Libraries already do a lot for development on their own. But they can do even more as part of partnerships with a wide variety of actors, making unique contributions. This article focuses on examples taken from the IFLA Library Map of the World.

A major focus of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda is partnerships. Not only do these get their own SDG – 17 – but there is an emphasis across the agenda on the need for actors to work together to achieve change.

This doesn’t just appear in the Agenda itself, but also in implementation efforts, with the Partnership Forum that took place earlier this month an annual event, alongside others looking at possibilities to work with business and higher education.

Partnership is also something that comes naturally to libraries, as highlighted in IFLA’s Global Vision in 2017. At every level, working together with other players – public and private, from both familiar and less familiar sectors – can open up new possibilities to deliver positive change.

This article draws on the stories presented in IFLA’s Library Map of the World to highlight some examples of the partnerships in place, and what they mean. It starts by looking at four specific policy areas, and then at four ways in which partnerships can be transformational for libraries and their communities.

Partnerships for health (SDG3): while libraries (outside of those within the sector or supporting research) may not previously automatically have been seen as contributors to health goals, their role in supporting health professionals has become. In Cuba, libraries worked with the National Centre for Sexual Education to get key materials and support out to communities,  while in Chile, the library worked with health services and an NGO in Antafagosto to develop health services to people living on the streets. Similarly in Ghana, libraries were the node in a partnership of the ministry of health, NGOs, churches and community leaders in order to deliver sexual health information to youth.

Partnerships for learning (SDG4): education is certainly a more traditional library role, although recent years have brought more of a focus onto how libraries can host – or deliver – more proactive teaching, in addition to private study. First of all, partnerships bring new activities into libraries that respond to users’ needs – for example, in Germany where cooperation with adult education schools allowed libraries to support learning for newcomers, or in Sweden, where work with Helsingborg Digitalisation Department saw libraries develop Digital Centres with a wide education offer.

Secondly, they can bring library learning support out into communities, for example through a partnership with the ministry of education to bring reading into homes in Czechia or work in Malaysia, where work with Digital Community Centres took library activities into villages and hospitals.

Partnerships for jobs (SDG8): as part of a wider mission to help all users fulfil their potential, giving support for finding and upgrading jobs is a role that many libraries have taken on. Here too, partnerships help, for example in  Sri Lanka, where work with the Commonwealth of Learning made it possible to give more help to jobseekers. In Singapore, the National Library Board woks with the Autism Resource Centre to develop job opportunities directly for people with autism, while in South Africa, cooperating with the Small Enterprise Development Agency made it possible for libraries to support the Edenville Farming Projects Cooperative, generating better ways to sustain livelihoods.

Partnerships for participation (SDG16): Information is of course key to taking part in broader civic life, delivering on civic and cultural rights, and benefitting fully from public services. Partnerships can make a difference here, for example in the case of the Netherlands, where cooperation with the tax authorities allowed libraries to establish courses and facilities to help users engage in eGovernment. We can also see partnerships making it possible for libraries to raise awareness and involvement of communities in other key policy areas, such as around climate change in Croatia, recycling in Ukraine, or gender equality in Kazakhstan.

Partnerships for outreach: turning to the different ways in which partnerships allow us to do more than we could alone, a first dimension is what they can contribute to outreach efforts. Libraries are universal institutions, but reaching every member of a community can be easier said than done. This can happen though by combining forces, as in India, where working with Worldreader and the Small Steps Foundation made it possible to provide library services in rural areas through a mobile library, or in Tunisia, where working with the National Union of Tunisian Women and local NGOs created opportunities to provide services to women who otherwise risked staying at home.

This isn’t just about other organisation allowing libraries to reach further, but also about libraries helping others access communities. The example of the Netherlands above shows how libraries’ presence on the ground can add real value for a more centralised partner such as the tax authorities, as does that of Sri Lanka, with libraries’ network making the bridge between online resources and real results.

Partnerships for sustainability: working with others can also help ensure that the work that libraries are doing can continue into the future, rather than just representing a series of pilot projects. An obvious partnership is between libraries and government, in order to ensure that there is ongoing funding for projects which are delivering positive impact on communities in line with policy goals, such as in the case of community gardening initiatives in South Africa. Working with foundations can also provide the resources for setting up new libraries, as in Kenya, or to fund initiatives such as book packages to new parents, such as in Czechia.

Partnerships for innovation: new ideas are often the result of a coming together of different experiences and ideas, with partnerships between libraries and others providing plenty of good example. The combination of libraries’ emphasis on reading, and the experience of an NGO of dog lovers in Russia made it possible to set up a programme of reading to dogs that helps young people with special needs build confidence, while in the Netherlands, the coming together of libraries with education and inclusion actors shaped the Boekstart and Lezen op school programmes.

In Kenya, libraries used their knowledge of needs to work with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development to produce a new online learning database to support skills development in informal settlements, while in Australia, Shoalhaven Libraries hosted inter-generational learning on technology, thanks to links with the local authorities and schools.

Partnerships for impact: sometimes, partnerships can simply be about drawing on the potential of libraries to contribute to wider goals. This has been the case in Costa Rica, where the library association has participated actively in tree-planting activities. Meanwhile in Canada, libraries have offered vital spaces that have facilitated the work of other actors engaged in supporting the integration of newcomers through the Integrating Cities Charter. In another field, international partnerships between libraries have made it possible to build a repository of Arabic-language theses based in Jordan.


The above examples give just a snapshot of the sorts of partnerships in place – with local and national governments, charities and foundations, and of course with communities themselves – that are already helping expand the positive impact that libraries are having on development.

A particularly interesting angle is where libraries themselves draw on their place in communities to become not just partners, but nodes, bringing other stakeholders together to do more than they could do on their own.

Nonetheless, even without taking on this role, the unique and powerful contribution libraries can make to partnerships for development is clear.