Access to information: Libraries as informed intermediaries

14 Nov 2018 10:15h - 11:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 13th Internet Governance Forum]

What are the differences between libraries before and libraries now? Today, libraries play multiple roles in providing knowledge resources, but also in promoting wider Internet access. The Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries (PAL) produced a draft toolkit to empower librarians with the knowledge necessary to discuss and advocate for Internet access.

The session was moderated by Ms Valeria Betancourt, Communications and Information Policy Programme Manager, Association for Progressive Communications (APC).

Ms Esmeralda Moscatelli, Policy and Research Officer, International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), spoke about a public access toolkit with the aim of providing librarians at the national and regional level a set of rules and tools to advocate for public access. With the advent of the digital infrastructure, the situation for libraries became more complicated, because now infrastructure, finance, regulatory bodies in general, privacy, and other legal aspects must be included. The toolkit is expected to be available in two months time. Moscatelli invited inputs.

Mr Don Means, Director, Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN), noted that libraries represent an intersection of more issues related to connectivity, access, freedom of speech, privacy, and infrastructure than any other institution or topic. He gave an example of a project in Kansas which was using wireless to extend a fibre connection into hot spots in the community, to public places. ‘Hundreds of millions of people depend on library wi-fi for their access, either entirely or at least partially’, Means said.

Mr Roger Baig, Coordinator,, commented on the power of collective intelligence, and shared knowledge creation and development, which is a crucial aspect of ensuring and expanding access. He said that the citizens are the ones who are building their own infrastructure to reach the closest Internet access. Formerly, the connection was the library itself. He noted that, nowadays for those who are making the connection available, questions regarding legal and regulatory aspects are being raised. He noted that there is a big gap between what is possible from a legal perspective and what is implemented in reality. That gap can leave a space for opportunities.

Mr Peter Micek, General Councillor, Access Now, believes that a key issue that libraries and public tax facilities can lead on is explaining to people their data protection laws and helping them exercise those rights. Public access facilities should also do their best to respect data protection and privacy rules. From the legal perspective, there is a great capacity for public access facilities to provide news to users and to their communities, news of what their rights are, and how to exercise those rights. Public access facilities need to show people that they have the right to know the purpose for which their data is being collected. He noted that people need to have the right to access their personal data that is held by entities who have collected it. He believes that libraries should strive to minimise the personal data they collect on individuals and should make it very clear how people can access the data that is held on them, as well as to modify, delete, and object to the processing of that data. ‘Establishing links between libraries and the exercise of human rights is important.’

Mr Leandro Navarro, Co-founder, Pangea, says the role of libraries needs to expand. The Wikipedia definition of libraries is about collections of materials available to the public, and it mentions both physical and digital materials. The works with a group on university models, where libraries are part of the communities. Infrastructure sharing is of the ways to reduce financial costs of the infrastructure. Communities benefit from the reduction of cost. He mentioned the connectivity bonds initiative, which is an amount of money given to the consumers in order for them to ‘use that bond’ to find access to knowledge and content. This promotes local developments, which can also include public libraries.

Ms Maia Simonshivili, Leading Specialist of the Public Relations and Cultural Program Division, National Parliamentary Library of Georgia, said that the National Parliamentary Library was founded as a public library in 1848, and after the war, is again operating as a public library.
Today, as a digital library, it offers new catalogue systems with public access. She noted that ten years ago people believed that libraries would no longer be needed, because of the Internet. However, people today place trust in libraries mostly because of their responsible behaviour about sources. Libraries still need to defend copyrights, and copy rights are what libraries present. From 2012, the library started the Equilibrium project which created over 150 libraries for those with computers and Internet access. In order to have the best digital libraries and digital collections, new technologies and technical facilities in libraries are needed.


By Aida Mahmutović