Tag Archives: internet governance

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.


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.

Dates for the diary: advocacy moments over the rest of 2021

A key challenge in advocating for libraries is that you can be working across a huge range of issues. Libraries are cultural, educational, scientific, and civic actors, all at once.

While this means that there are many situations in which libraries have a relevant contribution to make, it can also mean that it is hard to find a focus, or construct a programme of ongoing advocacy activities.

One thing that can help in this is to structure activities around key dates.

Sometimes, there is an important event, with major media interest, taking place. If you are ‘present’ – through social media, articles or op eds, or other tools – you can look particularly relevant for partners, as well as build awareness within the field.

At other times, a day has been declared to be an international observance, meaning that among global – and often national – institutions, there is a special focus on the relevant theme. By engaging, you can underline libraries’ relevance, as well as potentially build new partnerships.

This blog sets ot some key dates and observances between now and the end of 2021. You don’t need to plan something for each one of these of course, and you certainly don’t need to do anything big!

However, as above, even just by posting on social media, you can help show the connection between libraries and the major global issues these dates mark. And if you can do more, all the better!

In each case, there is also a note about IFLA’s own current plans.

8 September – International Literacy Day (link): a particularly relevant day for libraries, this is an opportunity to focus on showing our institutions’ contribution to building literacy (and literacies) at all ages. This year is focused in particular on closing the digital divide. Think about examples you can share that show how libraries help achieve the global commitment to driving universal literacy!

IFLA’s Literacy and Reading Section will be planning publications, and Headquarters will be sharing new research into how libraries feature in collected good practices. Hashtag: #LiteracyDay

15 September – International Day of Democracy (link): a great opportunity to set out how libraries are promoting healthy civic life and participation in decision-making, through everything from enabling parliaments to work effectively to facilitating access to open data, providing information literacy skills, and welcoming debates and discussions in the library. Hashtag: #Democracy

17-29 September – SDG Action Week (link): what is your library or association doing to deliver on the SDGs? Share it via the tools prepared for SDG Action Week by the UN-supported SDG Action Campaign. There are also lots of great tools for social media and beyond, helping you both to underline the need to deliver on the 2030 Agenda, and to show how libraries are making a difference! Hashtag: #Act4SDGs

26 September – 2 October – Banned Books Week (link (ALA) and link (Amnesty International USA)): the mission of libraries to provide access to the widest possible range of materials to their users does not sit well with censorship, be it offline or online. Banned Books Week is an opportunity to highlight the reality of restrictions on expression today and their impact, as well as to resist censorship.

IFLA’s Advisory Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) will be involved, but take a look at the links to see what the American Library association and Amnesty International USA have planned. Hashtag: #BannedBooksWeek

28 September – International Day for the Universal Access to Information (link): only recently created as a UN-recognised day, the International Day for the Universal Access to Information grew out of work to promote rules on access to government information. It has since expanded to cover all information which can help people to develop.

This year, IFLA, through its regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, is supporting this year’s celebrations by organising an official event in Buenos Aires. Follow this – and the other events – and use the day to highlight the importance of libraries’ work to provide access to information! Hashtag: #AccessToInfoDay

October – Urban October (link): starting with World Habitat Day on 4 October, and closing with World Cities Day on 31 October, Urban October is focused on the importance of working at the local and regional levels in order to deliver on development, led by UN HABITAT. There is a strong focus this year on climate change and climate resilience, with COP26 coming up (see below!). You can register events on the Urban October website also if you want to organise something! Hashtag: #UrbanOctober

24 October – World Development Information Day (link): this day is about the importance of sharing information in order to raise awareness of and interest in development challenges around the world. As such, it is a perfect opportunity for libraries to underline their own role in supporting learning and engagement in the wider world! IFLA will make posts on the day – you can also! Hashtag: to be announced

24-31 October – Global Media and Information Literacy Week (link): this is another recent addition to the UN calendar, but has been run by UNESCO already for a number of years with strong library engagement. IFLA will be looking to contribute to global events, and we encourage others to hold their own activities or gatherings in order to promote media and information literacy, and the role of libraries in delivering it. See already our save-the-date post! Hashtag: #GlobalMILWeek

27 October – World Day for Audiovisual Heritage (link): recognized by UNESCO, this is an opportunity to recognise the uniqueness and the importance of audiovisual heritage, what it brings to societies, and what is needed to safeguard it. IFLA will be marking the day, and we hope that libraries and associations working with it will join the effort to raise awareness to ensure audiovisual heritage gets the attention it deserves. Hashtag: #AudiovisualHeritage

1-12 November – COP26 (link): delayed from last year, this is a key meeting in delivering on the Paris Agreement on climate change, where governments and others will meet to discuss accelerating climate action. IFLA, as a member of the Climate Heritage Network, will be closely involved in underlining the role of culture and cultural institutions in progress. There is likely to be major attention to climate change issues during this time, and so it’s an important opportunity both to show what libraries can contribute, and to join wider calls for action! See our blogs about climate change, and the work of our Section on Environment, Sustainability and Libraries for more. Hashtag: #COP26, #ClimateHeritage

9-24 November – UNESCO General Conference (link): this is the major biennial meeting of UNESCO’s Member States, taking the opportunity to set the budget and the agenda of the organisation, as well as to discuss key current trends. With libraries engaged in many of UNESCO’s priorities, IFLA engages across a wide range of the Organisation’s work. In advance of the event, we will be encouraging members to get in touch with their UNESCO National Commissions in order to share library priorities. Find out more in our news piece about the Year of Creative Economy, and our guide to the 2005 Convention on Cultural Diversity. Hashtag: #UNESCO

6-10 December – Internet Governance Forum 2021 (link): the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is an opportunity for governments, experts and stakeholders to talk about key issues in the way that the internet is run today, and what improvements could be made to support development. This is an area of major interest for libraries, both given our use of the internet to support access to information, and the relevance of our values in this space. You will be able to join (online or in person at this stage) to listen into the perspectives shared and issues raised – including a side-event on libraries! – or even look out for national IGF meetings. Hashtag: #IGF2021

10 December – Human Rights Day (link): while the theme of these year’s Human Rights Day is not yet known, this is always an opportunity to highlight the connection between the activities of libraries and the delivery of human rights for all. This of course includes the right of access to information, but also to education, privacy, culture and science. IFLA will be marking the day, working with our Advisory Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression – think about what you can do! Hashtag: #StandUp4Human Rights

Information Multilateralism

 Today is the second ever International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace. Created as a result of a Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, it aims to provide an opportunity to highlight the values – and the merits – of multilateral approaches to addressing challenges.

The creation of the day itself is timely. With populist leaders coming to power in a number of places, and placing the (proclaimed) immediate interest of their countries first, there is a need to find opportunities to set out why we work together.

But why is this specifically relevant to libraries, and how does the library and information world contribute? This blog explores the answers.


Why Does Multilateralism Matter for Libraries?

While the word ‘multilateralism’ belongs more to political science than to library and information science, the approach it describes is a familiar one for the library field.

Indeed, the existence of organisations like IFLA is evidence of the understanding that cooperation across borders matter.

If libraries are to be able to work together, they need to follow the same standards, for example for cataloguing. This enables the sharing of materials, and increasingly, the creation of shared resources and databases.

Similarly, so much of the life IFLA is built on the understanding that everyone has something to learn from others elsewhere in the world. The good practices and guidelines we develop are the result of intense sharing of ideas and examples, in order to raise standards everywhere.

These two cases reflect two of the key characteristics of good multilateral cooperation – readiness to develop and follow shared rules, and acceptance of the need to engage as equals.

We’ve seen a similar approach develop with the internet, arguably developing a form of (imperfect) information multilateralism, where, at least in theory, everyone has the possibility both to access and contribute information, and where there is no single dominant power.


Why do Libraries (and Information) Matter for Multilateralism?

In turn, this multilateral approach applied to libraries and information can support successful international cooperation, not least the delivery of the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

As set out above, we arguably already have a form of information multilateralism, thanks originally to the global network of libraries, and now complemented powerfully by the development of the internet.

This is what allows for the international research that provides an evidence base for political efforts, for example, to tackle climate change, or to produce documents such as the Global Sustainable Development Report published by the United Nations last September.

Now, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are rapid steps towards building up banks of resources across borders and to make them openly available, with the goal of accelerating progress towards finding effective treatments and cures.

This sort of work is only possible when researchers everywhere can share and combine knowledge in order to work towards shared conclusions.

As hinted when referring to the internet as being an imperfect form of multilateralism, there is more to be done to ensure that we really are in a situation where we have an information environment where everyone is able to contribute and benefit, and so help build solutions.

Amongst the issues needing to be addressed are the fact that almost half of the world’s population are not online, and of those who are, many still lack the connection speed, skills and confidence to make the most of the internet. Others who would normally have access are seeing it restricted through internet shutdowns.

Restrictions on content – from the barriers caused by the fragmentation of copyright laws and censorship, to a lack of information in local languages – also play a role in limiting the resources we can draw on.

Libraries of course – both through their day-to-day work with the communities they serve, and their cooperation across borders – can make a major contribution to overcoming this situation, but require governments to play their part also, providing the right laws and support for success.

Doing so will help achieve the goals of multilateralism globally.

Into the New Decade: Key Internet Governance Trends for Libraries

The year 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web. Entering a new decade presents an opportunity to reflect on what major Internet Governance trends were relevant for libraries over the course of the last year, and how me might see these trends take shape in the coming future.

Reckoning with the ‘techlash’

Already in 2018, ‘techlash’ – “a strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley” – made it to the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year shortlist. 2019 saw the phenomenon grow, with tech giants facing more scrutiny and pressure to address a wide array of challenges, from privacy to misinformation, as well as an  increase in privacy and data protection investigations that tech giants face.

Facebook was handed an unprecedented fine by the US Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations linked to the Cambridge Analytica scandal; privacy complaints in relation to Google’s online advertising practices were filed to data protection regulators in several countries in the EU; EU antitrust regulators launched an investigation into Google’s data collection and use; the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland opened a third investigation into Apple over privacy concerns – these are just a few examples of the increasing pressure the tech industry is facing.

How exactly the increasing pressure will shape the work of online platforms remains to be seen. For example, responding to growing concerns over political advertisements (particularly in the contexts of misinformation and microtargeting), Twitter issued a near-full ban, Google limited the scope of targeting to general data, while Facebook has so far excepted most political advertisements from fact-checking.

Such concerns – in particular online platforms’ handling of user data and privacy – have relevance for the library sector. To give a prominent example, 2019 saw American and Canadian strongly and vocally oppose LinkedIn’s changes to a popular online education platform Lynda.com because of privacy and confidentiality concerns. The introduction of planned changes has since been paused.

Overall, the views on the ‘techlash’ narrative may vary: whether it can meaningfully stir the internet towards openness and inclusivity, and whether the regulatory initiatives it prompted can have negative effects if not carefully assessed beforehand. In any case, 2019 saw the phenomenon gaining more momentum – and the upcoming policy responses can have a significant impact on the shape the internet will take in the future.

A fragmenting internet?

In her speech at the 2019 IGF, Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel pointed out the efforts of some state actors to “seal their nets off from the global internet”. An increasingly fragmented internet can have various negative consequences, she warned, from surveillance to infrastructure vulnerability to censorship.

The concerns over ‘splinternet’ are not new – but 2019 saw a number of prominent government initiatives to exercise control over the internet within state borders (and at times beyond). On the one hand, there are the much-cited examples of China’s Great Firewall and Russia’s reportedly successful test of a country-wide alternative internet in December 2019.

A parallel issue is internet shutdowns – a growing phenomenon, jumping from 75 instances in 2016, 106 in 2017, to 196 in 2018. The trend continued in 2019; while the final tally is yet to be offered (the Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project counts 128 between January and July), we already know that the year saw a record for longest shutdown in a democracy, as well as other shutdowns across South Asia, the MENA region, Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

Fragmentation can go much deeper than these readily apparent cases, though. A landmark 2019 Internet and Jurisdiction report points out that the internet can become “less borderless” due to both technical and regulatory developments. The latter includes fractured and diverse state-based norm setting in such areas as extremist content and hate speech online, privacy, defamation, misinformation, and other matters related to online expression – as well as those related to security and economy. The jurisdictional tensions can give rise to increasing legal uncertainty, which

“increases the cost of doing business and creates challenges for governments seeking to protect their citizens and ensure respect for their laws. It may also prevent internet users from accessing as broad a range of content, as they otherwise could, and raises civil society concerns that abuses are not properly addressed, or that attempted solutions will harm users.”

The questions surrounding both internet shutdowns and fragmentation are relevant for libraries. In the short term, shutdowns and slowdowns prevent libraries from going their job fully; and fragmentation can impact libraries working to make digital materials available across borders, potentially obliging them to cope with laws and other rules from a wide variety of jurisdictions.

In the long run, both trends can mark major steps backwards from wider access to knowledge and information. Future regulatory efforts in these areas can therefore have a significant impact on their work – and it remains to be seen how these trends evolve in 2020.

Governance of new technologies, applications and services – as well as data

Throughout 2019, the Geneva Internet Platform’s Barometer of Trends repeatedly marked an increase in relevance of new technology issues – such as those pertaining to AI and Internet of Things – within internet governance discourse. In the last few years, new applications have prompted engaged and contested political conversations due to their potential societal, political, economic and cultural impacts.

To name one example: 2019 saw increased public concerns over the risks associated with facial recognition technologies, particularly in the areas of privacy and non-discrimination. Several cities in the US banned the technology, while elsewhere, different countries’ regulatory stances are diverse.

As regulators and the society at large continue to grapple with the questions of new technologies’ ethical and societal implications in 2020, libraries can follow (and take part in) the discussions. This ensures that libraries interested in adapting and making use of new technologies and services can make informed choices that align with core library values and patrons’ interests.

In addition, some predictions foresee that privacy and data regulation policy debates will intensify. While the EU General Data Protection Regulation will have already been in effect for two years in 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act only came into effect on January 1, 2020, and other regulations are still under deliberation – e.g. India’s consultations on the Personal Data Protection Bill and other U.S. states considering their own privacy regulations. In light of the questions that the era of Big Data poses for libraries, particularly around privacy, it may well be worthwhile for the library sector to keep track of how this policy field develops further in the coming year.

These are some of the key Internet Governance trends from 2019 that may see further developments in 2020 – and can have implications for the library sector. The internet remains crucial to libraries – both in their daily work and in relation to their broader values of access to information and intellectual freedom. That is why in the coming year IFLA will continue to engage with Internet Governance forums – and encourages libraries to get involved in internet governance platforms and discussions as well!

What has the Web Ever Done for Us? Five Reasons for Libraries to Celebrate the 30th Birthday of the World Wide Web

World Wide Web 30th Birthday 1989-2019

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the World Wide Web. As opposed to the internet – physical networks of computers stretching to around half of the world’s population, the web is an ‘information space’ – a collection of documents and resources linked together by hyperlinks. It is what means that, in effect, computers speak the same language, or are interoperable.

The web gets plenty of criticism, thanks both to some of the content hosted there (hate speech, deliberate misinformation), as well as the way that it is used (hacking, crime, or manipulation of opinion). Indeed, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the author of the paper which set out the concept of web, has himself warned of the need for action.

Nonetheless, the fact that the web is far from perfect does not mean that it has not brought major benefits, not least for libraries. This blog sets out five reasons why libraries in particular should celebrate its birthday.

1) Open Access: the emergence of the Open Access movement has a lot to do with appearance of the Web. The possibility to disseminate research at low marginal cost globally – almost impossible when working on paper – has not only transformed scholarly communication, but even the way science itself is performed. This is a clear benefit, allowing for an acceleration of progress in key areas for humanity. While much still needs to be done, it is clear that without the Web, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

2) Digital Libraries: the Web has been a game-change in terms of how libraries can give access to their own content. Digitising and uploading books, manuscripts and other documents has allowed libraries to reach far beyond their walls, and serve readers and researchers globally. Making such works available on the Web has provided an incentive for digitisation in the first place, created new possibilities to ‘reunify’ collections, and moved us towards a much stronger understanding of our shared heritage.

3) User-Generated Content: a key principle of the Web is that everyone can be both a consumer and a producer of content. This is a point that Sir Tim Berners-Lee underlines in his own article. These new possibilities have allowed libraries to offer new initiatives and services – creative writing, book reviews or online community archives for example. It has also allowed for a huge volume of new ideas, complementing traditional channels such as established publishers, meaning that library users are more likely to find content relevant to them.

4) Reaffirmation of the Value of Libraries: while pessimists have repeatedly predicted that the Web will make libraries obsolete, in reality there is little evidence for this. While it is true that certain traditional services have been taken over, there is a widely accepted need for support in developing the skills necessary to navigate available information. This is a natural strength of libraries, thanks both to the expertise and experience of their personnel, and the physical space they offer for meeting, socialising and learning.

5) Communication: interoperability between computer networks also means communication between people. The Web has had a huge impact on the work of organisations such as IFLA. From annual meetings as the only major occasion to come together, it is now possible to hold a permanent conversation, and engage members of the library field at any time, and anywhere where there is the possibility to connect. New opportunities to share, learn, and innovate are the result.


The birthday of the Web is clearly worth celebrating given all the progress it has allowed towards the goals of the library field. IFLA looks forwards to continued work to ensure that every library and every library user can connect and, in doing so, has the possibility to live a better life.


Read more about IFLA’s work on libraries and the information society, and in particular our guide to internet governance.

The IGF is in Paris – but you can join us from everywhere!

The 13th annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is taking place in Paris this year. The meeting is ‎hosted by the Government of France at the Headquarters of UNESCO, and runs from 12 to ‎‎14 November 2018.‎

This year’s session has more than a hundred sessions, including national, regional and youth IGF initiatives as well as seventeen ‎Dynamic Coalitions with inputs from communities and stakeholders. This multi-stakeholder approach, a key characteristic of the IGF, makes this an important opportunity to influence and shape public ‎discourse on internet governance themes and to discuss needed improvements. ‎

This year’s gathering stresses the importance of creating an Internet of Trust. To achieve this goal, the IGF in looking at best practices ‎in gender and access; cybersecurity; local content; AI, big data and the internet of things. ‎

IFLA is at the Internet Governance Forum in Paris to discuss the importance of public access in libraries. We will be part of two important events. The first is on the 13 November at the American Library in Paris, with more details available here. It will highlight the importance of public access as a means of getting the remaining billions online, alongside other promising initiatives such as community networks, as previously discussed at the IFLA President’s Meeting in Barcelona, and offline internet.

The second, on the 14 November takes place as part of the formal IGF programme. The session of the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries in which IFLA plays a leading role will discuss and improve the toolkit on public access that IFLA has prepared for library associations. The toolkit looks at the key policy questions in the fields of technology, financing, regulation, as they affect libraries delivering public access.

You can find a list of the events on the IGF website and you can follow all the sessions remotely. Please, join us and be a part of this community!