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The Dynamic Coalition on Public Libraries discussed the modalities and examples of public libraries and accessibility. The session was moderated by Ms Esmeralda Moscatelli, Policy and Research Officer, International Federation of Library Associations.
Ms Maria Garrido, Principal Research Scientist, Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School, talked about developing access to information and the role and responsibilities of public libraries. She highlighted that the UN2030 Sustainable Development Goals include public access information. Access to information means the capacity to use, create, and share information in ways that are relevant for people.
Ms Janet Sawaya, Advisor for Africa, Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), said, ‘Public libraries are the vehicle for public access to knowledge and information, which is the critical purpose of the Internet.’ She continued by saying that it is a challenging situation, and policy issues need to be addressed to make public access libraries available to everyone.
Sawaya said, ‘Libraries are important vehicles for public access because they're one of the few institutions that are free and open to the public throughout the world.’ She added that she was working for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with research on access to public libraries.
Mr Winston Roberts, Senior Advisor, National Library of New Zealand, emphasised that there is a strong bias towards younger people, as well as a strong bias towards non-government and civil society academic stakeholders. He added that at the Geneva Summit, freedom of expression, and freedom of access to information had been talked about. Roberts said it was critical to discuss the importance of bringing indigenous communities to the Internet, and giving them access, while at the same time protecting the expression of indigenous cultures on the Internet.
Mr David Ramírez Ordóñez, Researcher, Conector Foundation, Bogota, Columbia, made remarks regarding the need to develop policies for libraries. Moscatelli reiterated that public access is fundamentally important. She said, ‘Access to information is key and we need to be mindful of what happens on the Internet for our users, consumers, and co-creators.’
Mr Vashkar Bhattacharjee, ISOC-IGF Ambassador, Bangladesh, said that as a blind person there were difficulties getting books in accessible formats. He added that it is his dream to access libraries, and he believes it would mean a lot if people with disabilities could access books in alternative formats.
Bhattacharjee said, ‘Unfortunately many public libraries do not consider the needs of public accessibility at all, even though there are standards available.’ He challenged the other speakers to understand the needs of people with disabilities who struggle to access libraries. He also asked questions in relation to finding a solution which enables the disability community to deal with library-related issues.
The IGF Ambassador added that before the Internet, if there were no books in braille, there was no accessibility. This was a critical point for people with visual disabilities. However times have changed and new technologies have allowed people with disabilities, particularly those who are blind and visually impaired, to access audio based books.
The moderator concluded by saying that the Dynamic Coalition continues to work with stakeholders to ensure that their voices are heard, and that access to information in the region is imperative. Moscatelli has been trying to implement this for a considerable time and is now hoping to see some progress. As a freelancer she believes that her voice can make a difference in advocating the work that libraries do in guaranteeing public access to the Internet.
by Anju Mangal