Tag Archives: Public Library Manifesto

The Mission of the Public Library Today: Exploring what’s new in the Public Library Manifesto

The forthcoming update to the IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto re-examines the role of the public library – expanding on previous versions to more thoroughly reflect the ways libraries serve their communities today.

This update was informed by a global survey, as well as ongoing consultations with UNESCO’s Information For All Programme

UNESCO has been facilitating critical input from its member states represented on the IFAP Bureau. Upon completion of this process, the updated Manifesto will be ready for action as a cornerstone of library advocacy.

Key concepts that have been added to this updated version include:

Sustainable Development

As publicly accessible spaces for the exchange of information, the sharing of culture, and the promotion of civic engagement, libraries should be considered essential agents for sustainable development.

The updated Manifesto upholds that, through their activities relating to information, literacy, education, and culture, libraries contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the construction of more equitable, humane, and sustainable societies.

This is especially pertinent when concerning the public library’s role in ensuring inclusion, access, and cultural participation for marginalised communities, Indigenous peoples, and users with special needs.

Libraries in Knowledge Societies

The ways in which people access and use information have evolved. The updated Manifesto reflects the public library’s role in enabling knowledge societies through helping all members of society access, produce, create, and share knowledge.

This includes an increased focus on remote and digital access to information and materials, as well as access to the competencies and connectivity required to bridge the digital divide.

The previous version upholds the public library as a local gateway to knowledge, providing a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision-making and cultural development of the individual and social groups.

The update expands on this, adding that libraries underpin healthy knowledge societies through providing access to and enabling the creation and sharing of knowledge of all sorts, including scientific and local knowledge without commercial, technological or legal barriers.

It further states that, in the digital era, copyright and intellectual property legislation must ensure public libraries the same capacity to procure and give access to digital content on reasonable terms as is the case with physical resources.


The Evolving Mission of Public Libraries Today

Below you will find an overview of key concepts that have been expanded on in the updated Manifesto.


Previous Versions

The Update

Stimulating the imagination and creativity of children and young people. Providing opportunities for personal creative development, and stimulating imagination, creativity, curiosity, and empathy


creating and strengthening reading habits in children from an early age; Creating and strengthening reading habits in children from birth to adulthood


Access to information and material Providing services to their communities both in-person and remotely through digital technologies allowing access to information, collections, and programmes


Awareness of cultural heritage, appreciation of the arts, scientific achievements preservation of and access to cultural expressions and heritage, appreciation of the arts, scientific achievements, research and innovations, as expressed in traditional media, as well as digital material


Ensuring access for citizens to all sorts of community information Ensuring access for all people to all sorts of community information and opportunities for community organising, in recognition of the library’s role at the core of the social fabric


Ensuring inclusivity, especially relating to marginalised communities Preservation of, and access to, local and Indigenous data, knowledge, and heritage (including oral tradition), providing an environment in which the local community can take an active role in identifying materials to be captured, preserved and shared, in accordance with the community’s wishes.
Awareness of scientific achievements


providing communities with access to scientific knowledge, such as research results and health information that can impact the lives of their users, as well as enabling participation in scientific progress.


Facilitating the development of information and computer literacy skills


initiating, supporting and participating in literacy activities and programmes to build reading and writing skills, and facilitating the development of media and information literacy and digital literacy skills for all people at all ages, in the spirit of equipping an informed, democratic society;


The IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto: Past and Future Action

This month, we are celebrating the 26th Anniversary of the IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto. Since 1994, the Manifesto has been at the heart of public library advocacy – declaring UNESCO’s belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information, and its essential role in the promotion of peace and well-being.

Here is a look back at how librarians around the world have used the Manifesto, and a glimpse into what is coming next for this important document.

The Manifesto at Work

Earlier in 2020, IFLA’s Public Library Section launched a global survey to gather feedback from public libraries on the Manifesto, and how they have used it in their advocacy.

With over 600 responses, this was an extremely insightful look into how libraries around the world apply the Manifesto to their work.

39% of respondents said they have actively used the Manifesto to advocate and lobby for their library.

Of those who responded in the negative, the most prevalent reason given was that they have not yet had an opportunity or were not included in relevant conversations with decision-makers.

Survey participants were asked to share examples of the Manifesto being used in their library’s advocacy or operations.

Some excellent examples include:

  • using the Manifesto to power campaigns during National Library Week
  • referring to the Manifesto in strategic materials and in lobbying
  • featuring the Manifesto in negotiations with local city council and elected officials
  • using the Manifesto as a basis to create library activities
  • guiding funding decisions and budget
  • informing the selection of books and services provided by the library

IFLA would like to help public libraries around the world better use the Public Library Manifesto in advocacy. From this survey, we have learned that increased awareness-raising about the Manifesto in the future may help empower more librarians to put it to use in their advocacy.

For more on how the Manifesto has been put into action, refer to the IFLA Research Paper: Inspire, Inform, Indicate: How the UNESCO-IFLA Public Library Manifesto Makes a Difference.

For more ideas on how the Public Library Manifesto can be used in advocacy, please see our Advocacy Pack for Libraries and Library Associations.

The Manifesto in the Future

Another key development towards increasing the impact of the Public Library Manifesto is ensuring that it remains relevant to the work of libraries today.

Therefore, UNESCO, with the help of IFLA’s Public Library Section, is planning to update the Public Library Manifesto in the coming year. The goal of this revision will be to address the ever-evolving role of public libraries in their communities, while also acknowledging the substantial technological advances that have changed how many people access, create, and consume information.

The survey also plays a major role in this work – ensuring that the voice of the global library field is considered in the review process.

Here is a look at some ideas submitted by librarians on how to improve the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto for the future.

How can the Manifesto better reflect the missions of public libraries today?

  • Emphasize the role of libraries in the information society, such as highlighting the importance of Media and Information Literacy skills.
  • Expand the definition of lifelong learning
  • Reinforce the relationship between the library and the community
  • Increase mention of the importance of inclusivity, especially relating to marginalized communities

How can the Manifesto provide better guidance to decision-makers?

  • Highlight the importance of local knowledge
  • Promote participatory decision-making, both with library professionals and with communities
  • Appeal for sufficient human and material resources, which are required for libraries to fulfil their mission.
  • Link culture to the social and economic life of the community
  • Emphasize social impacts, and the fact that they are usually seen most clearly in subsequent generations

Next Steps

These suggestions, and all the others received during the surveying process, will be taken into consideration by the Public Library Section during the drafting of the Manifesto update. This is projected to be completed in 2021.

The significance of the Public Library Manifesto is that it has codified the exceptional value that public libraries have in their communities. By working to keep it relevant, reflecting the mission of public libraries today, we can ensure it remains a powerful tool for advocacy.

Together with UNESCO, IFLA is looking forward to delivering an updated Manifesto that can continue to support public librarians the world over in their essential work.

Know Your Rights: Libraries and Access to Legal Information

A recognition of the importance of access to information is at the heart of the work of libraries, and the first of IFLA’s core values.

This access refers to all types of information, from all sources. Given their focus on the wellbeing of users, what matters in the end is how the information provided can improve lives, regardless of its form or source.

However, the first thing that comes to mind for many, when talking about access to information, is legal information – knowledge about the law, and laws, that govern our lives. The role of libraries in guaranteeing the possibility for all to find, read and make use of this sort of information is as great as for any other.

To mark the International Day for the Universal Access to Information, which this year focuses on the importance of leaving no-one behind – this blog summarises how libraries make the difference.


Empowering and Emancipating

The replacement of the rule of the strongest by the rule of law is certainly a positive thing. It has – at least in principle – meant that everyone is equal before the law, and that the simple fact that someone is more powerful or richer than someone else does not mean that they have better treatment.

Of course in reality, this is not always the case. A key challenge is access to the law itself. If only those with money can afford a lawyer who knows their way around the legal system, there is a clear imbalance.

But even more fundamentally than this, people need to know their rights in order to be able to enforce them. Without access to legal information – for example for housing tenants facing the threat of eviction, for migrants unsure of what support they can claim, or for employees facing reorganisation of the workplace – there is no chance of access to justice.

Similarly, while democracy creates the possibility for everyone to take part in decision-making, this will not be a reality if only the better off can take the time or have the tools to follow and influence discussions. Once again, easy and effective means of accessing information are vital.

These are both areas where the core strength of libraries – providing access to information in a way that best suits the needs of the user – come into their own.


The Importance of Partnerships

Fulfilling this potential does of course require skill and capacity on the part of librarians. There are some libraries focused purely on providing legal help to the public, but this is not the case everywhere.

Elsewhere, different types of library – dedicated law libraries, university libraries, parliamentary libraries, public libraries – each have their own strengths, but on their own are not always well placed to respond to a public need for legal information.

Combining these strengths offers exciting possibilities however. For example, the State Library of New South Wales in Australia helped set up the Legal Information Access Centre over 25 years ago. This turns the information they hold centrally into tools and services for people often in the most vulnerable situations.

In India, law libraries are engaged in outreach programmes via public libraries in order to help many more people find out about their rights as a first step to accessing the legal system. In Croatia, not only does cooperation allow ordinary citizens to get hold of the latest legal information, but it also makes it easier to access legal professionals.

Similarly, as highlighted in an IFLA article last year for Democracy Day, libraries are creating new partnerships to help people track the work of governments and legislators, and so ensure that democracy really works.


The subject of access to legal information is a great example of how foundational information is to any effort to ensure that people can enjoy their rights and improve their lives. Libraries – in particular when they join forces – can play a central role in helping give everyone this possibility.

Sen and Sensibility: Why Libraries’ Universalism is Worth Protecting

Public libraries, as underlined in the IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, have a clear mandate to serve their entire communities. As such, they can be described as ‘universalist’ – for everyone, not just a selected group.

This is an increasingly unique characteristic of public services at a time of growing pressure to show that resources are being used most effectively.

This part of the nature of libraries’ work can lay them open to the accusation that they are serving people who do not need help, for example through lending books that readers could buy.

However, it is also backed up by the universalist message of the Declaration of Human Rights, itself cited in the IFLA Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom.

The question of whether and how far a public service should be limited touches on a long-standing debate in social policy about the merits of universal, as opposed to targeted benefits and services. It is also one where the work of one key contributor – Amartya Sen – has received a Nobel Prize.

So what does Sen tell us about the relevant merits of targeting vs universalism, and how does this affect libraries?


Targeting vs Universalism

On the side of those favouring targeting, there is an expression of concern about the apparent waste of public (or private) money that comes from serving people who do not need services.

Money and effort which could be spent on the poor goes to the rich. They argue that targeting can ensure that most – if not all – goes to those who are ostensibly in greatest difficulty.

The implication is that it is only people below a certain income who are able to access certain services or benefits. And too often, services for the poor risk becoming poor services.

However, there are strong criticisms of this approach, not least those of Amartya Sen, as mentioned in the introduction.

The means of working out who is eligible or not are far from perfect. It can be difficult to measure income – some will lie in order to gain support, others will hide their poverty out of pride.

This point is an important one. In many countries, it is seen as shameful to be poor. People do not want to admit that they do not have money, and so will avoid situations where they have to do this.

Targeting, it is argued also creates the risk of reducing incentives to improve your situation, given that this could lead to a withdrawal of support. Why work those extra hours that could take you over a certain threshold when it means you might end up worse off once support is cut?

Finally, targeting implies that the population involved are just that – targets – rather than agents in their own right, something that also risks damaging the self-respect of beneficiaries.

Sen does note that some adaptation of services may be valuable, for example due to disability, or social status. These can have a useful levelling-up effect.

However, they should come against a backdrop of universal support and services. Indeed, such an approach tends to be associated with greater overall equality.


Universalism in the Library

The work of libraries not only provides an example of universalism at work, but also brings in another key aspect of Sen’s thinking – that of ‘capabilities’.

Linked to his objection to the idea of the poor as being ‘targets’, he focuses on how to ensure that people in difficult situations have the possibility to improve their lives. These ‘capabilities’ allow for ‘functionings’ – taking part in economic, social and cultural life.

Key capabilities in this regard are skills such as literacy and the right and possibility to share and receive information.

Libraries provide these, as underlined in the Development and Access to Information report. And of course, crucially, they do this in a universal way, building capabilities for all.

In doing do, they provide a means of participating in culture which neither excludes people because they have too little money (like the market), or because they have too much (risking stigmatising users as being poor).

The same goes for education and research.

Finally, by offering a space where everyone is welcome, libraries also contribute to a sense of community – something that Sen and others have underlined as being a function of welfare systems more broadly.

Libraries are one of the few institutions in our societies which are genuinely open for all. This is something worth protecting, given the contribution this makes both to economic and social goals.

The emphasis in key IFLA texts – not least the Public Library Manifesto and the Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom, which respectively turn 25 and 20 this year – on access for, and service to, all, are as relevant as ever.


Read further:
Cautherley, George (2016), Should Social Welfare be Universal or Means-Tested, in EJInsight, 18 April 2016, Accessible here: http://www.ejinsight.com/20160418-should-social-welfare-be-universal-or-means-tested/

Mkandwire, Thandika (2005), Targeting and Universalism in Developing Countries, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/meetings/2005/docs/Mkandawire.pdf

Sen, Amartya (1995), The political economy of targeting, in Public spending and the poor: theory and evidence, edited by D. van de Walle & K. Nead (John Hopkins University Press, 1995), pp. 11-24. Accessible here: http://www.adatbank.ro/html/cim_pdf384.pdf

6 Days to Human Rights Day: The Right to Education is The Right to a Library

The second in our series of daily blogs leading up to the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights focuses on education. This is also the subject of a major global conference – the Global Education Meeting – taking place in Brussels on 3-5 December.

It underlines the vital and complementary role that libraries play to schools and other formal education institutions in ensuring that everyone has the possibility to learn and improve their life.


The right to education features in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a key enabling right, one that should give everyone the possibility to play a full part in society in the future. This is borne out by the evidence – some of the most spectacular stories of successful development in the last century have been based on investment in teaching and learning.

Yet when we discuss education, it is easy to focus on schools and universities – ‘formal education’. Indeed, many people associate learning with sitting in a classroom or lecture hall, and absorbing knowledge.

Of course, many libraries are based within schools and universities, providing students and teachers with materials and skilled support. They can even be the heart of their institutions, as is the case for some school libraries.

However, learning is much broader than this. And it needs to be. The world we live in, and the jobs we do, are evolve and become very different from those for which schools prepared us. Formal education can offer a valuable starting point, but it cannot be enough.

This is where the world’s 350 000 public libraries can come in. As was recognised in the original UNESCO Public Library Manifesto in 1949, libraries are ‘a living force for popular education’.

Many of the countries which do best in terms of formal education also invest heavily in their libraries, such as Finland and South Korea, in order to promote the right to education throughout life.

This is just as true today as almost 70 years ago. This blog looks at two ways in which libraries complement formal education.


Helping Young Learners in the Community

In many countries, libraries have a strong focus on supporting young learners. They are part of the ecosystem that ensures that children have access to books from a young age, especially when parents are not able to buy books themselves.

There are many examples, for example those run through Boekstart in the Netherlands, which provides valuable support to parents – and a complement to schools – in developing early years literacy.

As children grow, they offer a different environment – quieter often than school or home – which for some at least can make a real difference to their chances of success.

Libraries can also fill in gaps where schools are not able to offer the resources – or spaces – for young learners. Many of the projects run by EIFL’s Public Library Innovation Programme focus on giving young people access to tools, materials, and support they may not get elsewhere.

Libraries can also provide skills, for example media literacy or coding clubs, which help children grow, develop, and seize opportunities.

As set out in an IFLA article for World Teachers Day, librarians and teachers are natural partners.


Education Throughout Life

Of course education does not stop at any particular age. As highlighted in the introduction, changing technologies and changing jobs mean that people need to continue to learn.

Libraries can provide a vital gateway in this respect. Many offer basic education about how to make best use of the internet, for example to access eGovernment services or look for a job.

Some provide more advanced course in coding for example, or programmes aimed at personal fulfilment, such as creative writing or local history.

They can be attractive – and effective – as venues for learning precisely because they are public buildings, but are not as intimidating as formal education institutions.

They are particularly important for refugees, the focus of this year’s Global Education Meeting. For people arriving in a new country, at whatever age, there is always a need to learn, be it language, skills, or simply how the system works.

Libraries across host countries have looked to reach out, providing specific resources and support, especially around languages. And in refugee camps, actors such as Libraries Without Border are bringing these benefits to people who might otherwise struggle to carry on learning.


If the right to education is to be a reality throughout life, the need for libraries is clear. Libraries need to be a core part of education, training and lifelong learning strategies, engaged in conversations, and supported accordingly.