Libraries as Cultural Rights Defenders: Looking ahead to Culture, Heritage, and Development in 2022
29 November 2023
“Development divorced from its human and cultural context is growth without a soul.”
– “Our Creative Diversity”, UNESCO
Culture informs the way we communicate with one another; it defines the way we understand our past and provides a framework for how we see our place in the world. A human rights approach to development that is built upon a foundation of mutual respect and open dialogue must have a cultural element at its heart. In this, libraries are key actors.
Libraries are cultural rights defenders, meaning they are essential for upholding the right for all people to participate in cultural life. They do this by:
1) Ensuring the safeguarding of the memory of the world in all its diversity: respecting the will and interests of originators. Ensuring the safety and survival of collections and the memory institutions that preserve and provide access to them is a key aspect of defending cultural rights of all, especially in the face of myriad threats associated with climate change, global conflict, civil unrest, and more
2) Enabling engagement with culture and promoting freedom of creation and expression for all: Without the ability to access, enjoy, and learn from cultural heritage, one cannot fully participate in cultural life. Libraries are key parts of the cultural infrastructure, open for all, and can create the space and spark needed for new ideas and expression to emerge
3) Providing a space and support for inter-cultural dialogue and understanding: libraries are public, community spaces, shared by all. Drawing on their collections, as well as the expertise and dedication of their staff, they can offer unique opportunities for exploration, exchange, and open dialogue that builds mutual respect
IFLA has long been advocating for libraries as essential players in the safeguarding and provision of access to cultural heritage, but there is scope over the coming year to expand recognition of libraries as cultural rights defenders.
With this as a foundation, IFLA looks to 2022 with the goal of building recognition of libraries as cultural rights defenders and highlighting the role this plays in many facets of human-centred sustainable development.
To this end, we will continue engaging in dialogues on cultural policy at the international and regional levels. At the same time, activities across our organisation will help libraries take action to defend cultural rights by preserving, promoting, and providing access to diverse expressions of culture and heritage.
Here’s a look at what’s coming up.
Culture on the International Stage
As the global voice of libraries, IFLA strives to bring a library perspective to discussions and processes relating to international cultural policy. 2022 presents important opportunities to bring library voices to the table and highlight libraries as stakeholders in the culture sector.
Culture for Sustainable Development at Mondiacult 2022
In order to harness the power of culture as a driver of sustainable development, policies that support cultural actors and stimulate a robust cultural ecosystem are essential. If libraries are not included, a critical piece of the puzzle is missing.
In September 2022, UNESCO will bring cultural policy to the forefront by convening the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development, Mondiacult 2022, in Mexico City.
This will be an opportunity to revisit cultural policies to shape a resilient and robust future for the culture sector and strengthen its ability address global challenges.
The first World Conference on Cultural Policies, held forty years ago, expanded the understanding of the concept of culture, defining it as “the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterise a society or social group”.
Libraries and library professionals are essential for enabling the diverse expressions of culture, heritage, and the arts that transmit these features to become a part of people’s everyday life. Mondiacult 2022 will be an opportunity to further promote recognition of libraries as key stakeholders in cultural participation.
IFLA will engage in the preparatory process for Mondiacult 2022 and explore possible side events to bring the voice of libraries to the conversation. We are starting by preparing written submissions for the Mondiacult 2022 Regional Consultations, with input from our Regional Division Committees when possible.
Stay tuned for much more on Mondiacult 2022 in the coming months.
Kick-off: International Decade of Indigenous Languages
The United Nations General Assembly declared the period 2022-2032 to be the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. Led by UNESCO, this initiative invites urgent action at the national and international levels to preserve, revitalise and promote indigenous languages – guided by Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
Indigenous librarianship and the library’s role in intersecting multilingualism with access to information and education make libraries key stakeholders in preserving and promoting indigenous languages. Several of IFLA’s committees are dedicated to this topic, not the least the Indigenous Matters Section, and we look forward to ongoing collaboration with our experts, members, and volunteers.
UNESCO will begin engaging stakeholders and launching flagship activities, projects, and partnerships. Public institutions and memory organisations are named as major target groups, so there will certainly be scope for libraries to meaningfully contribute.
Over 2022, IFLA will engage with our partners at UNESCO and network of members, experts, and volunteers to begin examining possibilities for involving libraries in the International Decade.
Strengthening the Place of Libraries in UNESCO
In addition to Mondiacult 2022 and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, we will further build our relationship with UNESCO in other areas. 2022 will mark the 75th Anniversary of UNESCO and IFLA’s partnership, which presents an opportunity to revisit the history of our relationship and envision future collaboration.
With the Information for All Programme, we will explore opportunities to highlight the role of libraries in upholding cultural rights through access to information and knowledge, for example, with an emphasis on the role of libraries in enabling cultural and linguistic diversity.
During 2021, IFLA strengthened our relationship with the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diverse Cultural Expressions. See more on this in the look back at the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. We will continue bringing a library voice to this space in 2022, firstly through participation in the Fifteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee in February 2022.
UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme continues to be an important partner in the preservation of and access to documentary heritage.
IFLA participated in the 2nd Memory of the World Global Policy Forum in September 2021, which worked towards articulating a global policy framework for disaster risk reduction and management as a means to sustainable preservation of documentary heritage.
Building on this, IFLA looks to 2022 with the goal of identifying opportunities to share and/or co-create knowledge, expertise, and resources with UNESCO to aid in disaster risk reduction and management strategies. From a policy angle, IFLA will continue to participate in discussions towards a global policy framework that supports libraries in this work.
IFLA has been actively engaging in climate change – notably with the Climate Heritage Network. We have joined forces with cultural institutions, organisations, and other stakeholders around the world to highlight the need to centre culture in a human rights approach to climate action.
We are dedicated to amplifying the stories of libraries around the world who help communities understand, research, and participate in dialogues on climate change. Stayed tuned for more on library engagement in climate action coming soon.
Meanwhile, in December 2021, Blue Shield International hosted their 25th anniversary conference – bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders in cultural property protection to celebrate past successes and look ahead to future cooperation.
In 2022, we look forward to working with fellow founding organisations, the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and the International Council on Archives (ICA), as well as with the Blue Shield International board and National Committees, to continue responding to threats to cultural heritage. We also look forward to helping inspire greater library engagement in Blue Shield at the national level.
Culture Within IFLA’s Structure
Looking across IFLA’s Professional Programme, many of IFLA’s Sections examine areas of the profession that contribute to the defense of cultural rights. In 2022, we will strive to support our network of experts and volunteers in their work within their areas of expertise and coordinate this work across IFLA’s structure.
IFLA’s Advisory Committee on Cultural Heritage
Since September 2021, the newly formed Advisory Committee on Cultural Heritage (CCH) has been discussing priorities and creating an action plan that includes projects that support IFLA’s Strategy and international engagement, as well as monitoring key issues in the field.
In particular we will seek to strengthen the IFLA Risk Register, in order to develop it as a tool that allows for a more rapid response in the case of threats to documentary heritage. The ACCH is discussing ways to both improve the process by the Risk Register is used and bolster general awareness of the Register and its benefits.
In parallel, IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation Section and select PAC Centres are undertaking adaptation of existing Guidelines and Standards to assist in implementation – including in Standards that relate to disaster preparedness and management.
Meanwhile, IFLA’s Rare Books and Special Collections Section and select PAC Centres continue to engage in work to counter the theft and illicit trafficking of documentary heritage. IFLA is excited to continue supporting this work and will look for ways to raise awareness at the regional and international levels of the role that libraries play in countering trafficking.
Over the course of 2022, the committee will also strive to raise awareness among IFLA’s membership on how libraries can get more actively involved in cultural heritage. Stay tuned for more!
To inform our advocacy at the international level, IFLA will continue utilising our new structure to engage in regional networks to address specific priorities in cultural policy. IFLA’s Regional Division Committees plan to address matters related to culture through their action plans – from advocating for support in resilience building for memory institutions to countering threats of theft and trafficking of cultural property.
Improving professional practice in cultural heritage preservation and conservation also plays an important role in ensuring the world’s cultural heritage remains accessible for all. IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres continue to lead projects that address their regions’ particular challenges and priorities, assist in general capacity building among libraries in their regions, and share their knowledge internationally.
Stay tuned throughout the year as we embark on these projects and share resources, news, and opportunities. Do you have questions, comments, or ideas? Please do not hesitate to get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org