IFLA attended the 58th Session of the UN Commission on Social Development on 10-19 February 2020. With a specific focus for the first time on homelessness, it provided an opportunity to highlight the importance of access to libraries for people experiencing homelessness, and how libraries can help.

Focusing specifically on questions around inequality and poverty, the United Nations’ Commission on Social Development has an important role in the UN’s wider work on promoting sustainable development.

Meeting for the 58th time – 75 years since its creation, and 25 since the landmark World Summit on Social Development – the Commission this year focused both on wider social issues in the context of the 2030 Agenda, and on the specific topic of homelessness – the first time it has done so.

Many libraries are acutely aware of the specific challenges associated with homelessness. Libraries are often refuges or sanctuaries for people facing it, providing an opportunity for quiet and rest during a stressful time.

They can also provide a vital support, helping people access information about opportunities, tools to apply for support or jobs, and even spaces for training or counselling. Of course, to do this, there needs to be awareness and sensitivity, as well as a readiness to work around potential administrative barriers. IFLA’s Guidelines on Library Services to People Experiencing Homelessness provides a valuable guide to the issues and how to respond.

At the United Nations meeting, IFLA’s goal was to raise awareness of what libraries can offer, and to promote understanding that libraries need to be included in strategies as key public services.

IFLA was represented at the meeting by Genilson Geraldo, Brazil, who was able to use the opportunity to underline these points, both in open sessions and in direct conversation with other delegates. The message was well received, with the UK representative in particular echoing the point that governments need to engage libraries in order to realise their potential.

IFLA looks forward to continuing to engage with the Commission and its members to ensure that the role of libraries in delivering social policy goals is recognised and supported.

A full report from the meeting is available on our publications page.