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Sixty-two people sign Statement of Intent for Pacific Libraries

Last week an historic meeting was held in Suva Fiji that brought together practitioners and representatives from NGOs and Government across the Pacific to develop a plan to strengthen the impact of Pacific libraries to better support the needs of communities through collaboration, networking and advocacy.

For the first time librarians from 15 Pacific countries including Australia and New Zealand met to discuss how they could use the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for advocating for the role of libraries in supporting countries to reach their targets.

The Summit was preceded by an Advocacy Workshop Day that outlined the SDGs and how libraries can use these goals to develop services and programs to serve their communities. This was supported by a grant from the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). Librarians were challenged to look beyond their traditional comfort zone of education to think more broadly about goals relating to climate change and how libraries might assist in developing resilient communities, as well as what they might do for employment and gender equality.

The Statement of Intent has eight goals that include developing legislative and policy frameworks for each country to secure legislation for legal deposit (the requirement to lodge copies of published materials in nominated libraries) and to advocate for a library act to enshrine the requirement of governments to provide libraries that provide access to information. Other goals include advocating for libraries, improving literacy rates, preserving and promoting cultural heritage, collaborating, building the skills of librarians, and ensuring access to information.

The goals are set in the context of an agreement that we are all the Pacific while recognising the diversity of the region, that we all have an equal voice and that libraries are valued and recognised for their contribution to achieving the SDGs.

Keynote speakers at the Summit included Deborah Jacobs, Director of Global Libraries for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Alison Burchell, Permanent Secretary for Fiji Ministry of Education Heritage and the Arts; Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara, Director Social Development Programme, Pacific Community; Kirsty Sword Gusmao, Chairwoman of Board at Alola Foundation and former First Lady of Timor-Leste; and Kakaito Kaisi, National Librarian of Papua New Guinea. Kakaito has been successful in having a library strategy adopted by the government that will see the revitalisation of the public library system after a hiatus of over 30 years. I also welcomed participants on behalf of IFLA.

A panel of National and State Library representatives discussed how their collaboration had enabled them to achieve successful outcomes for projects. Three of the INELI-Oceania program participants gave powerful stories of how libraries change lives. And four of the participants who had worked on developing the Statement of Intent the previous day presented the vision, context and goals to those present.

After careful and thoughtful review of the document that had been produced as a result of the deliberations the previous day, there was discussion about the challenges that will need to be overcome and some possible solutions. And then everyone in the room individually stood and made a personal commitment to what they would do to ensure the success of the Statement. It was a powerful end to what is hoped will be a turning point for libraries in the region.

The cultural significance of the event was marked by a traditional welcoming kava ceremony and concluded with a stirring and emotional farewell song performed by the Pacific Island participants and staff from the venue.

The summit was organised by INELI-Oceania, a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, State and National Libraries of Australasia, the Australian and New Zealand library associations and a number of public libraries and supported by the National Archives of Fiji. INELI - Oceania has provided leadership development to 34 young library professionals from Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific over the past four years, and as the program was coming to an end, there was the desire to build a lasting legacy for public libraries in the Pacific. By bringing together practitioners, enablers and influencers from the region it was hoped that a recognition of the power of libraries to improve people’s lives would lead to a commitment to developing and supporting libraries.

We are encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment of all those who attended the Summit and confident that this marks a new beginning for collaboration and cooperation between libraries of the Pacific. For more information, check out the website

Photo Grace Saw

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