Between 25 and 29 November 2019, IFLA participated in the 14th annual Internet Governance Forum meeting in Berlin. The key messages IFLA emphasised were the importance of policy support for public access in libraries, the role of libraries in enabling meaningful connectivity, and in generating meaningful internet content through digitisation efforts.

The Internet Governance Forum is a multistakeholder space for debate and cooperation towards an open, secure and free internet. The theme of the 2019 meeting was “One world. One net. One vision”, and over 5000 participants from public, private and civil society sectors participated.

From public internet access…

Within the framework of the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries (DC-PAL), IFLA organised an open session alongside Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL). The session examined how public access in libraries contributes to broadband and connectivity policy success, and how governments integrate libraries into planning.

The speakers highlighted the role of libraries in access, development, and affordability strategies, and presented a draft report which compares how libraries are included in broadband plans and policies in different countries.

Presentations and interventions by speakers from Uganda, Kenya, Germany and Ghana illustrated how including libraries in such policies works in practice, and the impact it delivers. In several cases, Universal Service Funds were highlighted as an effective mechanism to support public access and library connectivity.

… to other areas important for libraries

IFLA also joined the panel of a session organised by the Best Practice Forum on Local Content. IFLA shared how library heritage digitisation initiatives can help create online content that is most meaningful and/or relevant for a given community.

IFLA drew special attention to digitisation efforts carried out by libraries jointly with indigenous communities, and digital preservation of heritage materials at risk.

Other issues and questions relevant for libraries were discussed throughout the week, for example:

  • Meaningful connectivity and meaningful access: many participants agreed that access to connectivity services and infrastructure alone do not bring the full benefits of connectivity. We need rather to think about making meaningful connectivity and access meaningful, for which can entail different elements: from affordability, appropriate access devices, and sufficient speed (e.g. as included in A4AI’s Meaningful Connectivity Standard) to digital skills, literacy, and availability of online content and services relevant for the user (which libraries offer).
  • The issues of reconciling freedom of expression and intellectual freedom online with government and private companies’ efforts to address such concerns as disinformation or harmful content.
  • On several occasions, it was pointed out that traditional connectivity models may not be effective in bringing the remaining billions online as fast as possible. Community networks were proposed as an alternative solution in several sessions – libraries can learn more about this connectivity model and see what roles they can play in community network projects.

You can watch a recording of the DC-PAL session and read the draft report. If you would like to get involved in IGF events and initiatives, the IFLA Get Into IGF Guide can offer an explanation of how the Forum works and how you can take part.