6 März 2021

Report on the RSCAO Asia-Pacific webinar on ‘Libraries and the SDGs’, 26 February 2021

By Winston Roberts, RSCAO

The 2-hour webinar was hosted by LIANZA, at the National Library of New Zealand, for the IFLA Regional Standing Committee for Asia and Oceania (RSCAO) – it was the latest in the series of annual seminars accompanying the mid-term business meetings of RSCAO.

Guest speakers from the USA, Singapore, India, Fiji and New Zealand were in the line-up. There was a lively discussion in the ‘question and answer’ session.

Over 270 registrations were received, one third from New Zealand and two thirds from a wide range of countries across the region. Participants were welcomed by the president of LIANZA according to traditional indigenous Māori protocol, as (virtual) guests. The Chair of RSCAO briefly introduced the topic of the webinar, and offered a closing summary of key messages.

A blog post and a recording of the webinar are available from LIANZA:

The RSCAO is also considering possible ways to make the individual presentations available (including the presentation from Fiji which could not be shown due to an IT issue).

Here is a personal perspective on the webinar from Felicity Benjes, a staff member of the National Library of New Zealand and Standing Committee member of IFLA LSN section:

“I confess, I didn’t know much about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) other than that they existed and that New Zealand was involved in contributing to them, so when LIANZA offered a professional development webinar on libraries and the SDGs, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more.

The presenters were informative and inspirational. Keynote speaker, Loida Garcia-Febo (USA) outlined how the SDGs were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. The 17 interlinked global goals serve as our “collective blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

I was expecting to hear how these were being achieved at a very high-level, perhaps describing international leadership and inter-government support programmes. In reality, the stories told by Loida and the other speakers were grass-roots examples which brought to life the way libraries are contributing in very real ways to the SDGs through serving their communities.

There was a project to save bats in Alaska, salary negotiation boot camps for women in New York, the recording of stories, voices and traditional clothing of the Punjab community in Auckland. Professor Ramesh Gaur told us of the Accessible Online Book Library in India which provides free access to over 1 million books for people with visual impairment. Those were just a few of the inspiring practical examples reported.

Gene Tan challenged us with his ideas for a brave new world inspired by Singapore’s response to COVID-19. Libraries shouldn’t just be limited to physical facilities and books which aren’t always accessible by everyone. Instead, consider a wallpaper of books placed on the side of a bus shelter or park bench where each book spine is enabled with a QR and AR code. Each title would be available digitally, for instant download, wherever the people are. He also proposed a ‘Spotify-inspired’ library model where users receive a customised library experience.

A common thread across the speakers was the advocacy which can be done from within libraries in their local context - it is not just big, well-funded libraries which can contribute to achieving the SDGs; the work of smaller, lower funded libraries is equally vital.

Another message repeated throughout was the importance of building partnerships and working together to address, and more successfully achieve, the SDGs. Libraries need to keep thinking outside the box to find new and innovative ways to empower their communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been used as a driver for change in libraries around the world and Paula Eskett proposed one of the results is that people are potentially replacing the book as the primary branding object of libraries. Libraries are so much more than traditional physical buildings and books, as the variety of examples throughout the webinar so perfectly illustrated. A huge part of the success is the sharing of these stories and Gene Tan laid down a challenge to all libraries in 2022 to share our post-COVID-19 success stories on a platform he named ‘’Brave New World’’.

Libraries are well and truly playing their part in delivering on the SDGs. For inspiration and ideas on how you and your library can contribute, the webinar will be made available on the LIANZA YouTube channel. It is well worth a look!”

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