The past year saw important developments in both human rights and internet governance fields. They shaped and affected the work of libraries around the world – from efforts to help deliver on the right to education amidst school closures, to a leap to digital that many countries experienced, to tackling online misinformation.

Below is a look ahead to how IFLA plans to engage in the human rights and internet governance fields in 2021 – and how you can get involved!

Human Rights

The impacts of the pandemic on human rights for societies at large – and more vulnerable populations in particular – pose crucial and pressing questions which will need to be answered as part of efforts to build back better. Library voices and expertise can make a valuable contribution to the upcoming discussions on how to move forward.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): One of the key platforms for engagement around human rights is the UN Human Rights Council, which is supported by OHCHR. In 2021, IFLA will continue and work to expand its engagement with OHCHR platforms and processes.

Our goal is to highlight the unique ability of libraries to help promote human rights, to share library experiences with championing fundamental rights, and to identify the challenges that impact their ability to do so.

For example, in the coming months, we look forward to the opportunity to submit inputs and take part in processes focusing on several key topics: intellectual freedom, the right to development, access to information. Join our FAIFE Network to hear about upcoming possibilities to engage.

Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs). Over the past two years, together with our Members from around the globe, IFLA has prepared contributions for Universal Periodic Reviews in several countries. UPRs are a cyclical process that tracks the improvements and challenges in each UN Member States’ upholding of their human rights obligations – you can read more in our brief.

This is a unique opportunity to spotlight library experiences, celebrate achievements and communicate the needs of libraries in countries under review – and to continue building a strong evidence base of libraries’ work to champion human rights across the globe.

This year, there are two key dates for UPR stakeholder involvement. In late March and early June, there is an opportunity to offer inputs for UPR cycles in more than 20 countries, from Haiti to Lithuania to Uganda. Is your country due for its UPR review this year? If you would like to get involved and share your insights to help prepare a stakeholder submission, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. And of course, the IFLA FAIFE committee will continue its ongoing work around key intellectual freedom, privacy and access to information issues in librarianship.

Several weeks ago, the Committee launched a survey focusing on the IFLA Intellectual Freedom Statement and key IF developments of the past years. You can take part in the survey until 31 January to share your insights and help shape the next steps that the FAIFE Committee and IFLA take to champion intellectual freedom!

Internet Governance

The past few months also witnessed dynamic changes in the field of internet governance. Naturally, digital inclusion continues to be an important element of policy dialogue and measures. This is reflected, for example, in a statement on access to information during the pandemic made by international experts; or the reference to internet access affordability and digital inclusion measures – including through libraries – in the Digital Transformation Strategy For Africa 2020-2030.

Other key topics relevant to libraries include, for example, ongoing discussions about content moderation and intermediary liability, and the role of media literacy in tackling disinformation. Overall, internet governance appears to be witnessing a trend towards more regulation and more policy initiatives to shape the online information space.

In light of this, now is a crucial time for libraries to get involved in interent governance policy dialogues – to communicate their potential as drivers of digital inclusion and explain what measures are needed to help them acheive this. That is why, in 2021, IFLA will continue its work in the following areas and processes:

Internet Governance Forum.  Following the release of UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, discussions are underway on how to strengthen global digital cooperation in the field of internet governance. IFLA will continue to support and encourage libraries to take part in these policy discussions – especially the global, regional and national IGF forums and intersessional processes.

DC-PAL. Within the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries, we continue to examine good practices and policy recommendations that help effectively leverage library connectivity to support digital inclusion. In 2021, we will start by building on the draft two-part analysis of library roles in broadband policies and their implementation. Does your country include a reference to libraries in its broadband policy? We would be happy to get in touch to hear more about your experiences.

Safer Internet Day. In February, we look forward to Safer Internet Day – a global event that offers libraries an opportunity to highlight and expand their work to champion the safety and wellbeing of young internet users.

Meaningful digital inclusion. More broadly, this year we will continue to focus on questions of meaningful digital inclusion and access to information online. This will help further examine the contributions libraries around the world make to digital skills-building, access to key content online, and digital inclusion for vulnerable groups.

Towards enabling policy environments

Finally, over the past 2 years, IFLA has worked on a series of publications exploring the role of libraries in different policy areas – including broadband, digital skills, open government, gender equality. There are crucial policy goals that libraries can help achieve in these areas. In 2021, we will continue collecting good policy and practice examples to better understand how national-level policies can best help libraries deliver on their full potential.