Why Should I Care? Libraries, Advocacy and the UN SDGs

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), which were adopted by all UN member states, seek to end poverty, save the Earth, and achieve global peace and prosperity. Libraries play a key role in achieving these goals as well, and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) has been galvanizing library associations around the world to contribute by advocating for greater access to information, promoting information literacy and protecting cultural heritage, among others.[1]

On the 10th of September 2021, the Singapore Management University Libraries (“SMU Libraries”) hosted the webinar entitled “Why Should I Care? Libraries, Advocacy and the UN SDGs”. Speakers included Ms Loida Garcia-Febo, Chair of the recent ALA 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Task Force (2020-2021), Dr Sadie-Jane Nunis, the President of the Library Association of Singapore, and Mr Don Low, the Journals Sales Director from the Taylor & Francis Group. Over 110 participants attended the webinar.

Bethany Wilkes, University Librarian, SMU Libraries, gave the welcome speech and introduced the speakers and shared more about the Libraries’ efforts in sustainability such as setting up a Sustainability Committee and Marketing Taskforce which has chosen SDG 3 “Good Health and Well-being” as its theme for the current academic term.

Ms Garcia-Febo proceeded to share on how to enable libraries and align their priorities to contribute to the SDGs. She invited participants to imagine a world without pollution, a world where the COVID-19 virus was defeated, where people had access to open digital information, and communities everywhere practiced a collective sense of responsible consumption. She made the case that libraries, partnered with justice, and strong institutions, have a role towards the sustainable development goals.

She also emphasized libraries’ pivotal role in accelerating development across the world by providing democratic access to information, protecting fundamental freedoms and being guardians of heritage, and urged them to help educate and promote a global understanding of the pressing need to address climate change.

Libraries can do more, and Ms Garcia-Febo clarified how they can align their efforts and resources to the UN SDGs. She articulated three key areas.

  1. Climate Action. She asserted this was not just an issue for politicians, as libraries can be role models and advocates in sustainability efforts when partnered with relevant community and stakeholders. Together, they can raise awareness in concert and with efficacy on pressing matters such as providing Quality Education (Goal 4) and as Life Below Water (Goal 14).
  1. Digital Connectivity. Within the community, Libraries act as facilitators in calling for action and change when the pandemic created further disparity and inequality amongst the disadvantaged in society. Ms Garcia-Febo suggested libraries can provide access to life-long learning via equitable digital connectivity to communities deeply impacted by the pandemic.
  1. She then highlighted a third key area, that of Copyright. While the Fair-Use exception is generally appropriate, more can be done to protect access to information in the longer term such as by accelerating progress in Open Access. Ms Garcia-Febo gave practical suggestions and examples of libraries’ advocacy work with civil societies and research communities that can promote rights to access to information, digital inclusion, and support in Open Access.

Ms Garcia-Febo wrapped up by calling on libraries to contribute to the SDGs by introducing them to library users and advocating the crucial role libraries play in achieving them.

After the keynote, there was an opportunity for participants to ask questions which was moderated by Dr Sadie-Jane Nunis. The discussion revolved around the question of how we can sustain the UN SDGs rather than it being time-lined programme. Ms Febo-Garcia offered the following conclusion – know the communities whom the libraries serve. This can be done through active community needs assessment, ascertaining the gaps through data and developing the services to their needs through the spirit of unity, empathy, alliance, advocacy and collaboration.  

In the final segment, Mr Don Low presented the Taylor & Francis Showcase: Curated Sustainability Collection.

He talked about Taylor & Francis’s commitment and efforts towards sustainability by ensuring access to quality education and contributing to research and data that could raise awareness and foster discussions on critical issues such as climate change. He also emphasized the organization’s belief in supporting local initiatives and an open sharing of research and data for sustainable development.

Mr Low elaborated on Taylor and Francis’s involvement in meeting these goals, such as through the Plant-a-Coral, Seed-a-Reef Programme which sought to support habitat enhancement efforts at Sisters’ Islands Marine Park and enhance biodiversity.

The webinar ended with a vote of thanks to the organisers and partners.

Access the webinar recording and presentations from InK, SMU’s Institutional Repository here.

Contributed by:
Redzuan Abdullah, Research Librarian (Business)
Samantha Lim, Research Librarian (Law)
SMU Libraries
14 September 2021

[1] https://www.ala.org/aboutala/sites/ala.org.aboutala/files/content/iro/iroactivities/SDGs-Fact_Sheet.pdf