As a new associate member of the Global Alliance for Literacy, IFLA spoke at the alliance’s annual meeting, held on 28-29 October. IFLA’s intervention underlined the importance of ensuring that libraries are integrated into literacy strategy planning and delivery.

Literacy is a key foundation skill. It opens the doors to further learning, employment opportunities, easier communication, and meaningful democratic participation.

Yet millions around the world – children and adults – lack this basic skill, leaving them less able to benefit from the possibilities that exist for personal development and growth.

The Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL), organised by UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) brings together the 20 countries with the lowest literacy rates, and nine others that have high absolute numbers of people who struggle to read and write. IFLA is proud to be an Associate Member of the GAL.

IFLA was therefore honoured to participate in the latest annual meeting of the Global Alliance for Literacy, alongside ministers, senior officials, experts and UNESCO staff.

Investment Needed Now

A key focus of the meeting was the need to ensure that literacy programmes are supported with the resources needed to be effective.

As UIL analysis has underlined, it is only with an ambitious investment in literacy that we can hope to achieve the goal of universal literacy in the years ahead.

While this does imply spending, this would nonetheless be just a fraction of the costs of inaction, with millions left unable to realise their potential and to contribute to collective prosperity.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has only reinforced this need, with people dependent on in-person support to develop skills, through schools or lifelong learning institutions, at risk of falling behind.

As such, UIL placed a strong focus on efforts to respond to disruption, manage the return to school, support distance learning, and strengthening the case for investment in literacy.

Libraries in the Literacy Infrastructure

In its intervention, IFLA stressed the experience of libraries in supporting literacy, and the potential to do more.

There are already many strong stories, including on IFLA’s Library Map of the World. Furthermore, IFLA’s own statistical analysis shows that where there are more public librarians, there tend to be more adults involved in lifelong learning. Similarly, where there is access to libraries, young people score about a year ahead in reading skills compared to peers who don’t enjoy this.

However, to realise this potential globally, it is vital to engage libraries both in the planning and the delivery of literacy strategies.

Librarians themselves can be excellent literacy promotors, but to realise this will need training and resources in order to reach out to all members of the community. In particular, efforts to ensure that all libraries are enabled to use digital tools will help.

IFLA looks forward to continued work with the UIL in order to deliver on this promise.

Find out more about the work of IFLA’s Literacy and Reading Section.