5 things librarians can do right now to support the UN SDGs

By: Laura Graham-Clare, Thu Jul 7 2022
Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

Since their launch in 2015, the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals have become embedded in the research community. Many funders want to see how research aligns to SDG targets and there are now programmes in place to measure university contributions to the goals. But how can libraries contribute to this vital work?

Libraries have an important role to play in forwarding the UN SDGs. It is only through access to high-quality research and information that researchers can develop evidence-based solutions that get us closer to achieving the goals. As conduits for that information, libraries are perfectly placed to act as catalysts for solutions.

With 17 SDGs aiming to change the world for the better by 2030, there’s a wealth of opportunities for libraries and librarians to be actively involved. But with so much at stake it can be hard to know where to start. This post explores five areas where you can make an immediate impact. 

1. Raise awareness

While the SDGs have become a mainstay in many areas of research, awareness of them is still quite variable. They impact everyone, but some research disciplines are more familiar with them than others. 

Academic libraries are in a unique position to communicate and advocate for the SDGs in their communities. Most students, as well as faculty and staff members, are likely to visit the library in their time with a university. This makes the library the perfect hub for promoting awareness of the SDGs themselves, as well as the work taking place on campus to find solutions. Whether this is through events, online activities, or even posters – there are many options for reaching a whole range of different audiences through the library.

“One important role for libraries that I see is in raising awareness that the SDGs address the global challenges that are critical to the future,” says Nicola Jones, Head of Publishing for the Springer Nature SDG programme, in a recent interview. “The University of Michigan Libguide is a really good example of a library doing this.”

2. Encourage cross-disciplinary discussion

Tackling challenges on the scale of the climate crisis and other SDG targets will require new and more integrated approaches to research. Many of the SDGs have an impact across various aspects of our lives, so in order to identify solutions, we need perspectives that cross geographies, disciplines, and expertise. We won’t be able to reach the SDG 2030 targets by each discipline of knowledge working in isolation. 

For libraries, encouraging cross-disciplinary discussion is a natural step on from awareness raising. The library is already a natural hub for the meeting of different disciplines – by actively encouraging and even setting up these discussions, you could help to create partnerships that take an area of research in a whole new direction.

“It's only interdisciplinarity that can really trace out the systemic problem of a crisis like the climate crisis and offer a real systemic resolution,” said Dr. Genevieve Guenther, a contributor to our recent whitepaper on Science for a Sustainable Future. “I think interdisciplinarity has the potential to really help transform our systems in the way they need to be transformed.”

3. Curate and promote SDG collections of research

The cross-disciplinary nature of SDG research poses a challenge to librarians when it comes to curation. There are closer links between certain disciplines and certain SDGs, for example, so it’s vital to consider how best to ensure researchers in these disciplines can easily find research related to the SDGs most relevant to them. 

“The challenges that the SDGs set out to address need insights from multiple disciplines working together, so a traditional subject based package approach doesn’t necessarily help,” explains Nicola Jones. “[At Springer Nature] we are constantly looking into developing better discovery tools to showcase content addressing each of the goals.”

These tools include ‘hubs’ of curated content focused on each SDG – for example, our SDG 1 hub – which bring together interviews, book and journal highlights, blogs, highlighted collections, and more. Our Climate Research in Action microsite is another great example of curated content which fits perfectly with SDG 13. You can also take a look at our SDG programme for more ideas and support in this area.

4. Assess your own accessibility

SDG 10 focuses on reducing inequality and where better to start in tackling this goal than with your own library? Libraries can support SDG 10 by creating neutral and welcoming spaces that make learning accessible to all, including marginalized groups like migrants, refugees, minorities, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities

There are many accessibility considerations for librarians to take into account. As well as ensuring the library feels like a welcoming space to people from different backgrounds, cultures and physical abilities, it’s also vital to take into account practical considerations such as physical access to library buildings and digital accessibility. 

There are some tips to get you started in this blog post.

5. Make your library more sustainable

The IFLA Library Map of the World SDG stories shows that librarians are supporting the goals through managing their own facilities, taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint and promoting environmentally sustainable behaviors to their users. This has parallels with our own Sustainable Business approach, as detailed in our Sustainable Business Report 2021.

You can take a look at our post about sustainable libraries for more ideas and resources to get you started.

Helpful resources

Interested to explore ways you can support sustainability within your organization? These links have suggestions, tips, and examples:

Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

Laura Graham-Clare is Head of Community Content, based in London. Working between our publishing, sales and marketing teams, she is focused on thought leadership trends, content creation, and developing insights and information resources for staff, librarians, researchers and information professionals.