(left-right) Peter Keller (ICOM), Ursula Schwieger-Stenzel, Karl Habsburg (President, International Committee of the Blue Shielf), Emilie Loumas (ICA), Gerald Leitner (IFLA Secretary General), Glória Pérez-Salmerón (IFLA President)​The preservation of cultural heritage is a core public interest mission of libraries. Through conscientious work over centuries, they have kept a record of the information, ideas and events of their times, and carefully saved it for the benefit of future generations.


Faced with disaster, however, even the best preparation may not be enough. This is why IFLA engages in the Blue Shield, the international body bringing together experts from across the cultural heritage sector to coordinate responses, provide advice to decision-makers, and offer guidance for response and recovery from disasters. As a founding member, IFLA has a particular role in ensuring that documentary heritage and broader library collections are front and centre of this work.


Gerald Leitner, IFLA Secretary General and IFLA Representative on the Board of the International Committee of the Blue Shield spoke on behalf of the whole library field.


He reminded participants that even now, libraries in the Caribbean are facing near-record hurricanes which have caused major damage to buildings and their contents. Counterparts from the US and elsewhere were already in action, helping to ensure that communities working to recover could count on the services and connection with heritage that libraries offer.


A United Library Field Working to Preserve Heritage


IFLA’s work – through its network of sixteen Preservation and Conservation Centres, its sections, and its Risk Register – brings together expertise and resources from around the world, realising the potential of a united library field. By working with partner organisations – ICA, ICOM, ICOMOS – we enhance this capacity to realise our missions. With climate change playing a growing part in our lives, and conflicts continuing around the world, the threats to cultural heritage are as clear and present as ever.


The recognition in the Sustainable Development Goals of the need to safeguard cultural heritage provides a welcome recognition of the work that libraries and other cultural heritage organisations do. Now is the time, the Secretary-General argued, to hold governments to this pledge, while continuing to strengthen our own efforts to save heritage from damage and destruction.


IFLA Secretary General Gerald Leitner is a member of the Board of the Blue Shield, presided by Karl Habsburg. Other newly elected members can be seen on the Blue Shield website. You can download the Secretary-General’s speech as a pdf, and find out more about IFLA’s work with the Blue Shield on our webpage, and access resources on how to respond to disasters.