Building a strong library voice in Internet Governance: interview with Bibliosuisse
14 September 2021
From digital inclusion to media literacy, libraries have long worked to help build a more equitable digital ecosystem that everyone could access and benefit from. Libraries’ expertise can offer valuable insights to today’s internet governance and policy discussions – and more and more informational professionals are joining these dialogues and platforms.
We interviewed Amélie Vallotton Preisig, the Vice President of Bibliosuisse, to find out more about the journey of the Swiss libraries and librarians’ association to become an active and key stakeholder in the Swiss Internet Governance Forum.
IFLA: How did Bibliosuisse first get involved with the Swiss IGF?
Amélie Vallotton Preisig: A few years ago, I was a member of the IFLA FAIFE Advisory Committee, where the Internet Governance Forum and the European Dialogue on Internet Governance have already been receiving a lot of attention. We were encouraged to get involved in internet governance initiatives in our countries – so, following my proposition, the former Swiss Library association (Bibliothek Information Schweiz – BIS) decided that I would take part in the pilot Swiss Internet Governance Forum, which was organised for the very first time in 2015.
I attended the one-day Swiss IGF, where I also had the opportunity to talk to one of the organisers. I explained how IFLA was involved in the European and global IGF, and suggested that we could engage the Swiss library association in the local IGF in a similar way – and his response was really positive!
So, following this first pilot Forum, I was invited to become a member of the Swiss IGF Steering Committee, representing BIS, now Bibliosuisse. That was the beginning of the journey, and we have continued the collaboration with the Swiss IGF ever since.
What internet governance topics have been of most interest for Bibliosuisse and Swiss libraries?
From the start, I always had in mind FAIFE-related issues, such as freedom of access to information and freedom of expression. I was looking at how these take shape in the digital sphere in Switzerland and making the connection with libraries, how they can help deliver on these principles. Our initial goal at Bibliosuisse was to bring a library perspective on internet governance issues raised by other stakeholders, such as security, regulations. surveillance, privacy and copyright.
Over the years, this focus has evolved and expanded – to also put internet governance issues which are important for libraries on the agenda. Since the IGF agenda is organised in a bottom-up way, each year, the Swiss IGF opens an online form for thematic suggestions by all interested stakeholders. That’s why we have been encouraging libraries to put forward issues and questions about internet governance which are relevant for them.
Then, we bring this list of issues and questions to the Steering Committee. Even if it has not always been possible to embed each suggestion into the programming, raising awareness about these with the Steering Committee and maintaining the dialogue between libraries and other diverse stakeholders was already important progress.
Some of the topics libraries have raised include the digital transformation at large, new national laws and regulations shaping this transformation – such as copyright laws and data policies, long-term archiving, privacy, innovation, digital literacy, open access and scientific publishing, access to digital content and connectivity infrastructure.
Could you tell us more about your experiences with the Swiss IGF – for example, the activities and processes you were involved in, stakeholders you have collaborated with?
First, we have been participating in sessions and offering insights from a library perspective on relevant thematic discussions – for example, on copyright. Then, in the 2020 Swiss IGF, we organised a full workshop dedicated to libraries: “Libraries 4.0 – Innovation to boost knowledge transfers”.
The workshop highlighted that there are two parallel processes within internet governance. One is the engagement with legislative and policy processes around how the internet works. The other is analysing what gaps there are in the digital transformation at the moment, and acting to address these issues.
For example, highlighting that the digital transformation brings with it inequalities in access to content and digital infrastructure, and that libraries can help bridge this. This is also a key part of internet governance.
Looking at how libraries address these gaps gave us the opportunity to discuss eBooks, digital skills training, as well as Swisscovery – a single digital Swiss library platform. The latter is a large-scale project by more than 400 Swiss libraries, all working together to offer a single platform where users can access scientific resources from all library catalogues in the country.
It is an innovative project and unique in Europe; it broadens access to information and data, and facilitates scientific exchange and discovery. There were some very positive reactions to this from stakeholders from other sectors, in fact – participants were impressed that the library sector is doing such an innovative, dynamic and collaborative project on such a scale.
It was also important for us that the first suggestion to organise this workshop came from other members of the Steering Committee. Following several years of inputs from the library perspective, this time the other stakeholders were the first to put libraries on the agenda!
What were some of the key outcomes and impacts of your work with the Swiss IGF over the past years?
Alongside this workshop on libraries, another tangible impact of our collaboration was an invitation for the Association (as a representative of the library sector) to participate in central government’s consultations on national internet strategies and guidelines. For example, the “Strategie Digital Switzerland”: we were invited to be a part of the dialogue on digital transformation; first in 2016, and then in follow-up consultations to help inform revisions of the Strategy every two years.
More broadly, within the IGF, the dialogue itself is a key outcome. Sometimes, people have the sense that policy happens somewhere that is inaccessible. And that is not true! For issues like internet governance, where there are a lot of uncertainties, the administration and politicians cannot know everything; they go outside to seek expertise. And it is platforms such as the Swiss IGF where internet governance matters are discussed and stakeholders can have their say.
In the end, whichever issues are on the IGF agenda, I’m convinced that it is most important that there is an opportunity to come together and talk. I think, for libraries, this has been really precious – to be visible, to see faces, to get to know other stakeholders, and for them to know who we are.
It opens and creates more opportunities – such as the invitation to take part in government consultations. It also helps increase our recognition as an actor and stakeholder within the internet governance field. If you are already an established stakeholder in the field, it makes a difference when you enter discussions. These are big invisible impacts. We got the opportunity to collaborate with many different stakeholders: for example, within the Steering Committee, there are representatives from the Federal Administration, civil society, politicians, entrepreneurs, big multinational enterprises, informaticians, technicians, legal experts, academics, and more!
Another outcome is to have people in the library field realise that we do not work in isolation, but within a larger context. Things like internet governance may seem very far from our daily work, but it impacts us directly. And libraries have a voice – we have something to say, we can create our own future and be a part of discussions on various regulations which impact us.
Is there any advice you would suggest to libraries who would like to get engaged with IGF processes?
One of the most efficient ways to get involved is to suggest topics and issues for discussion. If a local IGF is organised in a way similar to the Swiss IGF, its first step is an open call for issues and thematic suggestions – to define the IGF agenda for the year. If libraries gather a number of questions or issues from their field and submit this list to their national or regional IGF, the organisers will usually respond, and take that into account in one way or another!
You can also try to become a part of a Steering Committee. Here in Switzerland, the circumstances were very favourable, and we were warmly welcomed to join. So you can start by learning more about your national or regional IGF – how it works, who organises it, and so on.
Another advice is to be ready to help. IGF processes are usually organised by the civil society and volunteers. If you come and say “I’m happy to help, I’m happy to organise, I’m happy to make contacts”, this is often very welcome!
Finally, you can also always draw on what other libraries have done. When I first contacted the national IGF, I talked about what IFLA was doing within the global and European Internet Governance Forums, about the issues libraries can offer insights on and help address – for example, public access to the internet through libraries, digital literacy, equitable access to digital content. This can help make a strong argument for further library engagement in internet governance processes.