helping others

How Libraries, and Librarians, Can Contribute to a Sustainable Future

The concept of sustainable development involves ongoing actions that try to meet human development goals while still allowing natural systems and ecosystems to provide natural resources without depleting them. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Division of Sustainable Development set Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, with the ambition of reaching them by 2030. These goals are the roadmap to achieving a brighter, more sustainable future for all humans. 

What Are the SDGs?

Many people probably have not even heard of these 17 worldwide goals for all humankind, which are:

  1. Eliminating poverty
  2. Ending hunger
  3. Providing good health and well-being 
  4. Assuring inclusive and equitable quality education 
  5. Achieving gender equality
  6. Assuring availability and management of clean water and sanitation 
  7. Assuring access to affordable, clean energy 
  8. Promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work 
  9. Creating resilient infrastructure, encouraging inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and promoting innovation
  10. Decreasing inequality within and among countries
  11. Creating safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities and communities 
  12. Assuring sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Carrying out critical actions to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources
  15. Safeguarding, restoring and encouraging sustainable use of land ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combatting desertification, and halting (and reversing when possible) land degradation and biodiversity loss
  16. Encouraging peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions
  17. Strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

How Can Libraries and Librarians Help Us Reach SDGs?

These are admirable goals, you might think, but what do they have to do with libraries and librarians? Academic librarians have already been working within the SDG framework to disseminate research through the scholarly communications ecosystem. According to the American Library Association’s Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), there is much more that librarians and libraries at all levels can, and should, be doing.

Librarians and libraries can increase public awareness of SDGs, and measure data related to SDGs to track what progress is being made. For example, a case study the ACRL published on the progress of SDG5 (gender equality) in Latin America shows what institutions in the top countries there have produced as scholarly output, and the impact that this output has had on the goal. Worldwide, Elsevier discovered that the proportion of women among researchers is increasing, with the ratio of women researchers and scholars increasing in almost every country from 1999 to 2018.

Libraries and librarians can advance the SDGs through the usage of data, which is an information and library science major’s best friend. Because all 17 SDGs are interconnected, there are many potential synergies among the goals. Research into some SDGs, like climate action and clean energy, is rapidly expanding. With increased cooperation among policy, science and society, research results can be more easily rendered into concrete action that produces real-life results. 

What Actions Should Libraries and Librarians Be Taking to Reach SDGs?

Academics and researchers from the ACRL, Elsevier and the Brazilian Federation of Librarians, Information Scientists and Institutions Associations have come up with the following actions that academic libraries and librarians can take to help deliver a sustainable future:

  • Incorporate the SDGs into a library’s strategic thinking plans
  • Advocate for SDGs through the work of library associations such as ALA and ACRL using products and graphics
  • Identify and support SDG researchers and their research
  • Help institutions identify, celebrate and champion SDG research strengths, sharing this information with other libraries at local, national, regional and global levels
  • Use LibGuides to guide library patrons to SDG content
  • Curate SDG collections through collaboration with faculty and community members
  • Refine SDG metadata to promote knowledge democracy and facilitate diverse contributions toward producing more inclusive data
  • Create educational programming to advance literacy in all SDG areas, including data, information, sustainability, and media
  • Align SDGs with campus sustainability initiatives
  • Support open access, open data, and open source, viewing science as a global public good and open services as essential research foundations
  • Facilitate open discussion of the library’s SDG policies among collection specialists, students, researchers and other library patrons
  • Conduct user research to learn how patrons of the library seek information on SDGs
  • Communicate with library users on campus and in the community the resources that are available to them regarding SDGs; encourage their exploration and use

Are These SDGs Realistic or Fantastical?

Those who support the SDGs call these goals aspirational. Others may view them as naïve. Some say that there are far too many SDGs for meaningful work to be done towards any of them. Others note that the SDGs are interconnected and that one SDG can only be addressed by addressing other SDGs.

Whatever one’s personal opinions are about SDGs, it is unquestionably important for librarians and libraries to increase awareness and knowledge of them. Working together as humankind, we have a better chance of achieving these SDGs in a timely manner. It can’t hurt, and it just might help.