Libraries had a strong presence at the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, through engagement in sessions, direct contact with delegates, and a side-event focused on how libraries empower people to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The last of the set of five regional fora on sustainable development, ahead of the High-Level Political Forum in July in New York, took place in Santiago, Chile, at the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN ECLAC) on 25-28 April.

These events offer an opportunity not only to take stock and advance on the achievement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda at a regional level, through exchanging experience and sharing ideas and good practices, but  also to develop and deliver messages to be brought to the global level.

For libraries, they are a great chance to speak directly to key actors in national and regional sustainable development strategies, underlining the potential that working with and through libraries bring to achieve development goals.

IFLA had a strong delegation for the event, made up of Alejandro Santa (Argentina) and Adriana Cybele Ferrari (Brazil), respectively chair and member of our Regional Division Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Odean Cole-Phoenix, Librarian at the Planning Institute of Jamaica.

Libraries empowering individuals to deliver the SDGs

The highlight of our participation was an official side event, kindly hosted by and orgnaised with the Hernan Santz Cruz Library at ECLAC. Under the title ‘Participatory societies to deliver the SDGs: mobilising libraries for citizenship’, it allowed the exploration of how our institutions are empowering people in three key areas – citizen science, open government, and community initiatives.

Following scene-setting by the ECLAC Director for Brazil, Alejandro Santa focused on the key responsibility of libraries in supporting democratic participation, through enabling meaningful open government. This provided a great example of how libraries, more broadly, enable citizens and so achieve the SDGs.

Adriana Ferrari shared experience from academic libraries, focusing in particular on what is needed to ensure that open data works for everyone. She highlighted how, unless care was taken, such activities could end up empowering the empowered. Libraries – crucially – were looking to ensure that they provided access in ways that allowed for the delivery of results.

Odean Cole-Phoenix shared the experience from Jamaica, with libraries adapting to their role of helping to provide not just access to information, but also the tools and support to use it. Drawing on her work, she also underlined how information empowers those with the responsibility of taking key decisions about sustainable development in government.

Alongside the IFLA representatives, participants benefitted from insights from Isabelle Bonhoure (OpenSystems Group at the University of Barcelona) and Sarita Albagli (IBICT Brazil) who underlined the potential of citizen science as a way both of driving participation and accelerating scientific progress. Libraries had a key potential role in this.

Finally, Maria Garrido from the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington, a long-standing partner of IFLA shared exciting updates from analysis of the data linked to the Development and Access to Information Report 2023. This stresses the risk of a disconnect between advances in internet connectivity and advances in wider development. This makes clear the need for a more comprehensive approach to providing access to information.

Presentations from the sessions can be found on the ECLAC website.

Updating perceptions of libraries, building a support base

The IFLA team made good use of their time at the Forum in order to build up links with national and regional delegates, raising awareness of what libraries are already doing – and what they can do – around development. In particular, they could work closely with Mabel Bianco, a key figure in the development of women’s health in the region.

Beyond this, the presence of the IFLA delegation made it possible to engage closely with members in Chile, both in order to listen to their needs and priorities and share updates on what IFLA is doing.

We are grateful to all members of our delegation for their time and energy in participating, and to Stichting IFLA Global Foundation for making this participation possible.