Meaningful access means libraries: IFLA at the World Summit on the Information Society Forum
01 Juni 2023
While we have seen major progress in extending connectivity, are we doing so well in ensuring that everyone has the skills, confidence and access to content necessary to realise the potential of the internet to drive development? Not yet, but libraries can help.
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum is the annual opportunity to look back at the Action Lines set out in the WSIS Process (2003-2005), discuss developments, and identify what needs to be done.
Coming just two years from the next potential revision, it was a time to start establishing key themes and needs to feed into this process. IFLA therefore engaged actively at the event, both through its own side-event and speaking in those organised by others.
From connectivity to meaningful access – IFLA side-event
IFLA’s own side-event provided an opportunity for a first look at information from the Development and Access to Information Regional Dashboards, prepared by our friends at the Technology and Social Change Group, University of Washington.
These exciting resources give an idea not just of where countries and regions stand, but also trends over time. Crucially, they allow for analysis of comparisons, making it possible to identify on which of the four pillars of meaningful access to information – connectivity, equality, skills and rights – more progress is needed.
Jeannette Frey, Director of the Universal and Cantonal Library of Lausanne, looked at how far the internet has enabled access to scientific information. While we have made great progress with search and analytical tools, slow progress on open access and developing tools to link underlying data, annotations and other materials holds us back.
Nerisa Kamar, Information Africa Organisation, turned to the topic of government information, underlining both the need to release and present public data, but also to invest in supporting citizens to use it and engage with it effectively.
Finally, David Ramirez-Ordonez, Free University of Catalonia, highlighted the importance of ensuring an experience of internet use that is not driven by purely commercial forces, and that actively addresses questions around how to ensure representation and responsible use.
Closing words were provided by Xianhong Hu, UNESCO, who highlighted in particular the UNESCO-IFLA Public Library Manifesto, approved by the Information for All Programme, which highlighted the role of libraries in responding to many of the challenges raised.
Overall, the session provided a strong set of arguments, from different policy areas – research, open government and education – of the need to go beyond just connectivity in order to make change happen, and how libraries are an essential part of any such effort.
You can access the presentations from Maria, Jeannette and Nerisa on the IFLA repository.
Bringing the library perspective
IFLA was also honoured to take part in four sessions organised by UNESCO. A session on Open Educational Resources (OER) allowed us to underline the importance of libraries in curating OER collections and making them discoverable, but also in ensuring user privacy.
Meanwhile, a discussion on UNESCO’s upcoming revised guidelines on government information provided an opportunity to talk about the importance of building awareness, interest and confidence in populations when working with (or asking for) government information.
A session exploring the promotion of cultural diversity on the internet was a chance to underline the importance of digitising and giving access to a wide range of library collections, drawing on the insight and relations of librarians in order to do this sensitively and appropriately.
Finally, we were particularly happy to join a session looking across UNESCO’s ROAM-X indicators of internet universality. These provide a framework for discussion around how to ensure that internet brings real-world benefits for all.
Through IFLA’s intervention, we were able to underline the importance of involving libraries in national implementation exercises, recognising that public access is valuable for all (not just for those without home connections), and building metrics of how informed people are.
2025 will mark the 20th anniversary of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), itself the result of three years of work to define a programme for an inclusive information society.
The WSIS Action Lines which have been in place since that time include key points for libraries, including instructions to connect all of our institutions, and to support multi-purpose public access points. It also allocates a whole Action Line to the subject of access to information.
We look forward to working with the library field to define a vision of the internet that libraries want for their users, and using this as a basis for engaging in preparations for WSIS+20.