Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Library and information professionals in Africa discussing the SDGs

By Justin Chisenga

A scan of the themes of conferences being organized by library and information professionals in Africa reveals a focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in some cases on the African Union Agenda 2063.

SDGs. [Source: Sustainable Development Knowledge
In May 2017, the theme of the African Library and Information Associations (AFLIA)’s conference in Yaonde, Cameroon was on “Libraries in the Development Agenda: Repositioning African Libraries to Deliver on the Future We Want”. The Zimbabwe Library Association’s (ZimLA) annual conference, in June 2017, focused on “Libraries in the National Development Agenda: Repositioning Libraries for Sustainable Development”, and in Zambia, the Library and Information Association of Zambia (LIAZ) annual conference in July 2017 was on the theme: “The Role of Information Institutions and Professionals in the Attainment of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals”.  The theme of the forthcoming XXIIIrd SCECSALConference, scheduled for April 2018 in Entebbe, Uganda is “Positioning Library and Information Services to Achieve Sustainable Development: Innovations and Partnerships” and that of the 4th IAALD Africa Conference, in May-June 2018, is “Agricultural Innovations, Information and Knowledge: Catalyzing the Attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union Agenda 2063”.

It is almost two years since the World leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, popularly referred to as the 2030 Agenda; its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as Global Goals; and the associated 169 targets spanning economic, environmental and social development. Since then, governments have been developing frameworks for multi-stakeholder dialogue to facilitate the integration of the SDGs into their national and sub-national development plans. Development organizations, civil society organizations, and even some organizations in the private sector, have also been aligning and mainstreaming the SDGs into their development policies, strategies and initiatives. Therefore, it is good news to see that library and information professionals in Africa are discussing SDGs and possibly developing strategies to contribute to the 2030 Agenda.

Mr. Mark Maseko, National Information Officer from
the United Nations  Information Centre (UNIC), Zambia
  guiding the discussions on  SDGs by librarians at the
LIAZ 2017 Conference [Photo: Justin Chisenga]
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) took part in the pre- 2030 Agenda consultations and contributed to the process in several ways, including “advocating for the inclusion of access to information, safeguarding of cultural heritage, universal literacy, and access to information and communication technologies (ICT)” in the 2030 Agenda. IFLA also encouraged librarians and library associations to actively participate in the 2030 Agenda process, conducted capacity development activities targeting library and information professionals, and developed a toolkit, all with the aim of helping information professionals and their institutions to advocate for and show that they can drive progress across the entire 2030 Agenda.

IFLA also provided concrete evidence to show that information institutions, such as libraries, information centres, documentation centres and information professional associations, have a role to play in attaining the 2030 Agenda. This is documented in the booklet on Access and Opportunity for All: How Libraries Contribute to the United Nations 2030 Agenda. The booklet highlights several examples from around the world showing how libraries and access to information contribute to improved outcomes across the 17 SDGs.

The current focus and discussions of the SDGs by library and information professionals in Africa is most welcome and should be encouraged. To effectively and efficiently contribute to the attainment of the 2030 Agenda, they should:

  1. Know the 2030 Agenda, its 17 SDGs, the 169 targets and the associated 232 individual indicators otherwise it will be difficult to directly and meaningfully contribute to the Agenda. Official documentation on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs is available on the United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform and the Sustainable Development Goal indicators website.
  2. Know their national governments’ development priorities and commitments to implement the 2030 Agenda. The “primary responsible for achieving the SDGs are the governments and the people they represent”. Therefore, contributing to attaining the SDGs, whether by organizations or groups of individuals, should not be done in insolation of the national development efforts. Working with national governments and national partners is key and one surest way to meaningfully contribute directly to attaining the 2030 Agenda. Getting to know the country’s development priorities and commitments to the 2030 Agenda is among the first steps towards contributing to the national development goals and ultimately to the 2030 Agenda.
  3. Define the responses to the 2030 Agenda and SDGs and document priorities, strategies and activities in the context of contributing to the national government’s efforts. All efforts and contributions to attaining the SDGs should be aligned to the priorities of the national government. Therefore, library and information institutions and professionals should have a written document articulating their strategies and monitoring mechanism for their planned efforts or contributions. Without any monitoring, it will be difficult to show evidence of any contributions to the national development agendas and the 2030 Agenda.

IFLA has already shown that library and Information institutions and professionals have a role to play in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals. However, their contributions should be within the framework of national development agendas and priorities, which in most cases are aligned with the 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs. Information institutions should define the services and products to be provided and establish strategic partnerships that will contribute to the three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental.

AFLIA and SCECSAL, the two largest groupings of library and information professionals in Africa, should ensure that the outcomes of the various on-going discussions of the SDGs by library and information professionals in African sare widely shared and published online for easy access.

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