The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have provided a great framework both for libraries to think about their own services, and to engage with governments and build new partnerships. The Federation of Brazilian Library Associations (FEBAB) is a great example, recently joining the country’s Agenda 2030 Work Group.

This has proven to be a powerful way of building up contacts with others involved in SDG implementation, and ensuring that library priorities are reflected in key reporting. We interviewed Adriana Cybele Ferrari, President of the Federation, to find out more:

1. Where did you first get to know about the SDGs?

After the launch of the IFLA Lyon´s Declaration, we began to monitor the developments following by the Rio + 20 conference that had taken place in 2012 in Brazil, and which had great repercussions in the national media. However, when we participated in the IFLA International Advocacy Program, we started raising awareness among the library community with translation of materials and production of other content related to our reality. We participated in the workshop in Montevideo in 2016, and decided that Agenda 2030 would be the central theme of our biggest event, the Brazilian Congress of Library and Documentation that took place in October 2017. Since then, we have promoted actions to publicize and promote the Agenda 2030 among the library community in our country.

2. Why do you think they are such an important issue for libraries in Brazil?

Latin America and the Caribbean is the most unequal region on the planet, with Brazil being one of the most unequal countries. Being a librarian in this context of inequality is a huge challenge. We need to strive for a dignified life for all people who live in our country. Libraries must be the spaces that defend the most vulnerable. The Agenda therefore provides an advocacy tool for the sustainability of libraries, and is an opportunity to show that they are much more than their collections. At this moment in Brazil when we have our democracy threatened, aggravated by the pandemic that does not allow the population to go out on the streets to defend their rights, libraries need more than ever to work together and defend the Agenda 2030.

3. How easy has it been to explain the SDGs – and why they matter to colleagues?

Brazil is a country with continental dimensions, so it is not possible to say that all librarians and professionals working in libraries are aware of their role in relation to the Agenda. Even with all the materials produced by IFLA that were translated into Portuguese, and also the publications created by FEBAB, the events, the biggest difficulty is to show that the librarian must be an agent of transformation. It cannot be the case that professionals can stay inside their libraries, waiting for their communities to come to them. We have to be proactive and reach out to communities to understand them and be able to meet their demands. For many librarians, the Agenda 2030 may seem far from their daily activities, but it is not. Striving for a more just, humane and egalitarian society must be the commitment of all librarians. In this pandemic moment, we realize that it has never been more important to discuss the 2030 Agenda. Inequalities are wide and growing, COViD 19 hurts most those on the periphery, the most vulnerable, the poorest. At this moment it is important that libraries talk about the agenda for their communities, make people aware of the Agenda. Brazil is a signatory to the Agenda so it has duties to fulfill with the society. In this pandemic moment, we saw a wave of solidarity from society on behalf of the most vulnerable, which is very good, but it is up to the Government to take care of people, to provide the basic conditions for a dignified life.

4. What possibilities has your work around the SDGs created for working with government?

We are in a very delicate moment in Brazil, the Bolsonaro government removed the goals for the fulfillment of the Agenda from the government plan. It also dismantled the entire apparatus of social participation. Thus, there is no possible dialogue with the Government and for this reason it is the moment for civil society mobilization and articulation with parliamentarians.

5. What partnerships has it made possible?

Although there is no commitment at the federal level, several discussions are emerging at the level of cities, where mayors, advisers and researchers discuss the agenda and ways of working towards the SDGs. We believe that libraries will be able to engage in these spaces of dialogue in order to show their work. These events are taking place remotely due to the pandemic and this way it will be easier to engage in discussions all over the country. And partnerships must be made with other entities that work in line with the 2030 Agenda.

6. What have been your biggest achievements so far?

Due to the context we are experiencing, with the Federal Government’s complete disregard, our greatest goal was to integrate the “Agenda 2030 Work Group. This was made possible by our participation in the Second Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place in Santiago de Chile in 2018 where we were able to be in contact with some national institutions that are part of this Work Group. This year we were approved to join, and we have been working to defend the SDGs together with the SDG Parliamentary Front. On July 31, 2020, the “Luz report” was published, to the preparation of we contributed. This document presents the progress and setbacks of the goals in the country. Unfortunately, the result is very frightening, we had a big setback in meeting the goals.

7. What have you – and libraries – gained from your work with the Civil Society Working Group?

This work is important so that we can join forces with other civil society entities that work in line with the specific SDGs, and at the same time, we have the opportunity to show that libraries are important allies for everyone to fulfill the SDGs. We also have yet to advance the stereotypes of libraries and librarians. The publication of the Luz Report evidenced a great blackout of data promoted by the Federal Government. The promotion of open data will be one of the flags of FEBAB because without them there is no way to evaluate and move forward. We also intend to continue to encourage libraries to continue promoting services and actions in line with the SDGs.

8. What are the next steps?

We need to disseminate the Luz report and promote actions with libraries in defense of the Agenda. We also want to strengthen alliances with Parliament, for example,  with the Parliamentary Group on the SDGs,  the Parliamentary Group on Books, Reading, Literature Libraries and  the Parliamentary Group for Human Rights. We will also disseminate the  Luz Report among librarians  in order to encourage libraries to develop new actions / programs to serve their communities.

9. What lessons can you share with libraries in other countries?

Covid 19 brought more challenges to libraries, so it is impossible to proceed without making alliances beyond the library field. Reaffirming the role of libraries, repositioning them as a service to society, is one of the challenges where there is an absence of public policies, such as the case of Brazil. ECLAC reports that we will have profound  development challenges to overcome in  2020. There will be 11.6 million more unemployed than in 2019, poverty in the region will increase by 4.4 percentage points which means 28.7 million more people, and in extreme poverty an increase of 2.6% or more 15.9 million people, which is estimated to affect 83.4 million people. Given this scenario, it is urgent that libraries they become places of effective listening to help a completely modified society, marked by the pain of the loss of loved ones, to feel welcome and recover. We need to commit to building a better world to honor the thousands of lives that have been claimed by the pandemic. Libraries should care for people more than ever. People matter!