Tag Archives: public access

If we’re serious about inclusive digital education, school connectivity initiatives must expand to include library connectivity

Among the key themes on the table at the Transforming Education Summit taking place currently in New York is that of how to make the most of the promise of digital to help achieve education goals.

Of course, this is a multi-dimensional question. Education technology (EdTech) companies will promote digital programmes and products that claim to offer simple solutions to many of the challenges the sector is said to face.

Others will underline that too great a focus on the digital can lead to an undervaluation of the importance of access to a real teacher, in a real space. Digital tools should support the work of educators, not replace them.

Parallel concerns focus on the costs of digital in terms of privacy and choice, as well as how it can undermine freedoms granted by educational exceptions in copyright law. Both are areas which will need resolution if digital is to realise its potential to transform education for the better.

However, these questions are of course irrelevant if there is no connectivity in the first place.

This is the challenge that initiatives such as GIGA look to overcome. This is an exciting project launched by UNICEF and the International Telecommunications Union, with the goal of ensuring that every school around the world is connected.

It works by a combination of mapping the current situation of school connectivity, and then mobilising sources of finance, equipment and expertise in order to get schools online.

For libraries, as institutions with a clear educational mission, anything that contributes to making education more effective and inclusive is of course a good thing.

However, we also owe it to ourselves to point out that if leaders, nationally and internationally, are serious about realising the potential of digital to support education, it would make sense to expand the focus of any school connectivity programme to public and community libraries.

There are a number of key reasons for this.

First of all, there is the role of libraries in supporting the work of schools. Libraries and librarians have a critical role in complementing the work of teachers through provision of materials for teaching, as well as offering students possibilities to expand their horizons and practice literacy.

While such a role is often associated with school libraries, public and community libraries crucially also act here. In some countries, indeed, they formally fulfil the role of school libraries. Elsewhere, they support literacy and discovery, as well as providing a space for homework, without such an official link. This can be particularly important for children who do not benefit from space at home or strong parental support.

Clearly, these are roles that are supported when libraries can provide internet access, expanding both the range of content and services that can be offered, and making them far more interesting as a place to do homework.

Secondly, libraries have a well-established role in supporting school-readiness. The value of exposing children to a range of language in their early years is well recognised, stimulating development.

Of course, much of this work takes place in person, through activities such as story-times and those based on play. However, again, access to wider resources, including recorded story-times online, or ideas and suggestions for other means of supporting learning, has a real value. This can be particularly the case for materials in minority languages for example.

Once again, internet connectivity can play a big role here, broadening the range of support that they can offer to families with younger children, but also allowing them to draw on new ideas to maximise effectiveness.

Finally, although far from the least important, is the role of libraries as portals, partners and providers in lifelong education.

Libraries can both provide a space where people of all ages can access, in a quiet, safe space, library materials, and serve as a location engaging with learning provided by others. They can both organise their own courses and less formal support for visitors, and work with others to expand massively the range of opportunities they offer.

In short, once people have got beyond school age, libraries are often the primary place to look for lifelong learning opportunities. And of course, once again, they are best able to fulfil this role when they are connected to the internet, both as a source of information, and of course as a pre-condition for eLearning.


To conclude, the drive to ensure school connectivity is an important contribution to the goal of transforming education. Nonetheless, it does not resolve every challenge. Some – such as ensuring that we do not undervalue the role of in-person education, or of course the right to a private life – will require further reflection.

However another – how to support pre-schoolers, school-age children without the luxury of a quiet space and internet connection, and of course the adult education community – can be answered, at least in part, by ensuring that libraries are connected alongside schools.

We hope that in rolling out the GIGA initiative, the importance of connected libraries can be reflected and acted on, in support of the transformation of education.

Five information disorders that could sink the SDGs, and how to prevent this

In IFLA’s work around the SDGs, our core theme is the importance of meaningful access to information as a key driver for development.

This access, to our understanding, consists of a combination of the practical possibility of access (accessibility), a favourable socioeconomic situation (affordability), the presence of relevant information and the possibility to use it (availability) and the skills to make the most of it (capacity).

This can, however, risk being a difficult sell when working with policy makers who either take information for granted (policy-makers themselves will tend to come from more favoured, educated backgrounds), or are not in the habit of thinking about information in a holistic way (as of course we do in the library field!).

So what other options are available to us when trying to make the case for information as a key area of focus for work on the Sustainable Development Goals?

One option – admittedly a potentially alarmist one – is to look rather at what the costs of inaction in the face of information disorders can be.

The term information disorders, taken from the work of Divina Frau-Meigs (but then very loosely applied), refers to situations where the way in which information is created, shared, internalised and applied somehow goes wrong, leading to negative consequences.

This can be powerful. Given that we tend to be more concerned about what we might lose than what we might gain, it can be a good way of focusing minds.

And by bringing together arguments about what there is to lose by a failure to address information disorders, we can, perhaps get closer to building the case for a comprehensive approach to information (and libraries as essential information institutions) in SDG implementation.

This blog lists five such disorders that we face today, and what they mean for the chances of success in the 2030 Agenda.

1) Illiteracy: the inability of millions around the world still to engage with the written word has to represent one of the ongoing challenges of our time. Next week, the International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA) will meet, with the ongoing need to ensure universal adult literacy likely to be high on the agenda.

Literacy of course is already highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as in many other key reference texts, as a pressing goal. It should be. For as long as people cannot read, they will struggle to seize so many other opportunities linked to aspects of the wider development agenda – finding work or launching a business, learning more generally, engaging in democratic life. Continued investment in universal literacy needs to be a priority.

Libraries of course have an established and recognised role, both as a venue for basic literacy training, and a key resource to help those with fundamental skills consolidate and build on them. As highlighted in our review of LitBase last year, libraries can be providers, promoters and partners in this mission.

2) Mis and Disinformation: a serious and growing concern, in the light both of the polarisation of the political debate in many countries, and the fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic, has been the rise of mis- and dis-information as a phenomenon.

Clearly, lying is not a new thing, and people and governments have been doing this forever. However, it does feel that recent years have seen a greater brazenness in dismissing scientific advice, and the internet has created possibilities for mis- and disinformation to spread more quickly than before. This may well be accelerated too by business models that promote the controversial or shocking. As such, and as set out in the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda, there is a need to take stronger action to call out lies, and to combat the means by which they are spread.

Without this, there are risks to policy effectiveness in key areas of the SDGs – not least health – as well as more broadly to the ability of democratic systems to work in a way that best serves people. This is also an area where libraires have an obvious and existing role to play, both in building up the skills to recognise mis- and disinformation, and in parallel, to promote a sense of openness and curiosity about the world that doesn’t just focus on simple and lazy responses.

3) Information Poverty: information and knowledge have an immense role to play in achieving the SDGs. While often taken for granted, they are essential if we want people to be able to take optimal decisions about themselves and those around them, to innovate, to learn, to participate in democracy, and in broader social and cultural life.

Yet for too many people, this isn’t a reality. For some, it will be an economic question – more on this below. But for others, it is simply because the information isn’t there, or at least not in a form that they can access. A lack of materials in relevant languages or accessible formats – both as concerns persons with disabilities, and simply written or presented in a way that can be used – can also mean that people end up suffering from information poverty.

There is of course action on this point already, for example the Marrakesh Treaty (which addresses the book famine), and many initiatives to promote multilingualism. Technology of course offers possibilities here, but in turn needs to be affordable and accessible.

Libraries have always acted as an antidote to information poverty, a way of working around the fact that it is only by pooling resources that it can become feasible to acquire and give access to information and the tools for this. They continue to do this, in ways that suit the needs of the communities they serve.

4) The Privatisation of Information: highlighted above was the risk that economics could get in the way of the access to information needed to enable development. While of course there need to be means of paying correctly for the production of information, these become problematic when they leave the less wealthy empty handed.

However, with the shift to digital, we have seen a deregulation by stealth of the market for information and knowledge. Going from selling books and other materials to licensing access gives rightholders huge powers over who can access works, how, and what they can do with them. Unless there is action to ensure that licenses cannot take away core knowledge rights, protections for core public interest uses risk being undermined.

Linked to this is the way that data and information itself has become a market, with companies realising how powerful control over, and exploitation of, data about users and their behaviour can be. Possibilities to track what people are doing not only raise questions about privacy, but also the potential distortion of behaviours as platforms and others seek to maximise attention.

The risk here is that people are unable to access the information that they need to improve their situation, because of their situation – i.e. they are not of interest to profit-orientated players. Furthermore, they risk being manipulated, or having to trade in their rights to be able to access information, or are pushed in sub-optimal directions, all of which can hold them back from doing what they need to do.

There are clear and welcome calls for a digital commons at the UN level in Our Common Agenda, and for a knowledge commons in UNESCO’s Futures of Education report – these both imply putting the interest of the community above those of individual private actors.

Again, this is an area of library strength traditionally. By pooling resources, libraries help overcome the economic barriers to copyright, although certainly require the protections from the hollowing out of protections for public interest uses mentioned above. They can also bring insights and values to discussions about how information and data should be regulated, in the interests of all.

5) Lack of connectivity: finally, there is the ongoing challenge faced by those who cannot yet access the internet reliably, and quickly. This is of course a point closely related to that about information poverty above, given the increasingly important role of the internet as a means of accessing information. As print-runs of books, journals and newspapers disappear, those without digital access are cut off, and of course cannot take advantage of all the new possibilities created.

An obvious example here is open access – this has been a transformative movement, bypassing cost-barriers to access to knowledge, and so allowing researchers around the world to draw on materials that would previously have been out of reach… If they have an internet connection.

The costs of leaving people unconnected are similar to those of other disorders set out above – the lack of possibility to access information to take decisions, and to participate in social, economic, political and cultural life. It can leave people isolated, unable to realise the potential to build connections with others. It can also of course reduce the effectiveness of government efforts, especially those that rely on eGovernment tools.

Again, libraries are key players here, providing public internet access both as a last recourse for those who cannot access in other ways, and as a complement to home connectivity, or via a mobile device. They can even be hubs for local connectivity as anchor institutions.


Across these areas, there is a risk that inaction, or inadequate action, will leave the world less able to deliver on the SDGs. They underline that there is a need for information to be taken seriously as a policy issue, in order to avoid this. More positively, they also represent a call for a more proactive approach to ensuring that everyone benefits from access to knowledge. Any such effort will need to have libraries at its heart.

How HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS) supports Libraries in pandemic times

By Sara R. Benson, Copyright Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Check out Sara’s podcast titled Copyright Chat at https://go.illinois.edu/copyrightchat

It’s Fair Use/Fair Dealing week and that means it is once again time to let folks know about exciting developments with the HathiTrust Digital Library. Last year on Fair Use Week I highlighted the ability of researchers to engage with copyright protected materials for text and data mining through the HathiTrust Research Data Capsule. This year, I would like to make readers aware of the HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service or ETAS.

What is the ETAS? It is a portal allowing affiliated libraries to permit their patrons to access in copyright works remotely. Why is the ETAS available? COVID 19 has caused many libraries, such as my own (the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Library) to temporarily limit physical access to library materials. Almost half of our collection, however, has been digitized and is available in the HathiTrust corpus. Normally, users can only perform searches for how many times a given term appears in copyright protected works in the HathiTrust corpus. However, due to COVID 19, the ETAS allows users to view (but not download) entire copyright protected works remotely. Libraries participating must have the physical book in their collection and agree not to lend out the physical book. Thus, the book is being lent remotely on a one-to-one ratio to the Library’s physical collection on the basis of fair use. This type of lending is made possible because it is non-commercial, educational in purpose and justified due to the emergency nature of the pandemic virus. As noted by April Hathcock in a public statement created by copyright specialists and available at https://tinyurl.com/tvnty3a, “fair use is made for just these kinds of contingencies.”

So, as you celebrate Fair Use/Fair Dealing week this year, note that the pandemic has brought with it many challenges, but Fair Use has enabled libraries to keep lending their works digitally so that researchers and the public can continue to create, thrive, and produce . . . even during a crisis.

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.

Not a Gift, Not a Privilege, but a Right: Access to Information

The COVID-19 Pandemic has both underlined the importance of access to information, and how far we are from achieving this for all.

From the need for rapid access to research to inform policy making, to the development of media and information literacy skills amongst individuals in the face of misinformation, the need for comprehensive policies on information is clear.

Yet at the same time, with so many parts of our societies and economies moving online, the costs of being unable to access and use information easily have been made clear.

This comes as much through the months of schooling lost for those unable to take part in distance learning or work and do business online, as through the and isolation stress felt by those unable to communicate with their friends and families, or access culture online.

These are of course key issues for libraries too, as key pillars of the infrastructure for access to information in any country, and so for the delivery of this right.

While of course the spread of internet has created exciting possibilities to access information directly, libraries contribute in three essential ways: helping to ensure that those without an internet connection can get online, helping to ensure that works which are otherwise protected or restricted (for example by copyright) are still accessible, and helping to ensure that users have the skills and confidence to be successful information users.

The Pandemic has disrupted all of these, and with it the right of access to information. If we are to be better prepared in the future to ensure the continued enjoyment of this right, there are a number of steps we can take.

All represent good risk-management practice, by removing unnecessary uncertainties in the ability of libraries to respond. All work to ensure that access to information should be protected, and enacted, as a right, rather than seen as a gift or a privilege.


Towards Universal Connectivity: the goal of ensuring universal internet access is not a new one, with public access in libraries cited already in the WSIS Agenda of 2003 as a means of doing this. Technologies such as WiFi and models such as community networks offer promising means of bringing library connectivity out to communities – an essential step if libraries are forced to suspend in-person services again.

Achieving this will certainly require investment, and in many cases regulatory change, but would certainly bring returns in terms of higher uptake of services (such as education, eHealth and similar), create new business opportunities, and fulfil what is increasingly being seen as a moral obligation on governments to treat internet access as a basic utility like water or electricity.


Copyright Fit for the Digital Age: the failure of copyright laws to adapt to the digital age in many countries has meant that libraries have been unable to carry out online many of the services they would have offered in person. Physical collections were stuck behind library doors, with little possibility to provide digital access, for example through sharing scanned copies. Storytimes that previously took place in the library could not, in many cases, be done online.

Fortunately, this was not the case everywhere. In many cases, there have been welcome moves by publishers, distributors and others to allow for access – many are detailed on the page hosting the ICOLC Statement on the Global COVID-19 Pandemic and its Impact on Library Services and Resources. Others – including agreements between publishers and library associations to allow for storytimes – are noted on IFLA’s COVID-19 and Libraries page.

However, it is arguable that where libraries have already been given the possibility to offer a service to users in person – through an exception or limitation to copyright – they should be able to count on being able to do the same online, in as similar a way as possible. In other words, having already paid for a work, the possibility to allow users to access it digitally should not be a gift depending on the goodwill of the rightholder, but rather a legal certainty.

This can be guaranteed through using secure networks, and tools to prevent simultaneous uses. Achieving this will require copyright laws to be updated, notably to make it clear that digital uses are permitted, and to ensure that they cannot be taken away by contract terms, as is currently typically the case. Further help would come from deeper understanding of the pricing and availability of electronic resources for libraries.


A Digitally Enabled Population: finally, with it clear that skills and confidence play a major role in whether people make use of the possibilities that exist to access information, there is a need to have a greater focus on promoting digital and information skills, at all ages.

Clearly with the Pandemic, the potential for libraries to offer in-person support has been limited. Yet libraries have sought to be in touch with users by phone and other means, and provide guidance and support, as well as developing tailored tutorials to help people develop digital skills. In the longer term, what seems necessary is a more comprehensive approach to developing digital skills in the population, with libraries as key delivery partners within this, as some are already doing.

While many elements of this may require in-person support – and so will need to wait for the Pandemic to have receded – others can already be scaled-up in order to do the best possible in the months and years to come.


With the recognition of the International Day for the Universal Access to Information by the UN General Assembly as a full UN-level observance, there is a new opportunity to raise awareness of the steps needed to make this right a reality for all, whatever the circumstances.

Meaningful plans to ensure internet connections, digital access to library collections, and the skills needed to make the most of both, can all help ensure that when the next crisis hits – and even before – access to information is a right, rather than just a privilege or a gift.

Library Stat of the Week #34: Where there are more public libraries offering internet access, people with fewer formal qualifications face a smaller digital divide

In the last couple of posts, we have looked at the relationship between the availability of public libraries offering internet access and digital divides.

Using data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), we have looked at gaps in levels of internet use among richer and poorer households, between older and younger people, and between women and men.

In each case, it appears that where there are more public libraries offering internet access, these gaps are smaller.

This week’s post looks at digital divides between people with lower and higher levels of formal education.

Clearly, education is often a key determinant of economic success later in life. Yet not everyone has the possibility to gain qualifications early on, for a variety of reasons. What is important then is to have a second chance – an opportunity to learn in other ways, and even gain qualifications.

We have already shown that societies with more public library workers tend to have higher shares of adults in general engaged in lifelong learning (Library Stat of the Week #20). This also highlighted that in general, where there are more public library workers, the gap in rates of participation in lifelong learning between the high- and low-educated is less.

The internet is a key way of finding and accessing learning opportunities. Especially during COVID-19, but clearly also before, online learning has become more and more important.

Therefore, looking at the digital divide between those with high and low levels of education (i.e. the difference in percentages accessing the internet at least once in the last 3 months), we can also build up a sense of whether libraries may be helping ensure that those with fewer qualifications are getting a second chance.

Once again, data on internet use comes from the OECD’s database on ICT Access and Usage by Households and Individuals, while data on libraries offering internet access comes from IFLA’s Library Map of the World.

Graph 1: Education-Related Digital Divides

Graph 1 looks at the state of the education-related digital divide in general. Looking at the population as a whole, some countries demonstrate dramatic differences.

For example, there is a gap of over 40 percentage points in levels of internet use among people with high and low levels of formal education in Hungary, Mexico and Portugal. It is only in Denmark, Estonia, Luxembourg, Sweden and Switzerland where the gap is smaller than 10 percentage points.

In every single country, the gaps are wider among people aged 55-74 than among younger generations. Gaps are also wider among 25-54 year olds than among 16-24 year olds in every country except Luxembourg.

The size of gaps matters, and arguably more among older workers. In general, it can be more difficult for older workers to find new jobs if they become unemployed. The internet can help address this, if it is available.

More broadly, this raises the possibility that not only does having less formal education mean that people are less likely to be internet users, but that in turn, difficulties in accessing the internet may stand in the way of efforts to find and make use of opportunities to improve lives, creating a vicious circle.


Graph 2a: Education-Related Digital Divides and Public Internet Access in Libraries (All Countries)

Graph 2a compares these figures (including broken down by age group) with those for the number of public libraries per 100 000 people offering internet access.

The finding is not necessarily encouraging – where there are more public libraries, the gaps are wider. However, this is also in keeping with previous analyses when we have looked at Central and Eastern Europe (which has its own particular history) and all other countries together.

Graphs 2b and 2c look at the ‘rest of the world’ and Central and Eastern Europe separately.

Graph 2b: Education-Related Digital Divides and Public Internet Access in Libraries (without Central and Eastern Europe)

Graph 2b – looking at all countries for which data is available, except those in Central and Eastern Europe – shows a correlation between having more libraries offering internet access, and smaller digital divides.

Indeed, it appears that on average, for every 1 extra public library per 100 000 people offering internet access, the digital divide drops by 1.7 points. Looking only at the digital divide among older people, the divide shrinks by 2.2 points.

Graph 2c looks at Central and Eastern Europe in particular, and finds similar conclusions, at least for people aged 25 and above, and for the population as a whole. Once again, where there are more public libraries offering internet access, the education-related digital divide is smaller.


As we underline in almost all of these posts, correlation does not mean causality. It is of course possible that the sort of society that invests in libraries also invests in the sort of minimum income support that ensures that everyone has a good chance of being able to buy a computer and internet connection.

Nonetheless, sample-based work, as well as anecdotal evidence, does suggest that libraries can provide a vital opportunity for those with fewer resources to get online, and access second chances – for education, employment, and simply personal fulfilment.

The results presented here do support the argument that libraries can help prevent the digital divide becoming a vicious circle.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the digital divides that exist between people who are in work, and those who are unemployed, or retired.


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 #33: Where there are more public libraries offering internet access, gender and age-related digital divides are smaller

Last week was the first in a mini-series looking at internet access in libraries, and overall figures about who is – and isn’t – using the internet.

As highlighted, the digital divide all too easily risks becoming a development divide. Those who cannot get online risk missing out on the services and opportunities that are there, and so being left behind.

Meanwhile, when there is access, the internet can be a means for those who might otherwise be marginalised or disadvantaged to improve their situation.

This situation has become all the more acute with the COVID-19 pandemic, with many in-person services closed or seriously limited.

Last week’s publication therefore looked at internet access by household income, and whether the existence of public libraries offering internet access correlated with a smaller gap.

It found that, outside of Central and Eastern Europe, there is indeed a link – more public libraries offering internet access per 100 000 people tended to be associated with a lower hap in internet use between richer and poorer households.

This week, we’ll look at two other factors often associated with digital divides – age and gender. These are key issues, as in many societies, women and older workers can risk enjoying fewer opportunities. For them, internet access can be a valuable way of overcoming the challenges they may face.

Once again, the basis for this analysis is the OECD’s database on ICT Access and Usage by Households and Individuals, with data mainly coming from 2019. Meanwhile, data on the number of public and community libraries offering internet access comes from IFLA’s Library Map of the World.

First of all, it is worth looking at the state of the age- and gender-related digital divide. Graphs 1a and 1b do this.

Graph 1a: Age-Related Digital Divides

Graph 1a looks at the age-related divide. In this, the higher the red bar, the greater the divide between younger (16-24) and older (55-74) people is. Only four countries indeed have a gap of less than 10 points – Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Three have a gap of over 50 points – Mexico, Portugal and Turkey.

In general, the divide between younger and older women is larger than that for the population as a whole, with the exceptions of Australia, Chile, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Sweden and the United States.

Graph 1b: Gender-Related Digital Divides

Graph 1b looks at gender digital divides, with a higher blue bar indicating a bigger divide in favour of men, and a smaller (or negative) one a better situation for women. In the population as a whole, gender digital divides are relatively small – only Austria and Turkey have gaps of over five percentage points. Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Lithuania, Spain and the United States in fact have a greater share of women (aged 16-74) accessing the internet than of men.

However, there is a much more varied picture when we break this down by age. While in general, the gender digital divide is smaller (or more favourable for women) among younger people (aged 16-54), there is a more significant gap between older men and older women (aged 55-74). Indeed, it is only in Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and the United States where women aged 55-74 are in a more favourable position than the female population (16-74) as a whole.

Overall, these graphs underline the scale of the challenge in many countries in order to ensure that older people and women are able to get online. So how does the size of these gaps compare with numbers of libraries offering internet access? In each of the bellow graphs, each dot represents a country for which data is available.

Graph 2a: Age-Related Digital Divides (All Countries)

Graph 2a compares the figures from Graph 1a with Library Map of the World data on libraries offering internet access. It shows that there seems to be little relation between the presence of libraries and the age-related digital divide – or even a slightly positive correlation – i.e. more libraries are associated with a digital divide.

However, as last week, it seems appropriate to look separately at the situation for libraries in Central and Eastern Europe (a region which has had a very specific experience in the last 30 years), and other countries for which we have data. Graphs 2b and 2c do this.

Graph 2b: Age-Related Digital Divides (Without Central and Eastern Europe)

Looking at this data, the correlation is completely inversed. Graph 2b shows figures for countries outside of Central and Eastern Europe, and demonstrates a relatively strong link between having more libraries offering public internet access and a smaller age-related digital divide. The link is indeed stronger for women than for men.

Overall, it appears that in general, for every extra 1 library offering internet access per 100 000 people, the age-related digital divide drops by 2.5 percentage points.

Graph 2a: Age-Related Digital Divides (Central and Eastern Europe)

Within Central and Eastern Europe also (Graph 2c), there is also a correlation indicating that more access to internet in public libraries means a smaller age-related digital divide.

Graph 3a: Gender Digital Divide (All Countries)

Next, we look at the gender digital divide. Graph 3a looks at the data for all countries, and shows a small correlation between more public libraries offering internet access, and smaller gender digital divides. The connection appears strongest among the older groups – 25-54s and 55-74s.

Again, we can also break up this data between Central and Eastern Europe and the rest – this is shown in Graphs 3b and 3c.

Graph 3b: Gender Digital Divide (without Central and Eastern Europe)

Once more, we see stronger correlations when looking at countries outside of Central and Eastern Europe (Graph 3b), in particular for older people (aged 55-74). For this group, one additional public library offering internet access tends to be associated with a 0.6 percentage point drop in the digital gender divide (in favour of women). Nonetheless, for all age groups, more public libraries tends to be associated with a smaller gender divide.

Graph 3c: Gender Digital Divide (Central and Eastern Europe)

Meanwhile, looking specifically at countries in Central and Eastern Europe (Graph 3c), there is little relationship between numbers of public and community libraries offering internet access and the gender digital divide.


As ever, correlation does not mean correlation, underlining the value of more focused research onto the relationship between the availability of libraries providing internet access and digital divides. The data also clearly poses interesting questions about the situation in Central and Eastern Europe.

Nonetheless, overall, there is a welcome indication that in countries where there are more public and community libraries offering internet access, groups which can tend to be more at risk of marginalisation face smaller digital divides.

Next week, we will look at the impact of different levels of education on internet use, and whether access to libraries can help close gaps.


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.