What I Learned Last Year: Libraries & the UN SDGs

In July 2018 ALIA held the Asia Pacific Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit on the Gold Coast, Queensland and I wrote about that Summit here. Christopher Woodthorpe, Director of the United Nations Information Centre emphasized the point that 65% of SDG delivery relies on local initiatives and libraries are ideally placed to deliver at the local level. I was enthused but have since been confused as libraries have not really taken up the opportunity. Libraries are definitely acting at the local level in many different ways to address many of the key areas of the SDGs but we are not really good at reporting with the SDGs in mind nor advocating for the impact of libraries through the lens of the SDGs. Nor do libraries in Australia appear to be aware of the areas that Australia is failing in its targets with the SDGs and to tackle this at the local level with key programs.

Transforming Australia: SDG Progress Report

Monash University has signed a landmark university commitment to the SDGs and has produced the Transforming Australia: SDG Progress Report which can be used by Libraries to focus their reporting and advocacy. Interestingly investment in early childhood education remains low and this is one area, early literacy, in which libraries generally excel and invest heavily. Other areas in which libraries can make a focused difference are in focused public health programs to reduce the harm from domestic violence (and affordable family programs/events are the key areas to help reduce harm), and job readiness programs, opportunities to upskill, and startup support to address chronic underemployment. These are programs that are offered yet we do not link them to the SDGs or provide key focus to the programs to strengthen their impact.

ALIA Report Australian Libraries Support the Sustainable Development Goals

Australian Library Information Association (ALIA) has gathered case studies from across the nation from both a State Library and a Public Library perspective to demonstrate how libraries are responding to the SDGs. But we could do more and we all need to continually contribute more case studies to the report to ensure that the momentum builds rather than wanes. Key areas to develop are the loaning of laptops and wifi to the home. This is in response to the latest youth survey report which reveals that the main concern of young people in poor socio-economic areas was their inability to keep up with their education due to lack of affordable internet to the home. Affordable connectivity and educational attainment are totally linked and it is not enough for libraries to say that young people are welcome at the library when we have limited opening hours, with often after hours transport also a problem for young people. Recent reports from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence highlight real gaps in access to education, affordable technology, and jobs and libraries could intentionally fill some of those gaps and certainly work in partnership with others in their community to build more local impact.

Public Libraries Victoria Sustainable Development Goals Report

Public Libraries Victoria and State Library of Victoria also teamed up to create a report to help explain the SDGs and how they applied to Victorian Public Libraries in 2017. A key role for libraries was to directly communicate the Goals to their Local Governments and outline how their library directly contributes to the SDGs at the local level. The report, very helpfully, outlines the five goals that sit alongside achieving universal literacy, recognised in the vision for the UN 2030 agenda. They are:

Goal 5: Target B — Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular, information and communications technology to promote the empowerment of women

Goal 9: Target C — Significantly increase access to information and communication technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet

Goal 11: Target 4 — Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage

Goal 16: Target 10 — Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms

Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

The report goes on to note that libraries day to day work across the State is at the core of what the SDGs hope to achieve, the social, economic and environmental well being of the communities we serve. Further case studies demonstrate just how libraries achieve these goals and the report has three calls to action for libraries to bring a focus of SDGs to the fore in their local Councils. It is still evident though that a deep connection with the SDGs and planning for impact is not widespread in Australian libraries and we all need to actively start mapping our programs and stories to the SDGs more widely.

There are relevant resources out there that can help libraries and library staff with this and to enable them to engage more deeply and to actively share their stories.

IFLA Report on how Libraries contribute to the UN 2030 Agenda
IFLA Pamphlet with the examples of how Libraries contribute per Goal
IFLA Storytelling Manual to help develop your Library’s Case study

Download or watch the IFLA 2018 Webinar on Libraries and the SDGs and join the global conversation.

IFLA Webinar

Follow the conversation on Twitter at @IFLA_Lib4Dev and the #Lib4Dev to keep up to date with the global news and to connect with other libraries who are actively engaged with the SDGs in their library.

The other really important thing I learned in 2018 is that I am somebody and so are you! We all say ‘Somebody should do something about this’. Guess what — you and I are that somebody so we should all do something to continue to build the momentum of the UN Sustainable Development Goals so that we do reach a better place in 2030 with no-one left behind.

Leave No-one Behind Sustainable Development Goals Video



Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics

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Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics