A Recognised Role: Libraries in UN Voluntary National Reviews
07 July 2020
Ten UN Member States have highlighted the role of libraries in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals, through reports submitted as part of their Voluntary National Reviews. Furthermore, 3 of the 4 cities running Voluntary Local Reviews have done the same.
A key feature of the United Nations 2030 Agenda is its focus on tracking progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In addition to the publication of annual statistical reports, drawing on the 232 indicators identified in 2015, each High-Level Political Forum sees a number of countries presenting Voluntary National Reviews.
These are an opportunity for individual governments to set out their plans and actions to deliver on the goals of the 2030 Agenda. These Reviews should not only take account of what different stakeholders are doing to this end, but also include them in their preparation.
IFLA has therefore looked to work with its members in order to ensure that libraries are included both in the drafting process and the content, both through a general briefing, a specific guide for national libraries, and a series of monthly guides.
We have seen very positive examples, notably in Argentina where the Library of Congress signed an agreement with the National Coordinating Council on Social Policies in order to promote the 2030 Agenda, implement the SDGs into the Library’s own activities.
With almost all reports now published, we are happy to share the news that with 41 of the 47 reports published, ten make reference to libraries. Furthermore, of the four Voluntary Local Reviews published, three acknowledge the importance of libraries.
Argentina’s report sets out the argument most clearly:
‘Public libraries have a strategic role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. They have an essential social function in guaranteeing the right to access information freely for all of the community, contributing to create a fairer and more equitable society and a better educated and informed citizenry, conditions which are indispensable for the development of a democratic nation with better opportunities for all’.
Education, Well-being, Community
A key theme throughout the reports is the role of libraries in advancing education.
The Nigerian report provides some excellent examples, highlighting for example the role of well-stocked school libraries in ensuring quality education for students (and the lost opportunities that under-developed libraries can represent). The report sets out the improvement of physical and digital libraries in schools as a priority within its education strategy. The Finnish report proposes library utilisation rates as an indicator of success in reaching education and training goals, and the Argentinian one the role of libraries in ensuring education for people with disabilities.
A similar point emerges in the report of Papua New Guinea, which highlights the construction of school libraries as being part of success on SDG 4 (Quality Education). The reports from Liberia and North Macedonia both underline the costs of under-investment in school libraries on wider education outcomes.
Reports also make the connection between libraries and broader wellbeing. The report for Brunei-Darussalam notes that libraries are a key part of a project to provide better lives for underprivileged youth, while the Slovenian report stresses how access to libraries, alongside other cultural venues, can improve mental health and wider quality of life.
The contribution of libraries to community building and participation is clear from the Voluntary National Review of Estonia, which highlights how libraries served to engage citizens in surveys to help inform the country’s development planning, as well as in activities around Estonia’s 100th birthday. Meanwhile, Finland’s review highlights how libraries raised awareness of the 2030 Agenda itself, and Argentina’s notes the creation of a forum of librarians in order to debate SDG implementation.
Libraries for Local Development
The inclusion of libraries is even more significant in the Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) which have been published. These look to apply the 2030 Agenda at the city level, with the same attention to coordinated action across policy areas.
While 2020 has not seen libraries feature on the front cover of a VLR (as was the case with Helsinki last year), they do feature visually in the reports for Turku and Espoo (also in Finland). The report for Turku highlights their role in improving quality of life for residents, while Mannheim (Germany)’s VLR includes satisfaction with libraries as an indicator of success in the city’s education policies.
The best practice comes, however, from Espoo, Finland, which defines libraries as one of the key services provided by local councils, and one of the key ways in which they can build successful and sustainable communities.
Examples presented focus on the potential of libraries to provide a wide range of services, from welfare to health to culture, as a space for democratic and civic engagement, student learning and wellbeing, education for sustainable development, and as neighbourhood anchors. A whole double-spread dedicated to libraries (p74-75) makes it possible to explore the breadth of what a strong library can offer.
A Further Opportunity
Even for those countries whose reports have not included references to libraries, there is further opportunity to participate when the VNRs are presented on 10-16 July. You can watch these on the UN TV website, and participate through social media, and raise points about the role of libraries then.
See our five suggestions on how to get involved in the High Level Political Forum.