Ones to Watch in 2024: 6 Library Advocacy Issues to Keep an Eye on in 2024

Advocacy is about making libraries part of other people’s agendas, ensuring that those who take decisions about us (and those who influence them) see why our institutions and profession matter.

Through this, we can help ensure that we have the best possible environment in which to pursue our mission to help everyone enjoy their rights and fulfil their potential through access to information.

But what are the agendas that we’re most likely to be engaging with in 2024, and what does this mean or our advocacy work? This article sets out a few ideas.

Growing alarm about failures to meet development goals: while this is nothing new, the closer we get to 2030, the more worried leaders are likely to be at the UN about how much progress is needed in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

There have already been plenty of announcements of initiatives to accelerate progress, notably the High-Impact Initiatives last September, and this year will include a key moment with the Summit of the Future. This will include a Pact for the Future which is likely to be the key reference or the UN’s work in the coming years.

As set out in our briefing, there are plenty of opportunities to advocate for libraries within the different chapters of the Pact, both in terms of our work in New York, but also in engaging with UN Country Teams and those engaged in UN work nationally.

 ‘Something must be done’ about the internet: while the fact of creating an Internet Governance Forum almost 20 years ago shows that the idea that the internet needs regulation is not new, the pressure for intervention is growing. The power of major digital companies and the potential of digital technologies to do harm, but also the need to ensure digital inclusion to allow for wider inclusion, are behind an intensification of activity to create new rules for the internet.

With national governments and others engaging in a ‘regulatory arms race’ (given that whoever moves first is likely to set the example for others), the UN too has been getting more and more active, with this year’s Global Digital Compact likely to be a highlight.

The Compact, at least as far as documents already shared indicate, offers plenty of hooks for library engagement. However, we have the potential to go further, setting out a positive agenda for what a library-enabled digital knowledge society looks like. This is what IFLA is looking to do with its update to our Internet Manifesto. See our post on digital issues in 2024 for more!

Addressing threats to information integrity: a specific area of focus is likely to be around how the world reacts to mis- and disinformation and hate speech. This will be the subject of a code of conduct from the UN, but likely also many national initiatives. The fact that this is a year of elections in many countries only increases the pressure.

It is certainly a strong positive for libraries that there is so much recognition now of the importance of reliable and verifiable information as an enabler of other outcomes. However, action here risks being quite negative, primarily looking at platform regulation and building skills to spot fake news.

Better, perhaps, for libraries is to use the opportunity the focus on information integrity offers in order to make a more positive case for literate, curious, critical and informed societies, with strong library networks at their heart. See our work on information integrity for more.

 Regulating Artificial Intelligence: a parallel trend related to the above is the sense that the risks posed by artificial intelligence (AI) require regulation, even as countries look to compete with each other to lead in this space.

Libraries, of course, are already experimenting themselves with AI, applying our skills and values, and we should not be shy of sharing our own experiences as part of wider debates. We clearly also have an interest in ensuring that AI makes a positive contribution to the goal of supporting informed societies.

A particular angle is likely to be around copyright. Training algorithms does typically require ‘learning’ based on the processing of large volumes of information, much of which is likely subject to copyright. The concern is that fears around AI will open the door to stricter rules around what libraries and their users can do with the content they access, or at least administrative burdens that make work impossible. Read about the work of our AI Special Interest Group for more.

 Insecurity encourages conservatism: there seems to be little likelihood, sadly, that the world will get more peaceful in 2024, or that we will see fewer extreme destructive weather events or other natural disasters. An immediate area of focus will need to be the inclusion of libraries in wider efforts to plan for uncertainty.

However, this same uncertainty seems likely to encourage a rise in conservativism, in the face of concern around the future, and a desire to focus on our own safety and interests. While such a trend may potentially lead to a greater focus on heritage, it also tends to be associated with reduced public spending and less trust in shared services, such as libraries.

This is clearly a worry for libraries. At the same time, we do not need to be passive! Libraries’ emphasis on allowing people to empower themselves through information, and so the possibility to be more effective actors in their own destiny represents a key strength. From climate empowerment to promoting active citizen engagement, we have a strong message to send. Read our work around climate empowerment in 2024 for more.

 Recognising the role of culture: a final point, and perhaps an optimistic one, relates to the growing understanding we see, at least in international texts, of the role of culture in supporting the achievement of wider policy goals.

This of course covers the direct contributions of cultural actors and institutions (such as libraries), but also the need to recognise and work with underlying cultural factors that influence how people behave and respond. This makes sense at a time of concern about progress towards wider development goals, and the effectiveness of policies in place.

For libraries, there is an opportunity here, not just as part of the wider cultural sector, but also given our intrinsic nature as institutions which are attuned to the cultures and needs of communities. Read our piece about culture in 2024 for more.

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