IGF 2023 DC-PAL Public access evolutions – lessons from the last 20 years

Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (02:30 UTC) - Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (03:00 UTC)
WS 10 – Room I

Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries

Birds of a Feather - 60 Min


Skills Building for Basic and Advanced Technologies (Meaningful Access)


It has been 20 years since the commitment to connecting all libraires and post offices entered into the WSIS Action Lines, recognising the contribution that public access to the internet plays in a comprehensive approach to internet inclusion. As early internet adopters, libraries have are the place where millions first had a taste of the internet. They have also played roles as a back-stop (in times of crisis, as well as for those who remain online), a complement to private access (providing access to hardware, software and content that isn’t otherwise available), and a space to use the internet socially. But 20 years is a long time! Therefore, with the imperative of universal meaningful connectivity set out in the Global Digital Compact, as well as the need for clear definitions and an action plan to delivery, it is high time to look at how public access itself has evolved, and what this has meant for its contribution to the goal of a people-centred internet. This panel, drawing on a collection of inputs developed by the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries, will share some insights into changes over time, and invite contributions from participants. The results will feed into a new publication, focused on the changing face of public access, in which itself will be submitted to those negotiating the Global Digital Compact, as well as the IGF+20 and WSIS+20 processes.

In order to facilitate participation, in advance of the meeting, we will produce an initial version of a report on evolutions in public access. This will be a basis for asking for further inputs, with it made clear that the IGF session will allow for this also. At the session itself, we will start with 'provocation' talks, setting out different angles and perspectives on the evolution of public access. We will then leave time for participants to offer their own stories about evolutions in public access, as well as using Mentimeter to allow for more open participation in discussion, for example by highlighting dimensions of access that are work looking at in more depth. To guarantee full participation by online attendees, we will actively work to alternate in-person contributions with online ones, as well as using Mentimeter (as highlighted) above to offer more opportunities to feed in. The possibility, also to contribute in advance of the session will also mean that everyone is in a situation of equality in participating in the preparation.


Stephen Wyber, IFLA, Civil Society, WEOG Maria de Brasdefer, IFLA, Civil Society, LAC Winston Roberts, National Library of New Zealand, Government, Asia-Pacific Woro Salikin, National Library of Indonesia, Government, Asia-Pacific Maria Garrido, Technology and Social Change Group, Academia, LAC Damilare Oyedele, Library Aid Africa, Civil Society/Social Economy, Africa Ramune Petuchovaite, EIFL, Civil Society, Eastern Europe


Ugne Lipekaite, EIFL, Civil Society, Eastern Europe
Woro Salikin, National Library of Indonesia, Government, Asia-Pacific
Don Means, Gigabit Libraries Network

Onsite Moderator

Maria de Brasdefer

Online Moderator

Ramune Petuchovaite, EIFL, Civil Society, Eastern Europe / Yasuyo Inoue, Dokko University, Japan


Stephen Wyber, IFLA, Civil Society, WEOG


1. No Poverty
2. Zero Hunger
3. Good Health and Well-Being
4. Quality Education
5. Gender Equality
6. Clean Water and Sanitation
7. Affordable and Clean Energy
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
10. Reduced Inequalities
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
12. Responsible Production and Consumption
13. Climate Action
14. Life Below Water
15. Life on Land
16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
17. Partnerships for the Goals

Targets: We argue strongly that the key difference between simple connectivity and public access to the internet in libraries is the greater investment in realising the potential of access to deliver on the wider 2030 Agenda for all, in line with the principles of rights-based development and leaving no-one behind. For example, the vast majority of examples included on IFLA's SDG Stories page (librarymap.ifla.org/stories) are about how libraries provide programming tied to internet access in order to achieve different SDGs.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

There is an increasing disconnect between trends in connectivity and real-world outcomes, even on the basis of the limited data that we have. There is a strong need to invest in stronger data collection as a basis for meaningful internet governance decision-making

Public access, as a multipurpose means of helping people make the most of the internet, has proven itself as an adaptable and effective means of achieving people-centred internet development. It has proved its work faced with shocks, in allowing engagement with new technologies, and as a means of localising digital inclusion policies

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)
The full potential of public access as a way to address the decoupling of progress in extending connectivity and broader social progress needs to be part of internet strategies going forwards
Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

Evolutions in Public Access


It has been 20 years since the WSIS Action Lines were defined, setting out the importance of connectivity libraries and providing multifunctional public access centres. This fitted into a broader strategy that focused not only on finding rapid and effective ways of bringing the potential benefits of the internet to more people, while acknowledging the importance of a focus on people in order to turn this potential into reality.


The introduction to this session therefore set out the question of how public access as a concept has evolved over the past 20 years, as a basis for assessing its continued relevance and to understand how its place in the wider internet infrastructure has changed. It drew on written contributions shared by UNESCO and the Internet Society in particular, which noted, in particular that public access had been proven not to compete with public access, that libraries had proven to be adaptable and responsive, that public access had been a basis for service innovation and partnership, and that the fact of offering other services made libraries particularly valuable as public access venues.


Maria Garrido and Matias Centeno (University of Washington) set out the challenge faced, based on data collected as part of the Development and Access to Information report. Crucially, this underlined that good progress in general in bringing people online was not being reflected in other areas seen as vital for making access to information meaningful, in particular around equality and fundamental rights online. This illustrated the potential weaknesses of a tech-only approach.


Ugne Lipekaite (EIFL) offered a rich set of evidenced examples of how public access had proven its ability to help solve wider policy challenges, as well as its ongoing essential role in working towards universal connectivity. It had, indeed, been a driver of entrepreneurship and growth.  Crucially, many of the same trends could be observed in very different parts of the world, opening up possibilities for mutual learning in terms of how to develop public access most effectively.


Woro Titi Haryanti (National Library of Indonesia) described how public access was at the heart of a national strategy to develop library services as a means of improving lives. Centrally, the emphasis was on ensuring connectivity, providing adaptable content and building staff skills in order to develop programming that could combine public access with other support (including via partners). Thanks to this work, the library was increasingly seen as a partner for wider social development programming.


Don Means (Gigabit Libraries Network) underlined that libraries were often early adopters of new technology, providing a means for people not just to get to know the internet, but also new ways of working with it. They had also proven their role in connecting online services with users, for example to ensure that those needing to use eGov services were able to do so. They also offered a crucial backstop of parallel access technology, which boosted resilience.


The audience was then asked to share views via Mentimeter. They underlined their agreement with the idea that public access had a key role in the connectivity infrastructure and in future strategies, as well as broadly believing that public access complements other forms of connectivity.



Key themes that emerged in the discussion included:

  • Public access had proved a structure for delivering on the promise of the localisation of the internet and digital inclusion efforts in particular. Rather than a purely tech-led, supply-side approach, public access centres allowed supply and demand to meet effectively and inclusively.
  • The definition of meaningful access in general needed to include access to meaningful support services for those who needed them in order to make the most of the internet.
  • It was important to develop wider internet resilience strategies, in order to keep things going in times of disaster. Public access was a key part of this.
  • We needed to change the narrative about libraries in particular, and recognise (inside the library sector and outside) their role as agents for digital inclusion.