Connecting your library’s actions to global challenges: How do you stand up?

Working alongside library leaders from around the world, I’ve realized there is an interesting paradox in terms of organizational goals. While libraries around the world serve unique and diverse communities, at the core of their work, they share very similar visions and principles. Libraries similarly, are also able to adjust strategy and tactics very specifically to their users’ needs while keeping an eye on global interests. Finding ways to link these two levels—global interests and local conditions—can be very rewarding—and sometimes complicated.

For the past year, I have worked with OCLC Global Council and OCLC Research to explore such a link. In the fall of 2019, we began focusing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to determine how libraries can use the goals as a framework to partner, both with each other and outside organizations, to better address global sustainability efforts.

Then COVID-19 struck. And libraries worldwide had an entirely new set of shared challenges to address locally.

It’s been interesting—and often inspirational—for me to see the parallels between library work on COVID-19 challenges and our work on the SDGs. The pandemic has shown us that we all share similar problems regardless of library type, location, or size. In the same way, the SDGs reflect issues that confront us all—not just libraries—about sustainability across a variety of factors.

OCLC Global Council understands the value of coming together in conversation over shared challenges. For the past several years, OCLC Global Council, in partnership with OCLC Research, has commissioned studies based on areas of interest to the global library community. In 2020 the subject was “Global Perspectives on Discovery and Fulfillment.” The year before it was “Open Content Activities in Libraries.” We chose the SDGs for this past year because they provide a great framework that can help libraries plan ways to advance education and equity throughout the world.

Connecting to global goals

With 17 total SDGs, OCLC Global Council chose the five goals they believed would provide libraries the most opportunity to connect and communicate around what the United Nations calls, “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” They are:

  • Quality education (SDG #4)
  • Decent work and economic growth (SDG #8)
  • Reduced inequalities (SDG #10)
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG #16)
  • Partnerships for the goals (SDG #17)

To support those conversations and our shared progress, OCLC hosted five webinars on the SDGs during the past year. These webinars feature member leaders from around the world and cover topics including how to get started on your sustainability goals and specific examples from academic and public libraries.

Wherever your library is on its sustainability plans, these presentations offer some great advice and insight.

Libraries and the UN Sustainable Development Goals: a report from #OCLC Global Council. Click To Tweet

Libraries and the SDGs—our research results

In order to better understand current library awareness and usage of the SDGs in library planning, OCLC Global Council and OCLC Research conducted a global study. We received responses from 1,721 library professionals; 1,125 from 16 countries in the Americas, 448 from 63 countries in EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), and 148 from 20 countries in Asia Pacific. You can read a full summary of those results here.

One important finding from the report I’d like to highlight is that while the majority of respondents have some familiarity with the UN SDGs, library workers in the Asia Pacific (APAC) and Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) regions are significantly more likely to be at least somewhat familiar with them compared those in the Americas (AMER) region:

This reflected my own experience as I discussed the SDGs with colleagues in both the United States and around the world. I was less familiar with the SDGs before beginning this project than many of our members in EMEA and APAC.

Other findings also address the frequency of libraries having adopted SDGs into their planning and what their top related activities are.

But why should your library be interested and get involved?

Shared goals and commitments

In a recent blog post, Stuart Hunt, Director of University Library and Collections Services, University of Reading, put it this way:

Strategic transformation means directing your efforts based on tangible results that are important to the people, institutions, and communities we serve… . From an external standpoint, it helps to take into account goals that are widely shared within the profession and across other industries and geographies. For example, many libraries and partner organizations are aligning plans with the UN’s Strategic Development Goals (SDGs)… . A better understanding of how other libraries and organizations use the SDGs can help your planning stay transformational, externally relevant, and more strategic.

I completely agree. When we, as library workers, can use global, shared goals like this to inform our strategic planning, we can leverage thinking and work being done in other libraries and by many partners, too.

How to get started with the SDGs today

The COVID-19 pandemic required library workers to pivot quickly and do a lot of hard work just to meet the basic needs of their users. While the global pandemic has been and continues to be extremely challenging, it’s been inspiring to see how individual libraries, groups, and partner organizations have worked together to solve problems.

In a similar way, there are a lot of natural synchronicities between what many libraries are already doing locally and the SDGs. These global guidelines provide a shared set of ideas, goals, and tools that can help make planning and partnerships more successful for your library where they intersect with your users’ unique needs.

When we begin explicitly linking local library activities to the SDGs, we can help our users and communities better understand how libraries are global players making important contributions in areas that are vital to our shared future. This kind of local-to-global planning can go well beyond current pandemic issues, and I look forward to working with our members—and the wider library community—to put those plans into action.