The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) convened a Forum of Ministers and Secretaries of Culture of Latin America and the Caribbean on 22nd May, followed by its 2019 President’s meeting on the theme of Motors of change: libraries and sustainable development on 23rd May, both in Buenos Aires. These important meetings provided a valuable opportunity for those actively involved in the role of libraries in contributing to the development of Latin American and Caribbean countries to share ideas and experiences, and agree on ways through which their work can be further enhanced. Tim Unwin, as Chairholder of our UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, was honoured to have been invited to give a keynote address, and was delighted to have participated in both days of discussions.
The Forum of Minister and Secretaries of Culture was held in the very impressive Congress of the Argentine Nation, and provided an excellent opportunity for senior government officials from across the region to share presentations and discuss the theme of Libraries, Access to Information and the Sustainable Development Goals. Welcoming participants, IFLA President Glòria Pérez-Salmerón reminded them of the theme of her presidency – Motors of Change – and underlined the difference that libraries can make, for so many people, in so many ways. IFLA Secretary-General Gerald Leitner stressed to the ministers of the power they had in their hands, and made the case for ensuring that they – and libraries – are included fully in national development plans. A key outcome of the meeting was the signing of the Buenos Aires Declaration which affirmed participating governments’ commitment to the UN 2030 Agenda, and to the power of libraries and access to information to achieve it. The meeting also saw the launch of the second edition of the Development and Access to Information Report produced by IFLA and the Technology and Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington, focusing especially on SDG4 (education), SDG8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG10 (inequalities), SDG13 (climate chage) and SDG16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), and edited by Stephen Wyber and Maria Garrido.
In the evening, there was a Cultural Gala in the Public Hall of the Library of the National Congress, which consisted of three main elements:
- A dance performance in two parts by the Arte Ballet Compañía: the Don Quijote suite, and Tiempos de Tango, with ideation, choreography and direction by María Fernanda Blanco.
- Music played by the Chamber Orchestra of the Honorable Argentine Chamber of Deputies with a repertoire dedicated to the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, featuruing especially the saxophone soloist Jorge Retamoza.
- A wonderful closing sequence of songs by the famous Argentine artist Nacha Guevara.
The 2019 President’s Meeting on 23rd May built on the themes of the Development and Access to Information Report, and began with a session of welcoming speeches by IFLA President Glòria Pérez-Salmerón, IFLA Secretary-General Gerald Leitner, Alejandro Lorenzo César Santa (General Coordinating Director, Library of the National Congress), and Rene Mauricio Valdes (United Nations Resident Coordinator, Argentina). This was followed by Tim Unwin’s keynote speech on Libraries and Sustainable Development: challenges of inequality in a digital world (.pdf of slide deck), which:
- Challenged those who believe that the SDGs will deliver on their aspirations;
- Highlighted the role of digital technologies in leading to increasing inequalities;
- Explored issues around power, knowledge and content;
- Advocated for the important role that libraries can serve as open places and communal resource centres; and
- Concluded by encouraging participants to have the will to make a difference.
In the afternoon, there were three sets of discussions and presentations by the authors of the Development and Access to Information Report and others on the following themes:
- A Library Response to Global Challenges: What Can Libraries Contribute to International Efforts to Tackle the Issues that Affect the Planet?
- Driving Development at a Local Level: Libraries Making a Difference to People’s Lives
- Improving Decision-Making and Accountability: Libraries as Pillars of Democracy and Good Governance
These two days of lively and interesting discussion provided a wealth of ideas for all those participating from governments and libraries to implement on return to their own countries. It was also a very valuable opportunity to build a network of people working at the interface between libaries and international development, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. Very many thanks are due to the hard work and hospitality of colleagues from IFLA and our Argentian hosts.