The UN Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” reiterated the urgency of closing the digital divides and inequalities – to leave no-one behind and support education, work, and participation in society at large.

The upcoming 2021 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) offers libraries an opportunity to engage with internet governance policy dialogues, and to shape their role in helping achieve these ambitious goals.

The 2021 hybrid IGF, taking place both online and in Katowice, Poland, focuses on an overarching theme of “Internet United’’. From digital inclusion to human rights online, environmental sustainability of the digital transformation to online safety, there are many angles for libraries to explore which are highly relevant for their work: digital literacy and online privacy, content moderation, user data protection, and more.

IFLA continues its longstanding involvement with the IGF – and we welcome and encourage libraries to take part as well.

The session will explore how public access to the internet and ICT in libraries helps drive a community-based models of connectivity and development. Experts from within and outside of the library field will weigh in on how connectivity and digital inclusion needs can be defined at a community-level, what the known impacts and positive externalities of public access in libraries are, and what innovative approaches to public access exist today.

  • The 2021 IGF will also offer opportunities for members of the global and the Polish library fields to exchange ideas, good practices and insights from their digital inclusion work.
  • The conference agenda this year is filled with other sessions and workshops which can be of interest to the global library field: media literacy, fostering diversity of digital content, freedom of speech online, research data management, and many more – you can access the full schedule at the IGF website.
  • We are also looking forward to the official launch of the IGF report on Dynamic Coalitions, which traces the history, achievements and current work of the DCs – including, of course, of the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access on Libraries. The DCs Main Session will also help illustrate and put into context how the DC-PAL and other Coalitions contribute to key digital inclusion goals and cooperation efforts.

Capturing the impact of public access in libraries

One of the key areas of work for DC-PAL this year is helping gather and bring together recent evidence around the value and impacts of public access to the Internet and ICT in libraries. In this work, we have already seen the impressive impacts libraries were able to achieve over the past few years:

  • from New Zealand, where a 2019 public library staff survey showed just how often they support their patrons with foundational digital skills: 20% indicated they offer help with such digital support queries (e.g. with using a mouse and keyboard, finding a website, or setting up a personal device) multiple times a day, and 80% offering such help several times a week;
  • to Medellin, Colombia, where a 2020 Social Return on Investment study suggested that users value public access to the internet in libraries at a return rate as high as 33,8 to 1 for all the costs invested;
  • to Moldova, where the use of internet and computers in public libraries rose by over 700% between 2014 and 2017 following the rollout of the Novateca programme, with users reporting benefits in many different areas – from better academic results and access to health information to saving money and boosting community involvement.

We look forward to discussing these and other valuable impacts of public access in libraries at the 2021 IGF.

Has your library – or a library you know of – carried out work to better understand or capture the impacts of its digital inclusion initiatives? Whether it is public computers or Wi-Fi, digital skills training, fablabs or hotspot loans, be happy to hear from you and learn more about these impacts.

You can find out more about the Internet Governance Forum, why it matters for libraries and how you can get involved in our Get Into IGF Guide. You can also now register for the 2021 IGF, online or on-site – we look forward to an engaging and meaningful dialogue at the Forum!