This workshop will discuss the findings of a recent study of perceptions of public libraries by policy makers in 6 countries in Africa. The study reveals that policy makers still think of libraries in terms of printed media, and not as spaces for catalysing internet access and use. Yet there is substantial evidence that innovative and ICT enabled public library services contribute to development. Case studies will be presented to demonstrate how some developing countries have made use of
ICTs in libraries to mobilise the internet for development. The workshop will be interactive and engage participants in helping to identify mechanisms that can convince policy makers to recognise the potential of internet in libraries to strengthen access and diversity.
Evidence was presented that public libraries that offer services based on free public access to the Internet can contribute to positive change in their communities and support development goals in vital areas including health, agriculture, employment and education. However, a large majority of decision makers in developing countries, especially in Africa, see public libraries primarily as print-based educational facilities. The workshop set out to discuss how this perception can be changed: how a shared vision can be created of Internet enabled public libraries that contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and how a dialogue can be created between policy makers and librarians.
Questions raised focused on the public library as a trusted place to learn about the whole world of digital information, how to harness ICT’s and the Internet for social well-being and economic livelihoods, the potential to reach out to poor and marginalised communities through the public library and help them bridge the digital divide through innovative library services, thus catalysing change.
Participants at this well-attended workshop felt energized by the potential and possibilities of public libraries’ contributions to expanding and supporting internet access in ways that can directly support social and economic development. It was decided that time had come to bring the potential of Internet enabled public libraries to the various IGF fora. Policy makers at global and national level cannot afford to ignore public internet access, and libraries are an ideal venue for providing such access. The organisers of the workshop will apply to the IGF to form a Dynamic Coalition on Public Access through Public Libraries, so that the discussion can continue. The goals of this Dynamic Coalition will be:
* To place public access to the Internet through libraries on the agenda of the IGF as a cross-cutting issue on a number of IGF key themes.
* To bring library representatives into contact with policy makers in pursuit of sustainable funding and favourable policies towards libraries and public Internet access.
* To ensure that the leading global library organisations (IFLA and EIFL) are consulted on issues of Internet Governance, both within and outside of the IGF context.