How can librarians support Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) research?

By: Guest contributor, Fri May 27 2022

Author: Guest contributor

When it comes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), academic libraries play a vital role. By ensuring access to high-quality research and information, libraries enable researchers to develop evidence-based solutions to support a better and more sustainable future for all.

Nicola Jones, Head of Publishing for the Springer Nature SDG programme, has a unique role within academic publishing. Day to day, she works to drive new projects addressing the SDGs, and ensure that SDG activities get the recognition they deserve. Leading on from her recent talk for IFLA ENSULIB, we asked Nicola to share her thoughts on how librarians can support the SDGs, and why it is important for libraries and publishers to work together to help researchers tackle global challenges.

How can libraries and publishers support the SDGs and why is it important that we help support researchers together?

Librarians are some of our most important partners in supporting the SDGs. It is only through access to high quality research that evidence based solutions can be developed. This means that in terms of supporting the SDGs, as well as many other activities, libraries and publishers are supporting the same kinds of end goals. We’re all engaged with providing research content to the researchers who need it. Making sure that they can discover what they need and can identify what to trust, in order to inform the development of their research and future publications. 

Awareness of the SDGs is quite variable. They impact everyone, but some researchers or disciplines are more familiar with them, and some less so. 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. The University of Michigan Libguide is a really good example of a library doing this.

Publishers can also support librarians in raising awareness of the SDGs by ensuring that the relevant content that we publish is clearly flagged as such and easy to find. 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. We are constantly looking into developing better discovery tools to showcase content addressing each of the Goals.

In looking at resources like the IFLA Library Map of the World SDG stories we also see 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. Last year we were the first publisher to sign the Climate Pledge and to appoint a dedicated Climate Action Officer. We are carbon neutral for our offices, fleet and flights, and have been since 2020. We have now committed to net zero carbon by 2040 via both the Science Based Targets Initiative and the Climate Pledge.

At a recent summit in the UK, you led a discussion where universities talked about the ways in which libraries are responding to the global challenges. Are there any particular outcomes you can share?

We split into three groups to discuss different topics relating to the SDGs: climate change; diversity, equity and inclusion; and mental health, and the ways in which libraries support these challenges. It was really interesting to hear the focus on the practical aspects of support via libraries - for example supporting mental health by discouraging working through the night, by deliberately not making the building available 24 hours a day; facilitating social interaction with regular “randomized coffee trials” connecting different people each time; or installing green building features like green roofs or heat pumps. It was also noted that the library is part of a wider institution and that leadership on these kinds of issues needs to be embedded at all levels throughout an institution in order to result in change.

There are a number of partnerships where libraries and publishers are working together supporting the SDGs. What are the benefits of these partnerships?

Formal partnerships provide a way for us to work together to better understand each other's needs and use this information to develop new insights and resources. The HESI SDG Publishers Compact Fellows group for example, brings together publishers, librarians, graduate students and others with an interest in providing research information to aid the SDGs. Director, Academic Affairs Arend Kuester and I represent Springer Nature in this group. We’ve been developing resources to help signatories to the Compact to deliver on their commitments, and by working together have been able to share our knowledge of the challenges that the sector faces.

“By working together, we can better understand what content researchers need and how to best provide it.” – Nicola Jones

Gerald Beasley at Cornell University is one of the HESI SDG Publishers Compact Fellows and he has been instrumental in the development of the resources that help embed the SDGs within research and education, as well as encouraging the development of a taxonomy of SDG research which would enable anyone anywhere to understand what research relates to which SDGs.

Another really important partnership for us is the strategic partnership with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) to look at the societal impact of open research. This was a really comprehensive multi year project, spearheaded by my colleague Timon Oefelein, Senior Manager Strategic Partnerships & Outreach, to look at how open research content has impact beyond academia and how researchers can get more societal impact for their research content. The development of a method to identify societally relevant content, the assessment of the impact of this content and the work done to create a toolkit to help others were all really significant and novel achievements, and I would highly recommend exploring the project.

What advice can you give to librarians to support researchers when it comes to the SDGs?

It’s always important to start from what your users need, and I’m sure that nobody reading this needs me to say that! But in supporting researchers on the SDGs, are there some particular topics that your user base needs information on? For example, there are close links between medicine and life sciences disciplines and SDGs 2: Zero Hunger and 3: Good Health and Wellbeing and between Economics and SDGs 1: No Poverty, 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth and 10: Reduced Inequalities.

Alternatively, are there particular issues that your community cares about? The climate crisis would be an example here - it impacts all of us, whether or not we are associated with a climate research program. SDG 13: Climate Action aims to mobilize a global response to halt climate change so providing resources which offer support in addressing climate change could encompass practical guidance as well as research material.

Once you’ve identified the topics that most need to be addressed, curating and highlighting collections that address them is the next step. As I’ve already mentioned, research on the SDGs comes from across pretty much all academic disciplines. Talk to publishers about whether they can identify the relevant content from their programs, or look at aggregator databases that assign content to SDGs to start identifying the research that is most relevant to the SDGs that your communities care about.

What are your plans for the future, what can we expect to come?

Our focus on the SDGs is central to our mission as a company and we will continue to develop new journals and other publications to support and stimulate research on these topics, for example Nature Water which will launch in 2023. We will also keep on finding new ways to bring this research to the attention of people who can use it. We intend to continue the successful Science for a Sustainable Future series that we run in partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and we will be regularly updating the SDG hubs with content that is topical and timely. Our SDG Book series now publishes under both our major book imprints: Springer and Palgrave Macmillan, and we expect this to continue expanding, and we remain open to developing new partnerships with anyone who shares our commitment to supporting and addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

About N
Nicola Jones
icola Jones

As Head of Publishing for the Springer Nature SDG Programme, Nicola Jones is responsible for coordinating the publishing activity across Springer Nature where it relates to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in order to bring research that can contribute to achieving the Goals to the attention of those best placed to implement it. Nicola is passionate about the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration for solving complex global problems, and the need for solid research evidence to inform policy and practice.

Read more about The Sustainable Development Goals Programme, which connects researchers who are tackling the world’s toughest challenges with the practitioners in policy and business who desperately need those insights to achieve their goals in improving the world, by making our publishing activities more visible to our key communities through a variety of channels.


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