Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries (DC-PAL)
Round Table - Circle - 60 Min
This session will look at how public access in libraries features in national broadband strategies designed to support digital inclusion. As neutral, welcoming public centres, libraries have a particular role in achieving both specific internet policy objectives and the Sustainable Development Goals more broadly. Alongside schools, libraries are noted as key venues not only for providing connectivity (as a stepping-stone towards, and a complement to, home connections), but also as places where people can develop digital skills and confidence. Women and other often marginalised groups have benefitted particularly from the possibilities offered by libraries. Speakers will share experience of government programmes which have looked to realise this potential, describing both the logic for working with libraries, the potential to reach marginalised groups, and the achievements (both in terms of connectivity and positive side-effects) that were achieved. This session will support the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries’ 2019 report, focusing on broadband strategies and how libraries can support these. Speakers: • Emmanuel Muyomba, Rural Communications Development Fund, Uganda Communications Commission - government support for libraries • Mahmoud Khalifa (Egypt, academic) – connectivity in library laws • Teddy Woodhouse (A4AI) – libraries and public access in affordability strategies • Paul Kiage, Assistant Director, Universal Service Fund (USF) of the Communications Authority of Kenya - Utilising USF for public access through libraries • Stuart Hamilton, Head of Libraries Development, Local Government Management Agency (Ireland) - Libraries at the heart of development policies
Stephen Wyber, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Stuart Hamilton, Electronic Information for Libraries
Emmanuel Muyomba, Rural Communications Development Fund, Uganda Communications Commission - government support for libraries
Mahmoud Khalifa (Egypt, academic) – connectivity in library laws
Teddy Woodhouse (A4AI) – libraries and public access in affordability strategies
Paul Kiage, Assistant Director, Universal Service Fund (USF) of the Communications Authority of Kenya - Utilising USF for public access through libraries
Stuart Hamilton, Head of Libraries Development, Local Government Management Agency (Ireland)
GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 2: Zero Hunger
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-Being
GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 12: Responsible Production and Consumption
GOAL 13: Climate Action
GOAL 14: Life Below Water
GOAL 15: Life on Land
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships for the Goals
1) From what angles do broadband policies and strategies approach the question of public access in libraries, and what trends are in evidence?
2) What trends can be discerned from looking at broadband policies gathered and reviewed by the ITU?
3) In order to assess the effectiveness of these initiatives in reality, what key questions and issues should be borne in mind?
There was broad support for the view that libraries play several roles in ensuring meaningful connectivity for more people: providing reliable internet access and access devices, digital literacy training, support for digital newcomers, access to digital materials and services. Several speakers emphasised the importance of such access and services for vulnerable populations.
Similarly, many speakers pointed out that public access in libraries serves to meet a wide range of broader societal needs, which are often universal across various national contexts. These include access to e-learning and e-health services, conducting online businesses and making use of financial services, accessing government and public services online. Similarly, it can support youth skills development, empower women, and bring communities together.
Many speakers pointed to Universal Service Funds as a way to support public access in libraries. This can be particularly relevant in light of World Wide Web Foundation's 2018 report, which points out that a significant number of Universal Service and Access Funds are currently underused or inactive. Making use of these funds to ensure public access in libraries and similar facilities could be an effective way to foster digital inclusion . During the session, examples of supporting public access in libraries through USFs in Kenya, Ugansa and Ghana were discussed.
Several speakers addressed the question of financial sustainability of public access solutions and policy initiatives supporting them. Many speakers suggested different ways this can be ensured - whether through government support, by libraries themselves, by local communities or other partners (e.g. from the civil society or private sectors).
Finally, several speakers pointed to the relationship between public access in libraries and other connectivity models to bring the next billion(s) online. For example, libraries can work with local communities to support community network projects, or provide connectivity to offside locations through TVWS technology.
Overarching policy recommendations (predominantly socio-cultural and economic):
- Broadband policies and Universal Service Funds should be used to support digital inclusion through public access in libraries.
- Public access in libraries should be a part of education, (ICT) infrastructure, community and rural development policies. They can amplify the reach and impact of these policies. It is important to find the right location for the library sector services and connectivity within the government infrastructure and policy frameworks.
- Ensuring meaningful connectivity through libraries requires: a broadband connectivity of a suitable speed and capacity, hardware and software, and training for library staff – to help library users develop ICT skills and to maintain ICT hardware and software within the library.
Next steps within the IGF ecosystem:
- DC-PAL will carry out case studies examining the impacts of engaging libraries in broadband plans and policies in different countries. This will allow us to gain insights into different policy approaches on the ground, the commonalities between successful strategies and interventions, good practices and lessons learned.
- Several speakers also made use of the IGF ecosystem/the session to point participants towards recent reports and documents on the topic of public access and library contributions to development and connectivity.
- In Ireland, the government is utilizing public libraries in its new broadband plan and working directly with them on three key development targets: literacy, employment, and health/wellbeing.
- In Kenya, a policy intervention by the Communications Authority and national library services equipped libraries with broadband connectivity, computers and assistive devices, capacity building for librarians, online database creation, and more. This intervention was particularly important in providing access to information for students, rural residents, and people with disabilities.
- Similarly, in Uganda, the Rural Communications Development Fund has been used to equip libraries with computers, internet access and ICT skills training. This initiative aims to alleviate cost barriers to internet access for the population.
- The Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications has also equipped public and community libraries to provide last-mile connectivity, particularly in rural communities.
Related digital inclusion initiatives are also being organised by other stakeholders. For example, the “Total Digital!” initiative run by the Library Association in Germany promotes digital skills and media literacy among youth through a media content creation project.
Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), an international NGO, has trained librarians and library users to develop digital skills and community services in many countries.
Alongside Universal Service Funds, the discussion highlighted the potential of various partnerships to support digital inclusion through public access in libraries. Several examples of civil society actors, private companies and communities offering support for public access initiatives have been mentioned.
In addition, public access in libraries can be deployed alongside other alternative connectivity models to provide internet access for underserved areas and populations: community networks and offline/cached internet. Synergies and potential for collaboration between these models can be further explored.
Finally, high-capacity and high-speed connectivity in libraries can be used not only to offer new services, but also to provide connectivity to offsite locations through such technologies as TVWS. Such offsite access could offer more flexibility or convenience for users.
30 participants, of which approximately 10 had participated online. Approximately 15 women participated onsite and online.
During the presentations, it was pointed out that libraries have the ability to specifically focus on and target connectivity (as well as broader) needs of marginalised groups, including women, and work to address gender imbalances. In addition, it was highlighted that one of the strengths of libraries as public access facilities lies in the availability of on-site support for users who are less confident with their ICT skills. This can particularly apply to new women and girl users, which makes public access in libraries more accessible and approachable for them.
DC-PAL report on the role of libraries in national broadband plans and policies, presented during the session: https://www.ifla.org/digital-plans