I’m in Namibia to visit staff and partners for our Library Development Program, and over the past couple of days we traveled to the northern part of the country to visit the sites of the new Regional Resource and Study Centres (RSRCs). The work that the Namibia Library and Archives Service and the Millennium Challenge Account – Namibia put into these buildings is evident and impressive. Careful thought went into the building design – loads of natural light, incorporating existing vegetation into the design and landscaping, using thatching to provide shade. I’ve posted a few pictures of the buildings below, and look forward to sharing photos of the RSRCs bustling with people once they’re open.
The Cross-European Survey to Measure Users’ Perceptions of the Benefits of ICT in Public Libraries report presents data and analysis from 17 EU countries on the benefits of free access to ICTs in public libraries. The report also examines key similarities and differences in public perception of ICTs in public libraries across different EU member states.
The study examines how access to ICT through public libraries directly contributes to the objectives of the Europe 2020 growth strategy for smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth, such as improving access to information for employment, innovation, education opportunities, and social inclusion. EU member states are expected to show actionable steps towards meeting these objectives. This study shows how public libraries within the EU play a key role in meeting specific EU 2020 policy objectives.
From the report:
Public libraries across the European Union (EU) have long played an important role in communities by providing free access to information, guidance from trained librarians, and public meeting space. As meaningful participation in society increasingly requires access to digital information and resources, many public libraries in the EU have expanded their offerings to include access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) like computers and the Internet.
Romania was selected as one of the 17 countries in the study and produced a number of notable results. Biblionet staff in Romania played a key role in collecting and presenting the data for this report. In many areas, Romania produced promising results in public perception of ICT in public libraries, including:
Up to 70% of public libraries in Romania offer public access to computers and the internet
Over 75% of Romanian citizens (both users and non-users of public libraries) felt that libraries were either very effective, effective, or fairly effective at meeting the needs of their local community. The EU average is 64%
64% of Romanian citizens felt that public libraries merit additional financial support
Nearly 40% of public access computing (PAC) users in Romanian public libraries had used library computers in the last 12 months to support some employment-related activity
43% of PAC users in Romania had used library computers for civic engagement activities in the last 3 months, higher than the EU-wide average (24%)
In January 2011, Biblionet and the Romania’s Payment and Intervention Agency in Agriculture (APIA) started a partnership to facilitate access to agricultural subsidies through public libraries in the country. Biblionet affiliated libraries are equipped with modern computers that allow farmers to use the internet to access the forms.
How the program works?
Interested librarians consulted with the APIA and local mayors before implementing the service in the library. The support of local governments was essential for the success of the initiative because libraries needed to meet specific infrastructure requirements.
Mayors and the librarians agreed that providing this service to farmers would translate into cost-savings in terms of money and time since farmers wouldn’t need to travel to the capital to submit their paperwork. Librarian Markos Maria Imola explains: “Coming to the library they save time and money, everything is faster, more operative, people come when they can, if there are many people waiting, then they go to solve other issues and return afterwards.”
Each library tailored their program according to the needs of the local farmers. For example, in some cases, librarians had minimal interaction with the farmers that was limited to the promotion of the new services and scheduling the visits with APIA experts. In other cases, librarians were involved in every step of the process such as providing assistance for parcel digitization and classification of crops.
Goals and Benefits
The collaboration between APIA and Biblionet achieved a diverse set of goals by working with partners from the local community and the government. Among these were:
- Facilitating the process of completing APIA applications
- Providing the local public administration with the opportunity to help the farmers
- Positioning the library as a strong community ally
In 2011, more than 58,500 farmers benefited from the program. Through the partnership with APIA, 1,041 librarians and 151 City Hall employees from 30 Romanian counties received training from APIA specialists in 2012. It is estimated that 83 million euros in funding were accessed by farmers with the help of librarians. Due to the successful pilot project, Biblionet decided to upgrade the “subsidies assistance program” into a standard service in all Biblionet-affiliated libraries in 2012. This extension of the program reached an additional 41,500 farmers and granted access to 63 million euros in subsidies.
The new service also had unexpected impacts at the library. For example, Librarian Gabriela Ticoiu of Halchiu from the Brasov County Library explains: “The APIA initiative also attracted new patrons to the library. Thanks to the communication efforts for APIA, other people came to the library and discovered other services such as computer training and free Internet access.”
Finding credible partner organizations is essential in developing new services at libraries. In the community of Filipeștii de Târg, in Pradova, librarian Roxana Chiazim is working with the “Legio Lex Populi” Association (LLPA) to update the electronic equipment at the library.
LLPA and the library are also collaborating in other community service projects. LLPA has been actively involved in trying to improve the living conditions of the local community. LLPA and the local library have work together in well waters testing and in the nationwide campaign “Let’s Do it Romania!” for public service.
LLPA and the library has now applied for funding through the TechCamp Bucharest. The event, held in December of 2011, aimed at increasing the digital library of NGOs in Romania that are working on improving the lives of marginalized populations in the region. Their project, “Our Library: An Education Workshop”, is dedicated to update the local library IT structure though the creation and new services for the community.
Funding through the TechCamp opportunity will be used to install three computers in the library and to provide basic computer skills training to 30 local children and the resident librarian. LLPA volunteers will also provide regular trainings at the library for visiting patrons.
“Having computers for the first time at our facilities will help bring an added value to the library. It will stop being a place where you only come to borrow books and start being what it really is: a place where you can find information either in books or online,” said Roxana Chiazim.
Mrs. Stanciu from LLPA also has high expectations from the project. “This project is only the beginning. We want an active, live library, that’s present in the community, connected to the online world, a host for educational events, and initiator for impactful actions and able to generate new opportunities for our community,” she stated.
TechCamp is a program under Secretary Clinton’s Civil Society (CS) 2.0 initiative – an effort to galvanize the technology community to assist civil society organizations (CSOs) across the globe by providing capabilities, resources and assistance to harness the latest information and communications technology (ICT) advances to build their digital capacity.
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IT programming is one of the most rapidly growing professions in Ukraine and in the world. Recognizing this reality, a patron of the Hersta Central Raion Library has offered free IT lessons to schoolchildren. The initiative, led by retired IT teacher Illya Avasyloae, seeks to create an IT school at the library where children can learn PHP, HTML, and CSS program coding.
The initiative started in September 2012, when Avasyloae volunteered to start offering free basic software lessons at the library on the weekends. Since then, the classes have become one of the most popular services of the Hersta Library.
Illya recognized the potential of the library as a place to host the IT school. After discussions with Olena Myhai, the library director, he received her full support for the project. “This project gave us an opportunity to convene school kids for fun and learning during their out-of-school time,” said Olena.
The courses are offered free of charge to the community and there are no prerequisites or required readings. The course it is aimed to attract children that are interested in learning PHP programming and provide them with a solid foundation in the PHP language through theory and practice.
“We wanted to and get the children to the library to show them that computers are not just toys, but that they can create with them. Since the computers already have all the necessary software, the only thing that you really need is someone that tells them how to use them,” said Avasyloae.
Avasyloae and Myhai have great plans for the IT school. Along with the students, they plan to create a web portal for the town of Hertsa to feature content on local history, notable residents, and art. “My plan is to reach out to local authorities to gather support for the initiative. We can provide them the website for free if they support the IT school in other ways,” he mentioned.
IT skills are becoming increasing important in the era of digitalization and technology. Initiatives such as the Hertsa IT School are one of the many ways in which libraries are helping citizens develop valuable skills for the future.
Namibia is a unique country. It is the second least densely populated country in the world, with 2.3 million people living in a space twice the size of Germany. Namibia is a very young country, having gained independence from South Africa in 1990 after years of apartheid repression. Despite having the highest GINI Coefficient in the world (70.3), the Government of Namibia spends 7% of its GDP on education.
This landscape positions the 74 community libraries of the country as a crucial link in empowering development. Currently, as part of a partnership with the Finnish Library Association called Libraries for Development, all libraries in the country are provided with computers and IT training for library staff. Additionally, A Millennium Challenge Account – Namibia project is funding the construction of three regional study and resource centers to serve as regional library hubs. These centers will provide over 50 PCs for public access, over 10 000 titles in the print collection, and a mobile library unit. Upon completion of the three pilot centers, the Namibia Ministry of Education has committed to building centers in each of the additional 10 regions of the country.
IREX works as a key partner on the Millennium Challenge Account project. In September of 2012, IREX surveyed over 50% of the library staff in the country as part of an annual librarian summit. The goal of the survey was to determine the importance of IT services to Namibian library patrons, and to identify the key challenges facing library staff face in bringing technology to the population. 97% of respondents confirmed that their library had at least one computer for public access, indicating that basic IT infrastructure has reached to essentially every library in the country. 75% of respondents indicated that they are happy with the technology in their library, a fairly high satisfaction rate.
In self-assessing the IT skills of the average library patron, Namibian librarians indicate that around 85% have basic IT skills, but less than 3% reach the intermediate level. Additionally, 92% of librarians surveyed indicated that IT services such as typing, Internet, and computer classes were the most requested services at their library. The survey highlighted that the majority of Namibian library staff have regular access to a computer, and overwhelmingly are happy with it. The staff sees IT as crucial to improving the services their libraries can offer to the community.
Investment in libraries, both from foreign NGOs and by domestic spending, will see the number of library staff increase by over 50% over the next two years. The number of public access computers will increase by 600%. If this growth is coupled with a corresponding increase in library staff IT training, Namibia’s libraries will be well positioned to offer modern services.
Modern libraries in Ukraine strive to provide services and workshops that address essential community needs, from increasing electoral literacy to promoting healthy lifestyles. Many of the most successful of these initiatives are those implemented in partnerships with NGOs. In October, Bibliomist held a forum in Kherson with librarians and NGO professionals to create a platform to share these experiences and best practices, and promote increasing and ongoing partnerships between libraries and NGOs.
Many libraries in Ukraine are unaware of the existing opportunities to collaborate with NGOs, and others lack the experience to develop new projects through out-of-sector partnerships. Similarly, NGOs acknowledge that they have not sufficiently reached out to libraries as an ally for promoting their causes and sharing information with the public.
More than 50 civil society representatives, including librarians, participated in the event. During the forum, libraries and NGO professionals came to understand how they can partner effectively to provide valuable services and information to the public. For example, the Mediation Group, an NGO committed to promoting peaceful interactions and reducing conflict sparked the interest of several libraries that hope to host workshops on conflict resolution techniques for children from orphanages and vulnerable groups. Several libraries were also inspired by the environmental promotion work of Kherson’s Yednannia Foundation and health promotion work of Mykolaiv’s Indigo Foundation, and have already initiated plans to host information and outreach activities in their communities.
Librarians from Mykolaiv, Kherson, Kirovograd, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts were inspired by the NGO Ukrainian House and the book donation and exchange campaigns that it has held with other libraries, and hope to replicate the partnership in their communities. “In villages and towns, libraries are becoming the only cultural center; they need a lot of input from different organizations,” concluded H. Dolnyk, director of Ukrainian House.
Ms. Petrenko, from the NGO Youth Center for Regional Development has partnered with libraries to promote hum
an rights awareness, and she reflected on the valuable role that libraries play in supporting her Center’s work: “We are using libraries’ technical resources and facilities for educational trainings on human rights. We are now stocking the library with legal literature to hold regular trainings for youth.” Petrenko added: “We are always open to new partnerships and we will be happy to support initiatives of librarians because they know what needs to be done in their community.
The forum proved that libraries and NGOs are eager to work together to launch common projects and initiatives. As these partnerships continue, the Bilbiomist program will continue to share success stories to inspire the development of similar partnerships in other regions of Ukraine.