U.S. Academic Libraries and the Sustainable Development Goals

Higher education institutions in the U.S. are often private, not publicly funded. Furthermore, the United States recently confirmed its withdrawal from membership of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO has been heavily involved in crafting and supporting the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

For these and other reasons the SDGs may not be high on U.S. academic libraries’ list of priorities.   However, I believe that U.S. academic librarians have many opportunities to contribute to the development of a sustainable and inclusive world. As a university librarian at a leading U.S. university I believe I have a responsibility to facilitate these opportunities. The knowledge and skills librarians need to possess include the following:

  • The knowledge of how the current scholarly communications system imposes economic barriers to research-sharing that exclude scholars in less developed countries from both creating and accessing academic resources. And the skill to use modern technologies to develop alternative systems based on principles of sustainability and inclusion.
  • The knowledge of how their users respond to information, especially misinformation derived from social media and malicious web sites trafficking in falsehoods. And the skill to provide their users with the tools that will allow them to evaluate more accurately these sources of information.
  • The knowledge that information philanthropy from North to South is not a sufficient basis for action. The skill to organize and fund sustainable alternatives such as OCSDnet, the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network.
  • The knowledge that not all societies have or even want an openly accessible digital platform for their cultural heritage. The skill to work with those communities in developing new, interoperable tools that empower these societies and provide them with whatever opportunities they seek to share their heritage.
  • The knowledge that sustainability and inclusivity are two concepts that will always need the attention and focus of librarians because they will never receive enough attention from the business people and legislators that set limits on the library services we seek to deliver. The skill to incorporate sustainability and inclusivity into the conceptual framework for every library project.

I believe that this knowledge and these skills will come to librarians in many ways. However, the first and most important method to develop the knowledge base and skills we need is to encourage continual communication and exchange among a truly global community of librarians.  I also believe librarians at higher education institutions, thanks to the parent networks formed by universities and academics throughout the world, have great advantages when seeking to provide this forum for global and intercultural knowledge exchange.

Gerald R. Beasley

Carl A. Kroch University Librarian

Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, U.S.A.

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