UN Member States made access to information a target under SDG 16, and argued it was a cornerstone of the whole architecture of the 2030 Agenda.
IFLA’s Development and Access to Information 2017 report, developed by IFLA in partnership with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington, stresses how access to information is driving progress for the achievement of the UN 2030 Agenda, and shows the specific contribution that effective library services can make.
The DA2I will be published yearly, with updated figures, evidence on the work of libraries, and further focus on how access is delivering development across the board.
“The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized”. So states Article 1 of the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development.
It is hard to imagine an effective right to development without the possibility to access and apply information. Participation is nothing without knowledge and know-how to understand our world, communicate with others, and find ways to improve the lives of ourselves and our communities.
Libraries have long understood this, working in communities, in universities and research centres, in governments and institutions, within walls and across borders, to enable their users to participate in the information society. They provide books and journals, but also public internet access. They allow people to borrow books to take home, but are also a space for community building and civic engagement. They give access to information, but also the sense of security and support needed to make this meaningful, for all of their users.
The Member States of the United Nations confirmed this when, in 2015, they made access to information a target under Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals. This access, they argued, was a cornerstone of the whole architecture of the 2030 Agenda.
Two years on, the focus is clearly on implementation. In line with the commitment of Members in 2015, the 2030 Agenda should be treated as a single whole, with all goals to be achieved to realise development. Yet access to information, as well as other targets under Goal 16, is also an enabler of progress across the board.
IFLA’s Development and Access to Information 2017 report, developed by IFLA in partnership with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington, underlines this point, stressing how access is driving progress in key focus areas, and the specific contribution that effective library services can make.
In doing so, it shows that a positive scenario is possible, where individuals and communities are able to use information to improve their lives. The report sets out a recipe for achieving this, through physical connectivity, supportive social and cultural norms, individual skills and permissive laws on access to information.
Drawing on recognised and respected sources, it also offers a set of indicators of progress, making it possible to see which countries and regions are leading, and which are lagging, as well as tracking trends over time. These underline the link between information poverty, and broader economic and social deprivation and inequality.
So while 80% of the world’s population has 3G mobile coverage, less than 50% are Internet users. The cost of connection stands at around 12% of income in Sub-Saharan Africa, while it is a fraction of a percent in the richest countries. The gender divide has translated into a digital divide, in terms of Internet access. In only six countries do more women use the Internet than men, while countries at all stages of development feature amongst the worst performers.
Uses of the Internet vary, with people in richer countries using it more to access news and forums, whereas those in developing countries make readier use of social media. And over half of the world’s population face threats or prosecution for expressing themselves freely.
We will return next year, with updated figures, evidence on the work of libraries, and further focus on how access is delivering development across the board. IFLA itself will certainly be busy, with representatives from 73 countries committed to raising awareness of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and what libraries can do to achieve them. We look forward to sharing more analysis, more evidence, and more news.
For more information contact: DA2I@ifla.org
Gerald Leitner is Secretary General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, where he leads efforts to support the development of the library field, and promote libraries’ work internationally. Prior to taking up this position, he was Secretary General of the Austrian Library Association for 17 years, overseeing a major expansion in its roles and resources. He is a former President of the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations, and former IFLA Board Member. In 2017, he received the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art.