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Public libraries as partners in development

Public libraries as partners in development: Missed the boat or poised for a second chance?

Christopher T. Coward, University of Washington

Yahoo! Seminar Series

April 17, 2013 

2345 North Quad, 12 noon

Barely two decades ago, public access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) was high on the global development agenda as the best approach to making computers and the internet available to people in low and middle income countries. Public libraries, however, have been conspicuously absent from this agenda, with the vast majority of initiatives over this period channeled through non-library institutions. As a result, only a small fraction of public libraries in the developing world have been equipped with computers and the internet. Today, public libraries are making a renewed effort for the attention of the international development and ICT community. However, this comes at a time when the value of public access to ICTs is being questioned. This is due to a variety of factors, including doubts about the socio-economic impacts of public access venues to date, sustainability challenges, and above all, the mobile phone revolution. Is public access ICTs a phenomenon whose time has come and gone? Or has the international development community erred in dismissing the benefits of public access ICTs and public libraries offer a superior model for delivering ICT resources and services? Drawing on research at the Technology & Social Change Group at the University of Washington Information School, Chris Coward  will discuss recent findings about the impact of public access ICTs and opportunities for public libraries in future international development efforts.



Chris Coward is the founder, Principal Research Scientist, and Director of the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington Information School. Under his leadership, TASCHA has grown in size and scope over the last decade, encompassing research in 50 countries. Chris specializes in designing and managing research programs that improve policy and practice in the area of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and international development. His work focuses on the social and economic impacts of ICTs, ICT skills for employability and entrepreneurship, and innovations for public libraries and community organizations in low resource settings. Chris holds a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Arts in International Studies, both from the University of Washington.