Dr Premila Gamage, Member of the Regional Division Committee for Asia-Oceania and Dr Basheerhamad Shadrach, Founder of Indian Public Library Movement and the South Asian Chapter of the INELI programme, represented IFLA and travelled to Bangkok in March 2022 to attend the 9th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD). APFSD is organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). Its mission was to raise awareness among UNESCAP stakeholders of the ways in which the library sector in the region helps countries progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

IFLA’s participation in sessions at APFSD

IFLA’s representatives engaged with many different stakeholders at APFSD. In the roundtable that discussed the progress on SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals, they highlighted the role of transnational, national and local partnerships for achieving the SDGs.  The partnership model of Skills Online programme was highlighted in this session. Initiated by Commonwealth of Learning, Canada, a multi-stakeholder-based model of skilling/reskilling Sri Lankan citizens through the use of public libraries was initiated by the National Library of Sri Lanka during the COVID-19 pandemic in collaboration with government ministries, local NGOs and community organisations. Libraries provided broadband connectivity and access to learning resources in modular courses. Libraries also served to provide the mentorship support apart from actively recruiting and motivating citizens to take advantage of the programme.

During the roundtable on SDG 4 Quality Education, IFLA participants highlighted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the closure of schools for a prolonged period in the Asia-Pacific region, libraries had kept the doors of learning open in many countries. IFLA representatives also highlighted the need for promoting vocational education through online courses, and they stressed the critical role that public libraries can play in providing access to such courses.

At the roundtable on SDG 5 Gender Equality, IFLA representatives praised the efforts undertaken by countries such as Mongolia and advocated enhancing females’ participation in the labour force by using libraries for promotion of skills training. IFLA representatives encouraged the promotion of high-end skills among women and girls, especially for their participation in the fourth industrial revolution. They stressed that libraries provided a safe space for women and girls to learn collaboratively and engage in gaining micro-credentials, leading to their employment and entrepreneurship, as has happened in Thailand, Malaysia and other countries.

IFLA side event on library services

During the Forum, a side event was organised on 30 March by the IFLA Regional Division Committee for Asia-Oceania, on the topic ‘Informed Societies at the Foundation of a Better Post-COVID World’. This was a hybrid event led by the two IFLA representatives on-site in Bangkok with a panel of 7 speakers across the region attending the hybrid event remotely. The panellists shared their experiences on how partnerships between libraries and other sectors can further support economic and social development of communities, especially focusing on SDGs 4, 5 and 17 which were under review at the Forum.

The side event was opened by the organiser, Winston Roberts, Chair of the IFLA Regional Division Committee for Asia-Oceania.

  1. Shadrach, who was the host and moderator of the side event, provided opening comments highlighting the key statistics from the region on the achievement of SDGs. He pointed out that a majority of the 169 targets had not been met, and in certain targets, there has been regression in the last couple of years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged libraries to respond to these crises, whether the learning crisis or the climate crisis or the lack of capacity to provide affordable, equitable and quality education and skills for the citizens. He highlighted the role of libraries as public access centres for providing access to broadband, technology, educational resources, learning material, training and collaborative spaces for learning.

Premila Gamage gave a keynote presentation outlining how IFLA had been involved in developing the 2030 Agenda, advocating for libraries, and noting the role that the Regional Division of Asia and Oceania was playing in helping IFLA members work towards the SDGs in 2030. She shared the experience of ‘Skills Online Sri Lanka’ programme initiated by the National Library of Sri Lanka together with the Commonwealth of Learning, Canada and its partners and local partners which contributed towards SDGs 4, 5, 8, 10, 17.

Elvira Lapuz, University Librarian, University of the Philippines (Diliman) and RDC-AO member, focused on SDG 4. She highlighted the role of academic libraries in providing access to learning material and advocating strongly for closing the gender divide in society.  She highlighted the role of Philippines libraries in promoting programmes designed to meet the needs of women and girls, including their right to education, health, public services, business skills and their participation in democratic processes.

Misako Nomura, Board Member of Assistive Technology Development Organization (ATDO), Japan, and also an RDC-AO member, spoke on the role of library services for the excluded and the most marginalised such as those with print disability. She advocated for libraries to live up to the agreements in the Marrakesh Treaty and open the door of learning for visually challenged and other physically challenged people. She highlighted the role of libraries in achieving SDG 4.6 that promotes universal literacy among children with print disabilities following the concept “leave no one behind”. She urged libraries to provide reading material in alternative formats, comply with accessibility requirements, and employ tools and software such as DAISY.

Trish Hepworth, Director of Policy and Education, Australian Library and Information Association, Canberra, Australia highlighted the role of libraries in promoting life skills among citizens. She spoke from the Australian experience of developing a baseline for all SDGs and monitoring the progress of SDGs through services provided in libraries. She noted the Australian model of libraries’ involvement in SDGs through constant consultation and learning with the community. She also highlighted the strong focus on SDG 4.6 (early literacy, digital and media literacy), 4.7 (cultural information collections and access for first nations, diverse collections to support refugees and asylum seekers), and SDG 4 in supporting the lifelong learning needs of citizens as well as library staff.

Andy Fenton, Director of NZ Micrographics, Wellington, New Zealand highlighted the importance of digitising vulnerable collections, and spoke of his experience of a special project, Clutha District Libraries’ ‘Digihub’ project where local partnerships helped to preserve local culture and heritage. He highlighted the role of libraries in the preservation of local and national heritage and documenting it for the use of future generations.

Joan Wee, University Librarian, Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) spoke on the role of libraries in developing short courses that would provide 21st century skills to citizens needing them to survive in the 21st century market place. She spoke of the role of SIT library in working with faculty to develop courses to enhance soft skills and life skills through appropriate pedagogies for students and faculty. She highlighted the efforts of the National Library Board, Singapore, citing its Schools project and LearnX programme. In addition, she shared on the Polymall and Digital Life projects of Singapore Polytechnic libraries and SIT’s project of promoting transferable skills among students.

The IFLA hybrid side event was attended by 59 participants from many countries across the region.

Renewing connections with IFLA members

The Chair of the RDC-AO arranged for the leaders of the Thai Library Association and the National Library of Thailand to meet the two IFLA representatives in Bangkok for informal professional discussions. A meeting was held on 28 March. Discussions focused on IFLA’s new governance structure, its advocacy work, and how Thai librarians could get involved in the activities of the Regional Division and other professional units of IFLA. The meeting succeeded in strengthening IFLA’s relationship with both organisations.

ICT for Development and Disaster Management, ESCAP

While at ESCAP, the IFLA representatives held a meeting with Mr Tae Hyung Kim of the ICT and Disaster Reduction Division. They informed him of the work of IFLA, especially its advocacy to UN agencies for affordable and meaningful access to broadband technologies. They emphasised that IFLA is present in the region through its regional division for Asia-Oceania. Mr Kim suggested that IFLA could participate in ESCAP work looking into the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway project, especially in its strategic pillar 3 that relates to developing digital skills among the citizens of Asia-Pacific. It was agreed that ESCAP and IFLA would stay in touch on this matter.

Report edited by Winston Roberts, from the full report by Premila Gamage and Basheerhamad Shadrach which appeared in the IFLA Newsletter in April 2022.