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The role of libraries in addressing literacy challenges in the 21st century

6 April 2016

At the workshop on ‘How Libraries Support National Literacy Efforts,’ which concludes today, 6 April 2016 at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) in Hamburg, participants from all world regions discussed ways in which countries can harness the potential of libraries by integrating their literacy activities with national literacy efforts and strategies at local and national levels. Good practice examples from around the world shared during the Workshop showed that often libraries have the long-standing trust of communities and are well positioned to provide a wide variety of literacy opportunities, including intergenerational and family literacy activities, that reach out to children, youth and adults.

In opening the International Workshop, UIL Director Arne Carlsen shared his vision in promoting literacy for all and pinpointed the importance of putting libraries higher up on the agenda of literacy programmes as they create favourable environments that are strategic for the promotion of literacy. Mr Carlsen further positioned the role of libraries in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Goal 4 on ‘Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.’ He said in this regard, that libraries have a ‘hybrid function as both digital service providers of access to information and as spaces for discoveries of publications, and meeting points for likeminded lovers of reading. Libraries are key in developing learning cities, towns and local communities and provide spaces for deep analyses and reflection. They are important parts of local literate environments and should get more attention in literacy policies.’

During this 2-day workshop, organized in partnership with IREX (International Research & Exchanges Board) /Beyond Access, participants developed eleven recommendations on how governments could empower libraries to serve as national literacy assets. These recommendations are grouped under five main interest topics: training of relevant staff, families and community engagement, impact measurement and evaluation, inclusion of marginalized groups with attention to multilingual and multicultural contexts, and finance. Participants emphasized that in order for libraries to fully meet their role as literacy resources, governments need to include them in the dialogue for the creation of national literacy plans, alongside other literacy stakeholders. Further, resources need to be catalyzed to assess the existing situation of libraries in the region in order to tailor services to beneficiaries’ literacy needs, provide staff with relevant training opportunities, and promote libraries as safe places for people to develop literacy skills to their fullest potential.

UIL will follow up on this initiative with a policy brief on libraries as a resource for literacy policies and engage libraries and other cultural institutions such as museums in a new focus on literacy.