Information – and access to it – is all too easily taken for granted. We have gone from scarcity to apparent abundance in just a few decades, with major economic, social and cultural consequences.
Yet while companies have recognised and profited from the central role of information in our lives, information policies are still designed in silos. Ministries for culture, education, justice, innovation and competition each do their own thing, without necessarily taking a wider perspective. For archives and libraries as institutions focused on heritage, information and knowledge, there is a risk of falling between stools.
At the same time, too many people remain excluded, as has been made painfully clear during the pandemic, with distance learning and research impossible for those without internet connections. And of course, just because a lot of information is available, this does not always include the information people really need.
The Sustainable Development Goals provide a response to both of these challenges. SDG16, in establishing transparency, accountability and participation as key underpinning factors of wider success, provides a welcome recognition of the value of the work of the institutions that support this – archives and libraries.
Moreover, the importance of information does not only feature under SDG16. In 20 different targets under the goals, there are explicit or implicit commitments to ensuring the availability of information, and the connectivity and skills to access and use it.
In concrete terms though, what sort of opportunity do the SDGs offer, compared to other texts that may even be more clearly focused on the work of libraries and archives?
A first reason is simply the fact that the SDGs have been agreed by heads of state and government globally. They are also a key reference for the work of the UN, its agencies, and indeed many other providers of aid and capacity-building. As such, they offer a common language for engaging with these bodies.
Secondly, through the processes which Member States are supposed to launch to implement the SDGs, there are opportunities to reach out to other parts of government. A key opening is the Voluntary National Reviews that countries undertake roughly once every four years, which may offer a window for engagement with other ministries, agencies, in order to underline the value of what our institutions do, and the need for comprehensive information policies that include us.
Finally, the SDGs provide a great framework for thinking about how the work of our institutions impacts on policy outcomes in different areas that matter for decision-makers and citizens, as well as a language for expressing this. This will help us – especially now – in making the case for continued investment in the tough economic times ahead.
Stephen Wyber IFLA, Manager, Policy and Advocay