The IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto: Past and Future Action

This month, we are celebrating the 26th Anniversary of the IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto. Since 1994, the Manifesto has been at the heart of public library advocacy – declaring UNESCO’s belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information, and its essential role in the promotion of peace and well-being.

Here is a look back at how librarians around the world have used the Manifesto, and a glimpse into what is coming next for this important document.

The Manifesto at Work

Earlier in 2020, IFLA’s Public Library Section launched a global survey to gather feedback from public libraries on the Manifesto, and how they have used it in their advocacy.

With over 600 responses, this was an extremely insightful look into how libraries around the world apply the Manifesto to their work.

39% of respondents said they have actively used the Manifesto to advocate and lobby for their library.

Of those who responded in the negative, the most prevalent reason given was that they have not yet had an opportunity or were not included in relevant conversations with decision-makers.

Survey participants were asked to share examples of the Manifesto being used in their library’s advocacy or operations.

Some excellent examples include:

  • using the Manifesto to power campaigns during National Library Week
  • referring to the Manifesto in strategic materials and in lobbying
  • featuring the Manifesto in negotiations with local city council and elected officials
  • using the Manifesto as a basis to create library activities
  • guiding funding decisions and budget
  • informing the selection of books and services provided by the library

IFLA would like to help public libraries around the world better use the Public Library Manifesto in advocacy. From this survey, we have learned that increased awareness-raising about the Manifesto in the future may help empower more librarians to put it to use in their advocacy.

For more on how the Manifesto has been put into action, refer to the IFLA Research Paper: Inspire, Inform, Indicate: How the UNESCO-IFLA Public Library Manifesto Makes a Difference.

For more ideas on how the Public Library Manifesto can be used in advocacy, please see our Advocacy Pack for Libraries and Library Associations.

The Manifesto in the Future

Another key development towards increasing the impact of the Public Library Manifesto is ensuring that it remains relevant to the work of libraries today.

Therefore, UNESCO, with the help of IFLA’s Public Library Section, is planning to update the Public Library Manifesto in the coming year. The goal of this revision will be to address the ever-evolving role of public libraries in their communities, while also acknowledging the substantial technological advances that have changed how many people access, create, and consume information.

The survey also plays a major role in this work – ensuring that the voice of the global library field is considered in the review process.

Here is a look at some ideas submitted by librarians on how to improve the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto for the future.

How can the Manifesto better reflect the missions of public libraries today?

  • Emphasize the role of libraries in the information society, such as highlighting the importance of Media and Information Literacy skills.
  • Expand the definition of lifelong learning
  • Reinforce the relationship between the library and the community
  • Increase mention of the importance of inclusivity, especially relating to marginalized communities

How can the Manifesto provide better guidance to decision-makers?

  • Highlight the importance of local knowledge
  • Promote participatory decision-making, both with library professionals and with communities
  • Appeal for sufficient human and material resources, which are required for libraries to fulfil their mission.
  • Link culture to the social and economic life of the community
  • Emphasize social impacts, and the fact that they are usually seen most clearly in subsequent generations

Next Steps

These suggestions, and all the others received during the surveying process, will be taken into consideration by the Public Library Section during the drafting of the Manifesto update. This is projected to be completed in 2021.

The significance of the Public Library Manifesto is that it has codified the exceptional value that public libraries have in their communities. By working to keep it relevant, reflecting the mission of public libraries today, we can ensure it remains a powerful tool for advocacy.

Together with UNESCO, IFLA is looking forward to delivering an updated Manifesto that can continue to support public librarians the world over in their essential work.

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