Top Tools to Measure Your Library’s Sustainability Impact
by Kimberly Silk
The United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present libraries with a unique opportunity to share and promote how their work not only contributes to local initiatives but is making the world a better place. Library programs are often aimed at improving the quality of life at the local level by delivering programs and services that support literacy, numeracy, lifelong learning, and civic engagement. These same local initiatives also contribute to making global economic progress. The SDG framework provides an excellent way to document your efforts, measure progress toward targets, and achieve goals that are relevant to your local stakeholders, as well as help accomplish national and international objectives.
Measures of library success might include efforts to do the following:
- Provide free access to information
- Support literacy and numeracy
- Provide resources to support entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation
- Protect the world’s cultural and national heritage
Reporting such library work helps countries demonstrate progress toward the international goals. In fact, specific data about library activities is exactly the kind of evidence countries need when developing their progress reports. And government agencies that recognize the contributions libraries make to local development have more progress to report to the UN and thus are more likely to provide libraries with the resources they need to do their work. This is a significant win-win-win for libraries, their governments, and the world.
Tools for Demonstrating Your Library’s Contribution and Commitment
In 2016, IFLA published “Access and Opportunity for All: How Libraries Contribute to the United Nations 2030 Agenda,” a booklet listing examples of how libraries around the world contribute to the SDGs. The publication presents libraries as champions of facilitating public access to information to enable “people to make informed decisions that can improve their lives” and references the Lyon Declaration. The booklet also states that “communities that have access to timely and relevant information for all are better positioned to eradicate poverty and inequality, improve agriculture, provide quality education, and support people’s health, culture, research, and innovation.”
IFLA’s toolkit is designed to help libraries demonstrate their essential contributions to development. Created in 2015 and revised in October 2017, the current version was released in March 2021. While the toolkit is primarily intended for library associations, other library groups and individuals can use it to strengthen their own advocacy efforts. The toolkit is made up of multiple sections. “Engaging on the SDGs—Steps to Follow” recommends specific actions that libraries can take to be recognized by their local governments as partners for development and to receive support to do their work.
Libraries with stories to share are encouraged to use IFLA’s “Libraries and the Sustainable Development Goals: A Storytelling Manual” to define and describe how a library contributes to the SDGs. This resource describes how to use data as evidence of the contribution, use pictures and videos to tell a compelling story, and share the story on IFLA’s Library Map of the World platform.
IFLA’s Library Map of the World
IFLA’s Library Map of the World initiative has three components. The first is a data dashboard of library performance metrics at the global level. Libraries can use the data to strengthen the credibility of their arguments. IFLA is analyzing the data to identify correlations between the strength of the library field and its use and other indicators of development (such as around education and development). The second component is a collection of SDG stories highlighting examples of how libraries are delivering on the SDGs. These stories are qualitative evidence that can be used to demonstrate how libraries contribute to improved societal conditions. The third component is the Country Pages, which map the stories geographically and to library performance measures and provide a brief description of the priorities for libraries in each country.
Other IFLA Resources
IFLA’s institutional repository contains articles and publications that use empirical research to describe how libraries contribute to employment and entrepreneurship, peace, support for refugees, access to justice, gender equality, and open government. IFLA also offers a sample letter that library associations can use to communicate with government officials to emphasize how libraries’ commitment to providing free access to information supports the SDGs and to cite specific examples describing the contributions from individual local libraries.
The IFLA website provides a selection of brochures, posters, infographics, and postcards—in multiple languages—that are freely available to download for libraries to use to promote their own efforts. These can be printed for posting and distribution or used on social media.
ALA Task Force and Tools
Adding to IFLA’s efforts, ALA established the ALA Task Force on United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. In early 2021, the task force developed colorful and engaging materials—a fact sheet, a slide presentation, a poster, and bookmarks—for academic and public libraries to use to tell the story of how they are contributing to the SDGs. These tools are free to download from the task force’s website. In addition, the task force hosted and recorded several webinars to demonstrate how libraries from around the world contribute to the SDGs. These webinars encourage libraries to borrow the storytelling techniques from fellow libraries and to avoid reinventing the wheel. As unique as individual libraries are, there is strength in showing that libraries working together toward common goals delivers more impact than going it alone.
OCLC Global Council Survey
Building on the strength of collective action, the OCLC Global Council focused on the SDGs in 2021. OCLC invited library professionals from anywhere in the world to participate in a survey to collect data and perspectives about how they are using the UN SDGs to inform their strategic directions. The survey, distributed between early November 2020 and late January 2021, collected responses from 1,722 library professionals in 99 countries. Survey results show that while libraries contribute to all 17 SDGs, they feel they can have the most impact on Quality Education (SDG 4), followed by Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8), Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10), Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions (SDG 16), and Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17).
Survey results also indicate that library awareness of the SDGs is lower in the Americas compared to other regions of the world, although IFLA and OCLC efforts are helping the SDGs to be better known. In addition to the survey, OCLC developed a series of webinars exploring how the SDGs “can be a tangible jumping-off point for any group, institution, or individual looking to make sustainability a priority.”
While the discussion of the SDGs may seem at first to be a bit obscured by UN speak, there are plenty of down-to-earth resources for you to consult in defining the role that your library can play. And I hope I have convinced you that your library’s contribution to the world’s sustainability is most likely reflected in the things you already do to help your local community. By reporting on it in the SDG context, you will help the world understand the role libraries play day in, day out. And who knows, the global recognition you receive in the process may even open the door to more local support and funding. Now’s the time to join your fellow librarians by pitching in.
The UN’s SDGs and How Libraries Can Contribute
The United Nations’ (UN) 2030 agenda for Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) aims to improve economic, environmental, and social development conditions worldwide. At its core are 17 SDGs that prescribe an interconnected approach to ending poverty, improving health and education, reducing inequality, and driving economic growth, while slowing climate change and ensuring the preservation of our forests and oceans. 1
IFLA, which was actively involved in the development of the SDGs, saw the potential for library involvement from the start. It has actively advocated for global access to information and communication technology, universal literacy, and the safeguarding of cultural heritage. IFLA has, in fact, observed that libraries around the world deliver programs and services that contribute to achieving each SDG. Furthermore, since the SDGs are interconnected, IFLA notes that libraries are advancing multiple goals and targets with every program and service they offer.
Measures of Success
Acknowledging that the goals are meaningless without a way to measure progress, the UN’s Committee on Statistics established a series of 169 targets and identified a set of 231 indicators to show progression toward achieving the goals. 2 Each target has between one and four indicators that are used to measure progress. The UN Statistics Division produces an annual report summarizing progress on the indicators at a global level to highlight themes or countries that are falling behind. 3
UN member states are expected to develop complementary indicators that are relevant to their country, and many nongovernmental organizations have developed “shadow indicators” to bridge gaps in the UN’s work. For example, IFLA partnered with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington to produce “Development and Access to Information 2019” (also referred to as DA2I), which draws on official statistics that are not yet used to report progress on access to information. 4 Data and the Sustainable Development Goals—IFLA Briefing recommends that libraries encourage their governments to use specific library-friendly indicators to report national and regional SDG progress. 5
Each UN member country is responsible for developing and implementing strategies to achieve the SDGs and is expected to track and report progress. They are strongly encouraged to develop and implement national development plans (NDPs) and conduct voluntary national reviews (VNRs), which “aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.” 6
The library community has an opportunity to show how libraries are cost-effective partners for advancing their country’s national initiatives to achieve the goals.