Why Public Access and Libraries are Still Relevant in the Era of Mobiles

Even with the ongoing mobile revolution, people still need spaces where they can access computers and other technology. Places like libraries, telecenters, and cybercafes are crucial for economic and social development — they’re closing the global digital gap and boosting educational outcomes. This week, IREX and TASCHA are hosting an event to explore why. The Deep Dive Conversation will bring together information and communication technology experts including: Sonia Jorge (A4IA), Chris Coward (TASCHA), and Mark Surman (Mozilla Foundation).

Public access and information communication technologies (ICTs) have clear potential to address social needs — but people around the world don’t have reliable access to these resources. Currently, 70% of people in developing countries do not have internet access. Throughout Africa, only 10% of the population has access to a reliable and affordable internet connection. In this context, libraries are essential. They provide free access to information and technology to people from all economic levels, and they’re safe spaces where people can learn new skills to boost their educations, their livelihoods, and their participation in society.

Libraries improve development outcomes

Libraries in Ukraine are working to narrow the digital divide. Below are some examples showing the impact of public access on the country’s population:

  • Digital inclusion: 56% of library users only have free access to internet at a library
  • Education: 72% of visitors say that their academic performance has improved since they began accessing technology at a library
  • Economic Development: 80% of library users say that using technology has helped them save money

In Romania, libraries partnered with the government to develop services that help farmers improve their livelihoods. Between 2011 and 2013, more than 90,000 farmers received assistance in filling out electronic applications for agricultural subsidies at public libraries. Farmers successfully received over USD 155 million in subsidies — and they saved over 180,000 work days and USD 1 million in transportation costs during that time.

Globally, libraries are addressing gender gap by serving as safe spaces for women and girls. A recent study by TASCHA found that girls and women choose public libraries over other public access venues (like telecenters and cybercafes) because libraries are perceived as safe, reliable and affordable, often with trained female staff that can help in places where it is not always culturally appropriate for women to interact with men.

Beyond Access partners from all over the world are working with local governments and civil society organizations to promote inclusive services. But now we want to hear from you. What are your thoughts about the importance of public access in today’s world? Let us know by tweeting your comments and questions to @IrexTech and @BeyondAccess.