Monthly Archives: July 2019

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #28: Celebrate an International Day

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #28: Celebrate an International Day

Advocacy about showing your relevance.

In a number of previous editions, we’ve talked about how do identify relevant subjects, and how to react to them.

But sometimes you don’t need to search.

The United Nations and its agencies have identified a number of key days where there is a focus on a specific issue – think International Women’s Day for example.

On these days, many governments and others will be talking about that issue.

Libraries can too!

So for our 28th 10-Minute Library Exercise, celebrate an international day!

Of course, some are more relevant than others.

The International Literacy Day (10 September), International Day for the Universal Access to Information (28 September), or Human Rights Day (10 December) are particularly good ones though!

You can do this by downloading a poster or leaflet, making a post in social media, or even writing a blog or article.

Doing so shows that you and your library are part of a global conversation, and can make people think about libraries in a new way.

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!



Government, Culture and Access: Where Did you Go, André Malraux?

The French Ministry of Culture is celebrating its 60th birthday. In its day, it was a rarity – indeed, France was the first major democracy to create one. Sixty years on, it is almost the idea of not having a ministry of culture, with a minister, that seems odd.

Clearly governments were supporting different types of culture previously in various ways. Through direct patronage, through support for preservation, and through arts education, there was help. But it rarely came with the prestige of a full ministerial position.

The French Ministry’s creation came soon after General de Gaulle came to power. He was committed to promoting France and its production internationally, and in doing so, underlined that culture was a major policy and political issue.

In André Malraux, a novelist and resistance hero – the first Minister for Culture – the General found a man who believed in exposing people to great works, as well as promoting the idea of the writers of today building on the work of those who came before, through a ‘library of the imagination’.

In his own words, the new ministry’s role was to ‘make accessible the chief works of humanity, and first of all of France, to the greatest possible number of French citizens, to ensure a wider audience for our cultural heritage, and to favour the creation of art and of the spirit that enrich it’ (Founding Decree of 1959).


1959: Access First

Malraux’s statement is significant. He clearly places access first among the goals of his ministry.

Clearly this was a personal passion. But it also recalls one of the core missions of government – to look after the wellbeing of the population as a whole.

Obviously, Malraux doesn’t only talk about access. Heritage – and implicitly its preservation – as well as support for creativity are also there, as key factors underpinning access. But access definitively comes first.

This is a view that will echo with libraries, who share a dedication to access, not at the expense of creativity or heritage, but in order to support it.

This is because access allows for the emergence of new readers, new buyers, and new creators. But more than this, a focus on access fundamentally legitimises any government’s investment in the field of culture in the first place by delivering on the duty under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to enable everyone to participate in the cultural life of the community.

In other words, it fulfils two of the broader roles of government – to act where the market will not in the interests of future prosperity, and to deliver on fundamental rights for all.

This is clearly not just the something that libraries do. Malraux also talked about the imaginary museum, or the museum with out walls. All culture, he argued, had a vocation to be available to all.


2019: Access Last?

Sixty years on, and it is noticeable that the order of priorities chosen by the ministry has changed.  In the dossier prepared by the Ministry for its own birthday, it sets out its work in the following terms:

‘For 60 years, the Ministry of Culture has protected and supported heritage, stimulated creativity, promoted cultural diversity, and favoured the access of all to art and culture’.

Clearly most of the ideas are the same – around heritage, creativity and access, with diversity (thankfully) now added. However, the order is different. Heritage comes first, support for creative industries second, and access only last.

In effect, the focus seems to have moved from the people to the producers, from demand to supply.

This is only confirmed in the ministry’s own summary of its work to promote access, which, instead of talking about ensuring that everyone has the possibility to enjoy culture (itself a human right), focuses rather again on preserving heritage and supporting creation.

Clearly, libraries will not be against protecting heritage and promoting creativity – these are things libraries do on a daily basis, and a core part of their mission. However, they are primarily means to an end – democratic access to information and culture for all. Losing sight of this is a cause for concern.


Why this apparent shift has happened is open for discussion. It certainly seems to bring the risk of forgetting the key message of Malraux – that the job of governments when they get involved in culture must first and foremost be to ensure that it is democratic and open to all. It is a message worth remembering.

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #27: Follow Up!

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #27: Follow Up!

Advocacy is about building relationships.

While it’s an important first step to talk to a politician, funder or influencer, and get their business card, you can’t stop there.

Indeed, the more important they are, the busier they are likely to be. They need to be reminded of the time you met.

And of course, a strong relation only comes from repeated contact.

So for our 27th 10-Minute Library Advocate, exercise, follow-up with someone you met recently at an event, a visit, or another occasion.

Send them an e-mail, or even a letter (this can be powerful, given that physical letters are quite rare now!).

Remind them of your conversation, perhaps send on some (but not too much!) more information.

It can even be an opportunity to give your arguments more effectively than in person if you didn’t have time!

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

What Makes Libraries Unique in Achieving… SDG17

DA2I means building and scaling up partnerships to transform knowledge into sustainable developmentThe final Sustainable Development Goal being reviewed in 2019 – and indeed every year at the High Level Political Forum is SDG17 – Partnerships for the Global Goals.

This is another broad goal, but makes the crucial point that cooperation and collaboration will be necessary for success. In more detail, it calls for a drive to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

The topics covered by different targets are diverse – trade, tax, development assistance, and statistics, technology, skills, policy-making – and there is a lot in there for libraries. On a more general level, libraries are well placed to participate in partnerships.

But how to explain this to decision-makers? This final blog in the series sets out three arguments around how libraries are unique in achieving SDG17:

  • Because technology transfer should be based on knowledge transfer: there is a major risk of a knowledge divide in the world, with richer countries better able to create and apply innovations. The SDGs stress that these good ideas should also spread across borders, in order not to leave whole countries or regions behind. Information is the basis of innovation, and by ensuring everyone, everywhere can find and use it, libraries not only help good ideas spread, but also support the creation of locally specific solutions.
  • Because places are necessary for partnership: when working to help people on the ground, we cannot only trust in apps and other technology. Building collaborative solutions, especially in order to include more vulnerable groups, requires spaces where actions can be discussed, adapted and owned by communities. Libraries, often the only public space in a community, can provide this, enabling other players to come together and deliver progress.
  • Because capacity building requires access to information: development cannot only be about donations or loans from rich to poor countries. In the long run, every country must have the capacity to take the best possible decisions and follow the best possible path. Information has to be a starting point and a foundation for improving the ability of governments at all levels to improve their effectiveness.

For more information about libraries’ potential in delivering partnerships for development, please see the 2019 Development and Access to Information (DA2I) Report.

What Makes Libraries Unique in Achieving… SDG 16

DA2I means engaged citizens, informed societies, and better governance The fifth Sustainable Development Goal under review at the 2019 High Level Political Forum is SDG 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions.

It is certainly one of the broader goals, covering promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Crucially, it’s also the SDG that refers to the importance of access to information. IFLA has of course placed a major emphasis on this goal, promoting access as necessary for progress in so many other areas.

But how to promote the libraries to people – and in particular decision-makers – who care about peaceful, fair and well-governed societies? Here are three arguments for why libraries are unique in achieving SDG16:

  • Because democracy depends on informed societies: SDG 16 focuses strongly on the importance of giving citizens the possibility to participate in decision-making. To do this, and so build a successful and sustainable democracy, people need to have a strong knowledge of current issues and the choices that any society faces. Libraries are ideal places for people to engage in civic life, and to learn about and discuss key subjects.
  • Because open government is about more than just a website: there is growing acceptance of the value of transparency as a means of fighting corruption and ensuring accountability. Yet simply creating websites or apps, or passing laws will not make a difference if no-one is using them. There is a real need to give people the encouragement and the skills to make the most of these. Libraries have both an expertise in helping people make the most of information, and increasingly are supporting open government initiatives explicitly.
  • Because the best decisions are based on the best information: people who are taking decisions, both in government and parliaments rely on the best possible evidence and support in order to get things right. This matters, as the choices they make may well affect millions of citizens. Government and parliamentary libraries play an essential role in ensuring that those in power can access the latest research and ideas, and to do the best by their citizens.

For more information, please see the chapter on SDG16 in the 2019 Development and Access to Information (DA2I) Report by Dorothy Gordon, Chair of the Intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO’s Information for All Programme.

Information for Youth: Celebrating World Youth Skills Day 2019

It is a cliché to say that children are the future. However, what is certain is that the experiences of young people today will stay with them for years.

The skills they learn, and how they apply them, have the potential to shape the rest of their careers and personal lives, and the societies they live in.

This is why the United Nations has chosen to dedicate an international day to youth skills – World Youth Skills Day.

This blog explores the reasons behind this, and makes the case for focusing, in particular, on information skills. This, it concludes, is an area where libraries can make a crucial difference.


Why youth, why skills?

As the United Nations’ own website sets out, youth represent a major part of the world population. One in every six people on the planet is aged between 15 and 24 – that’s 1.2 billion people in total.

Such a huge population implies both major opportunities and major challenges.

Get things right, and there is a huge generation of people who are capable, confidence, and ready to tackle global challenges.

Get things wrong, and there will be a wave of young people who are disaffected, disconnected, and frustrated.

Currently, the risk of a negative scenario is high. Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and face poorer quality jobs, greater inequalities and more insecurity.

As set out in the introduction, negative experiences in these formative years can have ‘scarring’ effects, leaving many young people permanently disadvantaged and disconnected, socially, economically and democratically.

The goal, then, of World Youth Skills Day is to underline the need to invest in helping youth make the transition from school into the labour market, from childhood to adulthood, and to become active and engaged citizens.


The growing need for information skills

It is perhaps another cliché to talk about the growing importance of the internet and information. Yet this is also a truth, not only when it comes to jobs, but also to broader social, cultural and civic life.

As highlighted in a previous blog, there is a risk of information poverty becoming a factor that reinforces income poverty.

Those who don’t have access to information, and the skills and confidence to use it, are more likely to struggle to find work or benefit from government schemes. They are less likely to be able to take the right decisions, or call for better conditions or laws.

They are also at greater risk of falling victim to some of the negative aspects of online life, such as a loss of privacy, cyber-crime, or the sharing of deliberate misinformation.

In short, if we are thinking about the skills that young people need in order to stay safe and succeed in future, information and digital skill are certainly an important part of the picture.


The contribution of libraries

This is where libraries come in, bringing two key advantages.

First of all, they can offer a valuable complement to the work of schools. In many situations, the education system has not kept up with the digital world. Young people may develop valuable knowledge of academic subjects, but nothing that can be easily operationalised.

In Kenya, for example, the library in Kibera complemented the work of skills by giving young people access to technology and skills training. This paid off in terms of better exam result, and the first ever admissions to prestigious national schools from the town.

For young people who have finished formal schooling, the library can be the only gateway to skills development.

Secondly, libraries have a particular expertise in the way that information is managed, shared and used.

While this has, in the past, primarily been applied to helping researchers choose between resources to use, there is a growing awareness that the ability to find, understand, evaluate and use information – information literacy – can be applied in all areas of life.

While this role is still developing, it is clear, in the US for example, that young people already see libraries as a place to come in order to make better use of information.


The success or not of efforts to support young people to make a successful transition to adulthood will have a major impact on our future economies, societies and democracies.

With an ever-greater role for information in all parts of our lives, the capability and attitudes to make best use of this must play a part in any comprehensive youth skills strategy.

Libraries are already working to make this a reality.

Happy World Youth Skills Day!

What Makes Libraries Unique in Achieving… SDG13

DA2I means understanding how to address climate change, from the individual to the global levelsThe fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) up for review at the 2019 High Level Political Forum is SDG13 – Climate Action.

It underlines the need to take urgent action to tackle climate change and its impacts, with progress needed from the planetary to the individual levels. This is perhaps the clearest example of an issue that requires a truly global approach, as well as the one that poses the most obvious threat to the future of humanity.

Within the library field, the green library movement has for years promoted the contribution that our institutions can make to reducing their own impact on the environment, as well as promoting more sustainable behaviour elsewhere – see our article “Sustainability is Libraries’ Business” on this topic, already translated into seven languages.

But how to explain this role effectively to politicians? Here are three arguments why libraries are unique in achieving SDG13:

  • Because we need research at the global level: the first step in tackling the climate crisis is to understand it. Research collaboration between experts around the world has helped show what is happening, and how this is already impacting lives in different parts of the world. This effort needs to continue, as does sharing of practices on how to mitigate this. Libraries are essential to support this research, including by facilitating sharing across borders, and promoting open access.
  • Because everyone has a role to play: SDG13 underlines the role that individual behaviour change will play. In all countries, there will be need to be more efficient and less wasteful in the way we live our lives. Libraries have a unique reach into their communities, and can act not only as examples to their users by adopting sustainable practices, but can also be an access point for wider information about how to live more greenly.
  • Because the sharing economy helps reduce consumption: a key driver of climate change is over-consumption of manufactured goods. Yet it is not efficient for everyone to have one of everything, for example tools or even household appliances. Libraries are an early example of the sharing economy, with a focus on books, but are not lending out other items which people would otherwise need to buy. In this way, they limit the need to produce new goods, and so create further emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

For more, see the chapter on SDG13 in the 2019 Development and Access to Information (DA2I) Report by Karl Falkenberg.