Libraries: The SDGs' driving force – Interview with Gerald Beasley at Cornell University

By: Saskia Hoving, Mon Jul 18 2022
Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

Libraries provide access to knowledge, spaces for collaboration, and expertise in navigating information - all crucial elements in the effort to deliver a decent future to the next generation. Many governments, businesses, and institutions of higher education have taken sustainable development to be an integral part of their mission, but few have done so with their libraries in mind. According to librarian Gerald Beasley at Cornell University, many current and future library staff would like to change that.

Gerald fell in love with librarianship when he was a trainee at the Bodleian Library after graduating from Oxford University. Forty years later he is a librarian and dual British/Canadian citizen with professional experience in both countries as well as the U.S. He has been Columbia University’s Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library (2004-8) and most recently Cornell’s Carl A. Kroch University Librarian (2017-22). Gerald has a keen interest in exploring and advocating the SDGs and we spoke with him about what he does, and what other librarians can do to support the SDGs.

You have a keen interest in exploring and advocating for approaches that academic libraries can take to advance the United Nations’ SDGs, where is this interest coming from?

My personal interest in the SDGs stems from my belief that knowledge is a privilege that comes with responsibility. It has become clear to me that the world needs to develop in a much more sustainable and equitable way than it has up to now – and across many different areas. Actively helping the United Nations (UN) to achieve its 2030 Agenda is currently the most effective way to support sustainable and equitable development.  

How did the pandemic affect the way you support the SDGs?

This latest pandemic continues to be a tragedy for so many people. It is hard to find a positive side. Perhaps it has helped some people – including me - to re-center their lives around the kinds of shared values the SDGs are calling for. I hope so. Also, I have seen how publishers making research about COVID-19 openly accessible was part of an important effort to develop vaccines and other therapeutic solutions. Can we do the same now for SDG-related research?

What advice would you give libraries who are looking to improve the way they support the SDGs?

There are lots of ways for libraries to support sustainable development in general and the SDGs in particular. In addition to sharing knowledge and publicizing the goals, and having practical advice available to community members wanting to turn theory into action, libraries will surely continue to support the kind of interdisciplinary research and teaching that focuses on the SDGs. Also, every library serves a dual function: as a good resource for those who seek resources and a good refuge for those who seek refuge. Sadly, with climate change and other issues coming more and more into focus, I think libraries should prepare for both roles to grow exponentially in the next few years.

You are a HESI SDG Publishers Compact Fellow, can you tell us more about what they do?

As Nicola Jones, Head of the Springer Nature SDG Program, mentioned in a recent blog, I am one of 18 current SDG Publishers Compact Fellows. The Fellows are a group of volunteers put together by the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) to support the SDG Publishers Compact, which was launched by the International Publishers Association in 2020 and which has 200 signatories already. The Fellows meet weekly via the Internet. On our web site we give “top action tips” for many groups – including academic librarians – seeking practical advice on how to support sustainable development. We are always looking for new ideas so please don’t hesitate to send us your suggestions!

Gerald © Springernature 2022
About Gerald Beasley

Gerald Beasley is currently the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. He has written and presented extensively on various topics including the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Previous to Cornell, Beasley had leadership positions as Chief Librarian and Vice-Provost at the University of Alberta, Edmonton (2013-17); University Librarian at Concordia University, Montreal (2008-13); Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York City (2004-08); and Chief Librarian, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal (1999-2004).  A dual British and Canadian citizen, he has an M.A. (Oxon) in English Language and Literature from Pembroke College, Oxford University, and an M.A. in Library Studies from University College, London. Before emigrating from England to Canada to work at the CCA in 1994, he was a rare books librarian at the British Architectural Library of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1985-91); and the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine Library (1991-94).

Read the blog “5 things librarians can do right now to support the UN SDGs” and 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.

Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

In the Dordrecht office, Marketing Manager Saskia Hoving produces The Link Newsletter for research communities. Focusing on the evolving role of libraries regarding SDGs, Open Science, and researcher support, she explores academia's intersection with societal progress. With a lifelong passion for sports and recent exploration into "Women’s inclusion in today’s science", Saskia brings dynamic insights to her work.