Taking a Stand

Librarians discuss efforts to respond to and lead social change

June 25, 2020

Christine Mackenzie, president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), had motivating words for attendees of “Libraries as Social Change Engines Around the World,” the International Relations Round Table Chair’s Program held June 24 at ALA Virtual: “It is important for libraries and librarians to take a stand.”

She was referring to social change, specifically the ability of libraries around the world to react to it and facilitate it. Mackenzie, along with Merve Yavuzdemir, foreign relations branch manager at the General Directorate of Libraries and Publications in Turkey, discussed world events that have led to social changes and affected library services.

Mackenzie outlined initiatives undertaken by IFLA and the United Nations (UN), including the development of strategic plans to address sustainability efforts and development. She specifically stressed the importance of the UN’s work. “The best thing for libraries to do to support social change is to promote the UN’s new agenda, titled ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,’” which sets 17 goals and 169 targets for global change, including eradicating poverty and world hunger, promoting good health and wellbeing, and ensuring quality education for all.

Mackenzie also highlighted three events from 2020 that have drastically changed the world and discussed how libraries have reacted to each: disasters related to climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the killing of George Floyd by police.

She went on to share how the Lviv Regional Children’s Library in Ukraine set up education programs to reduce overflowing waste in the city and promote recycling; IFLA has produced a COVID-19 infographic to help fight misinformation on social media about the pandemic; and libraries around the world have set up anti-racist education and literacy initiatives and developed inclusive collections, services, and programs.

These efforts are a step in the right direction, but we aren’t finished, Mackenzie said.

“Libraries generally see social justice as a guiding principle in all they do,” she said. “But there is more work to be done. I’m optimistic that libraries are going to come out of 2020—a year that has seen more social changes that I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime—stronger and more valued than ever.”

Yavuzdemir detailed how public libraries in Turkey are responding to the influx of people who have entered the country seeking refuge from the civil war in neighboring Syria. She said that more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey since 2011. Only 1.7% of them live in camps, with the rest spread out across the country. It is the library’s duty and obligation to help, she said.

“The general director of immigration of the Turkish Ministry of Interior prepared a social cohesion strategy report and action plan,” she said. “According to this plan, all public libraries were to offer social cohesion plans, language courses, and information literacy programs for refugees.” The plan also set up mobile libraries to deliver these programs and library services to refugee camps and established training for librarians to raise awareness, she said.

“Libraries have also improved their collections,” Yavuzdemir noted, by “[adding materials] to reflect the needs of the community.”

She added that the library community is looking to larger-scale efforts to help the refugee community and, in turn, the whole country.

“Our librarians are working with schools, health centers, and migrant organizations throughout Turkey to give them information about our services,” she said. “With the help of public libraries, the Turkish community has been able to manage this process smoothly.”


Graphic: Robin Bradford and Becky Spratford

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