13 July 2021

Recognising Libraries as SDG Implementation Partners in 2021, Part 1: A Record Year for Voluntary National Reviews

The processes created for monitoring and supporting the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals offer important opportunities for libraries to engage with decision-makers, gain recognition, and shape priorities. In the first of three pieces, we look at Voluntary National Reviews, with almost 44% of reports published referring to libraries – a new record.

The Ministerial Segment of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) starts today in New York and online, with presidents, prime ministers and developments coming together to talk about how to achieve strong, fair and sustainable development in the wake of COVID-19.

A key component this is the presentation of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). These provide an opportunity for governments to present what they are doing to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals nationally, as well as priorities for future action.

As set out in the UN’s own guidance, VNRs should look to engage all stakeholders involved in work around the SDGs, with libraries clearly part of the picture.

For libraries, getting involved in VNRs offers an opportunity to build new contacts in government and civil society alike, to ensure recognition of contributions in official reporting, and even to shape priorities for the future.

2021 has been a record year for reference to libraries in Voluntary National Reviews. Of the 42 reports due, 39 have been published, and 17 refer to libraries in different ways.

This is not only a new high in terms of the number of references (the previous high was 12 in 2018), but also in percentage terms (43.5% compared to 26% in 2018). In every world region with countries undertaking VNRs, there was at least one report with a reference. These references covered at least ten of the seventeen SDGs.

Looking in more depth, there was recognition of the role of libraries in supporting education (SDG4), for example in Angola which makes libraries part of its national development plan for education. Egypt highlights the contrition of its Knowledge Bank Library.

In Norway and Paraguay, the importance of school libraries in helping to improve literacy and reading was made clear, with Norway in particular committing to invest more. Clearly, the need for closures has affected possibilities here (as in Uruguay), but of course work has continued.

Closely linked to this is the recognised contribution that libraries can make to combatting exclusion (SDG 1, 5, 9, 10, 11, 17). Denmark stresses in particular how libraries can engage with older people, while the Marshall Islands gives the example of a library extension aimed to support single mothers and children by providing a safe learning environment.

Cuba too talks about the role of libraries in broader efforts to fight poverty, including through ensuring high quality local services, while Azerbaijan cites libraries as a place where people of all backgrounds can access the internet.

Norway, more generally, sets out the role of libraries in allowing the country to ‘continuously strengthen and secure access to libraries to enable all citizens to empower themselves through free access to information, cultural integration and social inclusion’’

Indonesia, meanwhile, in its report sees rural school library services as a part of efforts to promote greater equality between cities and the countryside, while Mexico establishes libraries – and in particular its new library law – as contributing to work to build a fairer economy for all.

‘The civic role of libraries is also a common theme (SDG11, SDG16). Zimbabwe’s report underlines the work of the Zimbabwe Library Association in promoting open data, in particular around the situation of girls, in order to help them understand and assert their rights. Spain’s report talks in particular about the Library Laboratories project, which aims to strengthen the role of libraries as spaces for meeting, experimenting, and creating together.

Cuba refers more broadly to the importance of access to information, while Thailand stresses that libraries represent a key public space.

Libraries also contribute, of course, to cultural goals, in particular preservation of, and access to heritage (SDG11). Spain underlines the work of regional authorities to digitise heritage (as well as noting how increasing book funds has provided a boost to the book sector in general), while Germany cites the number of objects in the German Digital Library as an objective.

Nicaragua, meanwhile, explains how libraries are supporting work to ensure better water and environmental management (SDG6, SDG15), as well as supporting wider learning and research.

Finally, there is the work that libraries are doing to promote and encourage engagement in the SDGs more broadly, with Qatar National Library helping to prepare their VNR, and Denmark planning to work to enable libraries to become anchors for the SDGs, including through an SDG certification scheme and training for librarians about the dissemination of the Goals.

Looking across the examples, it is welcome to see such a broad range of references, focusing not only on education, but on all of the different pillars of development. This underlines the argument long made by IFLA that libraries contribute across the board, and so should be integrated into holistic development policies, rather than confined to any one sector.

Overall, there are plenty of examples that libraries can draw on in their advocacy around the SDGs. In addition to examples of national governments recognising our role in delivery, there may also be ideas and inspiration that could be taken up elsewhere.

In our next story, we’ll be turning our focus from national to the local and regional governments which so often have a decisive role in taking decisions about library funding and staffing.

See our full analysis of libraries in Voluntary National Reviews and Voluntary Local Reviews 2016-2020.

Access to information, Development, SDGs

List all IFLA news