Tag Archives: mil

UNESCO Global MIL Week 2023 poster

Global MIL Week 2023: Meaningful cooperation is essential for success in digital spaces

The internet did not invent the spread of mis- and disinformation, but it has undoubtedly exploded the reach – and therefore, the impact – of harmful content. Every person with an internet connection can both fall victim to misinformation, and contribute to its creation and distribution.

It’s not all dire though! In the same way that misinformation can spread, so can opportunities for education and awareness-raising. Information can reach more people than ever before – but the type of information, and people’s skills to assess, understand, and ethically use it, will continue to have enormous consequences on peace, good governance, and social cohesion.

An Internet for Trust

UNESCO has been embarking on a process to develop global guidelines for the regulation of digital platforms. In this, UNESCO stresses that the development and implementation of digital platform regulatory processes must safeguard freedom of expression, access to information, and other human rights. IFLA has been contributing throughout this process – read our comments on the most recent draft here.

We stress that an internet for trust cannot be delivered in isolation, with action by platforms and through regulation legislation alone. Libraries contribute to building a healthier information ecosystem on a whole – an essential aspect of achieving the Guidelines’ goals.

A Healthy Information Ecosystem

UNESCO has linked Global Media and Information Week 2023 to their internet for trust initiative with this year’s theme: “Media and Information Literacy in Digital Spaces: A Collective Global Agenda”.

We were very happy to see the importance of media and information literacy (MIL) emphasised in preliminary drafts of the platform regulation guidelines.  However, IFLA has called for stronger references to the role of libraries at all stages of planning and delivering MIL programming, and better coordination of platform-based efforts with those led by schools and libraries.

The idea of a collective global agenda is very much in line with IFLA’s point of view. It will take a lot of cooperation, and coordination of efforts, to build a healthy information ecosystem – but what does this mean in practice?

It means working at the grassroots level; it means policy supporting public sector actors in their work, it means MIL education that spans formal, informal, and non-formal spaces, and supports the development of global citizens enabled to act ethically in all aspects of their lives, with the specific skills needed to produce, access, and use information.

Progress will not be driven by platforms and policymakers alone, but by collaboration with a wider community of information holders, producers, and users.

Suggestions for Implementation

The fact that there is an international effort to guide the development of internet regulation is important, as inconsistencies in legislation from country to country could likely lead to further internet fragmentation.

This sort of coordinated effort on platform regulation could also result in coordination on MIL, given the strong emphasis on MIL in these Guidelines.

For Global MIL Week 2023, UNESCO asked IFLA, among other stakeholders, how the Guidelines for Regulating Digital Platforms could be made operational, and how we could ensure multistakeholder participation through this process.

From the perspective of the library and information profession, here are some thoughts for putting meaningful cooperation into practice:

  1. National and subnational policymakers should recognise the impact of public sector entities, such as libraries in communities, schools, and universities, for operationalising the guidelines through their role in building healthier information ecosystems.
  2. Libraries should be included in national policy efforts on MIL, supported by effective taxation that ensures resources are available for libraries to do their work.
  3. Teachers, trainers, and librarians should be provided with possibilities to access the skills, tools and resources they need to be effective, innovative, future-fit advocates and facilitators of media literacy.
  4. The youth should have an active role in contributing to change, but MIL education schemes should critically take a lifelong learning approach and include non-formal and informal education spaces.
  5. All stakeholders should recognise the importance of considering local language and local cultural context in efforts to vet content on platforms and ensure content is relevant and beneficial to users.
  6. Perceptions differ around where the greatest threat to freedom of expression and access to information lie. Information professionals could be included in digital platform regulatory processes for the expertise and values they can bring to wider discussions about equitable access to information and freedom of expression.
  7. Regulation applied to major commercial platforms, such as Facebook or YouTube, should not apply to the non-profit repositories run or used by any libraries, and which are essential for open access, science and education.
  8. Monitoring, evaluation, and reporting schemes at both the national and international levels should be designed with possibilities to include the contribution of civil society actors and public sector entities.

IFLA looks forward to seeing the final version of these Guidelines, hopefully with our previous input taken into consideration, and taking an active role in elaborating an implementation plan.

How do you see your role in contributing to an internet for trust through MIL? Let us know your thoughts!

Find out more about Global MIL Week and how to get involved here.


The 10-Minute International Librarian #69: Be able to explain why information literacy matters

 To make the most of information, people need to have the skills to be confident, competent users.

Libraries have long known this, supporting students and researchers in navigating through available resources, in particular in order to improve research.

As information has become more and more abundant, the need to make choices about what to trust, and how to do this, has become an issue in almost all aspects of society.

The most high-profile examples are of course around deliberate misinformation (or ‘fake news’), in particular on social media.

But in many elements of life, the availability of reliable information does not necessarily mean that the people who need it are able to use it.

However, with policy often made by people who are already confident users of information – digital and otherwise – the importance of helping people develop information literacy is often overlooked.

Global Media and Information Literacy (MIL) Week, which falls this week, is an opportunity to correct this, and secure the support needed to provide meaningful information literacy skills to all.

So for our 69th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, be able to explain why information literacy matters.

Take a look of course in particular at what is taking place this week, in the context of Global MIL Week in particular.

But also think about examples of how information literacy has helped people achieve their goals through your library.

Alternatively, think about what the costs of a lack of information literacy are – what opportunities do people miss out on?

And then, think about how you can present this argument to a busy decision-maker, ensuring that they also understand the importance of information literacy for all!

Share your arguments and examples in the comments box below.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 1.1 Show the power of libraries as drivers of sustainable development.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box.

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

Access to Information, Access to Connection: libraries countering intolerance

Our world is faced with a range of challenges linked to intolerance, and its consequences. These have dominated the headlines in 2020: large-scale demonstrations demanding racial justice, inequalities facing the LGBTQ+ community around the world, terrorist activity, the rise of nationalist groups, and the ongoing xenophobia that threatens the livelihood of the world’s most vulnerable communities. Existing tensions have been compounded in 2020 as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a great deal of progress that must be made in order to create a world where every person’s human rights are upheld – despite differences between us.

What can libraries do to help counteract these challenges that feed a climate of intolerance?

For UN International Day of Tolerance (16 November) let’s take a look at the role of libraries in countering intolerance, and discuss how library professionals can advocate for their role in building tolerance within individuals and communities.

Countering Intolerance: The UN’s Perspective

The UN outlines the following key areas for countering intolerance:

  • Laws: Governments are responsible for enforcing human rights laws, for banning and punishing hate crimes and discrimination and for ensuring equal access to dispute settlement.
  • Education: Laws are necessary but not sufficient for countering intolerance, greater emphasis needs to be placed on educating more and better.
  • Access to information: The most efficient way to limit the influence of hatemongers is to promote press freedom and press pluralism, in order to allow the public to differentiate between facts and opinions.
  • Individual awareness: Intolerance breeds intolerance. In order to fight intolerance individuals should become aware of the link between their behaviour and the vicious cycle of mistrust and violence in society.
  • Local solutions: When confronted with an escalation of intolerance around us, we must not wait for governments and institutions to act alone. We are all part of the solution.

Libraries are champions of access to information and life-long learning, as well as being community gathering places.

Therefore, if education and access to information can counter the fear of the “other” that drives intolerance, then we – the global library community – have a vital role to play.

Read on for some advocacy tips on how libraries can make a difference in several of these key areas.


Over the past five years, there has been a troubling rise in xenophobic sentiment. Gallup’s 2020 update of its Migrant Acceptance Index found that the world has become less tolerant of migrants since the Index was launched in 2015.

As worrying as this trend is, it is important to remember that no one is born harbouring feelings of intolerance. This behaviour is learned, and therefore, it can be unlearned, or at least countered, through education.

In 2020, the IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement) reiterated results from their International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) carried out in 2016. These results show a positive correlation between the civic knowledge of young people and their level of tolerance towards immigrants in Europe [Source, page 1].

As young people with higher levels of civic knowledge tend to be more tolerant, the IEA urges policymakers and educators to strengthen efforts to provide learning opportunities that focus on building this understanding. Key competencies include the importance of ensuring equal rights for different groups in a democracy, as well the ability to identify potential threats to democracy [Source, page 8].

Although focussed on migrant acceptance, it follows that these lessons are also relevant in terms of marginalised groups within an existing population.

Advocacy point:

Libraries provide learning opportunities outside of the formal education system. They can build on the skills students learn in the classroom, enhancing them with a variety of materials, resources, and opportunities to engage with others in the learning process.

Libraries also provide lifelong learning opportunities – which can be a vital way to deliver civic knowledge to adults who may not have had access to these lessons in their schooling.

If education on civic participation and democratic society is essential for social cohesion, then library educators can help these learning opportunities reach people at all ages.

Access to Information

We live in an information society. On average, people have access to more information than at any other point of human civilization. However, the past years have seen a growing trend of “fake news”, conspiracy theories, distrust in the media, and a rise in disinformation campaigns that erode the foundations of democracy. Many of these campaigns gain power by capitalising on people’s fear of the “other”, deepening mistrust and intolerance.

In 2020, we have seen the impact that misinformation can have towards people’s health and livelihoods, and the dangerously powerful effect it has on public opinion. UNESCO has dubbed this the “disinfodemic”.

Beyond personal health choices, misinformation around the Coronavirus also has an impact on rising intolerance. For example, it has caused an increase of anti-Chinese sentiment [source] and hate-speech directed at Asian people [source]. This reflects trends of past health emergencies, such as the association of homophobic sentiment with the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s [source].

Accessing health information, as well as information about other cultures, beliefs, and world events is vital to a society that is equipped to handle the challenges of today. However, this access to information also comes with a responsibility to learn to navigate the current climate of misinformation that seeks to deepen societal divides.

UNESCO’s Media and Information Literacy Programme seeks to fight the trend of misinformation by helping communities engage with media in a ways that promotes equality, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, peace, and freedom of expression.

See the Five Laws of Media and Information Literacy for more background on UNESCO’s position.

Advocacy Point:

The importance of critical thinking in regard to the media we consume is more important than ever. A tolerant information society cannot be achieved without it.

Note Law #5 from UNESCO: “Media and information literacy is not acquired at once. It is a lived and dynamic experience and process.”

Libraries play a vital role not only in access to information, but in building media and information literacy skills. Libraries enable media and information literacy to be a lived experience for learners at all levels, providing tools, resources, and assistance in accessing information, thinking critically about sources, and using it ethically.

For more resources, start with the IFLA Media and Information Literacy Recommendations.

For countering Fake News, see IFLA’s How to Spot Fake News – COVID-19 Edition

Local Solutions

The UN stresses that every individual has a role to play in building tolerant societies.

Although complex, global issues can seem insurmountable, change begins at the local level. Libraries are welcoming public spaces – free of charge – that in some parts of the world, have seen a marked social turn, “changing focus from collections to connections” [source].

In this unique role in society, libraries can be on the front lines in promoting not just tolerance, but an appreciation for multiculturalism. The IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto reiterates the role that libraries can have in promoting cultural and linguistic diversity at the international, national, and local levels.

IFLA has also stressed that racism has no place in the society libraries are working to build. Libraries reject discrimination and actively promote inclusion, working at all levels to provide everyone a meaningful opportunity to realise their rights to information, culture, information and science.

Advocacy Point:

IFLA has found that countries with more public and community librarians tend to have higher levels of social cohesion.  By crossing statistics from IFLA’s Library Map of the World with those from the OECD’s Society at a Glance 2016 publication, we can begin to visualize the role that libraries have in building social cohesion through general societal trust in one another.

Graph: libraries and tolerance

For more, see Library Stat of the Week #26: Countries with more public and community librarians tend to have higher levels of social cohesion

What can you do?

For librarians working at the local level, here are some ideas of steps you can take to help combat intolerance within your community.

  • Share resources on tolerance and anti-racism
  • Help raise awareness within your community on world events, discuss reasons for migration and immigration from a global perspective.
  • Ensure your collection features a wide variety of stories, and storytellers of different backgrounds
  • Offer programmes targeted at reducing inequalities in your community. See IFLA’s SDG Stories on Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities for inspiration.
  • Engage with local NGOs, citizen movements, and educational institutions to celebrate the diversity of communities and promote positive, inclusive discussion.
  • Enhance your library’s offering of media and information literacy resources. See this guide for low/no-cost ideas.

Do you have other ideas on how libraries can help their communities fight intolerance and build social cohesion? We’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts below.

Dodging Deception: The Crossover between Open Access and Media and Information Literacy Weeks

Open Access and Information Literacy

It isn’t only Open Access that is being celebrated this week. Today also marks the first day of Global Media and Information Literacy (MIL) Week, organised by UNESCO.

The communities involved in the two events tend to differ. MIL Week brings together educators and journalists, with a strong focus on developing new tools and practices.

Open Access week is an opportunity for researchers and others involved in scholarly communications to reflect on the present and future of efforts to maximise access. Of course, libraries have a major role to play in both.

However, the specific issue of ‘deceptive journals’ brings these two fields together.


The Reputation of Open Access

Deceptive journals are academic publications which knowingly publish articles in exchange for payment by authors, without offering any meaningful editorial services (peer review, editing, quality control).

In effect, they use, or rather abuse, one particular model of open access – author-pays publication. They undoubtedly also benefit from the pressure on many academics to publish in order to pursue their careers.

Despite a tendency to believe, this is not just a developing country issue either, with recent research showing that academics in richer countries are also guilty of publishing in such journals.

The problem is that that link between deceptive journals and the author-pays model can become, in the heads of some, a feeling that open access journals in general are less credible. This, in turn, risks slowing the progression of Open Access in general, as highlighted in our blog “Effect of Open Access on Copyright Challenges and Library Budgets in Africa“.

Clearly open access faces a number of fundamental questions in its future, which the organisers of Open Access Week are tackling head on. Among these, ensuring future credibility is a key one.


Won’t Get Fooled Again?

So what can be done?

The highest profile approach so far has perhaps been Beall’s list, which claimed to identify deceptive (or predatory) journals. The controversy around this underlined the risks around creating ‘black lists’, but has certainly been crucial in awareness raising.

A healthier (and less legally risky) approach seems to be to enable students and researchers to identify high quality places to read or publish articles. Or, in other words, the core ‘information literacy’ traditionally provided by libraries.

This is attractive too – giving people the tools and skills to take their own decisions is, in the long-run, more efficient. It is also less paternalistic.

There are a number of great tools available. Think Check Submit offers a clear and balanced set of criteria, as do various ‘white’ lists (of journals which do respect quality criteria, without necessarily condemning others).

Clearly it’s also important to ensure that the advice given to students and researchers also respects information literacy, and does not fall into the trap of damning journals from developing countries, either explicitly, or by default.

There has been welcome cooperation between publishers, libraries and researchers already in this field. More needs to be done, however, to spread good ideas, around the world.


While the coincidence of Open Access and Global Media and Information Literacy Week in terms of dates is accidental, information literacy will play a vital role in tackling one of the barriers to the success of open access.

It is also a useful reminder that, alongside efforts to promote information literacy in situations outside of academia, that core element of work in academic libraries is as important as ever.

What’s On Online? Current Issues for Libraries in Internet Governance and Policy

The core mission of libraries is to provide people with access to information. With flows of information increasingly taking place online, our institutions have a major interest in the way the Internet works.

In December of this year, the world will celebrate 50/50 – the point at which the share of the world’s population with Internet accesses passes 50%. This will be a success to celebrate, but also a reminder of how many people remain unconnected.

Moreover, serious concerns remain about the way in which the actions of governments and private actors can affect this access, and whether people themselves are equipped to make best use of the possibilities.

In short, if people do not have access, or if this access is subject to restrictions, then the mission of libraries cannot be achieved. This blog lists a few of the issues currently on the agenda.


Delivering Access – New Tools?

As highlighted in the introduction, the celebrations around giving half of the world’s population access to the Internet will be clouded by the fact that the other half remain offline. While the unconnected are concentrated in developing countries, there are still minorities in richer countries who are cut off.

New technologies and techniques are emerging for getting people online. Major Internet companies have their own projects for giving access, through satellites, balloons and other tools. While Facebook, for example, has apparently given up on its plans to use drones, it is now investing in satellites.

One technology is TV White Space (TVWS), promoted by its supporters as a particularly smart means of bringing Internet to remote areas. It works by using frequencies which currently are not being used for television, and dedicating them to WiFi. A number of projects using this approach are at work in the United States and Colombia.

There are also efforts by cities and wider communities to set up new networks. Sometimes these are run by local governments who recognise the value of faster connectivity (‘municipal broadband’). Sometimes, it’s residents themselves who come together to establish ‘community networks’.

In both cases, they bypass traditional Internet Service Providers (ISPs), often accused of doing too little to invest in higher speeds.

However, such projects need favourable regulation to work. With radio spectrum usually ‘owned’ by government, there are ongoing questions about who can access this for TVWS projects. There are also stories of restrictions on use of telegraph poles being used to prevent municipal fibre projects.

In addition, there have been some signs of renewed interest in Universal Service and Access Funds (USAFs). These collect funds from taxes on telecommunications providers in order to support connections to poorly served areas and populations.

However, they are frequently under-used, and can be subject to the same risks of corruption and bureaucracy as other parts of government. A recent report from the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) underlines how, if properly deployed, they could make the difference for women in Africa for example.

Libraries are both beneficiaries of better connectivity, and potentially drivers of new projects. To do this, they will need the right regulations and financial support to be able to give their users – and their communities – effective access to information.


Delivering Content – New Threats?

Yet not all connections are equal. Even when the cables are laid, or the masts turned on, what a user can see online will depend on the rules and practices in place.

The role of government is a key concern. Governments continue to engage in complete or partial shutdowns, as well as in focused censorship.

AccessNow’s monitoring of shutdowns shows that these are depressingly frequent, with everything from national security to school exams offering an excuse. The collateral damage caused by these moves – to businesses, to medicine, to citizens’ daily communications, is significant.

Censorship continues to be a problem. At the end of April, the anniversary of Turkey’s ban of Wikipedia was marked. Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom on the Internet report showed record levels of online censorship and blocking. Steps in Tunisia, for example, to oblige bloggers to ‘register’ are also worrying.

Meanwhile, concerns about ‘fake news’ have served as an excuse for some governments to take dramatic action against both writers and websites. Cambodia, Azerbaijan and Vietnam provide some recent examples. In parallel, as Freedom House (mentioned above) underlines, governments are also more than ready to share disinformation themselves using the same tools.

Yet it would be a mistake to focus only on government. As technology advances, and with it the possiblity to use data to make new connections and offer new services, the risk to personal information grows.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as other cases of dubious practice by major Internet firms, have shown what can be done with personal data. Data ethics has become a new area for discussion, closely linked to the explosion in the volumes of information collected online (including by the Internet of things).

The entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union offers a response, but much will depend on how effectively people take up the new possibilities it creates. Similar rules appear to be spreading to California and Brazil, and data protection is an increasingly high-profile issue in trade discusisons.

Furthermore, net neutrality remains on the agenda. In the United States, the resistance to moves by the government to allow companies to discriminate continues at federal level. Individual states are passing their own laws to guarantee equal access to all content as far as possible.

Elsewhere, the news is better, with India underlining its support for net neutrality, and steps in some countries at least to do away with zero-rating offerings (i.e. allowing users to access some services without this counting towards their data caps).

An additional issue arises where private companies are pressured to take steps that governments themselves cannot.

As highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, platforms are not independent. They can be pressured, for example, to block certain types of content (‘fake news’, explicit content, extreme content), or apply rulings such as the European Union’s right to be forgotten principle.

In doing so, they take on similar powers to governments or courts, but with less oversight or control. Moreover, when governments pass laws that only create incentives to block content, there is no guarantee that legal content will be defended. Laws such as FOSTA and SESTA in the United States and anti fake-news laws in Germany and France risk doing just this.

For libraries, this is an issue of growing importance. The content to which libraires give access is increasingly online, rather than on-the-shelf. And libraries are committed to broader access to information as a driver of development.

While there is a case for acting against specific content that genuinely poses a threat, indiscriminate restrictions imposed by governments or companies, including the chilling effect that surveillance and data-collection can create, are bad news for libraries.


Delivering Skills – New Focus?  

A final area of focus is on individuals themselves. Even where there is connectivity, and the connection is not subject to unjusitified restricitons, citizens themselves need the skills and confidence to get online.

As Pew Internet Centre research showed recently, a falling share of people see the Internet as only having brought benefits for society. Other surveys suggest growing levels of distrust and concern about about the risks encountered on the Internet.

There is a risk, when faced with such worries, that governments will feel empowered to take more restrictive stances (i.e. banning non-mainstream content). As a result, the need to give citizens themselves the confidence to deal with what they find online themselves is growing.

Digital skills training, however, remains minimal in many cases. This can be down to a lack of equipment, a lack of capacity among teaching staff, or simply a failure to update teaching. Moreover, digital skills cannot only be a task for formal education.

Meaningful digital skills training, as highlighted in IFLA’s statement on digital literacy, needs to be about more than just coding (important, but for now unlikely to be relevant to everyone in their future lives), and focus on a broader range of competences.

This should include, notably, an updated version of media and information literacy, adapted to a digital age. It may well also require a renewed focus on some of the ‘soft skills’ which are also important in the offline world.

A number of countries are adopting more holistic curricula, and the OECD is already incorporating concepts such as ‘problem solving in a digital environment’ into its own work. But we are likely to see more moves among governments to develop more comprehensive packages of skills and training in coming years.

Libraries are natural partners for delivering such skills, at least when they are suffficiently equipped and staffed. As welcoming places open to all of the community, regardless of age, they can complement the work of formal education.

With a focus, also, on providing the information (and information literacy) to meet real life needs, they can play a real role in shaping digital skills training for all.


The Internet’s potential to accelerate development is high, but not inevitable. As this blog indicates, there is a regular stream of questions, of doubts. How to make full use of all possibiities to get more people connected? How to avoid overreacting to ‘fake news’ and concern about certain content? How to give people the confidence they need to use the Internet effectively?

All are questions with a real importance for libraries, and to which libraries can help provide solutions.

Alternative Facts and Fake News – Verifiability in the Information Society

This week sees the continuation of Wikipedia’s #1lib1ref (One Librarian, One Reference) campaign (highlights from the first week here!). The thematic thread of this week’s activities is fake news, an expression that has been at the tip of people’s tongues lately, along with “alternative facts”. This blog explores the library take on this.

The relationship between information and opinion has always been fluid and uncertain. This has been as much the case in politics as in science or any other area of life. There have also always been charlatans, liars and forgers, aiming to gain money, power or simply attention.

However, 2016 saw the issue of false news stories move centre stage, even if the concept of the lying politician, or the sensationalist journalist is nothing new. The speed at which stories travel online has meant that traditional means of debunking false stories – corrections, apologies, etc. – are unable to keep up.

In addition to stories stemming from lazy journalism or exaggerations aimed at gaining more clicks, tales of a Macedonian town acting as a fake news factory have captured the imagination. The apparent if unmeasurable link between such stories and the US election results has made the issue seem deadly serious.

What responses are there? One immediate reaction has been to try and ‘ban’ fake news. A number of countries have proposed legislation in this area, from Iran and China to Italy and Germany. How effective such moves would be in terms of stopping sources of fake news is uncertain. There is always a risk that the accusation of being ‘fake’ will be abused to limit free speech. Not all ‘fake’ news is ‘real’, and in any case, one person’s fake news is another person’s opinion.

Facebook has received much of the blame for its hands-off attitude pre-election, even as its algorithms tended to create ‘filter bubbles’ – online worlds where users only see what they tend to like, rather the range of opinions you might see on a news-stand.

The company has at least received credit for having now sought to act. Already in the week following the US election, both it and Google promised to restrict advertising on known fake news sites. They have since promised not to ‘boost’ such stories, as well as making it easier for users to identify hoaxes, make more use of fact-checking organisations to verify stories, and develop software to detect where articles may not be true. Whether any of this works is yet to be seen, but it appears to be offer a more constructive way forwards than bans.

And libraries?

Discussions about fake news has led to a new focus on media literacy more broadly, and the role of libraries and other education institutions in providing this.

Librarians have long been taught to help users find and understand the information they need, and are looking to adapt their approach to today’s world, as this excellent piece in The Conversation suggests. This may be a challenge – simply telling people to doubt what they are reading is not enough. And implementing new approaches on the ground will take time, given relatively low levels of awareness or as this study sets out.

But libraries and their users can also have a positive role in developing the tools that help people check up on what they are reading. Wikipedia provides just such a tool. On 21 January, they tweeted a video which highlights their principle of verifiability in all articles on the online, crowdsourced encyclopaedia. One Wikipedia contributor explains that “[w]orking with Wikipedia is not only about writing articles but to understand the whole system of knowledge production.”

Just as academic publishing working assures quality through peer review, Wikipedia’s millions of users review and check its articles. In the flood of facts we’re faced with every day, this crowdsourced fact-checking is a game-changer in the verifiability business, delivering community trust in an age of suspicion. With their expert knowledge of where to find reliable information, librarians and their users can help ensure facts become facts – without a prefix.

Last week, IFLA and The Wikipedia Library published two opportunities papers which showcase the many successful collaborations between libraries and Wikipedia. For many years, they have added value and content to Wikipedia, either on their own or through initiatives such as #1lib1ref, Edit-a-thons, or Wikipedians in Residence. These papers encourage librarians world-wide to engage more with Wikipedia, guided by the examples outlined. Get involved!

IFLA has made this infographic with eight simple steps (based on FactCheck.org’s 2016 article How to Spot Fake News)  to discover the verifiability of a given news-piece in front of you. Download, print, translate, and share – at home, at your library, in your local community, and in social media networks. The more we crowdsource or wisdom, the wiser the world becomes. You can also check out FactCheck.org’s video based on the article.


If you want to make a translation, contact webmaster@ifla.org or Evgeni Hristov at IFLA Headquarters for an editable version of the infographic. The infographic is published under CC BY 4.0.