A ground for reconciliation
By Alejandra Quiroz Hernández
Libraries are spaces in which urgent issues for social transformation are addressed and in which we can work towards reconciliation. Although they are not neutral spaces, libraries are places where we can initiate conversations about divisive issues. Libraries are places where we can exercise the sensitivity and understanding that is often lacking in public debate.
Of the diverse topics covered at the IFLA’s 2021 World Library and Information Congress, inclusion, multiculturalism, and climate impact were the ones that prompted me to think and reflect on my role as a librarian. These are areas where I have been able to contribute professionally both in the educational offer of the libraries in which I have worked and in training opportunities for library staff. Attending the WLIC allowed me to broaden my perspective and understanding in relation to these issues.
In terms of inclusion, the most significant issues discussed were those related to disabilities and LGBTQ+ people. Libraries have worked hard to transform their practices in order to meet the needs of these service users, as well as to design inclusive collections and activities.
Among the documents presented at this congress is the Swedish Library Association’s Guide for Working with LGBTQ+ Issues in the Library. This document advises library staff not only in the care of people, but in the design of activities and the development of rainbow collections to make this issue visible on the shelf and beyond. As spaces that defend freedom and democracy, it is important to address this issue from libraries, as well as to provide information to people, whether or not they identify as LGBTQ +.
Rachel Wexelbaum from the IFLA LGBTQ+ Users Special Interest Group made an important point about how necessary it is to have views from every corner of the world. It is not enough to know the reality of the situation in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, or other countries where sexual and gender identity is not threatened. It is important to know about life in those regions where sexual preferences are criminalised so as to be able to work towards the eradication of discriminatory behaviours.
Libraries have tried to demonstrate the ways in which societies are enriched by the arrival of people of very different origins, practices and beliefs. While there are those who choose to build walls, others prefer to build bridges. The latter is what happens in libraries that practice hospitality as a radical principle. Some practices include the teaching of the local language for newcomers, the specific attention to displaced persons as well as the protection and dissemination of information about the indigenous present and heritage.
Climate change is an urgent issue for the whole world, including for libraries. The subject has several dimensions that are particularly important for libraries, ranging from informing users about the problems we face to offering guidance around actions that can be implemented at a personal and community level. The possibilities for innovation for green libraries relate to everything from the design to the programming of the library. Some recent buildings have committed to using sustainable resources for their construction, sourcing clean energy for their operation or using rain capture systems, to mention just a few possibilities. Green libraries have been leading this innovation by organising a range of activities to raise awareness of environmental issues among their users.
The seventeen goals for sustainable development of the 2030 Agenda have been a valuable resource for the generation of ecological programmes. Librarians around the world have shown great imagination and skill in designing activities or implementing actions to contribute to the achievement of those goals. This has been conscientious and careful work involving many minds thinking about how to sustain life on this planet. There has also been a great deal of valuable collaboration with non-governmental organisations, public institutions, and companies that share an interest in environmental education.
It is significant that the commitment to care for the environment is not concentrated in one type of specialised library or limited exclusively to university settings. All types of libraries have been able to assume the commitment to address the urgency of reversing climate change to the best of their ability. From the experiences shared during the Congress, it is clear that it does not take a huge commitment of resources to contribute to this enormous effort. With expert leadership, staff creativity, and community action, libraries will continue to make a difference on this and other pressing issues.
These issues are often the subject of alarming news coverage that can be distressing for decision-makers as well as the general public. Many of the congress’ participants acknowledged that libraries have identified such problems, as well as acting to provide and test out possible solutions. This is to the credit of library personnel who are keen to take action and not just stand by with folded arms. There is no doubt that libraries will continue to be trusted places that are open to all.
The experiences shared during the Congress are inspiring library workers to adapt or develop new practices in their libraries. Listening to colleagues from around the world enables people to have a better understanding of their own situations. Besides multiculturalism and inclusion, the concept of reconciliation suggests a way of adapting library practices both for everyday life and in response to political issues. Some practices and behaviours have persisted because as human beings, we have not dared to question them. This results in confusion and dissatisfaction, which generates conflict. As meeting places, libraries cannot escape being places where conflict occurs. Yet they have proved themselves capable of sustaining this role with positive outcomes.