In the first of an occasional series focused on successful advocacy initiatives by libraries around the world, we look to Argentina, where a recent decision saw a commitment to funding community libraries for 50 years. 

To find out more about what was achieved, and how, we interviewed the Chair of IFLA’s Regional Division Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, Alejandro Santa.

Photo of the National Congress of Argentina - classical building with a copper green dome
National Congress, Argentina. Photo; David Stanley CC-BY 2.0

IFLA: What is the current situation of community libraries in Argentina?

Alejandro: The main characteristic of libraries is that they are a public asset.  In other words, their role implies that there cannot be any exclusions on account of age, ethnicity, religion, cultural interests, or sexual or ideological orientation, among the different factors that characterize our increasingly dynamic communities. Their services are free and they are a guarantee of equality and free access to information.

“Popular libraries” in Argentina fall under the scope of the National Ministry of Culture, through the National Commission of Popular Libraries (CONABIP, by its Spanish acronym). This agency is strategically relevant due to its federal nature: it brings together more than one thousand two hundred libraries located throughout our territory.  “Big libraries”, on the other hand, also work —to a different degree— to strengthen this federal perspective of our role in the community. I refer, of course, to the library I represent, the Argentine Library of Congress (BCN, by its Spanish acronym); to the “Mariano Moreno” National Library; and to the National Teachers’ Library, which operates within the scope of the National Ministry of Education.

What particular challenges do they face?

One of the main challenges of this “digital era” has to do with solving the remote consultation of texts that have not entered the public domain. So far, copyright protection and access to culture can only be guaranteed on-site.  However, new publications are incorporating electronic book formats that allow consultation through access control technologies known as Digital Rights Management.  Other challenges to be addressed include providing greater accessibility to persons with reading difficulties, in accordance with the Marrakesh Treaty. In relation to this treaty, the BCN has already opened a dedicated room and signed agreements with civil society organizations.

In my opinion, another challenge related to the community has to do with making libraries play a fundamental role in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. Due to our territorial scope and our bond with the community and the State, we are natural partners to promote the SDGs.

How did the process of taking decisions on their future financing begin?

The management of public libraries is linked to the bodies that fund them, and decisions are linked to the mission and functions of each library. The truth is that funding influences the relevance of each library, and, at the same time, reflects the priorities of a society in a particular moment.

From the moment in which the funding for popular libraries began to be at risk, we launched a campaign to let the society be aware of this problem, and we started to build a network with other sectors affected by the same legislation to introduce proposals to guarantee the required funding in the long run.

How were libraries and library associations engaged in this work?

As appropriate, the CONABIP led the claim and promoted an important awareness-raising campaign. We quickly joined other actors of the sector to participate actively and work together to avoid the imminent defunding proposed by section 4 of Law 27432.

What did the coalition of library actors involved look like?

The Association of Graduate Librarians of the Argentine Republic (ABGRA, by its Spanish acronym) played an important role, as well as the different national networks that joined the claim. We also presented this topic in the different regional fora in which we participated. As representatives of IFLA in Latin America and the Caribbean, we were strongly supported by important international institutions and authorities that helped us strengthen our voice.

What steps did libraries take to influence the outcome?

Steps? We knocked on every door we found. We talked to the community and explained them the meaning of this legislation that affected specific funds. We acted proactively and even reached out to the legislators responsible for decision-making. We are the Argentine Library of Congress, so we have the chance to work together with legislators in technical committees, and tell them directly the ideas and needs of libraries.

How did they draw on respective strengths?

I believe that one of our main assets is our drive to defend culture and the public sphere. In this sense, we share the same vision.  Recognizing each other’s contributions, especially in difficult times, gives us the energy to continue working, and even more when we are successful.

What was the result, and why does it matter?

The extension of the term of specific allocations established by Law 27432 for industries and cultural institutions, including popular libraries, was approved, and this funding was guaranteed for 50 years.

How did engagement with IFLA support the achievement of your goals here?

Cooperation is very important, both at the national and regional level. In our sector, IFLA´s umbrella is very important because it is not only in our country that things are difficult for libraries. I could say that in other latitudes the situation is even worse, and it is essential to promote advocacy, access to information, freedom of expression, and universal access to the Internet as a fundamental right. We live in a world with many threats to our freedoms.

What recommendations do you have to other around the world?

I don’t know if we should advise others; everyone knows their own reality and challenges. I do dare to say that it is essential to raise our voices and speak for ourselves. We should do so in the spaces where decisions are made. We firmly believe that we can change things. If we don’t believe it ourselves, how are we going to move forward?

It is very important to be a member of IFLA, because it is the voice of libraries and librarians worldwide, and it allows us to give a technical framework to our claims, which is another advantage of being a member.