[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]
This dynamic coalition started in 2011 at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nairobi to look at the impact of public Internet access, particularly through libraries, and discuss appropriate policies and cases from around the world. As a whole, this session supported the view that public libraries are an innovative service when based on free public access on the Internet. Thereby, libraries can promote positive changes in communities, education, and health.
Session moderator Mr Stephen Wyber (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Stuart Hamilton, Electronic Information for Libraries) highlighted that national connectivity strategies often make reference to libraries and it is now time to ask ‘what can governments do to use these strategies in order to get to the sustainable development goals’?
Increasing connectivity through public library facilities is however not only an abstract goal. Libraries are a place of community, where diverse people can get together and meet. As such, they are an important remedy to an increasingly individualised world. They are also open, inclusive, and welcoming, and one of the most gender responsive places. Most importantly, in the context of this discussion, Ms Nnenna Nwakanma (Chief Web Advocate, World Wide Web Foundation) reminded the audience that libraries are a place for people to migrate from the analogue world to the digital world.
Looking at the policy dimension, the session highlighted that more than 30 countries include reference to libraries in their national broadband strategies. References to public libraries often comes in the context of (a) public access and overcoming the digital divide, (b) access to e-government services, (c) digital literacy and ICT skills, (d) support for education institutions and broader educational goals, and (e) local content creation and promotion and use of local languages. The strategies also recommend policy interventions to (a) increase library connectivity, (b) connect libraries to broadband infrastructure, (c) ensure electricity supply, (d) address the cost of Internet subscriptions, and (e) improve connectivity, availability of computers, and ICT skills for librarians. Ms Valensiya Dresvyannikova (Research Officer, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), who introduced many of these points, also highlighted useful approaches in achieving some of these goals. These included (a) policies to improve connectivity, (b) public access type projects, (c) digital literacy initiatives, and (d) digitisation initiatives
A key case study for the discussion came from Kenya where the government now focuses on providing e-resource centres for remote rural areas, which are crucial for allowing access to various government services, including e-health, e-learning, and online registration for services. Mr Paul Kiage (Assistant Director, Universal Service Fund (USF), Communications Authority of Kenya) gave details on this case study and highlighted three lessons learned: (a) strength of partnerships with various stakeholders, (b) building capacities of library administrators, and (c) integrating ICT in the libraries.
Another case study came from Uganda. This case confirmed that libraries are an important place for access to the Internet, removing cost-barriers to access, and promoting digital skills. In Uganda libraries fulfil this role for teachers and students alike. In addition, individuals use ICT library facilities to file their tax returns and do Internet banking. Mr Emmanuel Muyomba (Rural Communications Development Fund, Uganda Communications Commission) detailed the situation in Uganda and highlighted three broad challenges that need addressing: (a) unreliable electricity, (b) maintenance costs for facilities, (c) and user-facilities ratio that give each user too little time per access.
By Katharina Höne