The Trump administration’s move to withdraw the US from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is not only disheartening for the library community, it also places the profession in a time warp. The US has regrettably pulled out of the organization in the past, a move that took nearly two decades to correct.
Currently the US provides 22% of UNESCO’s budget; our withdrawal will have a profound impact on the organization’s ability to provide invaluable information resources worldwide and training and programs on human rights issues such as gender equality.
The American Library Association (ALA) values the promotion and advancement of education and libraries around the world. ALA advocates for freedom of expression, a free and open internet and media sector, shared scientific knowledge, and promotion of cultural understanding through the preservation of world heritage and intercultural dialogue.
This is not hyperbole—in 1942 ALA revised its Charter from promoting the library interests of the US to library interests throughout the world.
The US government spearheaded the founding of UNESCO a few years later in 1946. Since its inception, UNESCO and its member states have contributed to building peace, eradicating poverty, and promoting sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication, and information.
These efforts now include furthering information literacy, digital heritage and digital libraries, free and open software, and open access to educational and scientific resources. Each of these initiatives supports a global information society in which collaboration and cooperation across geographic boundaries promote greater understanding.
ALA is a current and long-standing participant in the US National Commission for UNESCO under the State Department. The US withdrew from UNESCO once before, in 1984, before seeing the value of rejoining in 2002. During the US exile, ALA repeatedly affirmed the value of being a full member of UNESCO.
The current administration withdrawal from UNESCO as of December 2018 is a blow to international library communities.