24 März 2021

An Indispensable Player in Policy Success: Library Contributions Featured at Side Event at the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development

A side-event at the Asia-Pacific region’s forum on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provided an opportunity to underline the importance of access to information everywhere, and the potential of libraries to support effective policy delivery.

This year’s Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, organised to gather views and experiences from the region ahead of the UN High Level Political Forum, is focused strongly on recovery and resilience.

The ability of people to understand and adapt to change is at the heart of success in this regard. And by providing information and support, libraries are in turn essential for ensuring this ability is enjoyed by all.

The IFLA-organised side-event at this year’s forum offered an opportunity to explore this role, in particular in the light of the pandemic, in more depth.

Access Matters Everywhere

Vicki McDonald, State Librarian and CEO, State Library of Queensland, Australia and Chair of IFLA’s Professional Committee underlined the wide range of policy areas where access to information mattered. Even before the pandemic, the inability to access knowledge online left people at risk of exclusion and poorer life chances – it was vital to get everyone connected and promote digital inclusion.

Dr Dilara Begum, Associate Professor and Chairperson in the Department of Information Studies and Library Management at East West University, Bangladesh, echoed the importance of connectivity She added that it was particularly crucial, in a world with so much information available, to have people who could help users get what they needed too.

Priyanka Mohan, Strategic Programme Lead of the Special Library Programme, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, India, reiterated that information was key in helping communities of all sorts, in everything from farming to holding governments to account. She noted the particular role of places, such as libraries, in helping people really make use of information to improve their lives.

A Growing Need, Requiring New Responses

Focusing on the impacts of the pandemic on demand for, and supply of, information, Vicki McDonald noted that with so many activities shifting online, there was a huge need for good and accessible online information. COVID-19 had, in effect, shown just how important information is for so many activities.

The State Library of Queensland had built new services and partnerships, making resources available to support education, wellbeing, and community cohesion, with new ideas coming all of the time.

Dilara Begun noted that in Bangladesh too, there had been a jump in demand for information. East West University Library had set up a WhatsApp reference service to help, but found that alongside information itself, there was also a real need for the skills to use it. As a result, the University had focused strongly on developing courses and skills for students and others, but more was needed nationally.

Priyanka Mohan underlined that after the uncertainty caused by the lockdown at first, Indian libraries had also seen major rises in interest in educational programming or resources for wellbeing. There had been great examples of schemes for children, as well as WhatsApp groups for sharing information in specific languages. Such work helped build resilience at the local level by bringing people together, and promoting both community and informed responses to changing circumstances.

Libraries: Key Actors in Successful Implementation

Drawing on these experiences, valuable lessons emerged for policy-makers. Vicki McDonald highlighted successful efforts to build connections between the Australian Digital Health Agency and libraries, with the former recognising the value of a network of partners focused on digital inclusion.

This was not the only area where such links were possible with strong connections already established by Austraia's libraries with Telstra and other government ministries and agencies which had recognised the unique potential of libraires.

In Bangladesh, Dilara Begum noted that there was already recognition of the need for a joined-up access to information policy at the national level. To implement this – and realise the potential of information, there would need to be a drive to invest in infrastructure, skills, content and devices, especially if the digital divide is to be overcome.

In India, too, the value of libraries as a partner for government, and a mediator between them and people, was strong, according to Priyanka Mohan. Even the best policies would not work if people did not know about them. These services also had to be universal and community based, given that anyone could find themselves in difficulty and so need to call for support.

Conclusion

Despite the diversity between the countries represented, the message from libraries in India, Bangladesh and Australia was consistent: governments needed to give sufficient focus to enabling access to information, and draw fully on the unique abilities and community knowledge of libraries to support SDG success across the board.

With the pandemic making it clear how important a role access plays in so many parts of our lives, there is a strong opportunity to push for change in policy approaches, while also innovating in the ways libraries themselves serve users.

Watch the event again on IFLA’s YouTube channel.

Asia and Oceania, Access to information, Asia and Oceania, SDGs

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