Libraries: Vectors of Solidarity

For the last fifteen years, the United Nations has marked International Human Solidary Day on 20 December. The goal of the day is to celebrate the place of solidary as a fundamental and universal value that should underlie relations between peoples.

As this blog argues, libraries are vectors of solidarity – a way in which those who pay taxes and otherwise invest their energy today, can bring benefits to people, current and future, who would otherwise miss out.

 

Solidarity with the present

First of all, when a society decides to build and support libraries, it is demonstrating solidarity with those among its members who would otherwise struggle to access information, education, research and culture.

Clearly the most obvious form of redistribution of wealth comes in the form of benefits or other payments to those who are less fortunate. However, high-quality universal public services, supported by taxation, have a similar impact, providing things that people would otherwise need to pay for, or have to forego.

Libraries are no exception here, helping to ensure that everyone enjoys the basic set of rights to which they are entitled, even if they do not have the resources to buy them privately.

Of course, libraries may be equally used by all members of the community (both those paying more tax, and those paying less) – indeed, this universalism helps ensure that there is no stigma to using their services.

However, their relative importance is often greater for those with fewer possibilities to access books, get online, or participate in learning otherwise.

To turn things around, if those who are rich enough to pay larger amounts of taxation withdraw their support, it will be those who are less well-off who suffer most in terms of reduced opportunities to benefit from what libraries can offer.

This is of course also an argument for why it is so important to combat tax evasion and avoidance, in order to allow for the services (including library services) that benefit society as a whole.

 

Solidarity with the future

Yet libraries are not only about providing a means for the more fortunate in a society to help the less fortunate today. They also help demonstrate solidarity with future generations.

An immediate example is in the contribution libraries make to combatting child poverty.

As highlighted in our blog for World Children’s Day, libraries are strongly engaged in providing skills and services that can help break the vicious circle that can often lead poor children to become poor parents.

The existence of libraries, supported by the taxpayer, also benefits the future by building a culture of reading, bringing forward new researchers and creators, and promoting key digital skills.

There is also solidarity in what libraries do to ensure that future generations can access the knowledge and heritage of today, thanks to preservation and conservation work.

And perhaps most pressingly, there is the work of libraries in promoting action on climate change, and the activities of IFLA’s Environment, Sustainability and Libraries Section, focused on encouraging people to invest time and energy now, for the good of those to come.

 

As a well-circulated blog from the University of Warwick recently pointed out, closing libraries can be seen as classist – an attack by the better-off on the perceived ‘undeserving’ poor.

As this blog argues, and following on from the University of Warwick piece, It follows that a healthy library system is a sign of a society that cares about equity and solidarity, not only towards those who are less fortunate today, and tomorrow.

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