Working with the SDGs, Working with Politicians: Interview with the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia

Engaging with the UN Sustainable Development Goals opens up possibilities for libraries to create connections with United Nations agencies, while focusing initiatives on the individual topics they cover can help build support for the work of our institutions across governments, among politicians.

We talked with Maia Simonishvili, from the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia, to find out about her institution’s experience.

 

1. How are libraries viewed by politicians in Georgia in general?

Actually, we can describe relations between libraries and politicians as normal for today. They express interest in supporting the development of libraries. For example, the undergoing reconstruction process of the buildings of the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia is funded by government bodies. These buildings are part of the cultural heritage of the city. The same might be said about the technical equipment, software, and new printed collections.  We don’t have private libraries in Georgia, and regional libraries are funded by their municipality. Their services are free of charge, our services are also free of charge for all readers and event organizers. We are proud we serve all citizens equally and we perceive ourselves as real democratic organizations. On the other side, financial circumstances are not always the best, and more support would be better, of course.

2. How did you get the idea to open an SDG library? 

We are glad to collaborate with different cultural and educational institutions as well as government agencies.  We are very thankful to Dr. Sabine Machl, UN Resident Coordinator in Georgia for her support.

Some months ago, Mrs. Mariam Gamezardashvili,  a representative of the Education and International Development Academy offered us to work towards the opening of a new book corner funded by the UN Georgia. In doing this, we have focused on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and we have had all these goals in mind while creating a new collection.

3. What did you do around the opening of this?

We choose international manuals and bestsellers in different fields to create a multifaceted collection. The UN Georgia gifted us not only books but needed equipment for the section.  Given the pandemic situation, we had very few public events this year, and the opening event of the SDG library was very joyful for us and our readers. Members of the  Youth Parliament of the Students in Georgia attended the opening and we had an interesting conversation with Dr. Sabine Machl. What is more joyful, we will have further collaboration to develop new programs, and are already seeing donations of materials to the library, for example from the Association of Georgian Alumni of Swiss Universities, via the Swiss Embassy to Georgia.

4. What future plans do you have for it?

I suppose the word “sustainable” was never so meaningful as today. We see how the pandemic is testing the sustainability of our world and all countries at this time. Even our human nature is examined by these events, not only our urban and civic institutions.

On the other side, it is a really good example of why governments and citizens have to take more actions to establish stronger civil societies and structures.

To this end, we are planning to have seminars and programs for our readers. For example, seminars to raise awareness of basic human rights are already planned. Rights to health, women’s rights, and inclusivity will also be covered in our meetings. Lectures for professional development skills, among them skills for startups and project writing will be free for our readers.

Now we are preparing the course in basic programming skills as an online programme. We aim to have different programs that include different goals of sustainable development.

You know, people perceive the term SDG as something too official sometimes – we will try to make it more lively and understandable in the everyday life of citizens.

In fact, the SDG’s areas of focus are familiar to the public. For example, Zero Hunger (SDG1) is  certainly familiar. It is worth mentioning that The Equilibrium, a movement of the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia, works not only for the renewal of libraries but according to its means, delivers food and clothing to underprivileged citizens.

During the first wave lockdown of the Pandemic, Mr. Giorgi Kekelidze, General Director of the Library was working to help older people who didn’t have any possibility to go out and buy products. Of course, we have to mention that we need improvement of social programs in general in the future.

Another SDG is Quality Education (SDG4). The Movement is helping some students to obtain funding for their equipment or their study.  We have to look at SDG goals as ideas for new development programs.

5. What other opportunities have you had to engage with politicians in the work of libraries?

We are working hard to revive regional libraries. You know, we might bring new books and equipment, but salaries and annual budgets are paid by different regional municipalities and it has to be foreseen in their budget too. We have city municipal libraries and new modern media libraries in the city; we have three of them now. We are working with them when they need some support from us, for example, training, information about new standards, IFLA standards, and recommendations, etc.

6. What works well in getting politicians to become more interested and supportive of libraries?

You know, libraries play a crucial role in supporting democracy and ensuring equitable access to information. Libraries are the most democratic places in every country because they are open to all citizens and guests, serve multicultural societies, and ensure their access to information. They have to defend and store banned literature for generations in spite of today’s political views,  they have to improve the lives of underprivileged members, so democracy is an inbuilt characteristic of the library.

We are open to all political parties and institutions, who want to host events or attend them. The National Parliamentary Library of Georgia welcomes any guests, who play an important part in developing and supporting the independence of Georgian Statehood. We are one of the oldest and newest countries at the same time, which explains some turbulent events in the country. Our library has hosted many political events, discussions, presentations with the participation of all political sides.

7. What impact has this engagement had so far?

The pandemic made it clear that we need stronger digital services to reach our full audience. For example,  The National Parliamentary Library of Georgia has to defend its collections for further generations by the law. This time, our library received some financial support from the Parliament to implement needed software to add bar codes to printed materials and to make the lives of our readers easier.

On the other side, it is the space where members of different “bubbles” create the whole society.  Actually, all political representatives have been readers of our library. We also have had fruitful engagements with different embassies; their audiences are our readers as well. We welcome events with the participation of emigrants, parties, guests, who share their creativity and knowledge with each other. It is the place, where some members of our society meet each other for the first time.

We are always happy to see such events, which make their lives more versatile and joyful.  In the last few years, our audience has grown faster with different events for all kinds of readers.  We hope very much that the end of the pandemic will be celebrated with the whole library audience.

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