Tag Archives: cultural rights

Upholding Cultural and Linguistic Diversity: Reflections on International Mother Language Day

International Mother Language Day (21 February) is an annual affirmation of the important role that cultural and linguistic diversity plays in building sustainable societies.

Cultural and linguistic diversity are fundamentally linked to freedom of expression and access information; they are at the heart of the promotion of cultural and educational rights.

If the availability of educational material, cultural expressions, scientific information, and artistic works do not reflect the linguistic diversity of the community, the possibility for all members in the community to meaningfully engage with, and to benefit from, this material is severely limited.

International Mother Language Day 2022

As the world looks to post-pandemic recovery, considering the lessons learned over the past two years, the opportunities and challenges of digital technologies has become a central theme. Ensuring opportunities associated with technological advances are available to all is an important element of upholding universal rights and freedoms concerning expression, access to information, and cultural participation.

With this in mind, UNESCO has named the following theme for International Mother Language Day 2022: “Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and opportunities”

UNESCO will take this opportunity to encourage a discussion on the role that technology has in advancing multilingual education and supporting the development of quality teaching and learning for all.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, addresses this theme in her message:

Technology  can  provide  new  tools  for  protecting  linguistic  diversity.  Such  tools,  for  example,  facilitating  their  spread  and  analysis,  allow  us  to  record  and  preserve  languages which sometimes exist only in oral form. Put simply, they make local dialects a shared heritage. However, because the Internet poses a risk of linguistic uniformization, we must also be aware that technological progress will serve plurilingualism only as long as we make the effort  to  ensure  that  it  does.

Libraries are gateways to information and knowledge, as well as community-level nodes in connectivity infrastructure helping to bridge the digital divide.

Making cultural and linguistic diversity a pillar of library collection development, cultural heritage preservation, and library programming promoting diverse cultural expressions can help further the role of libraries as key partners in preserving and promoting linguistic diversity.

Libraries for Universal Access and Meaningful Connectivity

Discussions on how technological advances may benefit cultural and linguistic diversity must first address the key challenge of bridging the digital divide. Any opportunities that can be brought about by digital transformation will not successfully reach those who could perhaps benefit most without addressing gaps in digital access.

Libraries bring valuable solutions, practices and lessons-learned to internet governance policy dialogues that prioritise addressing the digital divide.

For example, one of the takeaway messages from the 2021 Internet Governance Forum in Katowice highlights the role of libraries in the discussions on universal access and meaningful connectivity:

Public access through institutions such as libraries can help deliver on all of the components of access that help drive development – equitable and inclusive connectivity, content and competences. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that countries had to prioritise the massive development of connectivity infrastructure to connect the unconnected to an increasingly digital world.

IFLA urges discourse on the role of digital technologies in upholding cultural rights and promoting multilingualism to examine gaps in the connectivity infrastructure. We encourage policymakers to look to libraries as knowledge partners who can help work towards universal access and meaningful connectivity.

Find out more, and how you can get involved in this work, here: Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries: Annual report and a look ahead to 2022

The role of Memory Institutions in Selection of Digital Materials for Long-term Preservation

To enable the enduring preservation of and access to cultural heritage, including in digital form, in line with the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation, steps must be taken to preserve digitised and born-digital materials.

This can be a practical application of upholding plurilingualism through cultural heritage preservation.

Reviewing policies that decide what digitised and born-digital materials are preserved serves an important role in upholding UNESCO’s call to ensure that technological progress serves plurilingualism.

There is a need to address the questions – what material is being digitised? Are these decisions reflective of the world’s rich cultural and linguistic diversity? Who is making these decisions, and, if applicable, are they being carried out with appropriate community consultation?

Selection Guidelines

A tool to aid these selection decisions is the recently launched 2nd edition of the UNESCO-PERSIST Guidelines for the Selection of Digital Heritage for Long-term Preservation.

These guidelines were created primarily for use by practitioners in cultural institutions who make the day-to-day decisions about which digital materials are candidates for long-term accessibility. They support practitioners in reviewing existing policies, highlighting important issues to consider, and providing guidance in drafting institutional policies.

The Guidelines stress that the material for collection that they refer to is intended to include digital content created by or about all ethnic, religious, gender, social, and political groups found in all regions of the world. The Content Task Force who created the Guidelines recommends that archives, libraries, and museums consult and collaborate with underrepresented communities when making selection decisions to ensure that documentary heritage created by and about these communities is identified for long-term digital preservation.

Access the Guidelines here in English, Spanish, and Arabic: 2nd Edition of the UNESCO/PERSIST Guidelines for the Selection of Digital Heritage for Long-Term Preservation.

Connecting Cultural and Linguistic Diversity to Sustainable Development

Agenda 2030 recognises the importance of education that promotes appreciation of cultural diversity, education for sustainable development, and recognition of culture’s contribution to sustainable development in Target 4.7:

By 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

Achieving this goal will not be possible without recognition of the key role that multilingualism plays in education for sustainable development.

This is being reflected more and more in international efforts to address global challenges through education, culture, and the arts.

Here are some key developments that could provide inspiration to reflect on the role of libraries in connecting cultural and linguistic diversity to sustainable development.

UNESCO Futures of Education Report

UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative and recent report, Imagining our Futures Together: a new social contract for education, stresses the importance of promoting increased diversity in knowledge.

This includes linguistic diversity, diverse world views, and ways of knowing that have traditionally been left out of formal education, such as indigenous knowledge. The dimension calls for climate education to be prioritised in order to fundamentally reorient how the place of humans in the world is understood.

Read more about libraries in the Futures of Education Report: Libraries Contributing to a New Social Contract for Education.

 International Decade of Indigenous Languages

The International Decade of Indigenous Languages will span 2022-2032, and calls for global action to preserve, revitalize, and promote the world’s Indigenous languages.

The recently launched Global Action Plan outlines and seeks to coordinate actions for national governments, indigenous peoples’ organizations, civil society, academia, the private sector and other actors.

The Action Plan includes much scope to involve librarians in this work, including the development of professional competencies for information and media professionals, including librarians, and carrying out of awareness-raising on the importance of including Indigenous language material in their work.

Find out more here: Global Action Plan of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032)

Libraries around the world are already carrying out programmes to involve their communities in preserving indigenous culture, including oral tradition. See just one of many examples from the Library Services for Saskatchewan Aboriginal people, in which Indigenous storytellers take part in the annual Saskatchewan Aboriginal Storytelling Month, held both in libraries and through online platforms in order to reach more people.

Stay tuned for more information from IFLA on how libraries can be involved in the International Decade.

Inspiring action through multiculturalism and multilingualism in the arts

Cultural and linguistic diversity, expressed through the arts and both through traditional and digital platforms, add critical voices to efforts to address humanities most urgent challenges, such as the climate emergency.

During the 26th UN Climate Conference (COP26), hosted in Glasgow in November 2021, the Climate Heritage Network officially launched the Climate Heritage Network Race to Resilience Campaign. This campaign calls for a scaling-up of efforts to use culture-based strategies to build climate resilience in our communities.

IFLA’s Secretary General, Gerald Leitner, joined the celebration to give a short address on the power of the written and spoken word in creating connections across cultures and finding solutions to humanity’s shared challenges:

Resilience requires connections. Connections to the past and the lessons it can teach us, but also connections between ourselves, binding us together. Connections enable us to mobalise to support each other, to understand one another’s experiences and values, to create and innovate in the way we face our common challenges. The written and spoken word provides one of the most effective ways we have to realise these connections. It moves, it forms, it enables actions at all levels. It should be available and accessible to everyone, because for culture-based strategies to enable us to build a more resilient world, they need to be inclusive. This is what libraries… look to achieve.

He went on to introduce the poet, filmmaker, and musician Rosanne Watt, who hails from the island of Shetland, Scotland. Her work is deeply connected to her homeland, a connection which she says she can express best through the Shetland dialect.

In this, she stressed the importance of Indigenous languages in bringing voices to climate action.

The use of digital platforms to enable remote participation enabled diverse voices to be brought to high-level COP26 events. Watch Rosanne perform poems in both English and the Shetland dialect on this occasion [YouTube].

To note: among the resources launched during COP26 in November 2021, Climate Heritage Network’s Working Group on Supporting Climate Action by Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples has launched a resource “Models of Supporting Climate Action by Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples” [access this resource here].

Get involved in the discussion!

The intersection of cultural rights with multilingualism and digital transformation will be among the topics explored at IFLA’s upcoming Resiliart x Mondiacult virtual event: Libraries enabling inclusive and meaningful participation in cultural life.

Join the conversation on Wednesday 23 February [15:00-16:50 CET]. More information and the link to register is available here: ResiliArt x Mondiacult at IFLA – Meet the Panel and Register Now!

A Look Back at the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development

The end of a year is a time for reflection and stock-taking, but also a moment to look ahead at what can be built on the year’s achievements.

As 2021 was the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, IFLA engaged with our global network to explore the role of libraries in supporting creativity, enabling the protection and promotion of diverse cultural expressions, and upholding cultural rights for all.

This has laid the groundwork for more engagement with culture, creativity, and sustainable development in the future. So let’s take a moment to reflect on what has been done and have a look at what is coming up.

Launching the Conversation

Libraries are a key resource for fostering equitable participation in culture on the local, national, and international scale. Exploring this topic during 2021 was an opportunity to strengthen library advocacy for cultural rights and sustainable development.

Read more on how libraries support cultural participation here: Libraries opening the door to cultural participation in the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development [February 2021].

In particular, IFLA got involved in library advocacy on this topic through engaging with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005 Convention). To start, we created a guide to help our members learn more about this convention: Get Into the 2005 Convention.

Building on this, we shared tips for actions that our members can take to engage with UNESCO on this topic: Highlighting the Role of Libraries in Protection and Promotion of Diverse Cultural Expressions [March 2021].

Bringing a Library Voice to the Debate

IFLA participated as an observer in the 14th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and provided ideas for how libraries can take steps informed by UNESCO’s priorities: Mobilising Libraries for Cultural Diversity: Next-Steps Informed by the UNESCO 2005 Convention [February 2021].

IFLA also brought libraries to the table for the Third Civil Society Forum of the 2005 Convention in May, moderating a session on culture and sustainable development.

We also worked with partners and within networks to bring a library voice to conversations focused on the importance of the cultural and creative industries in sustainable development, including through the session “Partnering through Culture, Heritage and Art for Resilient and Inclusive Recovery”, the Culture 2030 Goal Side Event at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum [July 2021], and the fourth UCLG Culture Summit, organised by United Cities and Local Government [September 2021].

Highlighting Examples from the Global Library Field

Library advocacy is not possible without input from library and information professionals sharing innovative projects, bold outreach strategies and all-around excellent ideas.

IFLA posted several calls for input over 2021 to hear how our global membership is supporting creativity and diverse cultural expressions in their libraries.

On World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, we reflected on how libraries contribute to sustainable development by enabling culture to be accessed, explored and shared – including in the virtual space: Learning, Encountering, and Exploring: Libraries Making Space for Cultural Diversity [May 2021].

IFLA then engaged with several of our Professional Units and carried out desktop research to find concrete examples of how libraries foster environments where diverse cultural expressions are encouraged, valued, shared, and protected.

The result is a wide array of examples of libraries in action to support creativity, which can be found here: Learning, Making, Doing: Libraries as Incubators of Creativity and the Creative Economy [June 2021].

Creativity and Cultural Rights at WLIC 2021

Creativity came to WLIC with the dedicated session: Libraries as Incubators of Creativity. This session invited panellists to introduce projects in which their library engages with cultural actors and creators.

Examples included artist-in-residence programmes in both university and national library contexts, makerspaces for creative entrepreneurs, and support for first-time authors. This event was submitted to the UN for inclusion on the official database, as well as the final report to the UN General Assembly, on events celebrating the International Year.

For more: Libraries as Incubators of Creativity: Ideas Generator.

Another WLIC 2021 Session exploring this topic was Music in the Library World, organised by the New Professionals Special Interest Group, in cooperation with the Audiovisual and Multimedia Section (AVMS) and the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML).

Finally, for an inspirational introduction to the role of libraries are key actors in guaranteeing the right of everyone to participate in cultural life, be sure to revisit the Libraries Inspire Keynote: Transcript of the Session with Professor Karima Bennoune, immediate past UN Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights.

Looking Ahead

Throughout 2021, IFLA has worked to raise awareness of the role of libraries in supporting creativity and participation in cultural life. We have engaged with valued partners, participated in multisectoral networks, and put the spotlight on contributions from libraries around the world.

This has built a strong foundation for continued engagement in library advocacy for culture’s role in sustainable development.

IFLA will continue working with UNESCO, especially through the 2005 Convention, to ensure that the contribution of libraries in preserving and promoting diverse cultural expressions is recognised. To start, we will participate in the Fifteenth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in February 2022.

Another key event coming up in September 2022 is the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development – Mondiacult 2022. IFLA will be following the preparations for this Conference closely and will keep you informed of developments and opportunities to get involved in the conversation.

As the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development year comes to a close, we thank all those who have engaged with us in exploring this topic. Libraries have a critical role to play in supporting creativity, cultural rights, and sustainable development, and IFLA looks forward to continuing to work with you to bring a library voice to the global conversation.

Get in touch: claire.mcguire@ifla.org

Joining the Fight Against the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property

On 14 November every year, the International Day against Illicit  Trafficking  in  Cultural Property stands as a reminder that theft, looting and illicit trafficking threaten the ongoing preservation of and access to the world’s cultural heritage.

In the words of Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO:

On this International Day, UNESCO therefore calls upon everyone to realize that stealing, selling or buying a looted work is tantamount to participating in pillaging peoples’ heritage and robbing their memories.

Libraries are memory institutions. They preserve and provide access to the memory of the world. Our documentary heritage is a testament to the stories, knowledge, creativity, spirituality, and experiences of societies from yesterday and today. It is indelibly linked to cultural identity, and is a tool for learning about the past and about one another.

Loss of this material through theft and illicit trafficking robs people of the ability to encounter this material, learn about it, share their views, and benefit from the knowledge it transmits.

Further, the trafficking of cultural property has served to prolong armed conflict in recent years, supporting the work of criminal and terrorist groups, funding illegal activity.

Action to counter these threats therefore has an important role to play both in contributing to peacebuilding, as well as in upholding the rights of people to access and enjoy cultural heritage.

The 1970 Convention

The International Day against  Illicit  Trafficking  in  Cultural Property is also the anniversary of the signing of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970 Convention).

This international Convention urges State Parties (i.e. governments) to take measures to prohibit and prevent illicit import, export and transfer of cultural property and provides a common framework for State Parties to take action.

Included in the Convention’s definition of cultural property are objects that may well be represented in the collections of libraries:

  • property relating to history, including the history of science and technology and military and social history; to the life of national leaders, thinkers, scientists and artist and to events of national importance
  • pictures, paintings and drawings produced entirely by hand on any support and in any material
  • original engravings, prints and lithographs
  • rare manuscripts and incunabula, old books, documents and publications of special interest (historical, artistic, scientific, literary, etc.) singly or in collections
  • archives, including sound, photographic and cinematographic archives

The Convention goes on to urge State Parties to support the development of museums, libraries, and archives, as these institutions are instrumental in helping ensure the preservation and presentation of cultural property.

We urge libraries to get involved in national activities to uphold the 1970 Convention, such as through contributing to national inventories, cooperating with national services for the protection of cultural heritage, and carrying out information and education campaigns on trafficking of documentary cultural property.

The Challenges of Documentary Heritage

We need library voices to be involved in international, regional, and national efforts to counter the threats of theft and trafficking to ensure that the specific challenges associated with documentary heritage are understood and acted on.

Documentary heritage is unique among other forms of cultural property and therefore presents specific challenges. These include the fact that books and published materials are often created in multiple copies, with the intention of sale and dissemination across borders.

Libraries may not be equipped with the same level of security as other institutions, and books offer the possibility of theft of individual pages. In some parts of the world in particular, rare books and manuscripts are kept in collections within private homes.

And notably, existing standards being used to identify of objects don’t always apply to the way that documentary heritage is identified and catalogued by libraries and archives. It may be difficult for authorities to spot potentially trafficked material from among personal objects.

We must ensure the systems and tools that are already in place to protect cultural property are equipped to take on these unique challenges. For example, working to adapt or amend existing tools, guides, trainings, and protocols to address the specifics of books, manuscripts, and other written materials can help better inform and train police and customs authorities.

How is IFLA involved?

IFLA works to bring together professionals across our sector who can develop the tools and raise awareness we need to better protect our documentary heritage.

PAC Qatar

IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centre hosted at Qatar National Library has been active in countering the threat of documentary heritage trafficking in their region through the Himaya Project.

Tune in on 15 November for a high-level panel discussion on efforts to counter the trafficking and illegal circulation of antiquities and documentary heritage. IFLA’s President Barbara Lison will take part in this event to speak further on the importance of library involvement in countering trafficking. Find more information and the link to register here.

Rare Books and Special Collections

IFLA, especially through our Rare Books and Special Collections Section, is working with the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers to address international issues regarding provenance, theft, trafficking and restitution of cultural heritage items.

Among the plans of this joint working group are efforts to help galvanize the library and archives sector to contribute to reporting lost or presumably stolen items, empowering the potential for their discovery. This also includes work towards raising awareness and de-stigmatising the reporting of theft within the library and archives sector, as well as developing educational resources on theft and trafficking.


IFLA is further engaged with the archive sector on the International Council of Archives’ Expert Group against Theft, Trafficking and Tampering (EGATTT). Looking ahead to the coming year, this expert group seeks to further raise awareness among professionals, authorities, and the public on documentary heritage trafficking. Further, they plan to build capacity by sharing simple preventative measures to protect collections, and by developing mechanisms to identify at-risk material and report theft.


IFLA has been a long-time partner of UNESCO. Looking ahead, we seek to identify ways in which we can continue connecting the work being done by libraries and library professionals to the work of UNESCO. This can be a step towards integrating a documentary heritage perspective and amplifying the library sector’s efforts to safeguard the cultural property under the protection of our institutions.

Find out More

Interested in learning more about what you can do to protect documentary heritage? Refer to Combatting Illicit Trafficking of Documentary Cultural Heritage: and Introduction.

Register to join the virtual event at Qatar National Library: International Day Against Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property

Libraries as Resilience-Builders: Advocating for Libraries in Disaster Risk Reduction

The theme for International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction 2020 is straight-forward: it’s all about governance.

Risk, in this context, is defined by the combination of hazard, exposure and vulnerability. These risks can range from fires and armed conflict to natural hazards like flooding, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Of course, the urgency to prepare for these hazards is ever-increasing in the face of climate change.

Governance in terms of disaster risk reduction refers to methods by which public authorities, civil servants, media, private sector, and civil society work together at different levels – community, national and regional –  with the goal of managing and reducing disaster risks.

The UN’s call to action for International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction 2020 is in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015). When UN Member States adopted this framework, they agreed on the importance of developing national and local strategies to reduce risk, both addressing multi-hazard, systemic risk, and recognizing the importance of the human and cultural aspects of disasters and disaster response.

As the UN states, “You can measure good disaster risk governance in lives saved, reduced numbers of disaster-affected people and reduced economic losses.” For at least the first two of these values, a human-centered approach to disaster risk reduction is required.

In turn, understanding people’s needs in advance, providing avenues to connect critical information to communities, and the long-term building of knowledge on health and hazards can all have an impact on building community resilience and reducing disaster risk.

As institutions focused on human development through providing access to information, libraries are therefore not just potential victims of disasters, but also important potential partners in any strategy for disaster risk reduction. The question then is what libraries can do to reduce risk, and how can this fit into a larger, multi-sectoral strategy? How can they help deliver on the emphasis in the Sendai Framework on both the protection of cultural heritage and the strengthening of cultural resilience?

The potential is there. As welcoming, all-inclusive, free-to-access public spaces and champions of information for all, libraries can to provide anchors for their communities, building preparedness before an emergency and equipping recovery. Beyond this, collection-holding libraries play a key role in the preservation of cultural heritage, safeguarding it for the future and contributing to a shared cultural identity.

In the spirit of this year’s theme of governance, let’s therefore discuss in more depth some of the ways library professionals can advocate for the value that libraries have within an inclusive, people-focussed disaster risk reduction and recovery strategy.

Be an Advocate! Key Messages on Libraries in Disaster Risk Reduction

We’ve identified several key messages you can use in your advocacy for the role of libraries in Disaster Risk Reduction Policy.

Key message 1: Library resources can enhance health knowledge and disaster preparedness in local communities.

Example: The role of libraries in educating their communities and providing critical information for public health and safety has been seen recently in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can see many examples on IFLA’s Libraries and the COVID-19 Pandemic page.

Health libraries are leaders in making reliable information on public health readily available to researchers, government officials, and educators. For example, Public Health England (PHE) Knowledge and Library Services has produced the resource Finding the Evidence: Coronavirus to help professionals working on the pandemic identify and access emerging evidence as it is published. The PHE Library and Knowledge Services have also produced materials for libraries to share with their communities, including information created for children and young people, older people, and people with special needs.

Further demonstrating the role libraries can have in providing essential information for first-responders and humanitarian workers in times of crisis is the guide: Finding the Evidence for Global and Disaster Health, created by Public Health England for the IFLA Evidence for Global and Disaster Health Special Interest Group. 

Key Message 2: Memory institutions like libraries promote the ‘cultural resilience’ of people, communities, and countries – a priority underlined in the Sendai Framework

Example: Following the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam when it struck Vanuatu in 2015, UNESCO led the assessment of damage to cultural sites, including the National Library and Archive. These institutions are repositories for special collections relating to Vanuatu, including anthropological and archaeological materials, art and arts references, historic and culture records, many works on the languages of Vanuatu, information on oral traditions, and more, encompassing the traditional knowledge of the country.

The assessment highlights the role of this traditional knowledge as an element of resilience. One example is knowledge of traditional building techniques. Assessors found that structures built using local materials and traditional building skills were less affected than those using other materials and techniques. This stresses the value of the knowledge preserved in memory institutions, community facilities, and historical records – they are part of living heritage and culture.

Key Message 3: Libraries have a mission and unique expertise when it comes to preserving their community’s cultural heritage and make it accessible to the public, in order to inform and inspire future generations.

This role should be taken into serious consideration in national and regional risk reduction strategies.

Example:  In the recent report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights on cultural rights and climate change, Special Rapporteur Ms. Karima Bennoune visited the island of Tuvalu in the South Pacific. The country’s only library sits 20 metres from the shore and is threatened by sea level rise.

The collection contains irreplaceable historical documents as well as meteorological and tide records that are critical tools for climate research. The librarian is determined to save this collection, as its loss would impact Tuvaluans as well as the collective knowledge of mankind.

According to the report, a Tuvaluan official asked: “If we are not here anymore, what will happen to our culture?”

The Special Rapporteur’s report highlights this critical intersection between climate change related risk, cultural heritage protected within memory institutions, and community identity. 

Key Message 4: Libraries have an important role as places of refuge and secondary emergency service providers.

Example: The Librarian’s Disaster Planning and Community Resiliency Guidebook, published by New Jersey State Library (2017) described libraries as an “untapped community resource” in the immediate aftermath of disasters. After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey in 2012, local libraries provided gathering spaces, essential services, and community support.

The day after the storm passed New Jersey libraries rallied, and were the places residents flocked to as they began to put their lives back together. Libraries, even those without power, were pressed into service as ad hoc community recovery centers, providing a respite from the storm for shattered communities.

Libraries played a similar role as community gathering places and regional assistance centers during California’s devastating 2018 wildfire season.

What Can You Do?

IFLA’s briefing on Libraries and the Sendai Framework recommends several steps for library advocates to get more involved in disaster risk reduction on the national and local level. These include:

  • Find out if your country has a disaster risk reduction strategy. If it does, does the strategy include cultural heritage, or the role of libraries in sharing health information or supporting communities?
  • If the strategy does not mention the work of libraries, use advocacy tools like this article and IFLA’s brief on the Sendai Framework, along with your own experience, to argue for them to be included.
  • If there is no strategy, are there plans to create one, in line with the Sendai Framework? Can you ensure that libraries and their work is included?
  • Get involved in your national Blue Shield Committee or contact your local UNESCO office to find out what they are doing.

Enhancing Disaster Risk Reduction in Libraries

One thing that libraries at all levels can do to enhance their role in Disaster Risk Reduction is to develop workable, realistic plans for their own disaster preparedness, risk reduction, and recovery.

The following tools are a good place to begin:

  1. IFLA Principles of Engagement in library-related activities in times of conflict, crisis or disaster

The principles of engagement advise IFLA and its members on how to monitor areas at risk, advocate for and raise awareness about disaster prevention. When disaster strikes, the Principles guide recovery activities, and advise members if and how to engage.

  1. Disaster Preparedness and Planning: A Brief Manual

This manual takes the user through each step of the disaster planning process: risk assessment, prevention and protection, preparedness to cope with possible disasters, response when disaster strikes, and recovery.


In the words of the UN: “It’s time to raise our game if we want to leave a more resilient planet to future generations”. Libraries and librarians have a key role to play in effective, inclusive, and human-centred governance for disaster risk reduction.

Do you have an example of a library assisting its community before, during, or after a disaster? Let us know! We’d love to hear your stories.


Gateways to Cultural Diversity: Libraries as multicultural hubs

Cultural diversity is a force for development.

It nurtures a climate of mutual understanding, celebration of differences, and critical thinking to combat pre-conceived notions of the “other”. This is a vital component of building peace, stability, and development.

UNESCO states that three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension.

In order bridge these divides, we must begin with the acceptance and recognition of cultural diversity as being central to peacebuilding. This is reflected in UNESCO’s cultural conventions, including the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Fully realising cultural diversity as a driver for development will take cooperation at all levels: from the local to the international, from memory institutions to civil society, individuals to policy makers.

With our mission of facilitating access to information, our role as defenders of free speech, and our responsibility of protecting and sharing the heritage of our communities, libraries are key players.

To celebrate the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (21 May) this article will explore and hopefully inspire reflection on some of the ways libraries act as cultural hubs – as gateways connecting our communities to one another, and to diverse expressions of culture the world over.

Access to Culture

International human rights law guarantees the right to culture, to freedom of expression, and to engage in the cultural life of one’s community.

Politically motivated intolerance of different cultures, silencing voices from minority and indigenous groups, and targeted destruction of cultural heritage – these are all very real threats to the enjoyment of these rights by everyone.

In the face of this, libraries have long been champions of free speech and access to information and culture.

Upheld in IFLA’s Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers, core principles for the work of library and information professionals include:

  • Ensuring access to information for all for personal development, education, cultural enrichment, leisure, economic activity and informed participation in and enhancement of democracy.
  • Rejecting censorship in all its forms.
  • Ensuring that the right of accessing information is not denied to anyone, regardless of their age, citizenship, political belief, physical or mental ability, gender identity, heritage, education, in-come, immigration and asylum-seeking status, marital status, origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.

These principles carry over into the IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto:

The public library, the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision- making and cultural development of the individual and social groups. It is a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.

Providing their communities, no matter their identity, with the freedom to read, to access information, and to participate in cultural life is central to libraries’ roles as cultural hubs.

For reflection: how can libraries uphold these key ethical principles in both their physical and digital spaces? Where are the gaps? Which members of your community may not have a platform to express and share their culture, and how might libraries help mediate that?

Preserving our Heritage

The importance of cultural heritage, in all its expressions, lies in its ability to tangibly bridge the gap between generations and between cultures. The experiential quality of monuments and sites, intangible cultural heritage, movable and documentary cultural heritage gives them an incredible potential as learning tools.

To put it simply, heritage places, objects, and expressions can make culture come to life – both for those experiencing their own heritage and those learning and appreciating the culture of others.

Libraries have multiple roles to play in this.


On one hand, preservation and conservation work at libraries help ensure that our documentary heritage can be passed along to future generations.

On the other, access to information regarding the historical study of heritage, and the way culture was written about in the past, gives us a perspective for historical context and lessons-learned. This enhances our ability to improve representation and methodology in the study of culture today.


Beyond the preservation and conservation of documentary heritage, UNESCO’s 2015 Recommendation upholds that the ability to access this heritage is equally important.

This Recommendation encourages member states to provide appropriate legislative frameworks, empowering memory institutions to provide accurate and up-to-date catalogues, and to facilitate partnerships that will enhance access.

Digitisation is an important aspect of access – and indeed when libraries’ doors are closed, an essential pre-condition.

Libraries and documentary heritage professionals are vocal supporters of digitisation policy, and the legal framework that will allow for it. For a good example, please have a look at the Guidelines to Setting up a Digital Unification Project. More information and tips for digitisation is provided online by IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres: PAC Frequently Asked Questions.

It is also important to ensure that a more diverse range of content is becoming digitised. IFLA, together with partners in the UNESCO PERSIST project, are working on updating the Guidelines for the selection of digital heritage for long-term preservation. This update seeks to expand on the Guidelines, such as including emerging technologies, to better support practitioners in the preservation of digital heritage.

For reflection: how can the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage be more inclusive? How can expressions of cultural heritage be used as learning tools, while still staying authentic to their core value as traditional social practice? What role can libraries play in connecting their communities to these expressions of cultural heritage? 

Libraries as Multicultural Centres

Libraries exist at an intersection of culture, education, and community, and through this, they become a hub for fostering cross-cultural dialogue and active citizenship.

The IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto puts this quite clearly:

As libraries serve diverse interests and communities, they function as learning, cultural, and information centres. In addressing cultural and linguistic diversity, library services are driven by their commitment to the principles of fundamental freedoms and equity of access to information and knowledge for all, in the respect of cultural identity and values.

In a world where refusing, silencing, and – at times – destroying evidence of cultural diversity is politically-driven, then providing a space for cultural diversity is a powerful and profound act.

Libraries can lead their communities by example. They can be hubs for dialogue, spaces for performance, repositories for expressions of culture, and providers of services that nurture inclusion.

For reflection: How can libraries best determine what materials and services will best meet the cultural needs of their communities? How can libraries use their position as multicultural hubs in to advocate for more inclusive spaces in their communities? Collecting and sharing success stories can be powerful testimony for the importance of libraries, how can libraries do this more effectively?


Now more than ever, the need to keep connected with one another and with cultural life is felt acutely. As many countries are grappling with the interface of the COVID-19 epidemic, economic hardship, and possibly civil unrest and natural disasters, these are times where support is greatly needed. Culture is connection and comfort, and cultural diversity is a powerful reminder of our shared humanity in the face of hardship.

This period of raised awareness of and participation in culture on digital platforms can be an opportunity for libraries to seek out better ways to keep the door to culture – and connection within their communities – open.