Support for Libraries as Drivers of Development Grows at United Nations
23 July 2019
At the 2019 High Level Political Forum, governments, UN officials and civil society representatives heard about the ways in which libraries can deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. Through two side-events, participation in a Voluntary National Review, and interventions in other sessions, IFLA’s team, including the President and Secretary-General, spoke up for our institutions.
The United Nations High-Level Political Forum is the key annual event around the Sustainable Development Goals. It is a time for reviewing progress – both at the global and the national levels – and hearing about great ideas to accelerate change.
The need for such ideas is clear. As was underlined by the United Nations Secretary-General as well as many other speakers, nearly a quarter of the way into the 2030 Agenda, the world risks falling behind its goals.
As in previous years, there was a particular focus on a sub-set of SDGs – 4 (education), 8 (employment), 10 (inequality), 13 (climate action), 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and 17 (partnerships for development). Discussions on each of these highlighted the need for more action from government and other actors in order to ensure that all benefit from the best possible policies.
IFLA’s engagement strongly emphasised how libraries could support progress towards all of these goals, based on the 2019 Development and Access to Information report.
From providing a complement to schools and government services at the local level to providing the information necessary for better decision-making at the national and global levels, libraries are key partners.
In each session, there was welcome recognition from officials and experts of the importance of access to information in the success of policies.
Taking the Stage
In order to focus attention on the role of libraries, IFLA organised two side events. A first, held at the UN Library, looked at the role of information partnerships, and how through these, libraries could be motors of change.
Following an opening by Glòria Pérez-Salmerón, Shantanu Mukherjee from the UN Secretariat presented the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Report – the result of such a partnership – which will be published in time for discussions on sustainable development at the General Assembly in September.
Similarly, the UN Library itself was working with other libraries in the UN system to share knowledge, and so better support the work of the Secretariat in delivering reforms.
The following part of the session, launched by IFLA Secretary-General Gerald Leitner, looked at the work of libraries at the local level, with examples from Tunisia provided by IFLA representative Zoubeida Bouallagui.
A second event at the Argentine Mission to the United Nations looked more at the success of the Buenos Aires Declaration in May, and reflected on how to follow up on this in New York and around the world.
Participants agreed strongly on the vital role of libraries, from core functions of supporting reading, culture and research to newer services to the community. IFLA is grateful to the Permanent Mission of Argentina for hosting us, and to the Library of Congress of the Argentine Nation for its help in setting this event up.
Finally, in a first for libraries, IFLA’s representative Zoubeida Bouallagui joined the Tunisian delegation on stage during the country’s Voluntary National Review. This process allows countries to report on their progress – including their engagement with civil society – and take questions from other governments and NGOs.
The presentation highlighted a number of issues where libraries are active, and questions from the floor raised a specific point about how libraries are helping to boost literacy in rural areas. We hope this will provide a model for other countries, alongside others, such as Chile, which included libraries in their national reports.
Discussions will take place in September around the format of the High Level Political Forum, and how it can best support the goals of the 2030 Agenda. IFLA will follow these debates closely, and continue to engage with contacts across the UN system, Member States and civil society in order to ensure libraries are fully able to contribute.
Read more about IFLA's work on libraries and development.