Libraries Transforming Education: Equity, Capability, Continuity

This year’s International Youth Day focuses on the need to transform education.

As the United Nations’ own website underlines, the combination of the crucial role of education in delivering other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the future role of young people themselves, makes this a vital area of work.

Libraries have always had a key part to play in supporting education, from simply making available the materials needed by students to more active provision of teaching.

They can also be at the heart of the transformation that will be necessary to make education truly universal, effective and meaningful for all. This blog suggests three ways in which they can make a unique contribution.


Equity: a key challenge faced by many schools is the unevenness of basic literacy skills among new entrants. It is clear that those children who have had more opportunity to read – and listen to others read – before starting formal education are in a better position to succeed.

Libraries have a long experience of promoting reading for pleasure from a young age, and indeed in the Netherlands are seen as part of the overall government offer of support for young families. In this way, they allow for early intervention, which helps stop children starting school at a disadvantage.


Capability: in addition to supporting basic literacy, libraries are very well placed to help young people develop the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in an information-rich world. Many support media and information literacy classes, for example, giving youth the tools they need to take their own decisions and engage in civic life.

In other cases, libraries provide a space for learning how to use new technologies which may not be available in schools (for example in Kibera, Kenya), or to learn to code (as in rural regions of Romania). There are further great examples in the most recent newsletter from IFLA’s Section on Library Services for Children and Young Adults.

Such skills can be essential if young people are to go into the world with the knowledge and abilities they need to be independent.


Continuity: crucially, the support that libraries offer does not stop when school does. A key strength of the library field is that services are available for all, throughout their lives. Evidence from the United States suggests that about half of all 18-35 year olds have visited a public library in the last year, a larger share than any other age group.

Especially where compulsory education does not extend far beyond primary school, libraries can be essential as places for young people to keep contact with learning opportunities. As underlined in Katarina Popovic’s contribution to this year’s Development and Access to Information report, these are chances which are indispensable if we are to achieve the SDGs.


With the right support, libraries ready, in turn, to support the transformation of education necessary to ensure that everyone has the knowledge and skills they need.


See also our blogs for World Youth Skills Day 2019 on the importance of information skills for youth, for World Teachers Day 2018 looking at how libraries support teachers, and for World Youth Day 2018, focusing on libraries providing safe spaces for youth.   


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