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Rural Libraries and the Human Right to Internet Access

Rural and Small Public Libraries: Challenges and Opportunities

ISBN: 978-1-78743-112-6, eISBN: 978-1-78743-111-9

Publication date: 10 November 2017


This chapter analyzes the ways national, international, and library professional policies address Internet access as a human right. This includes documenting the ways rural libraries fulfill their patrons’ human right to the Internet and demonstrating how Mathiesen’s (2014) framework can be used by library professionals and policymakers to ensure that people have physical, intellectual, and social access to the Web. The author’s intention is to help facilitate a more meaningful definition of access that goes beyond just providing hardware access to bridge the digital divide, but instead asserts the need for librarian assistance and technology training if we wish to allow all members of a society, without exception, to fully enjoy their human rights.

The author analyzes existing national and international policies pertaining to providing information and Internet access in rural and otherwise underserved areas, as well as precedents involving the deployment of previous information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural areas. This segues into an analysis of barriers to rural Internet access using facets and determinants developed by Mathiesen, leading to the argument that rural librarians’ ability to help underserved populations use the Internet is essential to making Web access meaningful.

  • The United Nations (UN) has supported arguments that people have a right to information access and the technologies that support this, suggesting that Internet access is a human right.

  • The U.S. government has a history of facilitating access to ICTs in rural areas that dates back to 1934 and continues through the present.

  • Funding mechanisms that facilitate Web access in the United States focus primarily on making broadband connections, hardware, and software accessible, leaving out the essential training and assistance components that are essential to making many rural residents and other underserved persons able to actually use the Internet.

Scholarship on rural libraries, including some of the research in this volume, has argued that rural public libraries provide an invaluable service by offering both access to and guidance in using the Internet. While these publications commonly discuss the socioeconomic benefits of providing this access, they often treat the motivation for providing such services as self-evident. This chapter analyzes policies and legal precedents to argue that Internet access for rural residents, through public libraries and other means, is not merely a privilege that will benefit people if funded, but instead a human right that cannot be ignored.




I would like to thank Dr. Paul Jaeger and Fiona Jardine of the University of Maryland’s iSchool for their guidance and feedback in developing this chapter.


Petri, C. (2017), "Rural Libraries and the Human Right to Internet Access", Real, B. (Ed.) Rural and Small Public Libraries: Challenges and Opportunities (Advances in Librarianship, Vol. 43), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 13-35.



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