Monthly Archives: October 2020

Valuing Our Communities and Cities: the role of libraries in community-focused urban development

According to the UN, over half the world’s population lives in cities. This is expected to increase by three billion by 2050.

Crucially, it is these people that make cities, not buildings. Cities are vast networks, made up of many smaller networks that connect citizens to one another, to services, utilities, and opportunities.

People, and the communities they form, are the heart of urban spaces. As we look to the future, how can human communities be kept in the heart of sustainable urban development?

What steps do city planners need to take, including robust participatory processes , to ensure that our evolving cities provide equitable opportunities for social engagement and mobalisation for all people?

This is the question the UN  asks of us  on World Cities Day 2020 with the theme: Valuing Our Communities and Cities.

As cities are interconnected networks, stakeholders from all sectors must work collaboratively in order truly to realise the goal of sustainable urban development. We cannot work in silos. Institutions that promote the inclusion of people and communities, ensuring they are informed and given the ability to take part in enacting change, are necessary.

Libraries are an essential part of this community-focused urban development.

This article explores some ways in which libraries contribute to creating better cities and better lives for the people who live in them. We invite you to share your ideas in the comments below.

Cultural Life as Urban Right

The 2020 Rome Charter affirms that the right to participate fully and freely in cultural life is vital to our cities and communities. The Charter, led by Roma Capitale and the UCLG Committee on Culture, involves over 45 cities and 95 advisors.

According to the Charter, a city that truly supports the participation of its inhabitants in cultural life is one that has provisions for people to discover, create, share, enjoy, and protect culture. Moreover, it states that this is a requirement for cities and communities to thrive.

We stress the fact that libraries contribute to each of these values.

  • DISCOVER: Libraries provide access to information through their collections and internet access, where cultural expressions and heritage can be discovered.
  • CREATE: Libraries encourage creativity by championing freedom of expression and providing spaces where people can exercise this.
  • SHARE: Libraries are built on the principle that sharing expressions of culture enriches one’s life. Their role in promoting freedom of access to information, expression, and multicultural connectivity upholds this.
  • ENJOY: Libraries are often cultural centres, they are free-of-cost places where all people are invited to access collections, services, and programmes.
  • PROTECT: Libraries are memory institutions and leaders in the preservation and conservation of documentary heritage.

By supporting libraries, a city can uphold the core values of the Rome Charter. It can help ensure the right of its citizens to participate in cultural life fully and freely, as is vital to healthy cities and communities.

Memory and Change

This contribution can be vital in addressing pressing challenges, bringing about necessary changes in attitudes and practices.

The Climate Heritage Network (of which IFLA is a founding member) has led the conversation on culture’s role in climate action. Cultural institutions like libraries build a more sustainable future for our communities that keeps people and culture at the heart of development.

For example, the role of traditional, local, and Indigenous knowledge can have real impact on built adaptations and sustainable practices (The Future of our Past, ICOMOS, 2019). Libraries, as holders of memory and providers of information, have a key role to play in connecting the knowledge they hold, as well as the people they serve, to these initiatives.

The Climate Heritage Network has been taking part in Daring Cities 2020 events during Urban October. Organised by Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), Daring Cities is a global forum on climate change for urban leaders tackling the climate emergency.

In a recent panel discussion, the Climate Heritage Network in partnership with ICLEI showcased local climate action by culture authorities from around the world in addressing the climate emergency, such as adaptive and resilience-building measures and climate change mitigation efforts. You can watch the full programme online here.

This high-level discussion, bringing together cultural institutions and local government, affirms the transformative role that cultural institutions can have in promoting sustainable, human-centred climate action in urban spaces.

Memory institutions (libraries, museums, and archives) must be included in climate action for their ability to engage people in the present, connect them with the knowledge of the past, and preserve information on this process for the future.

Libraries and Sustainability

Exploring this role of libraries within IFLA is the Environment, Sustainability and Libraries Special Interest Group (ENSULIB).

This Special Interest Group (which will transition to an IFLA Section in 2021) focuses on the role of libraries in social, economic and environmental sustainability including environmental threats, like climate change, as well as in broader SDG delivery.

ENSULIB has mobilised librarians around the world to connect, publish, gather (in person and virtually), and raise a call for collective action in their communities. Libraries are by nature spaces for access to knowledge and information, but they are also places for sharing, socialising, meeting with others and for personal and professional growth. The programmes they facilitate regarding climate change and sustainability help people address these issues not as abstract concepts, but rather as real factors in their communities’ health and wellbeing.

Through our work, ENSULIB elevates the role of librarians as teachers and role models for in greening practices. Libraries in cities can be poles of transformation, but they are also the example that citizens observe every time they reach their services.

Cities want to be resilient and sustainable now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged libraries to take an active role and help communities that need them.

Citizens transform cities and libraries can help citizens make positive choices.

Libraries in democratic societies

Looking beyond environmental sustainability, libraries also play a role in social sustainability – our ability to live and work together, and build a stronger future.

IFLA’s core values include the belief that people, communities and organisations need universal and equitable access to information, ideas, and works of imagination for their social, educational, cultural, democratic and economic well-being.

We share the conviction that delivery of high-quality library and information services helps guarantee that access.

Libraries power literate, informed, and participatory societies. They do this through by championing access to information, supporting skills-building and lifelong learning, and encouraging participation in governance.

These values will be necessary to achieve the vision for the future of urbanization in which cities are equitable providers of opportunity, connection, and social mobilisation.

In his 2018 book, Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, Eric Klinenberg suggests that the future of democratic societies depends not only on shared values, but on shared spaces. This combats the racial, religious, cultural, and class divides that threaten to polarise our societies by finding a common ground – gathering places where connection is made.

Libraries are one these elements of an inclusive social infrastructure that is required for an equitable, community-valuing approach to urbanization.

See IFLA’s recent blog post, Libraries at the Heart of Democracy, for more on this topic.


One of the many lessons we have learned from COVID-19 is that community is vital to resilience. We have seen this in the volunteerism, community organising, and local support networks that have helped so many people through these challenging times.

As the world continues to urbanise, this value of community must be built into the fabric of our cities to create resilient and sustainable urban spaces. We need support for libraries to fully realise this goal.

Libraries are spaces for social economy to thrive. They are free-to-access, public meeting places that exist to enrich local connection and access to culture, information, and opportunity. When discussing community-focused transformative change in cities, libraries are the nodes in the network where change can be sparked.


A special thank you to ENSULIB members for contributing to this article. You can learn more about them online here


Library Stat of the Week #42: Students from foreign language backgrounds rely more on libraries than their native-language peers

Over the past few weeks, our Library Stat of the Week posts have been looking at the degree to which students from different groups rely more or less on libraries.

We can gain insights into this from the results of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s  (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which in 2009 included a strong focus on libraries.

Today’s post looks at a further variable – whether students mainly speak a foreign language or the national language at home. In practical terms, in a country like the United Kingdom, we are looking at the difference in library use between children in English-speaking households, and, for example, Polish-speaking households.

This can have an impact on scores in reading and literacy, with young people with less exposure to national languages potentially struggling. Added to this is the fact that children of parents who do not speak the national language fluently cannot necessarily call on them for help with homework.

Graphs 1a and 1b therefore look at the difference in levels of library usage between these groups, expressed as the average score for students who come from households which mainly use a foreign language minus the average scores for students from households using the national language.

Graph 1a: Difference in Reading Index Scores Between Students who Speak a Foreign vs the National Language at HomeGraph 1b: Difference in Reading Index Scores Between Students who Speak a Foreign vs the National Language at Home

These demonstrate that on average, there is a gap of 0.24 points within the OECD, and 0.19 globally in favour of students from households using a foreign language, on an average that runs from -1 (no library use) to +1 (very intense library use).

The biggest gaps are seen in Hungary and the United Kingdom, although in total, 44 of the 55 for which data is available see students from foreign-language-speaking households making more use of libraries than those from national-language-speaking households.

Meanwhile, in only 10 countries do children from national-language households use libraries more than those from foreign-language households.


The data here appears to make a similar point to that made in previous posts in this mini-series – that young people who have characteristics often associated with disadvantage tend to use libraries more intensively than their peers.

Again, as before, the implication is that any moves that make access to libraries more difficult are likely to have a disproportionate impact on those who are already more at risk.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #23: Think of something that hasn’t worked, and learn from it

Celebrating success is an important way to maintain motivation and energy.

But not every initiative works, especially when it is new or innovative!

Everyone will experience failures, or things that didn’t quite turn out as hoped. But beyond the disappointment, these can also be great opportunities to develop.

Indeed, there is often less to learn from a success than from a failure!

If the library field is to continue to learn and develop, taking these opportunities is important.

So for our 23rd 10-Minute International Librarian, think of something you’ve done that hasn’t worked, and learn from it.

Try to find which parts of any initiative could be changed or improved. Sometimes of course, it may be bad luck, but even some elements of chance can be managed.

You can these use what you have learned in your work in future.

You might even write a blog or present a paper about something that hasn’t worked, in order to help others share in your understanding, and avoid making mistakes.

Let us know if you have learned from mistakes, or have seen great examples of how this can be done in the comments below.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 3.4 Provide targeted learning and professional development.

You can view all of our ideas using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box.

Open Access Week 2020: Libraries continue to support equity and inclusion

From 19th to 25th of October 2020, Open Access Week focuses on taking action to build structural equity and inclusion. These principles, a core value of the library field, need to be supported by policies and capacity-building efforts in order to become reality.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries have faced restrictions due to the closure of their facilities, preventing access to legally accessed and paid-for resources such as scientific articles, books, newspapers, textbooks, and additional educational resources to their users. Due to an inadequate copyright framework, libraries in many countries are prevented from, or faced with legal uncertainty in, giving digital access to copies of legally acquired books or legal uncertainties.

This situation reinforces structural inequalities which disadvantage citizens who are not in a position to buy a book to pursue their studies.

This is however not a situation limited to the time of the pandemic. Library facilities are not equally accessible to all citizens. Users can struggle because of the lack of libraries infrastructure in their district, in their city or because they need to access a specific resource which is in a specialized library in another city, another region or another country.

The knowledge is out there but not always accessible to them.

How can libraries continue to support an access to information and to scientific resources to support their users to benefit from all scientific articles in their field notwithstanding their locations and means?

How can libraries continue to provide access to educational contents (e.g. textbooks, articles) to all their students and users without financial barriers, and give students with lower incomes with the best possible resources and environment?

Clearly one response to this is meaningful copyright reform. However, a parallel approach is to ensure that the restrictions often associated with copyright do not apply in the first place.
Open Access and Open Science approaches more broadly do this, and in doing so aim at providing a better access to resources no matter where you are or your means to access them. They are based on the idea that no research should be dependent on funds to access relevant scientific articles. Users should not be asked to travel to access resources physically, or via a monitor on-site as this creates financial and time barriers for all researchers at a time where research funding is largely diminished.

As librarians, we continue strengthening our capacity by training our teams and colleagues to address these access issues, support the development of training and tools for our users (students, researchers, lecturers and teachers) to retain their copyright, encourage them to publish their works in open access with scholarships, to create open educational resources to support all students wherever they are.

Strong and consistent policies have been developed to support these actions such as SDG’s UN Agenda 2030, Unesco’s 2019 OER Recommendation and the principles related to plan S, supporting the implementation of these objectives within our institutions.

We continue to move forward to facilitate these steps by advocating and raising awareness of the importance of this work throughout the chain of stakeholders involved, from the creators of resources and articles, to the users (students and teachers), policy-makers, head of libraries and universities to provide support and means.

We encourage you to check the #OAweek or #OpenAccessWeek to discover all tools and articles related to this topic!

Copyrights and Library Resources: Two Sides of the Same Coin

So much library advocacy is about funding – ensuring that our institutions have the support necessary to carry out their missions. This can be more or less explicit, from directly campaigning for stable or increased budgets, to working to ensure libraries are featured in wider policy plans which provide the basis for allocating resources later.

This work is vital. Its impact is also relatively simple to demonstrate. Without funding, there cannot be professional librarians, equipment, adequate buildings or collections. With it, there can be longer opening hours, new computers and books, more staff.

Compare this with advocacy around copyright. This can immediately seem like a much more complicated goal, involving concepts and terminology which are some way away from the everyday life not only of the targets of advocacy, but also of librarians themselves. Decisions are taken at the national level – often in a faraway capital – or beyond, not in local town and city halls.

Even outside of advocacy, copyright as an issue is often simply left to the experts. In libraries, often enough, one person (if anyone at all) ends up with the responsibility of answering questions, while in government, it is a subject for the lawyers, unlikely ever to win or lose elections. It can feel like a minority concern.

So far, so far apart. But as this blog argues, these two subjects for advocacy are in fact not so distant from each other, but, as the title suggests, are rather two sides of the same coin.


It’s not (just) what you’ve got, it’s what you can do with it that counts

This is because, in short, copyright laws can have a major impact both on libraries’ spending power, and on the ‘return’ on the investments they make.

Clearly, using such economic vocabulary may feel a little odd, as of course libraries do not make a financial return on their acquisitions. However, thinking more broadly about the impact that libraries aim to deliver – stronger education, research and access to culture – we can still think about how much progress they can make towards these goals for every dollar, euro or yen spent.

One of the most direct examples is around eBooks, where the lack of regulation means that rather than buying eBooks at a consumer rate, libraries are often obliged to buy more expensive copies. There can also be limits on the number of times a library can lend a single book out, or the length of time for which it can lend it.

These facts combine to risk meaning that libraries end up paying much more for every single loan of an eBook than they would for a physical book, or, in other words, get far fewer loans of a book for every dollar, euro or yen spent. This obviously limits the possibility for libraries to deliver on their missions to support literacy and a love of reading, as well as to give access to a diverse range of content.

Copyright can also affect libraries’ ability to give access to other types of work. A key issue during the Pandemic has been the barrier copyright represents for libraries in many countries to digitise the physical works in their collection and give access to them remotely. In effect, during the pandemic, this leaves libraries unable to realise the potential of their collections to support education, research and access to culture.

Outside of the pandemic, these same restrictions on digitisation and remote access mean that libraries cannot realise their potential to give access to people who may not be able to travel to visit collections in person. In effect, out-of-date or overly restrictive copyright laws mean that libraries cannot realise their mission to reach out to all members of the communities they serve.

Similarly, in the research space, text and data mining (TDM) offers strong possibilities to accelerate research and scientific progress. Once again, however, the ability of libraries to allow researchers to carry out TDM will depend on whether copyright law allows this, and subsequent activities, such as sharing results. Without the right laws, libraries can offer less for the money invested in them.

A final example – libraries invest considerable effort in the preservation of works in their collections. Yet this, like many other aspects of library work, faces pressure to demonstrate impact. Being able to make preserved works available online can be a great way of doing this. Yet again, copyright can stand in the way, reducing the ability of libraries to show their own value, and so potentially risking funding.

As set out above, in short, library funding and copyright are two sides of the same coin – a library with a generous budget still risks having less reach and impact (putting this budget at risk) if copyright laws do not allow it to make full use of works.


Complementary Advocacy Strategies

It follows from the above that a comprehensive library advocacy strategy needs to include both advocacy for funding and, where laws are creating problems, advocacy on copyright.

Clearly these can require different sets of knowledge, and work at different levels. Clearly, the atmosphere can also sometimes be different, with copyright reform discussions sometimes more adversarial, although with the right people and a readiness to talk and find areas of agreement. Moreover, it can be uncomfortable for those opposing you to be seen as ‘anti-library’.

However, there is also much in common. Writing to a local government councillor to ask for sustained or increased funding is just as simple as writing to a national senator, deputy or member of parliament. Both require the ability to build up links with decision-makers, creating confidence and understanding.

Crucially, the goal is the same – effective library services in a position to support education, research and access to culture for all of their communities. The same materials, and often the same arguments can be used for both.

It is therefore important for libraries to ensure that, in evaluating their current situation and determining advocacy priorities lie, to think about both funding and laws in order to make the best case for libraries.

Library Stat of the Week #41: Children of Parents with Lower Qualifications Tend to Depend More on Libraries

In the last couple of Library Stat of the Week posts, we have explored data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (OECD PISA) which gives an insight into how much different groups use libraries.

We have seen, already, that students from immigrant backgrounds, and those who do not have a room of their own, or an internet connection at home, tend in most countries to make more use of libraries than others.

In effect, it appears that groups who are facing, or who are at risk of exclusion rely more on the existence of libraries. It follows that any actions that make it harder to access libraries will tend to hurt these groups disproportionately.

This week’s post continues this analysis, and in particular at the question of social mobility, or at least how the level of formal education of parents may affect levels of library use.

This matters, because education can (and arguably should) be a means of helping young people realise their potential, regardless of their parents’ background.

Ensuring that the children of parents with low levels of formal education can succeed at school, and beyond, is therefore a policy priority for any government looking to support the development of its population. The possibility to use libraries to develop reading skills can be a core part of this.

Graph 1: Differences in Library Usage among 15 Year Olds by Level of Education of Parents

Graph 1 provides an overview of the differences in use of libraries between children whose parents with different levels of formal education, looking both at the OECD and the global averages (or at least for all countries covered by the survey). In this graph, a longer bar means a greater difference, with bars pointing up implying that the children of lower educated parents use libraries more than the children of higher-educated parents.

This indicates that in almost all cases, children whose parents have lower formal education qualifications tend to use libraries more than children whose parents have higher formal education qualifications. The greater the gap between qualifications level, the greater the difference in use of libraries.

The highest gaps globally are between the children of parents with no formal education and those with higher education, and within the OECD, between the children of parents with only primary education, and those with higher education.

Graph 2a: Differences in Library Usage (Children of Parents with only Primary Education minus Children of Parents with Higher Education)Graph 2b: Differences in Library Usage (Children of Parents with only Primary Education minus Children of Parents with Higher Education)

Graphs 2a and 2b look in more depth at the difference between library use by students whose parents have higher education, and those whose parents only have primary education. In 29 countries, it is the students with less formally educated parents who use libraries more, while only in 10 is this the other way around. The positive gaps are strongest in the United Kingdom, Israel and Sweden.

Graph 3a: Differences in Library Usage (Children of Parents with only Lower-Secondary Education minus Children of Parents with Higher Education)Graph 3b: Differences in Library Usage (Children of Parents with only Lower-Secondary Education minus Children of Parents with Higher Education)

Graphs 3a and 3b repeat this work, but looking at the differences between the children of parents with only lower secondary education and those with higher education. The gaps here are smaller (as anticipated in Graph 1), but again, 39 countries see the students with lower educated parents using libraries more, while it is only in 20 that it is the other way around. Here, it is in the Slovak Republic and Montenegro that the differences are greatest.

Graph 4: Differences in Library Usage vs Overall Average Reading Scores

Finally, Graph 4 looks to see whether the situation is different according to the overall level of performance on reading. As in previous weeks, once we divide between less and more developed countries, there seems to be little correlation here – in other words, it doesn’t matter so much what the overall level of reading skill is, the value of libraries to children with less well educated parents is relatively constant.


As in previous weeks, therefore, the conclusion is that those who are at greater risk of being excluded make more use of libraries. The data here backs up the argument that libraries can be motors of social mobility, helping children from lower-skilled backgrounds to bridge the gap, and develop the skills they need to succeed.

Alternatively put, we can see any decisions that limit access to and use of libraries as potentially being negative for social mobility, given that these will disproportionately affect those from less fortunate backgrounds.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #22: Find out about priorities for libraries in another country

We have so much to learn from each other!

Wherever libraries exist, there are people reflecting on how best to offer services that meet the needs of users.

Everyone has lessons to give and to take.

Indeed, one of the key goals of the IFLA Strategy is to enable discussion and exchange between libraries in different countries.

A key starting point for any exchange is to identify issues of shared interest – concrete topics on which you can organise discussions or ask questions.

So for our 22nd 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, find out about priorities for libraries in another country.

Thanks to the internet, this can be easy. A first place to look is IFLA’s Library Map of the World, where our country pages include an overview of key issues for the library field in each country.

You can also simply choose a country in which you’re interested, and look for their website or social media pages online.

If they have a published strategy, what are the subjects that matter most? If not, which topics get the most attention?

If some are the same as the issues you are facing, why not get in contact to find out more?

You can use the comments box below to share the most interesting library association websites or social media pages from other countries that you have visited.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 3.2 Support virtual networking and connections.

You can view all of our ideas using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box.