A Foundation for Change: Celebrating World Development Information Day

World Development Information Day may not be the best-known date on the international calendar.

First celebrated in 1972, it was the result of a UN General Assembly Resolution which recognised the importance of information, both in raising awareness of development challenges, and in providing the tools to respond to them.

The date chosen was significant – the anniversary both of the UN itself, and of the launch of the second decade of development in 1970.

In effect, it signalled that information needed to be a component of any comprehensive effort to deliver change, from the UN down. This blog explores this shift, and how libraries can both support, and benefit from it.


Recognising the Role of Information

Back in the 70s, giving such a focus to information was a relatively big step. Decision-making in many countries remained elitist. The importance of evidence in politics – and in other domains such as medicine – was still under-appreciated.

While the importance of access to information as an individual right had been made clear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, there was less of a focus on the role of information in enabling engagement in broader public debate and mobilisation.

Similarly, efforts to use evidence systematically in order to inform cross-border policy-making remained limited, with bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development only created in the late 50s.

Therefore, by placing such a focus on information at the macro level, the UN was making a powerful statement in favour of informed societies as catalysts for change, and informed governments as essential for success.

This message is of course just as valid today as it was 47 years ago.

We have certainly made progress. Mass mobilisations on issues such as climate change are a great example of how the results of scientific research, when presented accessibly, can get the public engaged.

But there are plenty of other issues where an informed, active public, could help accelerate change.


Understanding The Role of Libraries

Libraries have supported individual information, study and research throughout their existence. In doing this, they have allowed people to improve their own lives, as well as to innovate, for the benefit of their communities.

But libraries also have a potentially important role in enabling public debate by providing the resources and the space necessary for people to come together.

This can be true for adults, as was the case in Taiwan, China, when libraries acted to help inform citizens in the context of public protests, allowing them to understand more fully controversial issues. Similarly, Toronto Public Library runs a rich programme series, allowing participants to hear from a range of speakers on topical issues.

They can also help younger people engage with key issues, for example through initiatives like the SDG Book Club, or the Rights for Right programme run by the public library in Seixal, Portugal.

There are many other examples in our blog on libraries and civic engagement.

But in turn, libraries also benefit from the availability of information, not least about themselves. Through IFLA’s Library Map of the World, there is already a wealth of data about libraries and their use.

In due course, this will make it possible to come to new insights and understandings about the impact of libraries on their societies.

But such efforts depend to a large extent on the readiness of governments to collect and publish data in order to inform the debate.

With it, it becomes possible to reflect on where and how library systems can contribute to development more effectively. Without it, the potential that libraries have to improve lives is wasted.


World Development Information Day – and the Resolution that brought it to life – remain a helpful reference for libraries in making the case for their role in creating richer, fairer and more sustainable societies.

While the celebration is rapidly approaching its half century, the value of providing information remains as strong as ever, not least in terms of advocacy for the library field itself.

We encourage all governments to respect the Resolution, and not only support the dissemination of information through libraries, but also, crucially, the publication of information about libraries themselves.

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