For the first time, over half of the official reviews of national efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as presented at the United Nations, refer to the contributions of libraries. This is a welcome recognition of the work of our field. This report explores and analyses these references, providing an advocacy tool for others in pushing for stronger recognition of and support for libraries in SDG delivery.

Libraries – through the materials, the spaces, the staff support, and the programming they offer – stand at the heart of their communities, providing services designed to respond to the needs of their users. While at their core, they are about ensuring access to information, this translates into a wide variety of activities that can make it hard to classify them as belonging to any one policy area or other, be it education, research, or culture.

This is why the UN 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer such an interesting reference point, with their emphasis on holistic, coordinated action that takes the rights and development of individuals, communities, and the planet as a whole as their end goal.

The Goals should, ideally be a tool both for our own reflection on how we deliver impact for societies, and a means of showing government how significant this contribution is.

We can get a sense of how well this role has been recognised by looking at how libraries appear in the Voluntary National Reviews of SDG implementation prepared by governments. About 40 a year carry out such reviews, giving an idea of their progress towards the goals, priorities, and how they aim to achieve them.

IFLA’s paper reviews the reports from the 36 countries which have already published them, exploring how they talk about libraries.

The key headline is that 2023 has been the best year yet for the share of VNRs referring to libraries, with 53% of published Reviews doing so (up almost 10 points from the previous high). There remain regional differences, with Europe and Asia-Oceania seeing higher shares of VNRs referring to libraries, while Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean saw fewer.

In addition to broad references to libraries supporting sustainable development, the work of libraries is seen as contributing to all but one of the 17 SDGs, as well as to wider awareness raising. The SDGs that are most commonly associated with libraries are SDGs 4, 9 and 11, followed by 10 and 16.

The examples shared provide an excellent basis for other countries to reflect on how they can make libraries part of wider efforts to deliver on the SDGs, individually and collectively, showing what is already possible for governments. We encourage you to draw on this paper in your efforts to reach out to your governments and make the case for libraries to be included in sustainable development planning and policy going forwards.

Download the IFLA analysis.