Tag Archives: digital inclusion

Digital Social Justice: A Natural Library Mission

The theme of this year’s World Social Justice Day is ‘A Call for Social Justice in the Digital World’.

The focus is timely – the last decades have seen digital technologies play a more and more central role in the economy, shaping the way we work, and the type of work we do.

As the United Nations’ own note for this year’s commemoration underlines, this has brought new opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship which, previously, would not have been imaginable. It highlights that those who are left offline therefore risk enjoying fewer opportunities, while others move further ahead.

However, there are also concerns, notably around platform-based business models and their impacts, both on competitors and their own employees or contractors. Within the workplace, tracking of employee activity raises the prospect of greater surveillance and reduced wellbeing.

These too risk driving inequalities between companies and between individuals by giving some greater opportunities than others.

As such, the UN makes a case for efforts to define responses and actions, firstly to tackle the imbalance between those who are off- and online, but also to address challenges that give more possibilities in the digital world to some than to others.

But what then about libraries?

As this blog will argue, efforts to build digital social justice today can take inspiration from the long-standing work of libraries to promote information social justice (a term explored in the next section). Furthermore, our institutions are well placed not only to contribute to practical efforts in the field, and to support further reflection.


Information Social Justice

While it may not often be talked about in these terms, the work of libraries to provide universal access to information is could be described as promoting information social justice.

This work is about giving everyone the opportunity to access the information they need to fulfil their potential, either through collections within a library, or through document supply.

It is also about giving everyone the possibility to use information effectively, through the application of copyright exceptions that would otherwise put many works out of reach, and through the provision of skills and support.

Yet it is not just a question of opening the doors to all, but also taking proactive efforts. Public libraries in particular have a mission, as set out in the UNESCO-IFLA Public Library Manifesto, to make particular efforts to ensure that everyone benefits.

This work supports employment and entrepreneurship for all, as set out in our research piece for this day two years ago, alongside a wide variety of other economic, social, cultural and civic goals.

Digital Social Justice Implementors

Increasingly, the work of libraries to promote information social justice takes place through digital means of course.

Connecting libraries to the internet and opening access to users has allowed our institutions to provide access to a greater volume of information. At the same time, it has also required further work to help users improve their ability to navigate through what is there.

This can stretch from helping people to look for work online and prepare digital CVs, to holding coding classes that can open the way to new jobs. The need for more advanced information literacy, in particular to understand how information is created, shared and presented, is clear.

Crucially, these services are provided in a way that looks to respect the principle of universality, with efforts to ensure that no-one should face unjustifiable barriers to accessing and using digital tools to improve their own lives.

The role of libraries in delivering on effective connectivity and digital skills strategies has already been recognised by many governments. Nonetheless, this is not to say that the situation is perfect everywhere. There is always space to share ideas, innovate and improve practice in order to reach further.

Joining the Debate

In addition to their own efforts, a key determinant of libraries’ ability to contribute to digital social justice will be the choices made by governments themselves.

The experiences – and values – of libraires can have much to contribute in discussions around how the internet should operate in order to promote the ability of everyone to participate actively in economic, social, cultural and civic life.

IFLA has engaged on these questions for a number of years, with statements on privacy, net neutrality, the right to be forgotten, digital literacy, internet shutdowns and beyond. In each case, there has been an emphasis on how to ensure that restrictions on universal access to information are minimised, protecting the capacity of all people to draw on information without unjustified restrictions.

In each case, poor decisions can leave those with fewer resources exposed to greater exploitation of their personal data, a narrower range of materials available (at reasonable speeds), and less ability to exploit the opportunities the internet presents.

Libraries also bring in extensive experience of acting as ‘platforms’, providing access to works by others in an equitable fashion. To do this, they must negotiate questions around balancing human rights, respecting the law, and accountability.

In doing so, they rely on professional judgement and ethics that could contribute much to discussions today around the role of platforms.


With digital technology advancing rapidly, the combination of measures needed to ensure digital social justice – from personal connectivity and skills to wider regulation – are evolving, even if the goals of social justice are lasting. This in turn requires a process of ongoing learning and action not only amongst governments, but also among all relevant stakeholders.

In this process, libraries have much to offer, both in delivering on fundamentals such as internet access and providing a platform for skills development, and in contributing experience and expertise to wider discussions.

Library Stat of the Week #44: In particular in Central and Eastern Europe, Libraries Are Well-Placed to Combat Inequality in Home Computer Access

The Internet Governance Forum has continued this week, taking place, for the first time, in virtual format. With a focus on inclusion and resilience, it has been an opportunity to emphasise the need for action to allow everyone to connect, meaningfully, to the internet.

Last week’s Library Stat of the Week started to look at the data around the numbers of households not just connected to the internet, but also who enjoy adequate speeds (broadband), and have the devices necessary to make use of it.

The data presented underlined that in a number of countries, a large share of those officially connected did not enjoy sufficient speeds or have the equipment needed – in other words, a second class type of access.

In particular, it also highlighted that these issues were more commonly experienced by those living in poorer households, compared to richer neighbours.

This week’s post looks further at these questions of inequality, and how they compare with numbers of libraries offering internet access possibilities. The data used comes from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s data on household internet access, and IFLA’s own Library Map of the World data on public and community libraries offering internet access.

Through this, we can start to think about the potential of libraries to help people who may be at risk of having only a ‘second-class’ internet access, or none at all.

Graph 1: Public Access in Libraries and Inequalities in Household Internet Access

Graph 1 starts by looking at the number of public and community libraries per 100 000 people offering internet access, and the gap in household internet access rates between the richest and poorest 25% of the population.

Each dot represents a country, and is labelled. The further to the right the dot is, the more libraries there are offering access, while the further up it is, the higher the gap in household internet access  rates between the richest and poorest.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania, we can see, have both high numbers of libraries offering access, and high inequalities in household access. In general, across the countries for which data is available, where gaps are higher, there are more libraries.

This is encouraging, indicating that libraries can be well placed to address the access gaps experienced by people in less well-off households.

Graph 1: Public Access in Libraries and Inequalities in Household Broadband Access

Graph 2 repeats the exercise, but for broadband – i.e. higher speed internet that opens up different possibilities for meaningful connectivity. The picture is similar overall, although it is possible to see that in some countries, relative inequalities are greater when it comes to broadband than when it comes to basic internet access.

Graph 1: Public Access in Libraries and Inequalities in Household Computer Access

Graph 3 looks instead at household computer access. As set out last week, many uses of the internet require computers – preparing CVs, using different programmes and services, or other tools.

This shows countries in different positions relative to each other, notably with countries like Slovenia, Korea and Spain having relatively high levels of inequality when it comes to computer access related to overall incomes.

Nonetheless, the overall trend among countries still holds that in those countries where inequality in household computer access is highest, there are more libraries ready to provide an alternative.


As IFLA is arguing at the Internet Governance Forum, libraries form a vital part of the connectivity infrastructure, including the possibility of access at an adequate speed, and with the possibility to use devices that may not be available from home.

From this week’s library stat of the week, it seems clear that often in the countries that need this alternative the most, in order to avoid those on lower incomes being stuck with second-class internet, libraries are available to help.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

Library Stat of the Week #43: Not everyone counted as having internet access has the speed or device needed to use it

This week and next, the Internet Governance Forum is taking place, fittingly enough, online.

This is an opportunity to return to data about connectivity in order to provide more background on the role of libraries in helping people get the most of the internet.

The Forum itself has a strong focus on the internet as a driver of inclusion. Clearly, the most immediate way of looking at this is by counting the number of people or households which do have access.

However, simply having a connection is not always enough. When this is not fast enough (for example, where it is still a dial-up connection), or where the household does not have a computer, there is less potential to realise the full potential of the internet.

Clearly, during the pandemic, this has been a major issue, with low speeds or data caps, and a lack of (enough) computers making it more difficult for people to learn, work, or apply for support.

Libraries have long provided a valuable complement to home access, offering higher connection speeds and the necessary hardware to use the internet, even in countries which are nearing 100% connectivity officially.

To get a better idea of the numbers, we look this week at Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development data about internet access, and in particular the differences in the shares of people counted as having internet access, and those with broadband access (i.e. higher speed internet) and computers (the devices to use it).

Graph 1: When Access Doesn't Mean Access...

Graph 1 looks at the share of households in the overall population which count as being officially connected, but which in reality lack the key conditions to use the internet – a good quality connection and a computer.

In this graph, a longer bar indicates a higher share of households in the categories set out (connected to the internet, but not with a computer, or connected but without broadband)

In the median country, about 1 in 40 households are connected but do not have a computer, although in a number of countries, this share is much higher, reaching over 1 in 5 households in Turkey, Chile and Korea.

Meanwhile, about 1 in 100 households are connected to the internet, but do not have a broadband, but this rises to around 1 in 14 in France and Brazil.


Do these numbers stand throughout the population, or does the challenge of inadequate home internet access affect some groups more than others?

To start, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the degree to which coming from a richer or poorer household affects the likelihood of having a good internet connection and a computer.

C:\Users\stephen\Downloads\LSOTW43Graph2b.pngGraph 2b: Inequalities in Internet, Broadband, Computer Access


Graphs 2a and 2b do this, showing the gaps in the share of households in the top and bottom income quartiles (i.e. the richest and poorest quarters) which have internet access, broadband, or a computer.

In these graphs, each dot represents the difference in the share of richer and of poorer households having access.

These show big gaps, in particular in computer access, with a difference of over 50 percentage points between rich and poor in Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Hungary, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovenia. Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden tend to have the lowest inequalities here.

Graph 3: Households with Internet Access, but Without Broadband

Graph 3 repeats the analysis in Graph 1, but focusing on people with ‘slow’ connections (i.e. connected but without broadband). It breaks out the figures for poorer and richer households, in order to establish whether people in poorer households are more likely to be stuck with such ‘slow’ connections than richer people.

This does appear to be the case in almost all countries. For example, in Germany, Poland, France and Brazil, over 4% of all poorer households are stuck with slower connections. This represents 5% of all those people in poorer households classed as connected in Germany, around 10% in France and Poland, and nearly 17% in Brazil.

Graph 4: Households with Connections, but Without a Computer

Graph 4 does the same, but looking at households which are connected, but which do not have computers. It is even clearer here that richer households are less likely to find themselves in the situation of being connected, but not having a device, than poorer households.

In Korea, Chile, Costa Rica and Brazil, over 25% of poorer households are in this situation of ‘device-less connectivity’. In effect, 2/3 of poorer Korean households which are officially connected to the internet do not have devices, while the figure is around 50% in Costa Rica and Brazil, and over 1/3 in Chile.


What lessons from this for libraries? Next week, we will combine some of this data with information about libraries offering internet access. What is does indicate, already, is that there is not only a significant issue in terms of inequality in internet access, but that even where households are officially connected, we need to look hard at whether they have the speed and devices to make this meaningful.

This is of course not to mention the more human aspects – skills, confidence, support – which may also hold people back from using the internet fully as well!

As highlighted in the introduction, libraries have a role not only in providing connectivity for the unconnected, but also a solution when this home connectivity is not good enough. As this post shows, in many countries, addressing this need is a real issue.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

Short-Term Relief, Long-Term Results: Five Ways to Include Libraries in Stimulus Packages

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will not only be measured in terms of health. Around the world, livelihoods are being disrupted by the measures taken in order to prevent the further spread of the disease.

These economic impacts are of course likely the lesser of two evils – and certainly better than letting the virus spread unchecked. They do need attention nonetheless, given that unemployment and poverty also have very real human costs.

In response, governments are starting to develop stimulus packages – programmes of spending to help get people back into work, and indeed build a better future. There is every reason for libraries to be involved in these, beyond any support given to library staff who are put on furlough, or who lose their jobs now.

This blog therefore looks at five ways in which stimulus packages could include libraries. In each case, the focus is on measures which will not only provide short-term relief by helping to preserve jobs and incomes, but which will also have a long-term positive effect.


Suggestion 1: Increase library acquisition budgets in order to increase purchases of books from local bookshops

In an example that has already been implemented in Barcelona, an increase in budgets for library acquisitions will bring immediate benefits to local bookstores (as long as acquisitions models work this way), helping them to survive the crisis. Authors and publishers will also of course benefit. Renewing and refreshing stocks will meant that libraries can offer a wider selection into the future. Such a step would also help those libraries which have had to reallocate funds to buying eBooks in response to demand in the crisis.


Suggestion 2: Support the renovation of library buildings to improve them as spaces for learning and wellbeing

While the construction industry may be one of those able to restart sooner than others, it is likely to suffer in general from any fall in the wider economy. As a result, hiring (ideally local) construction firms to carry out necessary or helpful renovations of library buildings would provide useful work and reduce unemployment. In the longer-term, more attractive, better designed library buildings will be better suited to providing services to support learning and well-being in the community, as well as, hopefully, being more environmentally friendly.


Suggestion 3: Develop skills among those working in libraries to support inclusion effectively

We are unfortunately likely to see a rise in unemployment in many countries as a result of the pandemic, with millions needing to look for new work, potentially requiring new skills and knowledge. Libraries have already developed a strong role in helping people in these situations over the past few years, and are likely to see this become stronger still now. To do so, they will need additional support however, either through receiving training themselves, or through the hiring of new personnel. In both cases, this will mean that they are better placed to help their communities recover into the longer term.


Suggestion 4: Upgrade internet connectivity and access facilities in libraries and beyond

Even in the wealthiest countries, there are still people on the wrong side of the digital divide, lacking the connection, hardware, skills and/or confidence to make the most of the internet. Digital inclusion initiatives can include steps such as improving connectivity to libraries as public access points, installing long-range Wi-Fi technologies so that communities can benefit, renewing terminals and devices (including for lending), and skills programmes. These will all boost employment in the short term (especially if local solutions are used as far as possible), but will also leave individuals and societies better placed to take up new opportunities into the longer term (including if the pandemic returns!). The $50 million allocated to the Institute of Museum and Library Services in the United States, for example, has focused on just this.


Suggestion 5: Supporting cultural programming focused on local creators

The cultural sector has been particularly badly hit by the crisis, at least in those sectors which rely on people being able to travel and come together. With these possibilities gone, and the internet providing only a partial solution, there is a risk that many creators will need to give up on writing or performing completely in order to find other work. Stimulus packages can help prevent this by supporting cultural programming – either online, or eventually in person – associated with libraries. Residencies, courses or other projects can all provide a lifeline to creators, but also mean a richer cultural life in communities, supporting well-being and education for all into the long term.