This week, IFLA representatives will be taking part in the 4th United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS). This event, reflecting the unique circumstances and needs of SIDS, will finalise the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS), providing a framework for action by the UN and international community to support these countries.

With a near-final draft of the Agenda already available, this article looks at what this says, and what it might mean for libraries in SIDS.

Setting the context

As highlighted above, the specificities of the situation of SIDS represents a key reason for a dedicated approach. With the threat of climate change, biodiversity loss and other natural disasters combined with often small and dispersed populations, social and health challenges, and remoteness from partners, SIDS face real challenges.

The Agenda nonetheless recognises successes, underlining the progress made since the SIDS agenda started in 1992. It stresses too the importance of SIDS themselves leading their own development processes, but calls on the international community (and the UN itself) to ensure that their actions contribute positively.

The Agenda does not work like the 2030 Agenda with a list of goals, but rather highlights a range of broad areas where action is needed, under the overall headings of ‘what do SIDS want’ and ‘how do SIDS get there’.

Opportnities for libraries

The need for information as a precondition for progress appears in the draft Agenda, just as it does in drafts of the Pact for the Future due to be agreed in September in New York. This comes through both when talking about individuals, and about governments. In particular, the following elements are powerful:

SIDS face challenges in gathering and applying information decision-making: references here place a strong focus on the role of information and knowledge managers in helping SIDS to achieve their goals. The Agenda calls for capacity-building – an obvious way of doing that will be to invest in government library and information services and skills. We can use these references to argue for more investment in and better use of libraries in preparing decisions.

SIDS need support to build their productive capacity: Amongst other aspects, this includes the importance of skills developments across the population, something that is particularly important given often small populations and a risk of brain-drain. For libraries, this should be an opportunity to highlight what we can do to develop competences in the population – especially for those outside of school – and so employability. Libraries also have a track record of facilitating entrepreneurship through access to information and advice.

Promoting inclusion and health literacy: under the wider heading of promoting safe, healthy and prosperous societies, libraries are well placed both to offer services to the whole population without stigma, and in particular realise the potential of information to shape behaviours. This can range from promoting healthy eating to finding ways to manage non-communicable diseases. Health sectors of course also benefit from strong knowledge and evidence-based decision-making, an area where libraires have a clear role to play. Finally, the Agenda sets out the need to ensure that eGovernment solutions can benefit everyone – something that libraries are well placed to help guarantee.

Stronger institutions and civic participation: this issue comes up in the context of how well prepared governments are to take decisions effectively and inclusively/. As highlighted above, libraries can contribute significantly to efforts to help improve decision-making. They can also help deliver on commitments to promoting civic engagement through access to information and opportunities to engage with it.

Realising the potential of digital: the Agenda calls for work to ‘capture the benefits of digital technologies and resources for inclusive, equitable and quality education and lifelong learning opportunities, including through distance learning’. With a request that roadmaps be developed, this should represent a powerful opportunity for libraries to be involved and shape action agendas.

Scaling up climate action: given the vulnerability of SIDS to climate change, building knowledge and skills to respond is essential. With libraries’ increasingly widely recognised role in climate empowerment, this could create opportunities to make sure that libraries are integrated into implementation planning.

Building partnerships: finally, as in the 2030 Agenda, there is an emphasis on working more effectively with all types of actor in order to advance towards the SIDS Agenda’s goals. The Agenda highlights the planned Centre of Excellence for SIDS – an initiative that will certainly need good knowledge management in order to realise its potential.

We’re looking forward to reporting back from the Conference this week, where Nitzah Jacobus (Curaçao) and Miguel Viciedo (Cuba), members of IFLA’s Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Division Committee will be representing libraries.