How Libraries are Contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

As a representative of  State Library of Queensland (State Library) I recently attended Asia Pacific Library and Information Conference (APLIC) and as part of that conference, I was able to participate in one day summit regarding Library engagement in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are the UN’s aims for a better future for everyone. They consist of 17 goals for global development including No Poverty -coming in at number one, Gender Equality and Climate Action. As a human, I am invested in action to achieve these goals but as a librarian, I can be involved in work that supports the achievement of these goals.

Sustainable Development Goals

The International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) advocated for and took part in the development of Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies. ‘Goal 16 is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels’(Goal 16). Specifically “Target 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements (Goal 16 Targets)” Access to information has been recognised as a target in the SDGs. It is part of the legal obligation of libraries and archives to keep and make available records that support and hold accountable our governing institutions.

Sustainable Development Goal 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) believe that as public institutions we have a responsibility to engage with and work toward all 17 Goals and our discussion at the conference was about how we can do that. We engaged in workshops centred around real activities that libraries can – and do – take part in that support the SDGs. The workshops also expanded on how we can become leaders in the community in action and awareness raising regarding SDGs.

One of the most engaging parts of this summit was to hear about how our Pacific neighbours work towards these goals for their benefit of their people.

We heard from delegates who took part in the Pacific Libraries Summit in Fiji. ‘The purpose of the Pacific Libraries Summit was to develop a Call to Action for public library development in the Pacific and to demonstrate the value of libraries in achieving the United Nations 2030 Agenda and SDGs.  The vision for the Summit was to bring together key regional stakeholders, library practitioners and INELI-Oceania innovators to advocate for the role of public libraries and librarians in society and to inspire a vision and agreement for collaborative and sustainable development of public library services in the Pacific . You can read their Statement of Intent here.

We also heard from the National Archivist of Fiji, Opeta Alefaio. An incredibly engaging and passionate man who has changed the way his people engage with their heritage. On a very small budget, he has been able to take parts of his collection to places so remote that they need a boat and an off-road vehicle to get there. The National Archives of Fiji have also been able to connect their people to their heritage through an extensive audio-visual collection that has been airing on national free-to-air television and is now in its fouth season. The National Archives of Fiji also have strong community interaction with their facebook page. They post lots of digitised material that the community hasn’t seen before – and there is a true conversation happening about that content that is itself creating knowledge for future generations.

As a regional neighbour with an intertwined history, it is important to consider our connection to the Pacific. During the SDG Summit, we recognised their extreme vulnerability to climate change and our responsibility to support their work towards the SDGs.  We also recognised the more fundamental reality of goal 13 – Climate Action – and how the rising sea levels and changing weather patterns provide a physical threat to libraries and archives in the Pacific. We also discussed how we make sure in the library world our colleagues in the Indo-Pacific do not get left behind.

You can read more about the results of the summit and how libraries support the SDG here. Within these resources, there is a Story Telling template created by ALIA using the IFLA storytelling guidelines. Victorian Public Libraries have used this template and created a great example for other public libraries to explore.

If you want to know about what you can do on an individual level to support the United Nations SDGs you can read all about the Lazy Persons Guide to Saving the World

Further reading:

International Year of Indigenous Languages 2019 

Australian Libraries: Support the Sustainable Development Goals

About the author

Leela Wittmer is Weekend and Evening Coordinator, Content and Client Services at State Library.