Libraries and Sustainable Development in 2023: Trends and Issues
18 January 2023
Sustainable development represents one of the broadest areas of IFLA’s advocacy engagement, covering both specific work around the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and underlying work to build – and demonstrate – libraries’ ability to contribute to a whole range of policy goals.
As a result, every year is arguably a busy one, but with key milestones coming up in 2023, there is a particularly strong emphasis both on looking back and looking forwards. This brings work, but also opportunities for libraries at all levels!
Read on for an overview of some of the key issues and trends we’re likely to see in the coming year!
Half way there?
The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda reaches its half-way point in 2023. This is not necessary a milestone that many are celebrating of course. There is a strong sense of worry that while half of the time has gone, we are a long way from making half of the progress that we need to make.
While data remains incomplete, there are projects which look to establish how far we are from where we should be, such as SDG Tracker. These do point to some areas of progress, although these unfortunately tend to be exceptions.
In terms of what this means for the debate, we’re likely to see a further emphasis on the need to do things differently, engaging more partners in discussion, as well as to promote innovation.
Growing awareness offers opportunities
Despite the above, it has been noticeable that even though the SDGs have been around for 7 years, we are now seeing the Agenda take on an ever more prominent role at all level.
Of course, for those who were there at the start, and who have been talking about the Goals since 2016 and before, this may seem frustrating. However, following the logic of ‘better late than never’, it is certainly good news to see the SDG wheel appearing in more and more places.
It is particularly good news for libraries, given that many in our field are well informed about the goals and what they mean. We are, in short, in a position to ‘speak the same language’ as a growing number of potential stakeholders, and work with them.
A focus on the need for evidence
2023 is the year that the next Global Sustainable Development Report comes out. This is a collaborative effort by a group of scientists from different disciplines, around the world, and reflects the logic in the 2030 Agenda that for development to be sustainable, it needs to bring together insights and actions across policy areas.
The report aims to provide evidence that can allow policy makers to target their own efforts, and in particular to identify ‘entry points’ for action that can unlock progress.
In addition to libraries and information arguably being just such entry points, the Report is also a reminder of the importance of evidence as a basis for policy making in general. Libraries arguably represent an essential part of the science-policy interface, although one that should be better recognised and supported.
Emerging insights into what comes next
Already two years ago, the UN Secretary General published his response to the calls made by members states in the context of the UN’s 75th anniversary – Our Common Agenda. This set out a number of areas where, he suggested, there was a particular need for action in order to deliver on the goals of the UN.
We have already provided a briefing on this, and the areas which are most relevant for libraries (for example, the code of conduct on integrity in public information and the UN Digital Compact). An interesting angle, nonetheless, is the Agenda’s focus on ‘public’ and ‘common’ goods. We have seen Culture ministers at MONDIACULT 2022 stress the role of culture as a public good.
It feels like this concept of public and common goods may provide a structuring concept for future development agendas, and in the short term, the Summit on the Future in 2024. We are likely to want to work to demonstrate how libraries and knowledge are just such goods.
Towards a culture goal?
A particular area of focus in 2023 is likely to be on further defining just what a specific culture goal in any future development framework could look like. As part of the Culture2030Goal campaign, IFLA contributed to the development of a zero draft of such a goal, launched at the MONDIACULT 2022 conference.
Based on this, we hope that 2023 can be a year where we pursue these discussions, seeking ideas from around the world in order to enhance and enrich this draft, and in doing so, get more people thinking about the role of culture in driving sustainable development.
Look out for more, including plans for how we can develop workshops built around the zero draft, in your country!
Opportunities for engagement
The 2030 Agenda offers a number of great opportunities every year for libraries to raise their voices and connect with a wide range of stakeholders, often beyond our usual interlocutors in spaces like education and culture.
2023 is no different. 40 countries and the European Union are doing a Voluntary National Review – these can and should offer chances to set out how libraries are contributing to development, and what more we need. We’re already in touch with libraries in almost all of these countries to support them in getting involved.
There are also regional sustainable development fora, as well as the High-Level Political Forum, which can make it possible to engage directly with ministers and senior officials in a way that often isn’t possible at home, and so support wider engagement. Watch this space for more!
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