On November 2, 2001, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in Paris, France. This Declaration defines “Cultural Diversity” or “Multiculturalism” as the harmonious co-existence and interaction of different cultures, where “culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature; lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs”. This Declaration lead to the United Nations first ever celebration of the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage. In December 2002, the 57th Session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 57/249 that declared May 21 each year as the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. This day is intended to give an opportunity to help communities understand the value of cultural diversity and learn how to live together. It’s an occasion to promote world culture and highlight the significance of diversity as an agent of inclusion and positive change. It celebrates not only the richness of the world’s cultures, but the essential role of intercultural dialogue for achieving peace and sustainable development.
This is important to libraries for many reasons. Libraries serve diverse interests and communities. We function as learning, cultural, and information centers driven by our commitment to the principles of fundamental freedoms and equity of access to information and knowledge for all. This point was also buttressed in UNESCO’s first ever Cultural Diversity Publication Series, launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, in which UNESCO states that libraries and cultural centers, as part of their new missions, must “strive to promote the actors and expressions of cultural diversity in such a way as to ensure that as many people as possible are exposed – and enjoy access – to the wealth of that diversity”.
These values were further expanded on in the IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto that stipulates that each individual has the right to a full range of library and information services, and that libraries should adhere to 4 main principles of cultural diversity:
- Serve all members of the community without discrimination based on cultural and linguistic heritage;
- Provide information in appropriate languages and scripts;
- Give access to a broad range of materials and services reflecting all communities and needs;
- Employ staff to reflect the diversity of the community, who are trained to work with and serve diverse communities.
This Manifesto supports ALA’s interpretations of “Diversity Standards: Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries” (2012), which advocates to “support diversity skills training and diversity education—including the exploration of social justice, privilege and oppression, and fear and anger around cultural diversity issues—in a safe environment that allows for discussion and reflection”. Libraries are in the unique position to celebrate culture’s manifold forms, from the tangible and intangible, to the diversity of cultural expressions, and reflect on how these contribute to dialogue, mutual understanding, and the social, environmental and economic vectors of sustainable development. The core activities of library and information services for culturally and linguistically diverse communities are central, not “separate” or “additional”, and should always be designed to meet local or specific needs.
In 2013, The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in partnership with UNESCO and a wide coalition of partners from corporations to civil society launched the world campaign “Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion”, aimed at engaging people around the world to Do One Thing to support Cultural Diversity and Inclusion. This campaign:
- Raises awareness worldwide about the importance of intercultural dialogue, diversity and inclusion;
- Build a world community of individuals committed to supporting diversity with real and everyday-life gestures;
- Combat polarization and stereotypes to improve understanding and cooperation among people from different cultures.
Do one thing today to support cultural diversity. Read a book by an author from a different culture, reach out to a diverse staff and let them know how much you appreciate their presence at work, be creative, and as always, feel free to reach out to the FSU Libraries Diversity and Inclusion Committee with your ideas.
Written by Mohamed Berray, Social Sciences Librarian | Coordinator for Government Information, Florida State University Libraries
- United Nations World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development: http://www.un.org/en/events/culturaldiversityday/
- UNESCO World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development: https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/culturaldiversityday
- IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto: “The Multicultural Library – a gateway to a cultural diverse society in dialogue: https://www.ifla.org/node/8976
- UNESCO Cultural Diversity Series No. 1. Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity: A Vision, A Conceptual Platform, A Pool of Ideas for Implementation, A New Paradigm. A Document for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, 26 August – 4 September, 2002. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001271/127162e.pdf.
- Diversity Standards: Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries (2012): http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/diversity
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