Kiamars Baghbani speaks at the session on refugees and internet access

The internet offers an invaluable tool for achieving the key objective of libraries – providing equitable access to knowledge and information. Librarians have been quick to seize the opportunity, offering not only physical access, but also training and specific resources online that help users learn, enjoy and explore.

As such, it is crucial to ensure that the internet works in a way that includes everyone. Poverty, exclusion, and a lack of confidence are all too often barriers. The European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG), bringing together governments, businesses, civil society and technical experts to discuss internet policy issues, offered IFLA an opportunity to set out what libraries are doing to overcome these, and call on others to do the same.

Libraries helping vulnerable groups get online

The highlight was a set of sessions looking at how to help minority groups, and in particular people fleeing conflict, persecution or extreme poverty, to get online. With many now arguing that internet access is a human right, participants explored political and practical constraints, and how to ensure that access happens.

Kiamars Baghbani from Helsinki City Library shared his experience of working across the city’s libraries to create understanding of marginalised groups, and implement strategies for including them. Broadening access to library cards, offering translations, training and explanations, and being ready to step outside the library walls were keys to success. In addition to doing away with unnecessary bars to access, people needed to feel comfortable, and find content of interest and use to them. Librarians in Turkey participated remotely, sharing their experience over the past year. Videos of the two sessions will be available shortly. You can also read more about what libraries have been doing for minorities and refugees on the IFLA website, as well as listen to a recent webinar.

Preserve access to information while respecting privacy

IFLA also joined a panel on the right to be forgotten. There were clear questions about where the boundary between privacy and freedom of expression should lie, as well as practical questions about how libraries should cope with the fact that they themselves, for the most part, cannot hope to retain all information.

The IFLA representative stressed that a broad definition of privacy should not be used to justify clumsy interventions that restrict access to knowledge and impose excessive burdens on libraries. While sites containing untrue, illegal, irrelevant or highly personal information could fairly be removed from the results of a search for someone’s name, this should be done on a case-by-case basis. Recent national judgements in favour of deleting names from newspaper internet archives and on removing search results globally went against recommendations in IFLA’s own statements. A recording of the session is available.

Libraries and internet access – a global role

IFLA also took the opportunity to raise awareness of the role of libraries in developing media and information literacy skills and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It also underlined once again that unreformed copyright rules restrict the internet’s potential to deliver global access to knowledge and information for all.

In the run up to December’s global Internet Governance Forum, there are many regional and national editions. IFLA strongly encourages its members to attend, share ideas, and underline the contribution that libraries can make, and what they need to be able to deliver. Keep track of upcoming meetings on the Internet Governance Forum website.