Tag Archives: government libraries

Libraries: The Forgotten Science-Policy Interface?

A regular refrain in discussions about progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is that we still face major gaps in the evidence to support decision-making.

Either the data and analysis aren’t there, or they are, but they’re not getting into the right hands.

A first result is that many of the indicators of progress towards the SDGs are effectively empty, either for all or for many countries – i.e. we don’t know where we stand now..

A second is that when leaders are making choices about how to invest resources, and how to intervene in economies and societies, they are not doing it on a sound basis – i.e. we don’t know how to move forwards successfully.

The 2030 Agenda is of course not the first time that this has come up as an issue. In past discussions, one approach has been to develop a ‘science-policy interface’ or SPI.

Given that libraries too – especially government and parliamentary libraries – themselves are closely involved in the work of supporting evidence-based policy-making, this blog explores existing SPIs, and sets out why libraries themselves should work with this term in their own advocacy.

Why SPIs?

At a conceptual level, the Science-Policy Interface refers to engagement between the research and policy communities. Through a stronger interface, it is argued, science should become more of an enabler in policy design, implementation, monitoring, follow-up and review, and give the opportunity to take a more strategic overview of linkages, barriers and opportunities to progress.

Building such an interface requires an effort from both communities. Researchers themselves need to take a stronger cue from the wider world in determining the questions they should look to answer, be they around climate change, equality or any other issues. Politicians should be readier to draw on expertise rather than to pursue popularism or ideology.

With these changes, we can hope both to accelerate the generation of new insights into our climate and society, and to overcome hesitations to take necessary actions.

Existing models have looked to do just this, primarily in the environmental field when it comes to the United Nations – see this great overview from IISD. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is perhaps the best-known example, but similar efforts played a role in the banning of CFCs, and also now in work around desertification.

In these practical cases, the ‘interface’ has been in the form of a committee of experts who meet and work together in order to identify challenges and work towards consensus on solutions. These groups can be relatively open, although then do need to address key questions around how they define roles and processes, and maintain credibility and sufficient coherence. Given that they are often dealing with evolving research, there is also plenty of room for disagreement.

Recent guidance from the United Nations Environment Programme has therefore, for example, stressed the need to ensure representativeness (including through forming links with partners globally), clear rules around mandates, and good governance.

Another example is the Global Sustainable Development Report (GDSR), which comes out every four years, and looks to provide a cross-disciplinary overview of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is perhaps less of a process than the SPIs mentioned above, but fulfils the same function of bringing insights from research to the heart of policy-making.

Libraries supporting SPIs

There are three potential ways in which libraries contribute to the goals of Science-Policy Interfaces.

The first is simply by ensuring that SPIs are able to benefit from access to the fullest possible evidence base. While the role of libraries is all too often overlooked, both the individual scientists involved in SPIs, and processes as a whole, can benefit from support in getting hold of research, organising information, and sharing it.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to the sort of inter-disciplinary work that SPIs – and the GDSR in particular – promote. Libraries are a key part of the infrastructure for gathering and making such evidence available, as for example highlighted in the Cochrane Call which IFLA signed last year.

While they may not always have the name ‘library’, knowledge hubs, data repositories and other initiatives can ensure that SPIs can focus on the discussions that need to take place. Such tools are indeed a key goal as set out in a 2019 UN Environment Assembly resolution.

Meanwhile, through their understanding of the research space, libraries can also help identify where there are potential gaps or weaknesses.

The second way is through wider advocacy for open access and open science. This can support both interdisciplinarity, and use of scientific outputs in government.

This is because when research outputs are hidden behind paywalls, there is a greater risk that faculties and the libraries that serve them will only focus on resources within the disciplines on which they focus, rather than materials form elsewhere. Paywalls can also mean that government departments with few resources prefer to rely on grey literature, unready to pay publishers for access to their databases.

As a result, by promoting open access and science – both through advocating and by providing key infrastructures such as repositories, libraries can help deliver on a key enabler of SPIs.

The third way is by themselves being a permanent Science-Policy Interface within government and wider law-making. Many government and parliamentary libraries have a role as a gateway, helping to ensure that key emerging insights and information are presented to policymakers in a way that works for them.

In this, the skills and values of libraries can play an important role, helping to assess the quality of different sources, but also then to present information in as neutral a way as possible, in order to enable the best possible decision-making.


The need to base decisions on evidence is increasingly pressing as the time left to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda becomes less and less. The emphasis on Science-Policy Interfaces is therefore likely to grow in importance at the UN level.

This should be an opportunity for libraries to demonstrate just one further way in which we can support the delivery of the 2030 Agenda, and to secure the role and resources we need to fulfil our potential.

Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: Libraries and SDG 16

Justice, Transparency, Participation, Access - Libraries Deliver Across SDG16

Starting today and continuing to Wednesday, governments, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations involved in delivering SDG16 are meeting in Rome.

In advance of the focus on this Goal in New York at the High Level Political Forum, this is an opportunity to take stock, to explore where progress is needed, and to see what solutions exist. The results will inform discussions among ministers.

IFLA is here, with the recently released Development and Access to Information report, underlining the need to focus on access to information, and the help that libraries provide in achieving this goal.


The Good Governance Goal

SDG16 itself is as complex as it is fundamental. It is a foundational goal which enables efforts – and success – in all others. It includes everything from reducing violence – by states and individuals – to promoting democracy and fundamental freedoms, including access to information.

It is also controversial, with it unsure until late in the process whether it would be included at all. Many states, it is true, did not want the way they managed themselves and their policies to be in the spotlight.

Four particular targets under SDG16 are relevant to libraries. This blog sets out why, and what libraries are doing to achieve them:


Access to Justice

SDG 16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all 

Too often, laws that are meant to protect people and their rights do not work because it is only some members of society who can enforce them. Bureaucratic and cultural barriers, as well as cost are major issues.

A further key concern is information about justice. Laws are often long and complicated, and even the best educated are unlikely to have read or understood them. Those who are most at risk of discrimination or disadvantage are particularly vulnerable.

As such, access to legal information is a key means of ensuring that more people can enjoy the rights they have. Libraries – especially through partnerships between law libraries and public libraries – can make a major contribution to ensuring that ordinary people can learn about their rights.

A great example comes from New South Wales, Australia, where for over 25 years, public libraries have been working with the Legal Information Access Centre at the State Library. Through direct consultation, and easy-read materials, this has made access to justice a reality for many who would otherwise have been left out.


Accountability and Transparency

SDG 16.6: Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels

Governments have a duty to their citizens to make best use of their potential to improve lives. Yet too often, there are failures or worse, with public money mis-spent, or powers misused.

These problems can be reduced (or alternative governments chosen) when there is transparency about how governments and institutions are working. Without this, citizens have nowhere to start in terms of holding those in power to account.

There is a move towards publishing ‘open government’ information, around decision-making, budgeting and spending. New platforms are being designed and put online, and citizens given the possibility to use them to come to their own conclusions.

However, simply creating the possibility is not enough. Those without internet access or technology are immediately excluded, as are those who do not know about the possibilities, and those who lack the skills and confidence to use them.

Libraries can play a key role in overcoming this situation, letting people know about what is possible, and helping them to make use of the new rights. An example from Kenya, where many people still cannot get online through a laptop of desktop, underlines what can be done.


Better Decision-Making

SDG 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

As highlighted above, governments have an important responsibility to their people to take the right decisions, not least concerning public money.

These decisions are significant, often affecting millions of people, and millions of dollars. It is broadly accepted that the best decisions are based upon wide consultation and use of evidence.

Yet as policies become more interconnected and complicated, it is not necessarily easy to achieve this, either for the governments drafting laws, or the parliaments debating them.

Libraries have a key role to play here, providing access to information for decision-makers. They bring a unique ability to collect and make available information in a form and at a time that really supports the work of governments and parliaments.

The work of IFLA’s sections on Government Libraries and Parliamentary Libraries offer many examples of what libraries can achieve in supporting responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making.


Access to Information

SDG 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements

SDG 16.10 has been at the heart of IFLA’s work around the Sustainable Development Goals. Complementing the targets highlighted above that focus on access to information about government, it stresses the need for access to information in general.

Just as this goal has long been at the heart of IFLA’s SDG engagement, the mission it refers to is central to the mission of libraries in general.

Through providing information in whatever form or from whatever source is relevant, libraries help people to seize opportunities and take better decisions. This access is therefore a key part of a development framework focused on empowering individuals to make their own choices.

Despite predictions of the demise of libraries in a digital age, their role has arguably been strengthened, as the importance of skills, physical spaces, and a welcoming environment have become clearer.

The Development and Access to Information Report, of which the second edition was launched last week, offers many examples, across the SDGs, of how this access makes a difference.




3 Days to Human Rights Day: The Right to Participate in Government

3 Days to Human Rights Day

For the fifth in our series of blogs looking at different articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, today’s contribution looks at the right to participate in government. It shows how libraries, by providing access to information – and helping people to use it – can support an active and engaged citizenry.


One of the key definitions of freedom is the possibility to take decisions about yourself – what you think, say, and do.

However, it is clear that we cannot leave everything up to individuals. Humans need to work together in order to achieve common goals. Progress in health and education would not be possible in a purely individualistic society. Neither, many would argue, would be security.

Working together implies that decisions need to be taken on behalf of the group. This is the role that governments play, at least when the ‘group’ is the people living in (or coming from) a particular country, region or area.

Government therefore implies a restriction on individual freedoms, which is what makes the right to participate so important. As Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights underlines, ‘Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country’.

Information plays a role in this, as some very interesting research from Nigeria at the World Library and Information Congress has demonstrated, with a clear link between a feeling of being well informed and a readiness to engage in elections.

So how can libraries help with this. This blog sets out two ways.


Delivering Information

A first – and fundamental – contribution is simply to making information available. Government information and parliamentary libraries in particular play a vital role here, bringing together official publications and laws into one place.

This supports the work of researchers trying to understand the processes and forces at work in government. But it can also make them into gateways for public information.

Indeed, Finland’s Parliamentary Library has been tasked since 1908 with also acting as a ‘public central library’.

These ideas have spread. For example, in Zimbabwe and Japan, parliamentary libraries have a deliberate policy of making sure that centres at the local level – often public libraries – receive copies of key documents, or have access to the most important databases.

It is also more and more broadly accepted that the public should have access to briefings prepared for Members of Parliament in order to inform their decision-making. The Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service has been a high-profile recent example of an institution starting  to do this.

In effect, libraries are working to ensure that people are at least as well informed as lawmakers. This is an essential step towards participation in government.


Making it Usable

Yet, simply making information available is not enough in itself. The work of governments is complex, and often technical.

Additional effort can be necessary to help people find their way, especially for people who do not have the time that elected representatives or officials may have to engage.

Libraries are also active here, drawing on experiences of helping users engage most effectively with the information they have. This can go from improving the presentation of databases and documentation to make it more user friendly, to forming partnerships with public libraries to build capacity to explain them.

In Taiwan, for example, libraries proactively worked to give access to information at a time of protests in Taipei, in order to help people understand the issues and engage in debate.

Libraries are also helping promote transparency more broadly, for example through publishing live voting information, or even through running consultations with citizens. This creates new possibilities for individuals to hold those taking decisions on their behalf to account.


Libraries can provide important support for the realisation of the right to participate in government through meaningful access to information. Of course, they can also go further – American libraries were active in encouraging people to register to vote ahead of the recent mid-term elections.

At the same time, their – and their users’ – interests themselves need to be represented and protected.

From unjustified cuts to services to bad copyright laws or censorship, libraries need also to be heard in decision-making processes. IFLA works hard to do this, and, in line with the Global Vision Summary Report, encourages every librarian to be an advocate.


Read more about these themes in our article on access to information and democracy, and in our brief on libraries and good governance.