Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – How to Keep a Promise

By Stephen Wyber, Policy and Research Officer at IFLA (stephen.wyber[at]ifla.org)
For those of us who struggle with multi-tasking, having seventeen different goals at the same time seems like a lot. However, this is what all the UN’s membership committed to in December 2015.

The Sustainable Development Goals cover a broad range of issues. Basic nutrition, high technology, gender equality, stronger institutional partnerships, are just a few. The breadth of the goals serves as a reminder that everyone can and must contribute. Government, businesses and civil society, have a role to play in building a better world ensuring that no one is left behind.

IFLA has been quick to set out how libraries are already doing their part, all around the world.

Libraries can and should be at the heart of delivering development at the national level. They bring a distinctive understanding of their communities’ needs. They are unique as safe, neutral, public spaces, and are often vital in providing access to the internet. And most fundamentally, they are central to the provision of access to information and knowledge. This is not only a specific target under Goal 16, but also underpins much of the rest of Agenda 2030.

But for libraries to fulfil this role, they need the right laws. Without limitations on the monopoly powers offered by copyright, the only thing that would determine whether a person can access, borrow, quote from, translate, copy, or use a work in the classroom would be their purchasing power. And as very first of the Sustainable Development Goals reminds us, we are a long way from eradicating poverty.


Access the knowledge
Limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries help overcome this, offering a legal path to access to knowledge that at the same time ensures that right holders too receive an income.

Here are just some examples of how:

  • When libraries can lend out the books they own, they support literacy and a love of reading. This supports Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  • When libraries can make copies for their users, and share them with other libraries, including internationally, they promote innovation and international research networks. This supports Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
  • When libraries are empowered to make and share accessible format copies of books, they ensure that the fact of having a reading disability does not mean that you lose your access to knowledge. This supports Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.
  • When libraries can let users undertake text and data mining on their materials, they open the door to new medical discoveries. This supports Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
  • When libraries can act to preserve books and other documents, they ensure that we will hand on a rich and diverse historical record to the next generations. This supports Goal 11.4: Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
  • When libraries can operate effectively, they act as community hubs, idea stories, that boost growth and equality. This supports Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

The WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights has the possibility to introduce the right laws for libraries around the world.

As underlined at a conference in the margins of the Organisation’s General Assembly last month, WIPO is part of the UN family and so committed to pursuing its objectives. All of the member states at the table have promised to meet these objectives. By promoting an effective set of limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries, they have a great way of keeping this promise. 

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