Ministers from the G20 Nations met in Rome from 29-30 July for the first meeting devoted to Culture in the history of the G20.

The result of this meeting was the unanimous adoption of the “Rome Declaration of the G20 Culture Ministers” [link]. This document builds on momentum from culture-related meetings on the margins of the Saudi G20 Presidency, and reflects the aims of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 74/230 on Culture and sustainable development adopted by the General Assembly in 2019.

This Declaration inserts culture firmly in the G20 process, recognising it for its social and economic value, and stating a commitment to the protection of cultural heritage and expressions at risk.

Founding Principles (and what they mean for libraries)

The declaration centres on five guiding principles, all of which align with values of the library field and IFLA’s high-level advocacy work.

Culture and Creative Sectors as Drivers for Regeneration and Sustainable and Balanced Growth

This principle upholds culture as a foundation for relaunching prosperity, social cohesion and the well-being of people and communities, and especially as a force of resilience and regeneration in COVID-19 recovery and beyond.

It calls for policymakers to consider the needs of the culture sector in recovery efforts in order to fully realise the transformative power of culture for building back better.

For libraries:

This is very much in line with the #culture2030goal Statement on Culture and the Covid-19 Pandemic on which IFLA is signatory [more here].

Delivering on library values such as lifelong learning, promoting digital inclusion, media and information literacy, enabling access to information, and the preservation of and access to cultural heritage are essential for harnessing the power of culture for building back better.

For example, over the course of the 2021 International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, we have been exploring how libraries can take action to support cultural and creative actors [more here].  

Protection of Cultural Heritage

The Ministers expressed their deep concern over threats to cultural heritage from natural and human-caused disasters, including through purposeful destruction of heritage during armed conflict, illicit trafficking of cultural property, and destruction associated with climate change. 

They highlight the importance of common and coordinated research and action to strengthen the safeguarding and promotion of cultural diversity and cultural heritage in all forms – this includes the documentary heritage collections held in the world’s libraries.

For Libraries:

This Declaration recognises the need for strengthening and developing effective, sustainable, inclusive and coordinated management models and tools for protecting cultural heritage at risk. Libraries and documentary cultural heritage experts can play a vital role in developing these models and tools, as well of course as benefitting from them.

For example, note this recent article updating on the Himaya project, and initiative from Qatar National Library, host of the IFLA Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centre, focussing on combatting trafficking of cultural property in the MENA region.

IFLA’s professional units are further involved with additional initiatives to combat trafficking – see the Fighting the Illicit Trafficking of Documentary Cultural Heritage guide here.

IFLA coordinates with fellow cultural heritage organizations and the international community on safeguarding of cultural heritage through our position on the board of Blue Shield International. See how you can get involved here.

Addressing Climate Change through Culture

In a milestone statement, this declaration acknowledges that all forms of culture offer enormous potential to drive climate action and sustainable development and contribute to finding climate solutions.

The Declaration calls for international bodies to anchor culture within the UNFCCC and other global agreements on climate action and in national policies and plans.

For libraries:

As libraries are protectors of documentary heritage, providers of information, and hubs of communities, they are vital in building resilience and inspiring climate action.

Libraries are spaces to create community and construct new ideas, informed by the resources that libraries offer. They can enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, as called for in Article 12 of the Paris Agreement [for more, see Libraries and the Paris Agreement].

IFLA participates in the Climate Heritage Network to further the role of libraries, and all cultural institutions and actors, in international climate action processes. Further discussion and the development of resources is being carried out in IFLAs Environment, Sustainability and Libraries Section.

Building Capacity through Training and Education

The Declaration underlines the need to enable cultural and creative professionals with training and education opportunities to build new capacities. This includes digital, technological, accessibility-related capacities.

It further recognises the value of connecting scientific, educational and professional systems, to promote synergies between cultural, social, environmental and economic decision-making and policies.

For libraries

The Cultural Ministers recognise the role of libraries, among other cultural actors and institutions, as key to developing these training and education opportunities.

As libraries champion lifelong learning and are at the crossroads of a variety of knowledge and resources, they can be key players in creating these cross-sectoral synergies, which allow multi-disciplinary, and multigenerational, transfer of knowledge.

Digital Transition and New Technologies for Culture

Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Declaration recognises the importance of digital access, which includes measures to protect against risks posed by disinformation, misinformation, and fosters the creation and promotion of diverse linguistic and cultural content.

The Declaration further calls for action to overcome the digital divide, which has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic with the possibility to draw on public access facilities limited. They call for actors like libraries to work to enable access to culture through “digital tools supported by media and information literacy training, with consideration for the intellectual property rights of creators and performers of cultural content”.

For libraries:

IFLA highlighted the role of libraries in the protection and promotion of cultural expressions in the digital environment during the 3rd Civil Society Forum of the 2005 Convention this year.

Through these, IFLA upheld that equitable digital transformation means addressing a lack of digital skills and competencies, a lack of physical access to technology, lack of access to relevant content, a lack of internet access, and a lack of institutions and community spaces which provide these opportunities to their communities – both among creators, and the broader public. Libraries can address all these aspects of digital transformation.

Especially during the pandemic, IFLA has continued to call for balanced copyright laws that enable remote access to resources, and preservation of digital and digitised heritage.

Adequate Laws and Provisions for Preservation

In too many countries, libraries do not benefit from laws that facilitate their activities to preserve and safeguard heritage for the future. More still do not have provisions in copyright that make it clear that digitization can be carried out without needing to seek permissions or make payments.

This represents an unnecessary barrier to a key public interest mission of libraries, alongside archives and museums.

The Declaration therefore includes welcome recognition of the need for transnational cooperation in the field, and the development of policies that make it easier to carry out work to preserve, and allow for access, reuse and education

For libraries:

This is a welcome recognition at the highest level of the importance of progress towards international action on preservation and copyright, in order to ensure not only that libraries globally enjoy at least the same basic legal possibilities, but also that they can cooperate across borders.

IFLA will highlight this message in its engagement at the global level, and encourages Members to do the same in their own advocacy around better copyright laws for our institutions.

What’s Next

The Declaration urges governments to recognise the potential of culture and creativity as an integral part of wider policy agendas on issues such as social cohesion, employment, innovation, health and well-being, the environment, sustainable local development and human rights.

They call for work to promote and protect culture and cultural heritage to be carried out in cooperation with international organisations – a call IFLA wholeheartedly supports.

We hope that culture will continue being an integral part of the G20 workstream in the future, and that libraries around the world will be able to take the messages of the Declaration, and incorporate them into their advocacy.

At IFLA, we will continue advocating for the critical role of libraries in delivering on these founding principles. We are ready to work across our organisation to build the advocacy capacity of our members, and amplify their impact at the international level.