Tag Archives: Libraries

Libraries Delivering SDG Successes, Even Under COVID-19

The Sustainable Development Goals, and the wider 2030 Agenda that contains them, already represent an ambitious – but necessary – roadmap for a richer, fairer, more sustainable world.

2020 was already supposed to mark the beginning of the Decade of Action – a renewed, reinforced focus on the sorts of concerted efforts needed to succeed.

Of course, 2020 also turned out to be the year of COVID-19, obliging people and governments alike to focus efforts on limiting the spread of the disease, and dealing with its consequences.

As the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Gutteres pointed out back in July, COVID has both made achieving the Global Goals harder, and underlined why success is nonetheless so necessary.

With governments facing a steeper hill to climb than before when it comes to delivering on the SDGs, the need to draw on what libraries can contribute is as strong as ever. Fortunately, libraries have shown themselves up to the task.

Drawing on the examples collected by IFLA from libraries across the world, throughout the pandemic, this blog offers an overview of how our institutions are showing their value on each of the 17 SDGs.

SDG 1 – No Poverty: the pandemic risks seeing major jumps in the numbers of people facing extreme poverty, with loss of access to housing or basic services. Libraries have looked to counter this, with, for example, libraries in Kansas making laptops and WiFi hotspots available to the local homeless shelter, while those in Toledo, Ohio donating vehicles, and those in Edmonton, Canada, other equipment, in order to ensure that poverty does not mean exclusion.

SDG 2 – Zero Hunger: increased poverty all too often means food insecurity, even in wealthier countries. In response, public libraries in Toronto, Canada, have started to host food banks, while those in Yarra and Monash, Australia are supporting food deliveries. READ centres in Nepal are also engaged in providing food rations.

SDG 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing: while the pandemic has primarily been a physical health crisis, it has clearly also brought significant negative consequences for mental health and wellbeing. Libraires have addressed both, for example helping to share information about COVID-19 (including in local languages, in the case of Kibera and Nakuru public libraries in Kenya, and through the National Library Authority of Ghana), and supporting wider research and decision-making, for example at the national level in Brazil, and at the WHO itself.

To improve mental health, the library in Kota, India, has promoted bibliotherapy, libraries in China have engaged closely with users, while the National Library of Medicine in the US has promoted collections on wellbeing and dealing with stress. Libraries have also been involved in direct pandemic response, for example helping with contact tracing in Ireland and San Francisco, and with wider health work by promoting continued vaccination programmes in Nepal.

SDG 4 – Quality Education: UNESCO has underlined the risk of the pandemic becoming an education crisis. With libraries a key part of the infrastructure in almost every country for both formal, and informal and non-formal learning, much of the library response to COVID-19 has therefore been about how to allow education to continue. We have seen school libraries in Portugal, Uruguay, Brazil and Bhutan develop platforms and tools, while National Libraries in France, Spain and Trinidad and Tobago have also created packages and materials to support home learning, while the National Library of Jamaica has worked to help students pass their final exams. Library teaching – for example around information literacy and research skills, has been brought online, for example in Bangladesh. Further examples are available in our blog for World Teachers Day.

SDG 5 – Gender Equality: as highlighted in the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Report, the pandemic risks representing a setback in efforts to promote gender equality. With libraries often acting as a force for equality by providing services without barriers, much of what they do helps counter this risk. In particular, we have seen work by libraries in Brazil to gather and present information that supports women’s health during the pandemic.

SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation: while libraries are primarily about providing access to information, their role as community centres and neutral spaces mean that they can also become essential point for delivering other basic services, such as sanitation during COVID-19, even when buildings are closed. For example, South Pasadena library in Colorado set up a portable toilet and handwashing station in its carpark, while Richland Library, South Carolina, has shared its hand sanitised stations with the local homeless shelter.

SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy: similarly to sanitation, while providing access to energy may not be a primary goal of libraries, the fact of libraries being community spaces means that they can be very well placed to offer this. During the pandemic, recognising the challenges that some students may have with electricity bills and access, libraries at Arizona State University have therefore prioritised access to device-charging facilities as part of its re-opening plans.

SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth: In addition to the education crisis highlighted under SDG4, the pandemic risks also becoming an employment crisis, with businesses suffering and jobs being lost. Even with the doors closed, libraries have therefore been helping people apply for unemployment benefits, for example in Miami-Dade and Hilsborough County in the US, while libraries in Greece have widened access to job-search support, and those in Ferguson, CT in the US are helping people develop new business ideas.

SDG 9 – Industry, Infrastructure and Innovation: the pandemic has underlined clearly both the importance of innovation (in finding treatments and cures, and new ways of doing things under changed circumstances), and of digital infrastructure. Again, libraries have been active, for example prioritising computer and internet access for those without this at home in the UK and Sweden, and many examples of leaving library WiFi on in the US. Meanwhile, libraries have continued to deliver on their core mission to support innovation through providing access to existing knowledge, for example in Iraq and many other places.

SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities: as highlighted above, the pandemic has hit some harder than others, with growing concerns that the deepening of divides in society may be lasting. Libraries, given their mission to promote equality through ensuring that everyone has access to education, research and culture, play a core role in the response. Among groups at risk of marginalisation, children who are speakers of minority languages have benefitted from storytimes in the US and Australia, while older people have been able to develop the skills needed for digital inclusion in South Africa thanks to a video competition run by Johannesburg libraries. As libraries start to reopen, many have paid particular attention to the needs of vulnerable groups by prioritising them in service provision, as in the UK.

SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities: even libraries have been obliged to limit access to spaces which had become important meeting places pre-pandemic, new ways of engaging and supporting communities have emerged. Those who rely particularly on libraries for human contact and interaction have benefitted from active outreach by libraries to their users, for example in New Zealand and Canada.

SDG11 also covers the importance of safeguarding heritage. Faced with difficulties in  carrying out in-person conservation work, libraries in Australia and France have prepared guides on how best to proceed. Meanwhile, they are also busy safeguarding the heritage of tomorrow by collecting materials that witness to experiences today, as set out in our blog from May, with examples from the US, Spain, Cameroon and many others.

SDG 12 – Sustainable Consumption and Production: for many, the pandemic has underlined the value and importance of living more sustainably, avoiding behaviours which tend to accelerate the development and spread of diseases. It also represents an opportunity to stop, think, and change ways of doing things. Libraries have kept up with these wider trends during the pandemic, not least with IFLA’s own Special Interest Group on Environment, Sustainability and Libraries graduating to become a full Section, and a renewed focus in the New York Library Association on how to promote sustainability in library operations.

SDG 13 – Climate Action: while we can hope to find ways to treat and prevent COVID-19 in the coming months, climate change will require a much longer term response. In a year’s time, COP26 will offer an opportunity for governments to set out their own commitments. Libraries, are, of course, already committed to this, with the American Library Association, in the middle of the pandemic, launching programming grants to help libraries address the climate crisis.

SDG 14 – Life Below Water: As with climate change, ensuring the health of our oceans and the sustainability of the life that exists there is an ongoing priority – it is vital not to slow efforts around conservation and research. For example, libraries at the University of Washington in the US serving the oceanography department have made special efforts to maintain services in order to ensure that students and researchers can continue their vital work.

SDG 15 – Life on Land: just as in the case of SDG 14, libraries have an ongoing role in supporting research that in turn helps improve knowledge about how to farm and manage the land sustainably. Libraries, however, are also helping people to connect better to nature during the pandemic – for example in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, where libraries have produced a booklet with suggestions of activities for readers.

SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: the pandemic has underlined the importance of governments that work effectively and transparently in order to respond, as well as of legislatures than can oversee their work. IFLA has published the results of a survey on how parliamentary libraries are helping to make this happen, while libraries in Nepal have helped raise up information about the situation on the ground to help wider government decision-making. Libraries in Indonesia, meanwhile, have sought to help improve the effectiveness of governance issues by summarising relevant laws and regulations for the benefit of citizens.

SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals: This SDG covers a wide range of issues, including access to knowledge across borders and digital skills, both of which have proved their importance during the pandemic. A key contribution here has been the work of the American National Library of Medicine in creating an open database for use by scientists around the world. Meanwhile, libraries globally have been sharing their skills in information literacy, for example in Mexico and Bangladesh, while in Kuwait, libraries have been leading research to understand how information spreads and is used by people at the time of pandemic. Libraries in Spain and the UK have been finding ways to offer training in using digital skills online, helping to promote inclusion for all.

Advoc8: Now and Next Part 2 – What Might a Library Advocacy Agenda for the Post-Pandemic World Look Like?

In our first ‘Now and Next’ blog, we explored a number of potential trends that are likely to shape the library field as it – and the communities it serves – emerge from the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just as in the first blog, it is clear that we are still in the midst of the crisis. Even as some countries are able to relax controls on people’s lives and activities, others are prolonging them. In some cases, we have seen decisions to re-impose them, as the disease has returned. It will likely be a long time until we can talk about a post-pandemic world.

Nonetheless, as calls grow for clarity about how governments plan to go about returning to normal, it will make sense to engage with governments. Indeed, this is likely to be particularly necessary in the light of the serious economic impact COVID-19 is already having.

As institutions which do depend on the financial health of the governments, institutions or other organisations that support them, it will be as important as ever to ensure libraries – and their values – are understood as having an essential role in the recovery, or even in creating better societies and economies in future.

We can only do this by reaching out and making the case. This blog therefore looks to explore potential advocacy agendas in the immediate, medium and longer-term. In this, the short-term is defined as now – with libraries in many countries physically closed. The medium-term is the situation as libraries start to re-open and restrictions are lifted. The long-term refers to the time when the pandemic can be declared over, and only minimal if any rules are in place to address the spread of the disease.

For each, the blog suggests eight key possible messages. Do you agree? Have we missed anything? We welcome your comments!


The Short-Term: Provide Relief, Support Research

  • Copyright should not become a barrier: it should not be the case that just because a library has closed its doors, its users cannot draw on its resources. Governments should make it clear that at a time that physical access is often impossible – for everything from research to storytimes – digital alternatives can take its place.
  • Licensing terms should not override the public interest: where the terms of licences under which libraries access content prevent their use, rightholders should be ready to introduce necessary flexibilities to allow libraries to carry out their missions. Where this does not happen, libraries should be able to bypass licensing terms in the course of their work where this does not cause unreasonable harm to rightholders.
  • Libraries need to be enabled to support their communities: faced with increasing demand for digital content, some governments have already been ready to increase acquisitions budgets. More broadly, other restrictions – such as on offering public access to WiFi, or on lending library equipment or materials to vulnerable groups – should be relaxed if these create problems.
  • COVID-19 must not become an excuse for bad government: many countries have adopted a state of emergency in order to allow steps to be taken against COVID-19. However, the application of these powers should not lead to decisions in other areas being taken without proper scrutiny, and all decision-making needs to be properly documented for future accountability.
  • Restrictions on free expression and access to information must be kept to a minimum: some governments have moved to limit free expression as part of their response, while social media companies are also increasing their efforts to close sites disseminating deliberately false information. Such restrictions should be avoided if other means of achieving the same goals are available, and otherwise applied carefully and proportionately. It is better to promote positive interventions such as media and information literacy.
  • The cultural sector needs support to avoid disaster: while some in the cultural field are benefitting strongly from increased demand for their work (especially digital content), others – especially those who rely on performances or physical visitors – are suffering. Faced with ongoing costs, these require support if they are to avoid having to give up and close their doors for good.
  • Greater dependence on online tools cannot come at the expense of rights: there has been an explosive rise in use of digital tools to work and communicate. However, we need to be vigilant to ensure that this does not increase the risk of cybersecurity breaches or other losses of personal data.
  • Open science should be the default: there have been welcome moves to adopt open science practices in research specifically around COVID-19, with the National Library of Medicine in the United States creating the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD). These should be expanded and supported by governments, and reach out to related disciplines in order to help ensure better informed responses to the pandemic.


The Medium-Term: Returning to Not-Quite-Normal, Safely

  • Official approaches to re-opening need to take safety into account: the news of libraries being able to reopen will be both a source of encouragement and worry for many. Often small, not necessarily set out to allow people to maintain social distance, and offering a lot of direct personal support, it should be clear that libraries are high social-interaction spaces. Where reopening does happen, it should be based on a sound understanding of how libraries really work.
  • Exceptional measures on access to content should not be lifted until the need for them is over: many of the special measures put in place, for example, by publishers to offer remote access to books and articles, or online story-times, are time-limited. While some have noted that their application can be extended, it will be important to keep up the pressure to maintain them until all library users are able to make use of library services again as before.
  • There needs to be meaningful investment in helping learners to catch up: the internet has allowed far more teaching and learning to take place during the pandemic than could have been imagined even a few years ago. However, many have underlined that it is still not the same as being in class, and it will be necessary to help learners catch up, especially those in more vulnerable situations. Governments need to have a plan for this.
  • Insofar as they affect access to government information, states of emergency should be lifted as soon as possible: states of emergency should never be indefinite, given the threat they pose to fundamental rights. In particular, it is important for information about government responses to the virus to be made open, in order to inform researchers as well as journalists.
  • Ensure that efforts continue to help those who will need to be subject to restrictions for longer: the loosening of restrictions is likely to move at a different pace for different groups, with already marginalised populations – older persons, those with disabilities, or prison populations to name just a few – likely to need to wait longer. As the rest of society moves back as close to normality as possible, we cannot forget those for whom this isn’t the case.
  • Ensure that libraries are supported to take on the upcoming rise in demand: it seems likely that not only will libraries welcome back people who have missed their resources, services and spaces, but also those needing to use them to get their lives back on track after losing jobs and even homes. Libraries have a proven track record here, but scaling this up will require continued support.
  • Ensuring that lifting restrictions on movement doesn’t mean new restrictions on privacy: the potential use of tracking apps to contribute to the safe lifting of limitations has received a lot of limitations. If these are introduced, it will be important to protect privacy, ensure that users consciously opt in, and to ensure that no more information is collected and retained than strictly necessary.
  • Continue to promote open science, and invest in discoverability and interoperability: managing the lifting of restrictions is going to require extensive use of research, drawing on a variety of disciplines. We will need to strengthen the infrastructures and resources for open science, allowing researchers to work globally, and across different areas of study, with meaningful tools for discovery and analysis.


The Long-Term: Build Back Better

  • Ensure copyright and competition laws are truly fit for the digital age: the crisis has brought into very stark relief the difference between what copyright laws permit as concerns digital and non-digital uses, and the degree to which libraries have had to rely on rightholder goodwill – rather than the law – in order to continue to fulfil their missions. This should not continue. Moreover, the fact that access to and use of digital content tends to be shaped by the choices of rightholders, rather than the law, has also helped underline the need to look at these markets from a competition angle.
  • Mobilise libraries in the wider effort to rebuild lives, societies and economies: over recent years, libraries globally have worked to realise their potential as a key part of the social infrastructure of their communities. In addition to all they do to promote wellbeing as cultural spaces and centres, they can also act as platforms and partners for efforts to support employment, entrepreneurship and education. As such, they need to be part of relevant government strategies at all levels.
  • Ensure proper scrutiny of decision-making during the crisis: governments at the moment are taking crucial decisions about societies and economies, which may have significant and long-lasting effects. In order to be able to hold them to account, we will need to ensure that researchers, the press, and the public have the access they need to information to allow them to participate fully in a healthy democratic life.
  • Learn from the experience to promote inclusion and well-being for all: the pandemic has helped underline the vulnerability of many groups, whose living conditions, livelihoods or other characteristics have made them more susceptible to the pandemic and/or harder hit by its consequences. These should lead us to design policies and programmes in general that are truly inclusive and pro-equity in future.
  • Achieve universal meaningful connectivity: having access to the internet made it possible to continue with more aspects of life during the crisis that previously could not have been imagined. However, this has only been the case for the half of the world which enjoy connectivity. Even those who are online do not necessarily have the skills and confidence necessary to make the most if it. We need to invest in helping everyone become active and capable internet users.
  • Invest in effective public (health) information systems: one key lesson from the crisis has been the importance of developing a meaningful infrastructure for providing access to information to people. This is not just a case of transmitting information, but rather being able to listen and adapt messages to ensure they have most impact, as well as to build literacy skills for all. Libraries can be part of this.
  • Move to a new level in open science and collaborative research: the potential of open science to inform better policymaking has been clear in the current crisis. It should become the norm, with meaningful investment in platforms, reforms to assessment and recognition frameworks, and careful efforts to ensure that researchers and readers do not risk being locked into any individual providers’ products. Cross-border research should be enabled by appropriate international action on copyright reform.
  • Don’t forget other challenges!: clearly COVID-19 is the focus of attention at the moment. Nonetheless, there are other challenges facing the world at the moment, not least climate change, and the rest of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. Clearly, the way we address these may change, but the underlying priorities remain if we are to ensure that we don’t just return to normal, but to better.


Now and Next: What a Post-COVID World May Bring for Libraries 

Around the world, library and information workers are doing their best, both personally and professionally, to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as some libraries are – cautiously – beginning to loosen restrictions, others are seeing them come into place.

Naturally, the focus is on the short term – how to keep staff, patrons safe, how to keep offering services as best possible, how to manage uncertainty. For many, it will seem difficult to think even beyond the coming days.

At the same time, it is already clear that this is a historic moment, with unprecedented steps being taken by governments, businesses and individuals. These are having a huge impact on the present, but what about the future? To what extent will what we are experiencing today not just ‘be’ history, but rather ‘make’ it?

This blog aims to identify ten developments we’re seeing today, and explore what they may mean in terms of trends shaping the future of libraries. It is not – and cannot be – exhaustive, and certainly can be improved. We welcome your ideas.


1) Restrictions on movement have dramatically changed our lives – will we get back to normal?

Limits on where we can go, how and with whom are affecting a huge share of the global population. On a personal level, people have been kept from family and friends, including at difficult moments. Many are not able to work, and face a loss of livelihood that, depending on whether they can receive support from elsewhere, could prove critical.

While many will be able to pick themselves up once the pandemic is over and go back to work, many will not be so lucky. We do face the risk of increased unemployment, homelessness and poverty into the future. Many will need training, support, or simply a place to get away from it all as they look to rebuild their lives and careers.

Faced with this, the need for free and welcoming public services like libraries, able both to help people find new opportunities for work or business, and to offer a moment of respite, should be as high as ever. Initiatives such as business incubators, support in job-searching or broader training programmes are likely to be important.


2) Many of our activities have ‘pivoted’ to online – will they stay there? 

Just as many libraries have restricted or stopped circulating physical materials, they have in parallel seen much greater demand for digital content. They are working hard to identify ways to support online learning for students of all ages, often overcoming barriers (see below). In their own work, even those who were previously most resistant to new tools and technologies are having to get used to remote working and communication.

The restrictions will not last forever however, and many are looking forward to the possibility to work face-to-face with users and colleagues, as well as to handling new books and materials again. Nonetheless, the possibilities of digital – for learning, researching and accessing all forms of culture – will be clearer for all, and convenience may well replace necessity as a reason for using online tools.  These of course bring with them ongoing concerns about how to protect privacy in the process.

The role of libraries as digital – as well as physical – providers of information and services seems likely to be confirmed. It remains to be seen whether the more favourable conditions set out by right-holders for access to electronic works will continue (or to what extent they will continue to print physical works at all), and whether library budgets themselves will swing back to physical spending.


3) Governments are investing billions into economies – how will they take it back?

As highlighted above, the restrictions needed to limit the spread of the pandemic are having a major impact on the ability of many to earn a living. Individuals and businesses in the culture sector, for example, are hit hard by the lack of physical audiences or visitors. In many countries, governments have sought to act by offering loans or subsidies to cover costs and pay salaries.

While these steps are welcome in the short term, this leaves open the question of how these same governments will deal with the debt incurred in the long term. With tax revenues also likely to be low, it seems inevitable that many will look to cut public spending, posing a direct threat to libraries.

Libraries will need to be able to make the case that they – alongside other key services – have the potential to be part of the recovery, and so to receive the support necessary to do this.  The experience of the years after the 2008 financial crisis has been very negative for many, although at least the well-documented harm caused may help ensure that politicians think twice.


4) Education has been disrupted and delayed – can we limit the scarring effects?

Thanks to the fast footwork of many educational institutions – including their libraries – a lot of teaching has moved online. Lessons and lectures are provided through videoconference, homework and assignments set and received by e-mail or dedicated platforms, and some are even proposing online exams.

Nonetheless, it is clear that for those coming to the end of school years in May or June, it is not a normal year, leading to worries about how to ensure children do not fall behind, or miss opportunities.

As time goes on, there is likely to be major need for support to students looking to catch up or take new decisions about their futures. Online and/or lifelong learning opportunities will play a key role in this – libraries have the reputation and materials to support in both, either as provider or platform for others. In this way, they can help ensure that temporary disruption does not turn into permanent damage.


5) Testing, tracking and emergency powers are helping to fight the pandemic – but will governments be able to let go?

Governments globally have highlighted the value of testing and contact tracing as means of slowing – and in some cases containing – the spread of the pandemic. Through collecting information about people’s health and lives, they hope to be able better to isolate those at risk, and treat those infected. Limits on freedom of movement and action are aimed at stopping infection.

Such moves have often come as part of packages of emergency powers allowing governments to take all steps they think necessary in the context. Sometimes – regrettably – they have been accompanied with nationalist rhetoric.

Yet it does not always seem clear what guarantees there are that these special measures will be lifted at the earliest safe opportunity. This matters. The possibility to collect information about citizens and to by-pass ordinary procedures may be helpful in the fight against COVID-19, but it can also serve less positive ends.

Libraries can already help citizens and parliamentarians to keep track of what governments are doing – a vital first step towards accountability – and will need to continue to do this in the recovery. Governments themselves may look to hold onto extraordinary powers longer than they should. Libraries will need to be ready to remind them – and citizens – of the need to return to high levels of data protection, privacy, personal and academic freedom, and openness to the world as soon as possible.


6) It has become clear that laws and practices were not ready – will we learn the lessons?

A major concern for many in the library field has been how to deal with the fact that copyright laws – and in particular the exceptions and limitations on which libraries rely – are often firmly stuck in the analogue age. With on-site (and on-campus) activities now impossible, libraries have too often found themselves unable to provide services they have already paid for, or which would be completely uncontroversial in person (such as storytimes).

There are welcome steps – through soft-law agreements and unilateral action by some rightholders – to improve matters here, but it is clearly far from ideal that the ability of libraries to provide services in times of crisis should rely on goodwill and good relationships.

The challenge in future will be to ensure that the lessons of the crisis are learnt, and that libraries and their users should not face more difficulty in working through digital tools as through analogue ones. Adapting copyright laws properly for the digital age will be a key part of this, although we can certainly expect efforts to resist this in order to leave decisions in the hands of rightholders.


7) Weaknesses and incompleteness in our digital infrastructure have become clear – will we fix them?

Undoubtedly, more people are able to continue with more elements of their personal and professional lives now from their homes than ever before. However, this is clearly not the case for all. This is not just because their livelihoods depend on activities which have been forced to close., but also because they do not enough good quality access to the internet and the skills to use it.

At a time where connectivity can make the difference between being able to talk with family and friends, continue working, and keep supplied and healthy, the impact of the digital divide is as clear as ever. The people coming to library car parks to download homework – or films – are simply one illustration of the failings of our current infrastructure.

We can hope that this crisis will lead to greater investment in connecting communities – itself a powerful economic stimulus. With this, it will be necessary to call for support for skills development, with libraries an obvious potential provider. We will need to avoid those getting online for the first time failing to realise potential or falling victim to scams and other dangers.


8) The need for global information sharing is obvious – will we make it permanent?

Many of us have been regular visitors to websites sharing latest information about the spread of the pandemic. Of course, in addition to maps and overall statistics, there is also a huge amount of data and research being shared between authorities globally in an effort both to understand what is going on, and to advance work towards effective treatments and even a vaccine.

This work has been supported by widespread efforts to lift paywalls and other restrictions on access to articles and other work related to COVID-19. With time, it has also been made easier to re-use works, for example in the course of text and data mining.

The question remains whether these restrictions will re-appear once the crisis is over, or will we see a lasting shift to a more open information-sharing environment? Partially this will rely on laws, for example making it clear that activities such as text and data mining should not require new payments or authorisation. Partly it will need changes in practices and business models. Libraries will need to keep up the pressure in favour of openness.


9) Pollution is down and air quality up – will we learn to live greener lives?

One of the rare positives from the pandemic has been the fall in emissions from transport and industry, leading to improved quality of air and water in many places. Without the possibility to go to work, visit friends or family, or go on holiday, people are effectively consuming less carbon and producing fewer other polluting chemicals. Conferences and meetings have moved online, and people are discovering local attractions, at least where they can.

Clearly, once the restrictions are lifted, many will want to take the first opportunity to go and visit loved ones again, and return to normal life. But with people getting used to having to limit driving and flying by necessity, can we hope that the pattern of increasing emissions globally will be stopped or at least slowed?

As they re-open, libraries will have the opportunity to redouble their efforts to promote green lifestyles, as well as bring together evidence that supports ongoing efforts to understand and deal with climate change. Some may be able to continue the support they have started to offer to users in terms of tools and advice so that they can continue to work remotely, so reducing travel. We can hope, also, that people may come to appreciate more than before their local areas and what there is to do there, again limiting polluting travel.


10) The value of culture in well-being is clear – will we continue to invest in making it a reality? 

As highlighted above, libraries (and publishers) are seeing major increases in demand for their digital offers. At a time of stress – often linked with forced inactivity – people want to be distracted, informed, or inspired by creative works, both contemporary and historic. Virtual exhibitions are taking place, some even looking back at how societies have dealt with pandemics in the past.

Librarians and archivists are also already working hard to collect news and other materials which will help future researchers understand the events and experiences of today. These may even help us improve our responses the next time we face such a challenge.

But will this awareness of the importance of culture last into the future? This is certainly to be hoped, although the ability of creators and libraries to supply this will depend a lot on whether they continue to receive the necessary support. Laws and practices will need to change to facilitate this, but at least as the crisis has showed, there is no shortage of energy and inventiveness here.


As set out in the introduction, we are still very much in the middle of the crisis. With the focus almost exclusively on the coming weeks, it is certainly too early to say with confidence what will come next.

However, what happens now will shape the future. The ideas above set out some potential trends, which are likely to interact with each other as we go into the future.

Do libraries risk seeing growing demand while having to fight hard for existing resources? Will they be able to keep up with – and support – an ever more digitalised economy and society without changes in laws? What will be necessary to uphold – or restore – core library values once the crisis is over?

We look forward to your views and ideas.


See Part 2 of this blog, which looks at what library advocacy agendas in the short, medium and longer term could look like.

Developing partnerships to achieve global library goals: an interview with Jason Evans, Wikimedian in residence at the Wales National Library.

What do you do as a Wikimedian in residence?

Traditionally a Wikimedian in Residence focuses on increasing the quality and quantity of content on Wikipedia and its sister projects, such as Wikimedia Commons (for openly licenced media) and Wikidata (for linked open data). When I first started as a Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales the goal was pretty simple. Firstly I would run events and workshops aimed at improving the quality of content about Wales and its people on Wikipedia, in English and Welsh. Secondly, I was tasked with sharing the library’s digital assets on an open licence via Wikimedia Commons so that they could be used to illustrate Wikipedia articles.

As the project evolved we began to collaborate with the Welsh Government on thematic projects aimed at increasing the availability of information in Welsh on Wikipedia, as part of their long term strategy for the language. We have worked to improve content about health and medicine, pop music, Welsh people and literature, and we are currently working with the education department to identify and develop Welsh language content needed by school children to support their studies.

We have also increasingly engaged in sharing our catalogue data via Wikidata as linked open data.


How did you get interested in this job?

Before I took on my role as a Wikimedian I worked as a research assistant in the maps and manuscripts department. My first experience of editing Wikipedia came after an article I had published was used as the bases for a Wikipedia article. I was really impressed by the speed, efficiency and accuracy of Wikipedia editors in taking reliable peer reviewed information and making it available to all on Wikipedia. And I was amazed at the ease with which I was able to edit and make improvements to the article. It was shortly after this that the Library, in partnership with Wikimedia UK, advertised for the post of Wikimedian in Residence.


What are the biggest challenges in your work?

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have great support from the National Library. However, any disruption to long established norms will obviously present challenges. The public engagement side of my work doesn’t really present any major problems but sharing data openly definitely requires care.

Wikimedia projects all follow an ‘open’ ethos. All the content created on Wikipedia, or media, and data shared on these platforms must be openly licenced in order to remove barriers to reuse. ‘Open’ in this instance means more than simply making something available for free, it means removing restrictions on reuse. Content must be downloadable and licenced for free use for any purpose including commercial reuse. It’s a fantastic approach, which is being adopted by more and more cultural institutions in order to give their users the best possible value, to simplify work streams and to encourage maximum engagement with their content.

But we need to be careful about what we share. If an item contains 3rd party copyright of any kind we don’t actually have the right to share it openly. To minimise risk, we have focused on sharing public domain content (digital versions of items which we know are out of copyright).

Another challenge, as a publicly funded institution of finding the balance between giving our users the best access and meeting targets for income generation. We try to identify where there is commercial potential in collections and share those in a different way, or often we share screen resolution images openly and retain the highest quality digital images for commercial licencing. The current trend though seems to be to simplify these processes by simply giving unlimited access to all digital versions of public domain works


Why did the National Library decide to open this position?

About a year before the library appointed a Wikimedian in Residence they made a policy decision not to claim any rights to digital reproductions of out of copyright works. This was the first step towards ‘Open Access’, but they recognised that a policy decision alone would have resulted in very little impact or change. So one of the main aims with the Wikimedia residency was to use Wikimedia Commons to actively share our public domain content on an open licence in order to encourage reuse and engagement.

The position was also fully supported by our local Wikimedia chapter – Wikimedia UK. They initially helped to fund the position and provided training and logistical support. This support obviously reduced the risks for the National Library and made the idea of hosting a Wikimedian in Residence more appealing.


What are the impacts of your work in the Library?

Before we started, we knew from similar residencies at the National Library of Scotland and the British Museum, for example, that collaborating with Wikipedia could lead to some big impacts, but I think we were all surprised by the benefits of our early activities.

When it comes to digital images there are few platforms better than Wikipedia for getting your content seen. We are talking about one of the world’s top 10 websites with 18 billion page views a month. We shared a handful of photographs and prints in the first couple of months and the content was quickly added to Wikipedia articles leading to 20,000 views in one month. Now we have shared about 20,000 images to Wikimedia Commons. Thousands of these are used in Wikipedia articles in over 150 languages leading to over 15 million image views every month. As of January 2020 articles containing National Library of Wales images had been viewed 781,121,633 times! It would take us nearly 400 years to get that many views of our own websites. The use of our content on Wikipedia and other 3rd party platforms is now recorded as a key performance indicator and fed back to our funders.

Whilst we half expected big numbers from sharing images, we hadn’t counted on the value of public events. Wikipedia is a ready made crowdsourcing platform with great infrastructure and a massive community of editors. Holding ‘Edit-a-thon’ events to improve content about our collections, about welsh people, history and culture has helped us to engage with new audiences in new ways. Events and projects have directly led to over 15,000 new Wikipedia articles but events are also about building communities, teaching new skills and growing confidence. Events aimed at improving content on the Welsh Wikipedia also provide a forum where Welsh speakers can get together chat and to create content in their native language, whilst improving access to Welsh language information for all.

Another emerging area of impact for use comes from our use of the Wikidata project to share our collection data openly. Wikidata allows us to share open data without having to invest in our own internal infrastructure. Wikidata already has a query service and a raft of tools for analyzing and visualizing the data. By converting out data to linked data in the Wiki ecosystem we can actually enrich our own data by drawing on additional data from Wikidata, like map coordinates, external authority records and biographical data. And because Wikidata is multilingual – data can be described in any language – we are able to convert much of our English language data to Welsh or any other language, thanks to existing user contributed Welsh language descriptions.

We have seen great engagement with our data since we began this work and now hold regular Hackathon events to promote reuse. We are also starting to round trip this rich data to improve services on our own websites. We now pull in links to VIAF records and Wikipedia articles from Wikidata to our Dictionary of Welsh Biography website, and will soon add an interactive timeline to the site, powered entirely by Wikidata and openly licensed images from Wikimedia Commons.

All this work has really helped to raise the profile of the library in Wales and internationally and we have formed some great partnerships as a result of interactions around our work with Wikimedia.


What would be your recommendations for smaller or medium size Libraries?

I know not all libraries manage digitized collections, but if you do, using Wikimedia projects to give access to that content can be a really cost effective way of reaching big audiences. The Wikimedia Foundation is currently setting up a ‘GLAM’ (Galleries. Libraries. Archives & Museums) team, to give more support to cultural institutions looking to share their content through the projects, so the support and the tools available to smaller libraries is only going to increase.

Wikipedia’s goal is to give free access to the sum of all human knowledge so there is always more work to do. Notable gaps in content include a lack of articles about women, who currently make up less than 20% of biographies on the site. The global south, traditional and local knowledge are also poorly represented and I believe libraries are the perfect partners to help tackle these issues. Libraries are the keepers of knowledge but they are also community hubs. Empowering those communities to improve subjects important to them on Wikipedia can be massively rewarding and editing Wikipedia has never been easier.

I would definitely recommend that any library interested in engaging with Wikimedia reaches out to their local Wikimedia chapter or user group, or the Wikimedia Foundation directly. Often they can arrange for training, provide logistic or technical support, and they have a grant program for those looking to host larger events or programs.


The 10-Minute Library Advocate #50: Celebrate Success

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #50: Celebrate Success

Advocacy is not always easy.

Through this series, we have shared 50 ideas of what you can do in 10 minutes to become a more effective advocate.

Together, that’s over eight hours of activity.

Of course in reality you may spend longer in order to think, plan, and do things, and to meet the medium-term (see Exercise #44) or long-term goals (see Exercise #7) you’ve set yourself, using your measures of success (see Exercise #46).

With all that work, you deserve a moment to rest and congratulate yourself.

So for our 50th and final 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, celebrate success!

Think about how things have changed, and how you have affected this. Think also about what else you want to do in the future!

Good luck – you deserve it!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion on social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #49: Say Thank You

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #49: Say Thank You

Advocacy is about building support.

It relies on convincing other people of the need to speak, and to act, for libraries.

They, in turn, are the ones who can make a difference for you in your work.

Successful advocacy may rely on a whole network – from those in power (see Exercise #6) to journalists (see Exercise #14) and other partners (see Exercise #8).

It may even involve your friends, who have helped you refine your message (see Exercise #21) or repeat it around them (see Exercise #43).

These people make a difference, and it’s important to recognise this.

So for our 49th 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, say thank you!

You can send a card or note – hand-written makes it even more personal – or just make sure you show your gratitude when you see them.

You could even make a wall of fame for library friends!

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion on social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #48: Think of a Slogan

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #48: Think of a Slogan

Advocacy is about getting noticed and staying noticed.

You need something that will stay in the head of the person you’re talking to.

We’ve already talked about surprising facts (Exercise #46) or statistics (Exercise #4), but you also need your message to stick.

Advertisers and politicians have long known this when planning a campaign.

A short, attractive phrase to sum up what you do can be really powerful.

So for our 48th 10-Minute Library Advocate, think of a slogan.

Try to make it brief and catchy – even something that would fit on a badge or pin.

You could test it on colleagues and friends too!

Good luck!


See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion on social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!