7 ways that libraries can support and promote the UN SDGs at their institutions
1 August 2022 | 6 min read
By Linda Willems
Experts share their top tips for libraries who want to get involved but don't know how
Want to learn more? In the first article in this series – Achieving the UN SDGs – is there a role for libraries? – our experts explain why they believe that sustainable development should be top of every librarian’s agenda.
The mission of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)(opens in new tab/window) is an ambitious one – to end poverty, protect the planet, and deliver universal peace and prosperity by 2030.
Since their launch in 2015, the 17 SDGs have become embedded in the research community. For example, many research funders now require evidence that award applications align with the goals’ targets, while universities are measured on their progress towards the SDGs, through initiatives such as the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings.
But while the roles of researchers and their institutions have always been relatively clear, questions remain around how the library can best support the goals – and even why they should. In this article, the second in a series on the topic, three US-based experts active in sustainable development share some of the practical steps that libraries can take.
Introducing our interviewees
Dr. Debra Rowe has been professor of energy management and renewable energy at Oakland Community College in the US for over 30 years. She is also President of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development(opens in new tab/window) and co-founder of the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium, founder/facilitator of the Disciplinary Associations’ Network for Sustainability(opens in new tab/window) and Senior Advisor to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education(opens in new tab/window). Debra co-created the Sustainability Education and Economic Development Center(opens in new tab/window), the Projects That Matter(opens in new tab/window) platform, and the Beyond Doom and Gloom: Engage in Climate Solutions(opens in new tab/window) initiative. She is the author or editor of numerous publications, including the encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Vision, Principles and Practices.
Robin Kear is the liaison librarian, at the University of Pittsburgh, for part of the Research, Learning and Media team, specifically providing support for the English Department, the Film Studies Program, and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program. During her 20 years as a librarian, she has worked closely with the American Library Association and international organizations, including the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), which is the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. Over the past four years, the UN SDGs have become an increasingly important part of her work with those organizations, including through the IFLA North American Regional Division Committee and the ALA UN SDG Task Force.
Gerald R. Beasley is the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian at Cornell in the US and a Fellow of the UN’s SDG Publishers Compact – an initiative designed to inspire publishers to accelerate progress towards the SDGs. He has spent his library career of over 35 years at UK, Canadian and US institutions. As Cornell’s librarian, he is engaged in strategic planning and thinking about the role of academic libraries in the 21st century, which increasingly includes considering the implications of sustainable development.
As academics and librarians with a passion for sustainable development, Gerald, Debra and Robin have actively contributed to a range of SDG-related resources for libraries. Many of these contain valuable tips and best practice advice for librarians on how they can better support the 17 goals and their targets. Here’s a summary of some of their key recommendations:
1. Don’t start from scratch
As Robin notes, there is already a wealth of material out there. “It helps libraries look at why they should care about the SDGs and how they can connect the work they already do to the goals.” For Gerald, it’s also worth looking at what’s already taking place in your institution. “Sustainability initiatives exist on pretty much every campus, often thanks to the great work of students and dedicated staff.”
2. Incorporate the SDGs into your library’s strategic plan
Gerald explains: “Recording that one of your goals is sustainable development sends a message to your staff, your community, and other stakeholders, that you want to be measured and judged on them.”
3. Advocate for the SDGs on campus
This can be as simple as sharing information on the SDGs and sustainable development, or involve a major investment, such as converting the library to solar power! For Gerald, it’s important that libraries look for ways to help their institutions identify, celebrate and champion relevant SDG-related research strengths and activities. For example, libraries can guide users to SDG content via channels such as LibGuides, create bespoke, curated collections related to SDGs, and cultivate SDG literacy by developing educational programs that advance literacy in all key SDG areas.
4. Showcase how you can add value
Gerald gives the example of research funding: “Most funders are interested in the kind of research that has real world implications and is sustainable, disseminated and preserved. Libraries do that, in fact, we are exceptionally good at it. If we set ourselves up for the leadership that I would like us to take in sustainable development issues, then research funders will increasingly look to us as one of their essential partners.
Interested in finding out more about how your library can support the SDGs?
Below, we list some of the resources that our experts recommend.
As part of her work with the ALA, Robin has developed this useful factsheet that highlights how libraries can contribute to the SDGs: Download the factsheet(opens in new tab/window)
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)(opens in new tab/window): In its respective countries and regions, the SDSN’s networks of universities, research centers, and other knowledge institutions work to translate the latest expertise in sustainable development into action.
SDG Resource Centre(opens in new tab/window): Track news relating to SDGs, find SDG analytics and reporting, and even a list of SDG related events on Elsevier's guide to SDG resources.
5. Think about how you can support colleagues in their SDG work
Robin says: “Libraries can help to increase the visibility of research outputs across the SDGs and that helps others identify connections. In addition, libraries are fantastic sources of information, whether that’s for systematic reviews related to SDGs, data for the sustainability office to support reporting, or for curricula modules. Libraries can also help in a variety of ways with sustainable development assessments like the THE Impact Rankings.” Gerald adds: “A first step could be identifying and supporting campus researchers who are helping to make the world a better place.”
6. Promote open access (OA) and open educational resources (OERs)
Whether its advocating for open access publishing, open-source materials, or open data, or promoting the institutional repository and any OERs hosted there, for Gerald, the default should always be “open”. He explains: “Libraries can help to incentivize open science practices among researchers and invest in capacity building and human capital. The UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science(opens in new tab/window) contains some useful tips.” Robin adds: “OA and OERs help to make information more accessible, and this is exactly the library’s goal.” Libraries can also tag SDG content and ensure the metadata is accurate and complete to promote discovery, and support their researchers to do the same.
7. Support the teaching and research agenda
This is one of the strongest ways that libraries can impact the SDGs and options range from advocating for community outreach and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as part of tenure discussions, to mainstreaming these concepts by integrating them into the classroom.