• christinemackenzie

Access to Information as a driver of development

The IFLA President’s meeting, Motors of Change: Libraries and Sustainable Development in Buenos Aires last week launched the new Development and Access to Information (DA2i) report. We heard powerful and urgent calls to action from a number of the contributors as well as other speakers.

Development has become unsustainable and unless the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) ambitions are increased before 2030, the goal of not exceeding a 1.5C rise is not achievable, Rene Mauricio Valdez, Resident Coordinator for the United Nations in Argentina, told us.

Tim Unwin, Emeritus Professor, Royal Holloway, University of London, UNESCO Chair in ICT for Development (ICT4D), said that technology is increasing inequality. While digital technologies offer vastly increased free (to end user) knowledge sharing, 44% of the world does not have access to the internet (April 2019) and without universal access inequality will increase.

Guilherme Canela, UNESCO Communication and Information Adviser for Mercosur, described the “brutal inequalities in access to information” and highlighted the attack on science and evidence-based information.

Dorothy Gordon, Chair Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO’s Information for all Programme, took us back to the days of the Arab Spring, when the Internet was seen as the silver bullet but now, we know bots are manipulating the European elections and the Internet could undermine fundamental freedoms.

Libraries can contribute to addressing these global challenges and as President Gloria Perez-Salmerón said, we need to move up a gear to optimise libraries as drivers of change. Libraries are championing the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. And as Secretary General Gerald Leitner stated, there is no development without access to information and there is no meaningful access to information without libraries.

There is urgency about climate change. Libraries have a role to play in providing access to information to ensure that people can make good decisions. President Obama said in 2014 that this is the first generation to feel effect of climate change and the last generation who can do anything about it.

There is urgency about inequality. Tim Unwin reminded us that “content and information alone do not reinforce power.” We as librarians must recognise that simply providing library collections is not enough to improve equality. People need skills and infrastructure to access the knowledge that is contained in the content libraries hold. There are many libraries already addressing this by providing skills training and some even lend out Wi-Fi hotspot internet access devices.

There is urgency about ensuring access to online information. A number of speakers noted that libraries must get involved in internet governance and freedom of information. We need to be aware of global online regulation trends and the tension between the global nature of the internet and national governments. There is no overall governance model or framework and the social media giants and governments control content but there is no transparency. With 98% of information now available online and much only available online, libraries have an important role in championing intellectual freedom and advocating for meaningful access to information.

DA2I is an important and useful contribution to promote meaningful access to information as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and I recommend you read it.

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