The Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report from the Technology and Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington Information School and International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) was released today at the United Nations High Level Political Forum held at the New York Public Library.
Put the whole world online and freedom and equality are bound to rise, right?
Not necessarily. While access to information is key, access alone isn’t enough to ensure progress around the world. People also need the social and economic wherewithal to make information usable and meaningful, iSchool researchers say in a report presented to the United Nations.
The report, a partnership between the iSchool’s Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), traces access to information and communication technologies around the world, and whether that access is improving people’s lives. It points to libraries as key to making information a tool for development.
“We tried to come up with a model that goes beyond mere physical access, to get at whether people can actually use the information, and whether they are doing this in an environment that empowers them and enables them to use information meaningfully,” TASCHA Director Chris Coward said.
Access to information is embedded within a set of goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 intended to improve the lives of people everywhere, including the United States. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals include aims such as ending poverty and hunger, protecting the planet, and ensuring gender equality around the world. Each goal includes specific targets that are to be achieved by 2030, and many of those targets revolve around increased access to information.
Along with their long-held roles as knowledge providers, libraries promote civic engagement and help people build their information literacy skills. However, TASCHA Research Analyst Michelle Fellows said, policymakers often fail to recognize how essential libraries are in their communities.
“So many people around the world see libraries as a static, uniform institution with a fixed purpose of putting books in people’s hands. But the role of public libraries can be very dynamic and localized,” Fellows said. “Given the way the nature of access to information varies country-to-country or town-to-town, we are seeing libraries stepping up to address those access gaps in myriad ways. It’s exciting, as this report demonstrates.”
[Note: Chapter Two of the report is titled “Libraries as Agents for Sustainable Development.”]
The Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report is the first of what will be annual assessments of the state of information access around the world. It establishes a set of indicators that TASCHA will track over more than a dozen years, using data compiled from numerous sources such as the International Telecommunication Union, the U.N. Development Programme, and the World Bank.
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To monitor Member States’ progress, the report presents a set of baseline indicators, drawing on established datasets, as well as providing contributions from international experts showing how access to information is already making a difference. The report focuses this year on four SDGs highlighted at this year’s UN HLPF – agriculture (SDG 2), health (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5), and infrastructure and innovation (SDG 9).
Libraries, as pre-existing, trusted public centres, with both a global perspective and strong understanding of local needs, are essential partners for governments in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. IFLA is working globally to ensure libraries’ key contribution to development is recognised. It has signed agreements with representatives from 73 countries, committing to work with them to build understanding of the UN 2030 Agenda at a national and regional level, and engage in the planning, monitoring and implementation processes of National Development Plans.
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