The IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto proclaims UNESCO’s belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and welfare through the minds of all people.

The most recent version was published in 1994 and has been a cornerstone of public library advocacy ever since.  However, as technology advances and society changes, the ways that public libraries fulfill their mission have also evolved.

Together with UNESCO, IFLA – and in particular its Public Libraries Section – has therefore been embarking on an update to the Manifesto in order to ensure it best reflects the realities and missions of public libraries today.

A Global Call

Creating an updated Manifesto that is relevant and useful to public libraries around the world would not be possible without hearing from the global library field.

Therefore, IFLA’s Public Library Section launched a survey in 2020 to gather ideas and feedback from librarians around the world.

With over 600 responses, we learned a lot about how librarians have used the Manifesto in their work, and how they suggest it could be improved and updated for the future.

The Results

In their responses, librarians shared stories of using the Manifesto to advocate for improvements in their libraries, to show elected officials and budget-holders the importance of funding, to defend free access and resist censorship, to develop more impactful activities for users, as a reference for research and much more.

When asked if they felt the Manifesto was effective at reflecting the mission of public libraries today, 78% of responders found the Manifesto to be either effective or very effective.

Therefore, we determined that the existing Manifesto did not need to be rewritten but could instead be updated to reflect the new and evolving priorities of public libraries.

Following the survey, IFLA HQ worked with the Public Library Section to draft the updated Manifesto. We have already received invaluable input from UNESCO to ensure that the Manifesto continued to align public libraries with the goals of UNESCO and its Information for All Programme (IFAP).

What’s new?

The following is just a look at some of the new or expanded concepts that will be included in the Manifesto.

Knowledge Societies

Since 1994, the ways in which people access and use information have evolved. The updated Manifesto will reflect the public library’s role in enabling knowledge societies through helping communities access, produce, create, and share knowledge equitably.

This includes proactively reaching out to find new audiences, keeping communities informed and aware, capturing and providing access to local information, and providing open access to scientific information.

Remote Access

Of the many lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of virtual access and engagement strategies was one of vital importance for public libraries. Therefore, the role of libraries in providing services to their communities will now be highlighted both in terms of in-person services and services provided through remote access.

Libraries and Sustainable Development

As publicly accessible spaces for the exchange of information, the sharing of culture, and the promotion of civic engagement, libraries should be considered essential agents for sustainable development.

Through their activities relating to information, literacy, education, and culture, libraries contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the construction of more equitable, humane, and sustainable societies.

This is especially pertinent when concerning the public library’s role in ensuring inclusion, access, and cultural participation for marginalised communities, Indigenous peoples, and users with special needs.

Next steps

IFLA and its Public Library Section are currently working with our partners at UNESCO to finalise the updated Public Library Manifesto.

Once this is complete, we will be looking to work with the global library field to help turn this Manifesto into actions that advocate more powerfully for the role of public libraries as living forces for education, culture, inclusion, and peace.