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Local Alternatives for Global Development: Rediscovering Libraries A smarter way of doing development: working with trusted local institutions Public libraries are often overlooked as development partners, even though they’re locally-based, sustainable, publicly funded, professionally staffed, and trusted by the communities they serve. More than 230,000 public libraries — 73% of the world’s total — are located in developing and transitioning countries. Worldwide there are 13 times more public libraries than hospitals. At a time of tight development budgets, investing in new infrastructure and unproven models is risky — working with libraries offers a better, smarter way of doing development. Funders can capitalize on the results that these local institutions have already produced in their own communities, focusing on creating economies of scale and scope. Libraries advance development by doing more than enabling access to information. They are safe and supportive environments that often provide services to vulnerable populations — such as youth and women — and that have played an important role in advancing skills and literacies, solving problems, and strengthening communities.

On October 3, 2012, Beyond Access brought together 350 participants from 39 countries for Local Alternatives for Global Development: Rediscovering Libraries — the first major international forum to explore libraries as development partners; raise awareness about innovative projects, services, and technologies; and begin making connections between representatives from government, civil society, and the library and international development communities. The conference was preceded by a two-day Library Innovators Camp and a day of dedicated sessions for government officials.

PHOTO: wayan vota

In Zigoti, Uganda, the closest public internet access is almost 15km away. Attuned to local needs, the library has started a co-op to help dairy farmers.

Public access venues provide non-substitutable impact to resourceconstrained users, even those with “the internet in their pocket”.

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The enduring power of place The use of mobile devices is increasing exponentially, especially in developing countries. But mobiles alone cannot solve complex information-access and community development issues. While new technologies can advance development objectives, they can also solidify or exacerbate existing social, economic, and political dynamics. Place still matters. Spaces to connect, discuss, learn, and work. Recent research highlights the importance of physical venues that provide public access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), finding that they provide a “non-substitutable impact to resource-constrained users, even those with ‘the internet in their pocket’” (Walton & Donner, 2012, University of Cape Town / Global Impact Study, Public access, private mobile: The interplay of shared access and the mobile Internet for teenagers in Cape Town).

Sustainable engines of community and economic development Libraries help the farmer, the community health worker, the entrepreneur, or the average citizen turn information into knowledge, networks, and skills. Because of libraries’ tradition of providing universal access to information, they are ideal partners for e-government services and citizen engagement programs.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP), for example, highlights the benefits that open government data can bring to individuals and communities, yet as of April 2012 only 3 of the 47 country plans included activities that address the demand side of open government (United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Tanzania). But libraries have the potential to support government efforts to engage citizens. For example Ukraine’s action plan includes Public Libraries as Bridges to E-Government — an initiative to enable free access to official information, promote e-government services, and advance government-citizen interactions. Similarly, in Romania, over 400 public libraries helped 17,000 farmers access government portals and obtain agricultural subsidies, resulting in an influx of $20 million USD into participating communities.

A conference to bring public libraries into the development discussion Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator, Ricardo Lagos, 33rd President of Chile, and Susan Glasser, Editor-in-Chief of Foreign Policy, opened the Rediscovering Libraries conference with a discussion about access to information, technology, and local institutions. “The more we have the conduit of information connection between people and sources of information, and amongst people…the more we have the opportunity to push development objectives forward,” noted Dr. Shah. He then cited a number of USAID initiatives that combine technology and information to tackle local challenges in the areas of health and agriculture.

The more we have the conduit of information connection between people and sources of information, and amongst people… the more we have the opportunity to push development objectives forward. – Dr. Rajiv Shah USAID Administrator

Mr. Lagos emphasized how technology has the potential to bring back the public square that fostered early developments in democracy. “I sense sometimes that we are in the process of forming a new wave,” he said, “New political institutions are forming through public participation thanks to technological advances.” The former president spoke passionately about government transparency and accountability: “Citizens will feel more empowered when they have more access.” [ 3 ]

Libraries for Development Innovation fair & contest Beyond Access teams from 19 countries presented project concepts to conference participants and four teams of anonymous judges. Ideas were evaluated based on innovativeness, community focus, feasibility, incorporating partnerships, and 21stcentury relevance. Teams selected in each category (see blue box ) were awarded a $10,000 grant and support from Beyond Access to refine and implement their project idea.

Coffee lounges: informal, engaging discussions Coffee lounges engaged attendees in presentation-free discussions about the influence and role of technology and libraries in advancing key development topics, including gender, opportunities for youth, civic participation, good governance, social and economic innovation, education, agricultural information, and access to information technologies. The informal conversations were animated, with representatives from public libraries, government, NGOs, and funding agencies sharing diverse ideas, experiences, and perspectives. The opposite page (in orange) summarizes the coffee lounge topics and discussion points »

libraries for development Civic Participation » Aurbey Sershong Payzothkhang Community Library & Resource Center, Bhutan, for Women Represent: Boosting Women’s Representation — Partnering with media and democracy advocates to educate women on the “how” and “why” of civic participation. Economic Opportunity » Jagodina Public Library, Serbia, for AgroLib-Ja — Reaching farmers through agricultural workshops while increasing ICT literacy, sharing best practices, and building online marketing skills. Community Information & Development » National Library of Uganda, for ICT for Young Mothers — Using technology to increase health education and jobs skills among young mothers. Busia Community Library, Kenya, for Mama Mtoto Storytime 2.0 — Promoting a culture of reading and literacy by creating digital storybooks that attract both children and their parents. People’s Choice » Conference participants voted for the Jhuwani Community Library and Resource Center in Nepal, for My Digital Friend for My Healthy Life project — Improving access to health care for disadvantaged pregnant women living in rural areas.

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coffee lounges

Innovation Spaces Hubs, labs, incubators, hackerspaces, telecentres, coworking spaces — many different types and objectives. Libraries are important because they are public, free, and serve learning, social, civic, and economic needs.

Youth Engagement Libraries are a safe place to expand youth programming. They also provide opportunities to integrate youth voices into policy formulation and program design.

Open Government & Civic Engagement Libraries help people access information in a neutral and trusted way, and play a key role in promoting transparency, accountability, and citizen participation.

Economic Opportunity Libraries are an important resource for people to find employment opportunities, carry out market research for their entrepreneurial endeavors, and acquire the digital skills needed in the workplace.

Non-Formal Education Libraries provide critical “second-chance”learning opportunities for people without access to, or who have withdrawn from, the formal education system.

Gender &ICTs Girls and women cite safety concerns as the primary barrier to accessing ICTs. Participants highlighted the library’s important role in creating safe spaces and noted that female librarians also act as mentors and role models. [ 5 ]

Fresh ideas for 21st-century governance Prior to the conference, Beyond Access brought together government representatives and high-level delegates from 39 countries around the world for a pre-conference day of sessions, discussions, and site visits — all focused on public access to information and open data, effective partnerships, and the role of public libraries. Participants were joined by experts from USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). Discussion coalesced around three key points »

Libraries can help generate solutions to development challenges. In Medellin, Colombia, the government invested in public libraries because they were perceived as the “most holistic partner” for community development. Contemporary libraries in Medellin are places where people can do everything from take business classes to pursue sports and recreational activities. Librarians are well-positioned to become “digital knowledge managers” — infomediaries who connect people and information to solve everyday challenges. As new public sources of data and e-services emerge, the need for librarians to accompany citizens while they navigate new online resources is growing. Participants stressed that more should be done to prepare library staff for this role. Libraries must demonstrate their value as development partners to the communities they serve, and learn to align themselves with national development priorities. Even in cases where libraries have successfully applied ICT tools to development challenges, community members and bureaucrats will continue to operate under the assumption that libraries are places for books — not technology access and use — unless librarians themselves help transform this perception.

Beyond Access is a movement that brings together public library advocates and practitioners who believe libraries are an untapped resource in addressing the world’s most pressing development challenges. Beyond Access partners explore how public libraries can better respond to community development needs, with the aim of generating scalable and inspiring project designs and partnership models. Project activities include capacity building, regional workshops, an online community of practice, and financial support for local projects, learning exchanges, international conference attendance. Beyond Access is an initiative of IREX, EIFL, IFLA, Makaia, Facilitating Change, Development Gateway, the Asia Foundation, TASCHA, the Riecken Foundation, and READ Global, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Beyond access event brief  
Beyond access event brief