The 39th General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) saw a new Director General, new Executive Committee members, and a renewed focus on key priority areas for the library community.


UNESCO’s 17th Director General, Audrey Azoulay, used her first speech to speak spoke not only of the challenges facing UNESCO as an organisation, but also of the risks to progress towards its goals – attempts to discredit science and knowledge, attacks on cultural diversity and the oppression of women. All are areas where libraries stand alongside UNESCO in fighting for a better informed and inclusive society, as IFLA underlined in its statement of 16 October. IFLA has welcomed her designation and looks forward to working closely with her on our shared objectives.


The conference also saw valuable progress in other areas where IFLA is engaged. The Communication and Information Commission, at which IFLA spoke, reaffirmed its belief in freedom of expression, online and off, and endorsed the Quebec Call for Action on the Internet and the Radicalisation of Youth.


The Culture Commission took the welcome step of including heritage at risk from natural disasters in its work programme on protecting cultural diversity. This is a welcome step, ensuring that UNESCO’s approach covers all endangered heritage. Member States also launched an Appeal on Protecting Culture and Promoting Cultural Pluralism, placing this as a key part of humanitarian and peacebuilding initiatives.


Elsewhere, UNESCO continues to do valuable work around science and climate change, and to lead action within the UN system on Sustainable Development Goal 4 – Education. Upcoming work on Open Education Resources – which offer an interesting opportunity to provide a more diverse range of teaching materials, and where libraries are already active – also holds promise.


Find out more about IFLA’s engagement in UNESCO on our cultural heritage pages.