The IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, last updated in 1994, proclaims UNESCO’s belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and welfare through the minds of all people.

In the years since, this document has been the cornerstone of public library advocacy – codifying the library’s role at the centre of freedom and equity of access to knowledge and information for all people.

As technology advances and society changes, the ways that public libraries fulfil this mission have also evolved. IFLA’s Public Libraries Section, has therefore been embarking on updating the Manifesto, in order to ensure it best reflects the realities and missions of public libraries today.

A Global Call

Creating an updated Manifesto that is relevant and useful to public libraries around the world would not be possible without hearing the voice of the global library field. Therefore, IFLA’s Public Library Section launched a worldwide survey in 2020 to gather ideas and feedback from librarians around the world.

With over 600 responses, we learned a lot about how librarians have used the Manifesto in their work, and how they suggest it could be improved and updated for the future.

What’s new?

Here is a look at a selection of concepts that are being addressed or expanded on in the coming Manifesto update.

The Information society

Since 1994, the ways in which people access information have evolved. The spread of the internet has ushered in a paradigm shift for the role of libraries as providers of access to information. Therefore, the updated Manifesto will feature the vital role of libraries in the information society.

It will also feature the need for libraries to continuously adapt to new means of communication to fulfil their mandate of providing universal access to information and knowledge for all people. Similarly, as champions of lifelong learning, the role of libraries as educators expands to include both digital and traditional literacy, including media and information literacy, in the spirit of equipping informed, democratic societies.

Remote Access

Of the many lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of virtual access and engagement strategies was one of vital importance for public libraries. Therefore, the role of libraries in providing services to their communities will now be highlighted both in terms of in-person services and services provided through remote access.

The updated Manifesto will assert that, whenever possible, providing digital technologies that allow virtual access to information, collections, and programmes be considered aspects of a library’s mission.  

Libraries and Sustainable Development

As publicly accessible spaces for the exchange of information, sharing of culture, and promotion of civic engagement, libraries should be considered essential agents for sustainable development. Through their activities relating to information, literacy, education, and culture, libraries contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the construction of more equitable, humane, and sustainable societies.

This is especially pertinent when concerning the public library’s role in ensuring inclusion, access, and cultural participation for marginalised communities, Indigenous peoples, and users with special needs.

Next steps

Over the coming months, IFLA will work with our partners at UNESCO, as well as in the Public Library Section, to finalise the updated Public Library Manifesto.

We know we can count on the global library to help turn this Manifesto into actions that build awareness of public libraries as living forces for education, culture, inclusion, and peace.

Stay tuned for more – coming soon!