With access to information recognised as a key component of development in the UN 2030 Agenda, libraries have a powerful potential to contribute to success. A side event at the 7th African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development provided the opportunity to explore further.

This year’s Forum is focusing this year on the topic of building forward better: towards a resilient and green Africa to achieve the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.

Meaningful access to information can play a key role both in building resilience, and enabling the innovation and behaviour change necessary to move to more sustainable growth paths.

With a unique role in communities, libraries are well placed to support this, ensuring that access to information can be a reality for everyone.

Bringing together library professionals from across the continent, a side event organised by IFLA alongside Library Aid Africa provided an opportunity to explore the contribution of libraries to development, and what more can be done to support them.

Damilare Oyedele, co-founder of Library Aid Africa, moderated the session, welcoming the opportunity to raise the profile of libraries and to highlight the unique possibilities they offer amongst decision makers for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Alim Garga, Director of Library and Information Services at the National Assembly of Cameroon underlined potential of access to information to contribute to better lives and better societies.

Sarah Negumbo, Director of the Namibian Libraries and Archives Service, shared experiences from Namibia, where libraries had already shown how they could contribute to a wide variety of development goals.

She noted the support that libraries provided, for example, to agricultural workers, allowing them to develop new skills and apply new techniques, as well as often providing the only place where they could access other types of information.

Irene Onyancha, Chief of Library and Information Management Services at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, argued that at a time of pandemic, access to information was now a question of life and death.

All agreed that there was a need for investment in libraries, but that this would be one that would rapidly pay off.

Alim Garga noted, for example, how connectivity and better supported libraries could reach further. Irene Onyancha echoed this, suggesting that there was the potential to take on a role as a networked central hub, both physical and virtual, providing information, technology, and expert and dedicated staff.

Nonetheless, to achieve this, alongside investment in personnel and skills by funders, there would need to be proactive efforts by librarians to show that they are catalysts for sustainable development.

Agreeing with this, Sarah Negumbo noting that a further vital step would be to ensure that libraries can reach out more effectively to users and decision-makers alike.

Damilare Oyedele closed the event, thanking the panellists for their participation, wishing them success in their work to bring libraries to the heart of development policies.

IFLA is grateful to all those who participated in the event, and looks forward to discussions at the Europe and Asia-Pacific regional sustainable development fora about how libraries can contribute to the response to, and recovery from, COVID-19.