Stronger together: Libraries focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

As I’ve spent more time working with OCLC’s Global and Regional Councils, I’ve come to an agreeable realization that’s maybe a bit of a paradox. The wider our professional networks become, the more likely we’ll find faraway colleagues whose local solutions fit our situations. Sometimes the best answers don’t come from next door, but from across the globe.

It’s not a surprise, actually, so much as a challenge. There just aren’t a lot of mechanisms for sharing great ideas across library types and geographies. But this year, I’m pleased that we’re bringing two great platforms together—OCLC Global Council and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—to help libraries around the world promote and improve their best ideas.

Adding impact

I first became acquainted with the UN SDGs before they were signed off in 2015 in my previous job with the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). We worked extensively on Goal #3 (Good health and well-being). At the PAHO/WHO, we saw how health goals overlapped and connected to so many of the others. This is also true with the work libraries do. No matter what type, size, or area our institutions cover, we work to meet the needs of our communities. And it would certainly be appropriate for a library to support any, or all, of the 17 UN SDGs.

When OCLC Global Council decided on this focus, we knew it would be beneficial to narrow them down to where libraries could have the greatest impact. So, through a survey sent to delegates and virtual focus group interviews, we identified five as our focus for this year’s efforts:

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

What your library can do with the SDGs

Libraries are logical partners for local economic and sustainable development initiatives, particularly those that focus on people and quality of life. The mission of libraries fits well with the SDGs—as the SDGs serve as a call to action for all stakeholders to form collaborative partnerships to address the most pressing inequalities, and the social, economic, environmental, and governance challenges of our time. Library workers already play a vital role in establishing these kinds of partnerships to ensure access to information and knowledge, which are vital to ensuring sustainable societies.

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There are not only opportunities for libraries to work the SDGs into their own strategic plans, but also to advocate for their partners to participate. For example, public libraries can educate colleagues within local governmental structures and academic librarians can do so within their universities, colleges, and so on. And within their own plans, libraries can explicitly embed some of the SDGs to reduce inequalities and access to information and knowledge, ensure quality education, and establish partnerships.

At my library and institution, for instance, we’ve established a “Faculty Working Group for Equitable Learning” to address quality education and reduce inequalities by establishing internal and external partnerships for sustainable development and accountability. Although this group and internal goals were not established solely based on the SDGs, they align very clearly.

How OCLC and Global Council can help

As in other years, the Global Council has brought these efforts together purposefully from a wide range of global institutions to provide helpful materials and activities that you can put to use locally.

  • Learn more about the overall program, with a short video message from Pilar Martinez, incoming Chair of Global Council.
  • Take a survey to help us gain comprehensive global insight on how libraries have used, or plan to use, the SDGs. The survey closes on 31 January 2021.
  • Sign up for a series of webinars that explore how this framework can be a tangible jumping-off point for any group, institution, or individual looking to make sustainability a priority.

Serving on Global Council has been a rewarding experience for me, and an incredible benefit to my daily work. I’ve gained access to a broader professional network and a better understanding of local and regional issues facing our profession. And bringing this SDG research and these sessions to the library community is exciting and important work for me, personally and professionally.

I hope you’ll join us as we share ideas and build our knowledge about the SDGs. Together, we can make a powerful impact.