Brazilian Presidency has set out four themes – connectivity (in particular in rural and remote areas), digital government (including through high-equality eGovernment services and Digital Public Infrastructure), information integrity (focused on the action of platforms), and artificial intelligence (looking at how to take a truly global approach to AI, not just one based on the situation of a limited number of countries and actors).

There is lots for libraries in here, in particular around the role of public access in libraries as part of the wider inclusive connectivity infrastructure, and how libraries can support information integrity by building both skills to navigate the information environment, and appreciation of quality information. Libraries also have much to contribute to making eGovernment work, and to the Digital Public Infrastructure debate (see our briefing). The Ministerial meeting will be on 14 September.

Culture: this is also the fourth year of operation of the Culture Working Group, which brings together culture ministers and equivalents. The existence of the working group in itself is helpful, showing that culture has its place as an area of action in the context of efforts to deliver on a wider policy agenda. Work under the Indian Presidency led to a powerful endorsement of culture as a development goal.

Broad themes for work this year, building on the work of the Indian Presidency, include cultural diversity and inclusion; culture, digital environment and copyright; culture and sustainable economic development; and preservation, safeguarding and promotion of cultural heritage.

For libraries, it will be valuable to push for further affirmation of the role of culture in development, as well as cultural rights (including rights of access to culture), in line with the overall emphasis on inclusion in President Lula’s speech. A particular goal will be to see a broader definition of culture, including of course libraries, and not just the narrow museum and heritage sector. The Ministerial meeting will be on 18 October.

Education: work here overall is strongly focused on education professionals and how to help students realise their potential. Priorities here seem to focus on addressing the shortage of personnel, as well as their training, diversity and representation in the sector, and opportunities for cross-border exchange and learning. The Presidency also notes questions around connectivity, digital tools in the classroom and school management, online training, and adapting curricula to technology are on the agenda.

For libraries, a key priority will be to underline the fact that librarians should be considered as education professionals, with a key role in supporting literacy (and literacies), and more broadly helping students to succeed. Our field would also, doubtless, benefit from inclusion in wider discussions about ongoing learning, and can offer much on making digital education work effectively, while respecting privacy. The Ministerial meeting will be on 30-31 October.

Research and innovation: this is a new working group, set up by the Brazilian Presidency, with ‘Innovation Open to Fair and Sustainable Development’ as the key theme. This is admittedly more about technology access and transfer to developing countries, based on concerns that technology is too often linked to competition between countries, rather than collaboration to find solutions. In addition, the working group is also looking to support student and researcher mobility, and enable inter-institutional collaboration.

For libraries, it will be helpful not only to ensure understanding of the place of libraries at the heart of universities and research institutions, but also to underline that key to promoting the exchange of ideas, collaboration and capacity is the spread of open science. The lessons of the Japanese G7 work on the topic in 2023 could be a good basis. The Ministerial meeting will be on 17-18 September.

An interesting element of this work is the Bioeconomy Initiative, with a strong focus on how to bring together and disseminate relevant knowledge in order to allow for more sustainable use of biodiversity and to understand and maximise its role in promoting sustainable development.

Development: issues on the agenda for the Development Working Group are social inclusion and reduction of inequalities, and in particular ensuring that everyone has access to basic sanitation. There is also a call for cooperation between groups focused on development and finance in order to boost spending on sustainable development.

The G20 agenda on development is likely to be very broad, but there is potential, in underlining the importance of information equity, and how action on this can help to combat wider inequalities. There are also possibilities, in demonstrating how libraries can help spread knowledge and change behaviours around sanitation, to make a case for including us in any plans and programming. There should, in the context of the Global Alliance against Hunger and Poverty, be scope to underline the need to build community institutions with the connections and understanding to help communities in the most effective way possible. The Ministerial meeting will be on 23 August.

 

There are potential openings in other areas. The Employment Working Group’s focus on keeping skills updated (especially for women and others at risk of marginalisation) at a time of technological change relates well to much library work in communities to build digital skills and inclusion.  While the new Task Force for the Global Mobilisation against Climate Change is more focused on economics and wider action, it will be valuable to highlight libraires’ support for climate empowerment in communities.

Similarly, the Task Force for a Global Alliance Against Hunger and Poverty is extensively about improving financial support and incentives, but the role of libraries in sharing innovation in rural communities is relevant. Meanwhile, initial proposals on health, focused on unified and resilient systems, currently focus on coordination and collaboration, but realistically could and should include a universal right of access to health information.

Furthermore, there are other areas – tourism, women’s empowerment and disaster risk where little information on plans is available, but where there is scope for libraries to engage.

 

Finally, we will be following work as it emerges around the different engagement groups focusing on specific topics of communities, and which for the first time will come together in a ‘Social Summit’ just before the Leaders’ Summit in November. The list of such groups includes areas relevant to libraries, not least the Urban20 meeting of mayors, and the Civil20 (for civil society) and P20 (for parliaments).

 

The UN General Assembly Resolution on Culture and Sustainable Development: What’s Changed?

In the first part of this two-part series looking at the UN General Assembly’s Resolution on Culture and Sustainable Development, passed on 19 December, we looked at key overall takeaways from the text that could help libraries and others in our efforts to get culture recognised fully recognised and integrated into planning.

The second part looks back to the previous such Resolution, from 2021, in order to get a clearer idea of what has changed between the two. While many elements are simply copy and pasted from one text to the next, each revision does offer an opportunity to reflect new thinking and approaches. Through this, we can get an idea of how the discourse on culture is evolving over time.

Of course, many of the changes are primarily simply about updating references, for example adding in Resolutions or events that have taken place, or started to be planned, in the intervening time. This covers, for example, the September 2022 MONDIACULT conference, the International Year of Creative Industries for Sustainable Development, and the upcoming World Forum on Cultural Policies.

However, there are some substantive changes, highlighted below.

  1. Culture is not just as an enabler, but as a driver of sustainable development: perhaps the most meaningful change is an upgrade in the way that the relationship between culture and sustainable development is described. Rather than just being an ‘enabler’, culture is seen as a (more active) driver. Social inclusion, growth, addressing different dimensions of poverty, education, health and equity are all name-checked. These represent much more specific references than before, indicating perhaps a greater readiness to think through the place of culture in general in achieving change.
  2. A stronger focus on (equitable) access to culture: the Resolution includes new texts in a few places underlining the need to ensure fair access to culture. This is new, with the previous edition being more about cultural production, but this is strongly in line with the work on cultural rights promoted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the subject, Alexandra Xanthaki. With libraries’ focus on access, this is certainly good news.
  3. More consideration of artists’ rights: in parallel, the idea of artists’ rights is given more space, including references to artistic freedom, as well as to social and economic rights. This is more detail than before, and perhaps reflects concern about threats to creators’ ability to express themselves. Similarly, there are a number of new references to the cultural sector’s role in generating quality jobs, and ensuring equitable access to these.
  4. Culture should be part of a Voluntary National Reviews: a very helpful new paragraph talks explicitly about the value of incorporating culture into Voluntary National Reviews of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Given the work of the Culture2030Goal campaign on the subject, including our checklist for countries undertaking VNRs, this is certainly a welcome step.
  5. Greater consideration of the role of digital (in both directions): the Resolution includes more references to digital than before. While the previous edition just talked in general terms of making the most of the digital environment, this one stresses the need to consider how digital information flows work, and ensure that markets work for creators and consumers.
  6. The role of the local recognised: Another area of strengthening are the new references to the local level. The report highlights SDG11 (sustainable cities and communities) as an area where it will pay off to include culture, but also promotes learning at the local and regional levels. This comes on top of a number of existing references to drawing on local knowledge.
  7. New highlighting of multilingualism and indigenous communities: the new resolution includes additional references to the needs of minority language communities, as well as of indigenous communities, confirming the importance of these in the context of cultural and development policies if they are to be effective and inclusive.
  8. Additional references to UNESCO tools and materials: while less substantive, there are now more references to UNESCO documents, both in terms of the indicator framework or culture, and key texts. In particular, this confirms the core role and responsibility of UNESCO in this space. Interesting, the Resolution also tackles the question of restitution with reference to UNESCO instruments on trafficking.
  9. Stronger recognition of the role of arts and culture education (including TVET): perhaps with a look ahead to the UNESCO conference and arts education in February, the resolution gives space to underlining how culture and arts education can support not only wellbeing, but also creative and innovative thinking among children and young people.
  10. Recognition the risks posed by climate change: finally, while references to climate change are not new in these resolutions, what is is the clear indication that governments should pay attention to the threats posed by climate change to heritage. This is a helpful step as we work to get libraries incorporated into wider disaster risk management plans.

10 Takeaways from the UN General Assembly’s Resolution on Culture and Sustainable Development

On 19 December, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution looking at the relationship between culture and sustainable development. Such resolutions are prepared every two years, but nonetheless this represents a useful high-level reference point for work on the place of culture in delivering the 2030 Agenda.

In the first of two blogs (see the second here), we take a look at eight key aspects of this text that are helpful for libraries, and all those looking to ensure a stronger recognition of culture in development agendas, as a means of ensuring better support and integration into policymaking. In the second, we will look back at how the UN’s language around culture and sustainable development has evolved over time.

1) Culture is recognised both as an enabler of other goals, and as having intrinsic value: there is a legitimate discussion both about the responsibility of the cultural sector to contribute to wider development goals, while not instrumentalising it to achieve other goals (something that could be harmful for artistic freedoms). The Resolution therefore underlines these two aspects – that culture is an enabler and driver, but is also a value in itself.

2) There is still work to be done about how we define culture: linked to the first point, the Resolution doesn’t attempt to offer clarification about the ‘boundaries’ of culture, and in particular the relationship between the traditional cultural sector (artists and other creators and institutions, including libraries) and wider cultural concerns (traditions, practices and beliefs). While we would argue that the two are linked – writers and artists do have a role in shaping wider culture – it would help if this were made clearer.

3) Realising the potential of culture to support sustainable development matters for success elsewhere: the Resolution contains a range of reference to work in other areas – not least environment and equality – as well as explicit references to how culture impacts on biodiversity, education and consumption patterns. This underlines the argument that we cannot achieve our goals in these other areas without engaging and action on culture.

4) There are strong precedents for recognising the place of culture in development: the Resolution includes a long list of United Nations texts that underline the importance of culture in the context of wider development strategies. This makes it helpfully clear that there is precedent for taking culture seriously, and so a basis for asking for a stronger place for culture in future.

5) We need to continue to build the evidence framework: the Resolution notes the different targets in the current 2030 Agenda that reference culture, and the need not only to deliver on these, but to improve measurement. It is certainly the case that there is always need for more evidence, not just in order to strengthen the case for the role of culture, but also to help those in the culture sector maximise their positive impacts on wider development outcomes. A particular role is given to UNESCO in this space.

6) A clear call to give consideration to the rule of culture in 2030 Agenda implementation: while the text is not new, it is welcome that Member States decide to ‘give consideration, as appropriate, to the contribution of culture to sustainable development in the follow-up and review framework of the 2030 Agenda’, as well as recognising the potential to work through Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) to achieve this. The Culture2030Goal campaign report underlines this potential, and our VNR Culture Checklist offers a practical tool for achieving this.

 7) The particular role of local and regional governments: in referring to the need to give consideration to the role of culture, the Resolution highlights in particular how this can help achieve SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities.  This is perhaps not a surprise, given the strong place of culture in the report on SDG11 in 2023 produced by UN Habitat, but also makes sense given that the role and potential of culture is perhaps clearest at the local level. Local and regional governments have certainly been leaders in working with and mobilising culture for development.

8) Specific calls on Member States: the Resolution makes a number of requests to governments, including to promote cultural diversity, to mainstream culture into policy making, to protect cultural rights (especially for women), to support intercultural dialogue, to build capacity in the sector, to preserve local knowledge, to safeguard institutions and collection, to find ways of funding culture, and to explore issues of repatriation and access.

9) Relevance to the Culture2030Goal campaign zero draft: linked to the previous point, it is worth noting that all of the sub-themes highlighted in the Culture2030Goal campaign’s zero draft of a culture goal also feature in the Resolution, ranging from specific support to creators, cultural rights, strengthening institutions, and integrating culture into wider policy-making. This is a welcome indication of the relevance of the suggested targets.

10) A call to integrate culture into the work of UN country teams: even outside of countries undertaking Voluntary National Reviews next year, the Resolution makes clear that there is scope for mobilisation everywhere where the UN is active. It calls for UN country teams to ‘further integrate and mainstream culture into their programming exercises, in particular United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks’. This is a useful reference for library associations and other organisations and institutions involved in Culture2030Goal work to reach out, and explore how to deliver, already, on the potential of culture to support development through better integration into wider development activities.

What to look out for at Internet Governance Forum 2023

Libraries will be back again at the 2023 Internet Governance Forum, held this year in Kyoto, Japan, on 8-12 October. Under the heading ‘The Internet We Want’, the focus is in line with the new emphasis of what can and should be done, and by who, in steering the development of the internet. This blog sets out a number of issues to watch out for.

Through our participation – both the events we are organising and those we attend in general – the library delegation will both be promoting the role of libraries as key players in ongoing internet development, and a wider vision of the internet we want.

This blog sets out the context of the event, and how libraries fit in with some of the key themes and agendas on the table.

The need for governance

This Internet Governance Forum takes place at a time of growing interest at the global level in the way that the internet works. Almost 20 years on from the original Internet Governance Forum, there is a sense among governments – and societies as a whole – that not enough has been done to regulate digital technologies, and so that ‘something must be done’.

The evidence of a variety of failures – in parallel, there are concerns about the power held by major companies to steer and influence individuals’ behaviour (raising questions about human rights and agency), the negative consequences of the speed at which information can travel online, and the lack of protections for human rights (including privacy). However, there are also many people still without connectivity, or at least without the skills and access to content needed to realise its potential.

In finding solutions, it is clear that actions by national governments alone are not enough. Not only are many of the key internet actors global, but the whole point of the internet is that information and materials can flow across borders. Even the best drafted national law cannot be truly effective outside of their own jurisdiction.

Yet there are also many countries which simply don’t have the resources to invest in delivering connectivity for everyone, backed up by sufficient infrastructure to deliver skills and content. Those who have the resources may, for political reasons, may not use them effectively.

As a result, not only do we have continued inequalities in connectivity and rights online, but when there has been action by governments, differences between national laws risk splitting the internet into pieces.

Therefore, there is a growing drive at the international level to intensify work around internet governance. The UN Secretary General has promoted the idea of Digital Cooperation, and subsequently set up a Leadership Panel for the IGF, aiming to create a stronger sense of direction.

Now, there is also the Global Digital Compact, which aims to provide a structure for various discussions within the UN, and UNESCO’s Guidelines for Platform Regulation, all of which aim to prevent fragmentation. Within this space, the pressure is on the IGF to demonstrate its value as a space for discussing the key issues.

For libraries, the idea that information needs governance is nothing new. Indeed, the existence of libraries is an example of an active intervention to ensure that information works for people. It is therefore normal that we support the idea of the internet being governed. The question then is how, by whom, and for what purpose.

Governance, not government

The fact of talking about ‘governance’ not ‘government’ is important, as it underlines that the way the internet runs should involve all stakeholders.

Partly, this is just a result of how the internet developed, with business, governments and technologists shaping the internet as it developed and spread. While it is hard to deal in counterfactuals, this model may well have been what allowed the internet to expand so rapidly in the first place.

However, this is worth defending. We know that if governance of the internet was left to governments alone, politics would soon take over. We are already seeing how different approaches to different aspects of internet regulation are leading to fragmentation, with barriers to information flows emerging at borders.

More than this, however, a multistakeholder approach opens possibilities to ensure that the voices of those who use the internet are represented. This is important, given that ultimately, the internet is not an end in itself, but a tool for achieving wider objectives. As such, the success of the internet can only really be measured in terms of how far it improves outcomes when it comes to education, research, health, democracy and beyond.

Libraries are particularly well placed to participate. We are pre-digital institutions that have proactively looked to seize the opportunities provided by the internet to enhance our positive impacts on society. We therefore have valuable experience to share about how the internet should work in order to deliver on broader societal and sustainable development goals.

We therefore have an interest in defending the multistakeholder model, given the guarantees it offers to bring our voices – and those of our users – to the table.

As a slight tangent, there is a question about whether it even makes sense to focus on the internet as the subject of governance discussions. As highlighted above, the success of the internet will be measured in the success of schools, hospitals, research centres and economies. There is a case for saying that we need these to be the focus. At the same time, such an approach also risks creating confusion, and taking away from the nature of the internet as a multipurpose infrastructure, not just for existing uses but also for exciting new ones.

So to answer the question in the previous section, what we want is a model of internet governance that is participatory, ensures that the experience of libraries and their users are heard, and that focuses on the real-world results it creates.

Key topics of discussion at the IGF

Breaking down this much broader question, there will be a number of themes on the agenda in Kyoto. In this final section, we take an overview of these, and how libraries fit in.

A good starting point is the set of five key characteristics set out in the document prepared by the IGF Leadership Panel, defining what they see as core to ‘The Internet We Want’.

First of all, they call for an internet that is whole and open. This underlines concern that diverging national approaches to regulating the internet risk leading to creating barriers between jurisdictions. For libraries, the possibility to give users access to information from around the world is crucial, and so we have a strong interest in opposing fragmentation. In particular, as set out in our blog on the topic, action to ensure that copyright exceptions align between countries, favouring cross-border collaborations, should be part of any agenda on this point.

Secondly, there is a focus on the internet being universal and inclusive. Much of this looks at the question of supporting meaningful access/connectivity. Libraries clearly have a role here, thanks to the devices we offer (people often only have phones), our spaces (safe, non-commercial), our staff (dedicated to the public interest and ready to help, especially with adequate training), our services (including those put on with partners), and our content (both digitised and created, especially from marginalised groups). An internet without libraries is far more likely to be unequal, and to leave more people seeing the world through a social media app.

Third, the Panel calls for internet to be free-flowing and trustworthy. This underlines the importance of ensuring that there are sufficient guarantees, for example of privacy, in all parts of the world, giving the confidence necessary to enable sharing. Again, this ties into the logic, in libraries, of applying ethical principles in the way that we work with our own users, especially around privacy. Our work to defend the rights of our users not to be tracked – in particular without their consent – fits in well with this work here.

Fourth, the Panel demands an internet that is safe and secure. Key to this is more work around cybersecurity, including both clearer principles about government use of cyberattacks to harm other countries, and building resilience to attacks from other actors. Once again, there is a role for libraries to play, both in advocating for policies that respect the work of libraries, and in providing support to individual internet users to keep themselves safe online.

Finally, the Panel argues that the internet they want should be rights-respecting. In addition to a general focus on protecting rights, there is a welcome and positive reference to the importance of the rights to research for example. For libraires, this comes back to the question of what the internet is for in the first place – we would argue that the success of the internet as a whole indeed can only be measured in terms of how much it is allowing more people to fulfil their rights to education, research and culture, amongst other things.

Beyond these issues, another popular theme at the moment is the idea of Digital Public Infrastructures. This refers to services and tools that provide open and interoperable means of achieving a variety of other goals. Traditionally, tools such as digital identification schemes (making it possible for a variety of services to confirm people are who they say they are), or payment systems are given as examples.

Of course, libraries themselves are arguably either part of the digital public infrastructure, or at least an essential complement to it. Through the internet access that they offer, they help ensure that everyone has an on-ramp to digital services enabled by other infrastructures. Beyond this, of course, they also are sources for plenty of online content, and often manage key digital public goods, such as open science repositories.

Conclusion

Through our engagement at the IGF, we will be working to ensure that other stakeholders recognise the essential role of libraries in making the internet work, and so the need to include us in planning and delivery at all levels. We hope that this will lead to new partnerships and possibilities for libraries around the world.

In turn, we need ourselves to keep our focus on how we fit into these broader agendas, learning to internalise wider policy issues and make them our own. In particular with the upcoming revision of IFLA’s Internet Manifesto, we look forward to engaging our field to achieve this.

Copyright: a driver of internet fragmentation?

It can often feel like governments are playing catch-up with the internet.

As digital technologies play an increasingly indispensable role in everything we do, the risks that they also bring are becoming clearer. As a result, there is pressure on decision-makers to ‘do something’, in order to respond to increasingly widespread concerns.

The problem is that the internet is, by its nature, a global infrastructure. Much of its value and potential to support education, research, understanding and more comes from the possibilities it offers to access information across borders.

When decisions are taken nationally, they often differ. This can be for reasons of political priority, legal tradition, or simply the capacity that governments themselves have to design and implement legislation.

This runs counter to the logic of the internet as a unified infrastructure. Where there are different rules, there are barriers and uncertainties, not least for those sharing ideas and content online who understandably do not want to face legal liability.

This is called internet fragmentation, and has been highlighted as a key issue in recent efforts to intensify global work on internet governance, not least in the UN Secretary General’s work on Digital Cooperation, the ongoing Global Digital Compact, and most recently, as the first key priority of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Leadership Panel for this year’s IGF in Kyoto, Japan.

Typically, concerns about internet fragmentation focus on the way in which rules around data transfer (for example, prohibiting flows outside of borders), or forms of privacy or platform regulation that tend to discourage offering services across borders given the risks faced.

However, one driver of fragmentation not necessarily so often talked about is the way that international copyright works today.

The unseen divider?

In some ways, this is ironic. The original logic behind regulating copyright internationally – through the Berne Convention and the texts that have followed – was that for it to be possible for authors (or more likely, publishers) to be able to sell books into another country, they needed to be sure that they would receive a good measure of protection there.

As such, the argument is made that copyright is essential for markets to work across borders, and indeed the IGF Leadership Panel’s contribution to the Forum this year underlines the value of respecting intellectual property rights.

However, copyright as a whole is made up not just of rights, but also the limitations on them. In addition to the length of time they last, there are exceptions allowing for activities such as quotation, news reporting, education, preservation and research.

These offer a safety valve, helping to ensure that the monopoly rights created by copyright are balanced by public interest concerns. Otherwise, the logic of profit-maximisation risks prevailing, and the benefits of learning, innovation and safeguarding heritage are forgotten or discounted.

However, while international copyright law is prescriptive about what minimum rights should be guaranteed, it leaves far more flexibility when it comes to exceptions, and is silent around cross-border working. As a result, there are as many sets of copyright exceptions as there are countries in the world.

The impact of this is just the same sort of uncertainty and caution about cross-border working as characterises other drivers of internet fragmentation.

Variance in copyright exceptions not only holds back librarians, as well as archivists and museum workers from cooperating across borders, for example in the context of research collaborations or online and distance learning, but can also be a driver of inequality. If researchers are expected to travel to access a unique source or collection, only the wealthiest are likely to be able to do this.

The result is just another example of internet fragmentation, and a particularly serious one in that it most directly affects key wider drivers of sustainability – education, research and cultural participation.

What solutions?

It is not impossible to imagine how work at the international level can combat internet fragmentation when it comes to copyright. We already have an example in the Treaty of Marrakesh, which removes unnecessary barriers to making and sharing accessible format copies of copyrighted books and other materials, including across borders. In essence, this was a response to a form of internet fragmentation that was leaving people with print disabilities in many parts of the world facing a book famine.

This is a strong pointer to what is possible when we take as serious approach to enabling internet-enabled research, education and cultural participation as we do to creating markets.

The two are not in contradiction of course – in many countries, including among the richest and most innovative – rights co-exist with modern and flexible exceptions. Replicating this experience globally is likely also to help give copyright more legitimacy, ensuring that there are legitimate channels for meeting needs, rather than resorting to piracy as many current feel forced to do.

While the home of the Marrakesh Treaty is the World Intellectual Property Organization, a strong impulsion for this was the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is not unreasonable, then, to expect that ongoing work around the need for a unified and unfragmented internet should lead to a new drive for a truly balanced international copyright framework.

The 2023 Internet Governance Forum, alongside the ongoing process around the Global Digital Compact and work towards WSIS+20 offer a great opportunity to push for this to happen.