Librarians leading together to change the world

We are living in historic times! Cohesive library leadership at national and global levels is important to bring transformative change that benefits communities deeply impacted by COVID-19 and to establish a vibrant future for global libraries, writes international library consultant Loida Garcia-Febo.

The suddenness with which the pandemic hit caused many changes in how libraries provide services and access to information. As a result, I have been asked many questions about the future of libraries and our post-pandemic world. These have come from heads of global bodies, national leaders and frontline librarians. One concern is what this means for multi-lingual and multicultural populations.

The pandemic showcased libraries leading information efforts in the communities they serve. Libraries stayed open, providing information for communities to learn how to stay safe against the virus and collaborating with government agencies to provide referrals about job vacancies, housing and food banks.

Either online or physically serving communities, libraries have proved they can reach everyone. Libraries can meet the information needs of individuals; help develop skills needed now and for a post-pandemic world; partner effectively to serve communities; impact communities and impact policies. Librarians have continued to demonstrate the value of libraries to their communities.

Leading at global and national levels

At a global level, IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, conducts advocacy efforts to support the right to information and to education. It led in drafting an open letter WIPO to the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) urging it not to make copyright a burden to information access and dissemination during pandemic conditions, when most of the world gains information through online sources not by going to physical libraries. We do have the precedent of the Marrakesh Treaty, which mandates exceptions and limitations to provide books to the blind and visually impaired.

The work of IFLA, librarians and library advocates show that librarians can position libraries as key players at national and global levels to bring change! We are that leader: We have the knowledge, the capability and the power, together with IFLA, national and regional library associations, to help rebuild a fair and just society.

At the national level, U.S. library advocacy has been strengthened by thousands of library advocates mobilized by the American Library Association (ALA) to ask elected officials to support libraries. As a result, libraries and library workers are included in pandemic relief and recovery efforts. As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, $200 million were assigned for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the largest single increase in the agency’s 25-year history.

Librarians are also advocating hard for the Build America’s Libraries Act that would provide $5 billion to support library facilities, needs arising from COVID–19, and services to rural, low-income, and vulnerable populations.

Yes! We can have a powerful impact in public policy and in global bodies too! I have strategized at the United Nations to put libraries on the agenda as part of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and I know that we can mobilize librarians and partners, globally, to bring change.

Leading from where you are

We can all contribute from where we are. Recently I collaborated with colleagues from Romania to speak about the power of librarians to achieve goals at the Occupy Library, and trained librarians members of the INELI-South Asia and India cohorts on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and how libraries are development accelerators.

To move conversations forward, and more importantly, bring action about issues brought up by the pandemic, our team from IFLA's Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning Section and the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group presented free webinars for the global library community. It is an honour to work with this team and moderate the webinars. I established these while a member of CPDWL and have included complete sessions in Portuguese and Spanish languages which reflect diversity and inclusivity values. A list of webinar recordings is available here.

A webinar on broadband as a human right featured the chair of UNESCO Global Media and Information Literacy librarians and librarians from Sweden and India all agreeing that broadband is not a luxury: It is a need, and we must continue to advocate for policies and infrastructure that makes it a reality worldwide.

Another event, dedicated to share how leaders from different sectors are managing Open Access efforts during COVID-19 to move research and access to information free of barriers forward, featured IFLA Policy and Advocacy, the director of MIT Libraries, and representatives from SPARC and Open-Access-Büro Berlin.

Our most recent webinar focussed on Climate Action and featured the Chief of United Nations Publications and representatives from the IFLA Environment, Sustainability, and Libraries Section and the ALA Sustainability Committee. Libraries have two key roles in this area, examples and educators, as explained in IFLA's policy staff blog post. They can build an understanding of the issues among citizens and help them to learn how to change their own behaviour.

The IFLA Latin America & Caribbean Section and REFORMA, the Library Association to Serve Latinos and the Spanish Speaking presented a webinar in Spanish about copyright in COVID-19 times. Latin American leaders addressed matters such as what needs to change so that libraries can respond effectively during future waves of infection or other future epidemics or disasters? How are the libraries of Latin America and the Caribbean facing this critical situation? What are the practices and recommendations for the region?

From my conversations with librarians from different regions, I see a deep sense of purpose instilled onto librarians in these times. Libraries = Hope. This is what leaders do: They go deep; they forge a path; they stay committed.

I also believe a great strength of our global library field led by IFLA lies in the remarkable work done by associations in the regions, their strong representation and voices. Together with these amazingly strong existing field players, we can bring transformative change! Libraries are vital to the recovery and resiliency of the diverse world regions. Librarians leading together can change the world.

Loida Garcia-Febo is an International Library Consultant; American Library Association President 2018-2019; Chair, ALA 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Task Force; Chair, ALA Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COSWL); IFLA Management of Library Associations Section, Information Coordinator; IFLA New Professionals Co-Founder and Advisor; Founder, New Librarians Global Connections online series; and IFLA Governing Board Member 2013-2017.