Tag Archives: Disaster Risk Response

25 Years of Cooperation for Cultural Property Protection

On 6 June 1994, the International Committee of the Blue Shield was established in a spirit of collaboration by the International Council on Archives (ICA), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Council of Museums and Sites (ICOMOS), and IFLA.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Blue Shield, we look back at its history and a few examples of how it has provided support and opportunities for libraries, at the international and national levels.

A Look Back

The Blue Shield is rooted in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, as well as its First Protocol (1954) and Second Protocol (1999), which created rules to protect cultural property during armed conflicts [see IFLA’s briefing on this Convention here].

The intention was to bring the four key international organisations in their domains together to consult on matters relating to the protection of cultural heritage in the case of natural and human-caused threats and emergencies, particularly that of war.

The goal was to better facilitate an international response to threats and emergencies through cooperation between the key international organisations and participating national organisations. This included the objectives of facilitating professional action to prevent, control, and recover from disasters, consulting with other bodies such as UNESCO and the International Committee of the Red Cross, and encouraging higher standards of risk preparedness.

The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) and the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS) were combined in 2016 to form Blue Shield International. This brought together the Founding Four organisations together with a network of National Committees made of up dedicated individuals, all working together to protect cultural property.

Today, Blue Shield International is as an official partner of NATO and cooperates with armed forces on training exercises concerning cultural property protection in armed conflict. This takes an important step towards raising awards within armed forces of their critical role in cultural property during conflict.

Blue Shield and IFLA

Libraries around the world hold irreplaceable books, manuscripts, and other materials. Together, they form a network which collectively safeguards much of the world’s historical record.

Tragically, libraries around the world – including many of our members – have seen first-hand the destruction that conflict and disaster can bring to their institutions and collections.

IFLA believes that these threats are best faced through capacity-building for prevention and preparedness, as well as through enabling a rapid and effective response if the worst happens. This can be achieved best with the help of a network. Within IFLA, our Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Network has been essential in both sharing knowledge on disaster planning and preparedness and in taking action to support response in times of crisis and subsequent recovery.

Combining these efforts with those of Blue Shield has enabled more effective response, facilitating critical information-sharing and integrating the needs of libraries on the ground into international response and recovery frameworks.

Haiti 2010

One case that sticks with us in the response to the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. Days after the earthquake struck, Blue Shield established an online platform to invite volunteers from around the world to support measures necessary to rebuild libraries, archives, museums, monuments and sites. IFLA and ICA planned, funded, and sent representatives to take part in a mission to inform the establishment of a rescue centre for damaged cultural heritage, including damaged documents [report here].

This rescue centre also provided preservation workshops to members of the National Library of Haiti (NBH) and Archives of Ministry of Foreign affairs of Haiti (MEA).

More information on IFLA’s involvement in the response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake can be found here.

Beirut 2020

The response to the Beirut Blast in August 2020 gives a more recent example how this partnership has allowed joint action to help libraries following disaster. The Lebanese Library Association (LLA), working closely with Blue Shield Lebanon, took the critical first steps towards recovery of the city’s libraries.

The LLA carried out assessments to gather information on the extent of damage at libraries and archives across the city and shared this information with IFLA. This coordinated effort allowed us to provide critical information on damage and needs to Blue Shield International, as well as with other international partners, including UNESCO through participation in the Coordination Meetings for Emergency Response on Culture in Beirut.

In the months that followed, a collaborative response was carried out by Blue Shield Lebanon, Blue Shield International, Directorate-General Of Antiquities of Lebanon, IFLA, ICOM-Lebanon, ICOMOS-Lebanon, Lebanese Library Association, UNESCO Beirut Office, ICOM – University Museums and Collections, Biladi and UNIFIL, with generous financial support of the ALIPH Foundation, British Council Cultural Protection Fund and the Prince Claus Fund.

You can find videos here for a closer look at Blue Shield’s Emergency Response for Cultural Property in Beirut. 

Working for Libraries

In addition to the Founding Four organisations, Blue Shield International is also made up of a network of National Committees, through which dedicated cultural heritage professionals carry out work addressing local priorities.

A prerequisite for establishing a National Committee is gaining support from the national library association and/or national library association in the country. This helps ensure that a connection between national Blue Shield committees and the nation’s libraries has been established. IFLA members are represented on Blue Shield national committees and contribute to activities that benefit national libraries in disaster planning and preparedness.


In 2019, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), together with Blue Shield Australia, launched the 2nd Edition of the ALIA Disaster Management for Libraries Guide, Templates and Scenarios.

This tool is designed to help library staff respond quickly and effectively to disaster, minimise loss of collections and equipment, ensure staff safety and well-being of staff, continue providing services when possible, and recover quickly.

See more on the website of Blue Shield Australia.

To further build preparedness capacity, the State Library of South Australia hosted the symposium, Disaster Preparedness and Our Cultural Heritage and Collections, in late 2020.


Blue Shield Georgia carried out the project, Emergency response to mould outbreak at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University Library, in 2016-2017. This project was made possible by the Prince Claus Fund Cultural Emergency Response (CER).

The project evaluated general storage conditions affecting special collections at the  library to halt a large mould outbreak, defined a protocol for handling and cleaning damaged rare books, and corrected the storage problems causing the outbreak.

The outbreak threatened 200,000 rare books at the library. This project avoided further damage to the collection, while improving awareness among institutions holding documentary heritage collections in Tbilisi of how to manage and avoid such hazards. Read more here.


In early 2020, Blue Shield Iceland hosted the symposium: response plan of cultural institutions; what is the situation and what is the future goal? This event invited several experts in institutional disaster planning and response to share knowledge of good practices among cultural heritage professionals.

Within the programme, Blue Shield Iceland invited Nelly Cauliez, Director of the City Library of Geneva, to share information on the response plan and preservation of cultural heritage in Switzerland, with an emphasis on disaster response planning in a library context. Read more here.

Looking Ahead

The spirit of collaboration for the sake of cultural property protection which brought the founding four organisations together in 1996 continues to be at the heart of Blue Shield International.

Disaster and conflict are always complicated and multifaceted, and the cooperation of our international organisations, together with the dedication, expertise, connections, and local knowledge of National Committees of the Blue Shield engaging library associations and other professionals, helps enable an effective response.

Through the continuation of this collaborative effort, we can work towards a holistic safeguarding of the world’s diverse cultural heritage, enable international exchanges, and promote good practice.

IFLA is committed to ensuring that the cultural heritage protected by institutions and sites around the world continues to be available for future generations to access, learn from, and enjoy.

We encourage you to check if there is a Blue Shield National Committee in your country, and to get involved in their work.

For more on IFLA and the Blue Shield, see our Get into the Blue Shield Guide.

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.


Words of the SDGs: Resilience

As highlighted in a previous blog, the United Nations 2030 Agenda can seem jargon-heavy. As in any big, institutional process, certain keywords emerge, and take on a power they may not have in the outside world.

While it may not seem natural, being able to use these words in library advocacy can be a great way of gaining attention among the people in government whose job is to work on the SDGs.

One such word is ‘resilience’. In the world of the SDGs, this is an important concept reflecting a shift in thinking about development from dealing with the consequences of change to helping people, communities and nations prepare and respond to it themselves, as far as possible.


This stems firstly from the idea that we need to defend everyone’s right to development – i.e. that everyone should have the resources and possibilities to improve their own lives. It also comes from the acceptance that at a time of rapid technological, economic, social and environmental change, it is no longer enough to try and determine solutions that last for a long time, but to build in the ability to evolve at all levels.

Resilience is an important word for library advocacy around the SDGs for three reasons highlighted during discussions on Day 4 of the High Level Political Forum.

Libraries as Critical Community Assets to Protect

A session on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction focused on how best to prepare for and respond to disasters, both natural and man-made. It provided an opportunity to set out the place of libraries, both as critical community institutions that need to be covered by risk reduction plans (in order to limit damage), but also as part of recovery efforts.

Shoko Arakaki, UNISDR Chief of Branch, Partnerships, Inter-governmental process and Inter-agency cooperation

Shoko Arakaki, UNISDR Chief of Branch, Partnerships, Inter-governmental process and Inter-agency cooperation

As set out in the IFLA briefing on the Sendai Framework, libraries often contain materials which are invaluable to their communities. With heritage an important driver of community cohesion, identity and potentially jobs, its loss can mean serious long-term damage. Libraries therefore need to be covered by government planning and investment, a point welcomed by the panelists in the session at the UN.

Libraries as Secondary Emergency Service

Yet libraries can also be crucial in the days and weeks after a disaster hits. There are many examples of libraries acting as refuges in times of crisis, providing electricity, connectivity, or simply a space of calm for people in situations of extreme stress.

While food and healthcare are clearly priorities, libraries are arguably a secondary emergency service, helping people move back towards normal life. As such, they can be key to the process of rebuilding.

Libraries Building Resilience for the Long Term

Libraries also contribute strongly to longer-term resilience through providing access to information. By this, they provide an answer not just to sudden disasters or crises, but to the trends and evolutions that are changing the way we live, learn, earn and interact with each other.

As highlighted in the Lyon Declaration and the Development and Access to Information report, information can empower people, giving them the tools not only to respond to change, but also identify and realise new opportunities. When everyone is a lifelong learner, and that communities, with access to information, can find ways to adapt and thrive, we are a long way to having achieved resilience.

‘Resilience’ is therefore a great concept for libraries to use in their own work around the SDGs, both in order to safeguard our own institutions in times of crisis, but also to highlight their role in creating sustainable cities and communities into the future.