Not without libraries! Looking ahead on the SDGs
08 February 2022
Every year around the Sustainable Development Goals is a busy one, with 2022 no exception! There will be key opportunities to work through the structures and meetings around the Goals to ensure that governments and other stakeholders understand the contribution that libraries can make, and what they need to do it.
This article looks to provide an idea of the themes that are likely to be at the top of the agenda this year, as well as two key ways of getting involved – through reviews of SDG implementation and engagement in key meetings.
In a first section, we look at the key issues highlighted by the UN Secretary General for 2022 as priorities, and how they are relevant for libraries.
In a second, there is an update on a key focus this year – Voluntary National and Local Reviews of SDG implementation, and the opportunity this represents to ensure the recognition of libraries.
Finally, we look at the key UN meetings in 2022, all of which offer a chance for libraries, either through participating in person, or joining discussions online, to raise awareness of what we are doing, and why it needs to be supported.
The Issues: Five priorities as set out by the UN Secretary General
In his address to the UN General Assembly last month, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres identified five interlinked themes that, he felt, were putting our planet in danger. These, he suggested, would need to be the key focus of work at the United Nations in 2022.
These are all areas of relevance to libraries, which of course face risks alongside communities, but which also can have a strong and positive role to play in providing a response.
First, he highlighted the need to win the battle against COVID-19 for everyone. Holding us back were inequity in access to vaccines, and the spread of misinformation leading to hesitancy about, and even opposition to, vaccination.
Clearly around COVID, libraries have made immense efforts to limit the damage of lockdowns on education, research and access to culture. They have supported efforts to develop vaccines and treatments, and in some cases even act as vaccination centres. They have a clear role, too, in promoting reliable information, and helping those who are hesitant to inform themselves better.
Second, he worried that the global financial system tends to drive inequalities by focusing funds on those who are already richer, while under-investing in the people, communities and countries that need help most.
Around financial flows, libraries are part of the wider package of public services that depend on governments being able to invest. Indeed, they are arguably key to developing ‘growth potential’ through supporting literacy, education and research for all. We have a strong interest in action to redirect investment towards where it will make a difference.
Third, the climate emergency continues to pose an existential threat, requiring a far greater mobilisation of energy and resources in order to reduce emissions and enable communities to adapt to the change that was already unavoidable.
Libraries are also key players in climate action, both for the lives, buildings and connections that need to be safeguarded, but also for the positive contribution they can make to behaviour change and supporting adaptation.
Fourth, he stressed the need for stronger governance of technology and cyberspace, suggesting that more needed to be done both to get everyone online, but also then to ensure that once there, they could exercise their rights fully and freely.
The governance of the internet is another areas of strong focus for libraries. IFLA has long worked alongside allies to call for universal connectivity, underlining the role of public access in libraries in delivering this, and also to ensure that the role and values of libraries are defended in a digital world.
Finally, he underlined ongoing threats to security, with the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945, hoping that the Security Council could do more to find consensus, and so to take action.
Peace too is an area where libraries are active, from promoting community cohesion at the local level, and helping people find alternatives to crime and violence, to ensuring that the memory of past conflicts is safeguarded as a warning against future ones.
Much of the work to address these issues will fall under the drive to implement Our Common Agenda, the UN’s response to the Declaration by Member States for the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020. Read more about what this contains, and what it means for libraries, in our blog.
The Opportunities: Ensuring the Recognition of Libraries
2022 will see a new round of Voluntary National Reviews and Voluntary Local Reviews of SDG implementation as well. 45 governments should be presenting this year in New York in July, talking about the work they are doing to achieve the Global Goals. You can get an overview of our work on this subject through the relevant page on our website.
IFLA has already contacted libraries in the countries concerned, and we’re glad to say that we’re already seeing some great efforts to engage with governments. In particular, you can read our joint interview with the SDG Focal Point at the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the head of the Jamaican Government Libraries’ Network.
After a record year for references to libraries in Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) in 2021, we’re hoping for an even better result this year!
But ensuring the recognition of libraries in development policy documents isn’t just something we should be doing at the national level, but also at the local. The Voluntary Local Review movement goes from strength to strength, with more and more local and regional governments ready to measure themselves against the 2030 Agenda, and make commitments.
To date, Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) have provided even stronger references to libraries than VNRs, with almost 60% talking about our institutions. The most recent releases provide helpful examples (including from Victoria Falls, Accra and Harare), while a global report on VLRs stressed how Helsinki, for example, had come to see libraries as key partners for implementation of the goals.
A useful tool in efforts to promote stronger recognition of libraries in VLRs this year will be the Culture 2030 Goal Report on how culture had been included so far in these documents. It provides some great reference points for use in advocacy, as well as a checklist for local governments themselves.
The Meetings: Key Moments in 2022
As in every year, there are a number of key meetings and summits coming up which will set a course for the future, and which can provide communications opportunities on the day, but also opportunities to influence in their preparation. These will all be closely linked to the SDGs.
The core events remain the five regional sustainable development fora (Africa (3-5 March), Latin America and the Caribbean (7-9 March), Western Asia (15-17 March), Asia and the Pacific (28-31 March), and Europe (6-7 April)), as well as the High-Level Political Forum planned for July. Libraries are already organising a side-event for the Africa session, and we will work through Regional Division Committees to organise for other regions.
At these meetings, as well as at the High-Level Political Forum, the overarching theme will be: “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
This is clearly a very broad subject, although it does allow space to demonstrate all of the ways in which libraries are contributing. A key area of focus may well be how libraries can partner in effective and innovative ways to transform services and societies. Watch this space for more!
Beyond the main SDG events, other major ones include:
- The UN Environment Assembly, including the 50th Anniversary of the creation of the UN Environment Programme: this will be worth following for anyone interested in environmental issues and how libraries can do more. See also our article about looking ahead on climate action.
- MONDIACULT+40: forty years after ministers responsible for culture around the world met in Mexico City to talk about the future of cultural policies, they will be back to look at how to ensure the sustainability of the section, and its contribution to the future. IFLA is already involved with a planned ResiliArt event, as well as contributing through regional events such as in Africa. Read more in our article on looking ahead in culture.
- The Transforming Education Summit is being convened by the UN Secretary General, building on the findings of the Futures of Education report (see our briefing). This is likely to underline the need for more investment in education, as well as greater openness to wider sources of knowledge such as libraries.
- Work will continue on the idea of a Global Digital Compact, looking to address the challenges identified above. For libraries, greater investment by governments to ensure that everyone has the possibility and skills to make the most of the internet is strongly welcome, while protecting rights and freedoms online. See also our broader look ahead on digital issues.
Keep an eye on this site and on our social media for more!