With a unique understanding of how our institutions support positive progress, the local government leaders meeting as part of the Urban 20 initiative are well placed to highlight how libraries, and culture more broadly, contribute to sustainable development.

The Urban 20 (U20) initiative brings together the mayors of major cities from across G20 countries and beyond.

This year, under Italy’s presidency of the G20 as a whole, Rome and Milan will share the leadership of the U20 process, including the preparation of a communiqué.

To mark the start of their work, the mayors of the two cities issued a statement calling for a green, just and local recovery.

The statement, directed at the national G20 presidency, underlines the need to use stimulus and recovery funding to bring about change that will favour greater sustainability, equality and resilience.

It highlights in particular the importance of work at the local level, and the importance of public services provided by local governments in responding to the crisis, and building a better future.

Familiar themes, clear promise

For libraries, these are familiar and welcome messages.

Often providing frontline support to members of the community, not only in terms of enabling cultural participation, but also in helping people connect with wider services, our institutions have a clear role to play in the priorities set out by the mayors.

Libraires have a unique combination of the ability to provide information necessary for development, and the spaces, staff and local understanding to turn this into positive results. They can be essential in ensuring the effectiveness of policy at all levels by helping everyone benefit.

They have a particular role as local cultural institutions, not only safeguarding key materials on which communities and identities are built, but also in providing the access and support needed to drive new creativity.

During the pandemic, alongside other cultural actors, they have been busy providing services to boost wellbeing, as well as to support education and research. In the recovery, they can be key players in new forms of development that emphasise the importance of the individual and of culture.

This approach can also be the key to unlocking the behavioural change needed to update attitudes, and normalise greener ways of living and working.

A Chance to Call for Change

IFLA looks forward to following the work of the U20 this year.

With local and regional governments often the most aware of what libraries can contribute to stronger, fairer, more sustainable and more creative communities, they are well placed to underline the importance of integrating our institutions into planning and recommendations.

Similarly, they also see at first hand the positive impact that culture can have on wellbeing, social cohesion and innovation, and will – we hope – call on national governments to do the same, placing culture at the heart of a new development paradigm.

The statement released by Rome and Milan is therefore a highly promising first step, and we have high hopes that this year’s U20 will mark a new high point in the recognition of libraries and culture in wider development strategies.

See IFLA’s brief on the New Urban Agenda.