The United Nations has underlined the role of libraries in extending connectivity and building skills, ahead of discussions about how digital technologies can advance social development.

The 59th session of the United Nations’ Commission on Social Development opens today, in New York and online and runs until 17 February. The Commission is responsible for discussing and making recommendations around the social pillar of sustainable development, as well as following up on key texts such as the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development.

This year, the Commission has chosen as its priority theme, socially just transition towards sustainable development: the role of digital technologies on social development and well-being of all.

This focus was already determined before the spread of COVID-19 around the world forced the physical closure of much of the social infrastructure on which people depend.

It is, however, arguably more topical than ever, in a situation where digital tools have become essential for economic, social, cultural and civic participation.  

In its submission to the Commission last year, IFLA urged a balanced and comprehensive approach.

We argued that it remains a priority to overcome the digital divide and allow more people to benefit from the possibilities that digital technologies can bring.

At the same time, we need to identify practical approaches to the drawbacks, while recognising that digital technologies are often a vector of transmission, while the source of problems lies elsewhere.

Arguably, with their role in supporting all of connectivity, access to content, and skills, libraries are well placed to contribute to efforts to ensure that digital technologies can work in favour of inclusive social development.

IFLA is therefore happy to see this contribution recognised in the UN’s own background text, both as sources of affordable internet access, and as centres for skills development throughout life.

We look forward to following the discussions at the Commission online, and encourage Members to do the same.

An overview of the meeting is available on the UN website, and plenary sessions will be broadcast on UN Web TV. See in particular the Civil Society Forum running 8-12 February.