In the first weeks of 2022, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights gathered inputs and contributions for an upcoming study on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people’s fundamental rights. An input prepared by the IFLA Section on Library Services for Children and Young Adults and HQ draws on library experiences to highlight some key challenges and measures taken to deliver on the rights of  young users.

Crises tend to both expose and exacerbate existing inequalities, with outsized impacts on the more vulnerable members of the community. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, particular attention has been drawn to its impacts on children and youth – with large-scale disruptions to education, concerns about their mental and physical wellbeing and safety, and in many places, a marked rise in poverty and food insecurity.

Many stakeholders, including libraries, have been actively working to address these challenges. It is of course worth taking stock to see what lessons and insights these initiatives can offer about the ways to support and protect the rights of children in times of crisis.

The Section ran a short survey to gather tends observations and good practice examples for IFLA’s submission to OHCHR. The submission highlighted the following challenges and good library practices throughout the pandemic:

  • The right to education: library services and dedicated initiatives have been helping address several key barriers to access and inequalities in the digital elements of formal education. This includes in particular access to the internet and devices for students, as well as to the e-books and digital academic resources they need.
  • At the same time, libraries are introducing and adapting initiatives to help boost learning outcomes. This comes against a backdrop of emerging evidence around the pandemic’s impacts on educational attainment and outcomes in different parts of the world. These initiatives can be particularly valuable as part of a push to help minimise any losses in core skills acquisition among school-age students – especially those from more vulnerable backgrounds.
  • The right to health: mental health and well-being are among the more widely discussed impacts of the pandemic on young people – including concerns around stress, isolation, and fewer opportunities for socialisation. Here, libraries are a part of a broader push make more safe social spaces and activities available for children and young adults, both online and on-site where possible.
  • The right to an adequate standard of living: as mentioned above, food insecurity and poverty are among the areas where the pandemic has had a strong impact on how well children’s basic needs are met. There is of course a vast network of stakeholders addressing these urgent needs, and there are examples of libraries partnering with organisations such as food banks, to help reach as many vulnerable community members with their assistance as possible.

To read more about these experiences, you can access the full IFLA submission for OHCHR below!

IFLA Submission: Libraries, COVID-19 and the fundamental rights of young people

IFLA's input to a call for contributions by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights draws on library experiences with promoting and delivering on the fundamental rights of children and young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic to highlight good practices and lessons learned.