IFLA and librarians’ impact at the United Nations: historical overview and compilation of resources

By Loida Garcia-Febo, IFLA Governing Board Member, Chair of Management of Library Associations and Advisor of CPDWL

The following is a compilation of resources related to IFLA and librarians’ advocacy to place libraries on the agenda of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and benefit libraries and communities worldwide. As this work is ongoing and has covered a span of years starting in 2014, it is sensible to note that there might be some documents that will need to be added.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. The 17 Goals were adopted by all UN members during the UN General Assembly in September 2015. Libraries worldwide are essential to development and are showing the power of libraries in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

IFLA members and staff members started advocating at the United Nations in full during the 8th session of the UN Open Working Group (OWG) between February 3-7 2014. There, IFLA presented the event “Data accountability for the post-2015 development agenda together with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). The meeting brought together various initiatives and key stakeholders active in the field to discuss how to facilitate the monitoring of the new development framework, improved data collection and use of data in evidence-based policy making and the role of intermediaries in fostering transparency and participation. Loida Garcia-Febo, IFLA Governing Board member then, presented the role of libraries in the data revolution and further promoted the central role libraries play. Summary about IFLA’s participation, papers presented, and related articles developed by IFLA are here in English and Spanish.

Since then, IFLA together with varied members leaders from different regions of the world, has established a presence at the United Nations. First, as a member of the UN Open Working Group that collaborated with UN members, permanent representatives, civil society groups, ambassadors and UN units to contribute to what would become the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). IFLA played a key role advocating for culture, education, and ICTs among other crucial matters for libraries and librarians. Libraries and librarians worldwide achieved a big win when the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals included Target 16.10, part of Goal 16:

UN SDG Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Target 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements

IFLA’s page Libraries, Development and the United Nations Development Agenda provides insights about the work of IFLA in this area throughout the years.

Currently, results for the search term “United Nations” in the IFLA website total 536 results. These reflect an amazing activity lead by IFLA in different fronts related to the United Nations including the Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, the United Nations created a page featuring “Contributions of Libraries to the SDGs.”

Over the years, many IFLA Sections, Advisory Groups, and Special Interest Groups have enthusiastically included the UN SDGs in their activities. This year, the Management of Library Associations Section (MLAS) launched a webinar series under the theme “SDGs and Library Associations.” The series, a collaboration between IFLA MLAS, IFLA New Professionals, ENSULIB and Regional Divisions, was presented in March, May, June and July 2023 and featured various regions of the world.

IFLA has engaged many members in library advocacy at the United Nations. For instance, on July 17, 2017, the IFLA Leaders were part of the IFLA delegation to the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) and IFLA launched the Development and Access to Information Report. Another useful resource from 2017 that is still used as a reference by many interested in the topic of libraries and the SDGs is the IFLA Toolkit: Libraries, Development and the United Nations 2030 Agenda (Revised version – August 2017).

In recent years, engagement from members at the UN continue. The IFLA delegation to the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in 2022 included librarians from Jamaica, Latvia, Argentina, Sri Lanka, USA Bostwana, and Lesotho who met with their ministers and spoke at various forums from the UN representing their countries and advocating for libraries.This past July IFLA also sent a delegation to the UN HLPF 2023 which included librarians from all regions of the world, North America, Latin America & the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia/Oceania, Middle East and North Africa, and North America. These librarians met with ministers from their countries and some of them spoke on the floor about how libraries contribute to the SDGs. See results from the IFLA delegation at the HLPF2023 here. IFLA returns to the UN with two events for the Sustainable Development Action Weekend.

On July 5, 2023, IFLA was invited to speak at a High-level interactive dialogue on Culture  and Sustainable Development convened by the President of the United Nations General Assembly in partnership with UNESCO titled “Culture as a global public good: Filling SDG implementation gaps beyond 2030.” Loida Garcia-Febo represented IFLA and advocated for culture as part of the SDGs which IFLA has championed together with other organizations.

It is relevant to note that library associations around the world have heard IFLA’s call and have joined works to promote and include libraries in the UN SDGs. Some of these are: the Serbian Library Association which dedicated its 2017 annual conference to the SDGs, the Latvian Library Association which President spoke at the UN HLPF2022, the Australian Library Association with a myriad of resources including guides and teaching modules, and the American Library Association’s Task Force on the UN 2030 SDGs developing SDGs charts with examples for different types of libraries and free downloadable resources for libraries and the ALA UN SDGs Committee which has collaborated with IFLA to present joint programs during recent UN events.

In July 2023 the ALA collaborated with IFLA to present two virtual events during the days of the UN High Level Political Forum 2023:

  • “Indigenous Agency and Abundance: Impacts of Indigenous librarians and libraries on Indigenous communities, health, and inclusion and the 12th International Indigenous Librarians’ Forum.” Recording: com/3xf8trpy
  • “Libraries and Women Empowerment at the Intersection of Development.” Recording: com/f3ae8hyy

Additionally, in September 26 the ALA UN SDG Committee in collaboration with IFLA and the IFLA Indigenous Matters Section will present: “Library services to indigenous populations worldwide: rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity” during the days of the United Nations General Assembly. The event features indigenous library leaders in a dialogue about challenges and opportunities related to library services to indigenous populations in different regions of the world. They will discuss themes such as rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity, social protection systems, climate change and cultural rights which reflect the overarching theme of the 78th UN General Assembly: “‘Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all.”

The event features the following speakers:

  • Camille Callison, University Librarian at University of the Fraser Valley,Member IFLA Indigenous Matters Section
  • Feather Maracle, CEO & Director of Library Services Six Nations Public Library,Member IFLA Indigenous Matters Section
  • Collence Chisita, Researcher/ Lecturer University of South Africa, Member IFLA Indigenous Matters Section
  • Cindy Hohl, Director of Branch Operations Kansas City Public Library,  ALA President-Elect, Member IFLA Indigenous Matters Section

The following are notable resources developed by IFLA to support library associations and libraries contributing to the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals:

Libraries and the Sustainable Development Goals: A Storytelling Manual is an exceptional resource with guidance on How to tell your story Elements of compelling evidence-based storytelling.

The Library Map of the World is a unique database developed to house and provide access to SDG stories from different countries around the world.

IFLA together with members continue the key work of advocating for libraries and collaborating with UN members, permanent representatives, civil society groups, ambassadors and UN units to develop the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at various regional and global forums. Libraries are supporting social cohesion and are showing the power of libraries in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).