The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the importance of information in so many aspects of our lives. However, responding to growing demands is not necessarily simply. At a panel bringing together UN officials and library representatives, participants made recommendations for how to draw on information to support effective responses to, and strong recovery from, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Information – and the possibilities to access and use it – is so fundamental to so many elements of our lives that it can be very easily taken for granted.  

Strengthening Recovery and Accelerating Development through Informed Governments and Societies - Side-Event at the UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, 12 March 2021

Appearing, explicitly or implicitly, across 20 different targets under the Sustainable Development Goals, it has a clear role to play, but is too rarely the subject of a comprehensive policy approach.

At a side-event at the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s Regional Forum for Sustainable Development, panellists brought in their experiences of working with information access and policy in order to make recommendations.

Growing Demand, Uncertain Supply

Francesco Pisano, Director of Library and Archives, UN Geneva, underlined in his interventions that COVID-19 had seen an acceleration in trends in the information space. Alongside the clear harm done by the pandemic, it had opened up opportunities to think and to act differently. The challenge was to ensure that we change the way we use and interact with information in response, rather than simply to return to previous ways of doing things.

Paolo Lantieri, Legal Officer at the World Intellectual Property Organisation noted efforts made to promote access to content digitally in response to the pandemic, and welcomed in particular the drive by libraries, publishers and others to make more valuable materials available online.

However, he underlined that there remained issues with, for example, public information, which too often was made available but not under terms which facilitated reuse.

Raphaëlle Bats, University of Bordeaux, France highlighted the importance of information across political, social and cultural life, and the importance of ensuring that everyone can benefit. She highlighted, in particular in the context of the pandemic, the need to be able to give access to a wider variety of formats of works.

Amélie Vallotton-Preisig, Komision Biblio2030 at Bibliosuisse, the Swiss Library Association, complemented this, noting that the pandemic had made clear that we were far from being able to ensure equitable access, with poor internet connections and digital skills preventing many from being able to benefit from online teaching and other services during the pandemic.

Ton van Vlimmeren, President of EBLIDA reiterated the need for information in delivering progress across the different policy areas set out in the SDGs, and the growing awareness of the different types of support and information provision required during the pandemic, as witnessed by libraries across Europe and set out in EBLIDA’s work.

A Recipe for a Comprehensive Approach to Information

Building on this experience, the panellists offered views on the actions that needed to be taken in order to meet demand – and need – for information effectively.

At the UN level, as Francesco Pisano noted, there was much to be gained from placing libraries and their services at the forefront of work to realise the potential of all the knowledge held within the UN system. This could provide an indispensable service to governments in understanding their environment, and which interventions could prove most effective in achieving the SDGs.

There was also a need for comprehensive policies, addressing all elements of access to information. Paolo Lantieri highlighted the value of promoting open access and open science, as well as thinking through intellectual property laws in order to ensure that these supported sustainable access to information.

Raphaëlle Bats looked at the practicalities of ensuring an adequate focus on information, suggesting that when governments devised development policies, they should engage libraries in order to ensure that both the potential of our institutions, and the different factors around information are taken into account.

Amélie Vallotton-Preisig echoed this point, and stressed the importance of building understanding of the value of information mediation across different policy area, and the essential role that libraries could play in making this happen, to the benefit of all.

The value of library engagement at all levels, from the local to the national to the regional was also clear, as suggested by Ton van Vlimmeren. Focusing on the SDGs provided a great framework for this, but one which did require libraries themselves to mobilise effectively in order to ensure their value was properly known.

IFLA is grateful to all the panellists for their time and contribution.

Watch the side-event again on IFLA’s YouTube channel.