Measuring the library’s role in sustainable development
For a long time, the public library sector could naturally count on government support. Their importance for society was undisputed and library policy received broad political support. In the past ten to fifteen years this changed dramatically. Society digitized rapidly, the preferences and behavior of readers and information seekers changed and subsidy relationships between cultural and government institutions became more businesslike. In this climate local governments and other authorities more and more started to question the self-evidence of their investment of taxpayers’ money in the public library systems. As a result, the pressure on libraries increased to support and illustrate their role in society with a better evidence base. A worldwide search for information about the value of libraries and their impact on society started and brought about various research programs. The impact reports and advocacy initiatives that emerged from these programs were accompanied by evidence indicating or proving the important role that libraries play in creating strong and sustainable communities.
So far, only a few attempts have been made to link evidence of library impact to the Sustainable Development Goals as formulated by the United Nations. Because these global goals reflect the fields that are universally considered to be relevant for community development, they provide a framework for assessing and communicating library impact in a way that appeals to government officials on both local, national, European and global levels. An important challenge for library impact research in the coming years is therefore to develop indicators and provide evidence on the contribution and the role of libraries in achieving global goals of sustainable development.