Archive for the ‘development’ Category

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.


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To the extent that the U.S. has made progress on digital inclusion is due largely to public libraries. However, if large scale, strategic progress is to be made, libraries cannot do it alone. Libraries have to build partners across other government agencies, non-profits, and businesses.

Ron Carlee from the International City/County Management Association sharing his thoughts on digital inclusion from the perspective of local government.

Carlee is speaking about libraries in the US, but this statement about partnership holds true in every country I have had the opportunity to visit. All of the great libraries I have visited (and I don’t mean great as in beautiful buildings, I mean great as in thriving, community responsive, community-owned institutions) have mastered partnership.

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Library space design has been a challenge for many Ukrainian libraries. Often hosted in old buildings with uncomfortable furniture and no heat in winter, many libraries do not come across as cozy and welcoming spaces to their users. Frequently an open layout of shelves and tables is overlooked, which contributes to the “unwelcome” look of libraries filled with stacks of books instead of  space for users to socialize, hold meetings and serve as a “third space.” These issues are key factors affecting library visitation in Ukraine.

The librarians visited the new Philological Library at the Free University in Berlin.

Fortunately, many Ukrainian librarians recognize the importance of modern library space design, and Vinnytsia Regional Scientific Library is leading an initiative to address these challenges. The Designing for Harmony and Success project  (http://bit.ly/H5TO1G) is focused on the modernization of the library’s space through researching best international and Ukrainian practices, compiling the findings into a handbook, and offering training for Ukrainian librarians. To do this, the library has already forged partnerships with local designers, as well as the city public library in Berlin, Germany.

I had an opportunity to accompany a Learning Library project team headed by library director Natalya Morozova on a study trip to Germany on March 13-15, 2012. Taking advantage of the existing partnership with the Central City and Regional Library in Berlin (also known as ZLB, http://bit.ly/HfPmKu), the Ukrainian librarians traveled to Berlin to learn more about German libraries and their design, meet with leading library interior designers and architects to collect information and gain even more inspiration to implement innovative library space design methods back home and transform Ukrainian libraries into more vibrant, welcoming spaces for users.

Over three working days the group visited nine German libraries, including eight in the city of Berlin and one outside the city, in Eastern Germany, in a small town called Luckenwalde, where the library is located on the premises of a redesigned railway station: http://bit.ly/GGdjz7

Project team in Berlin Library

The Humboldt Box, part of the Humboldt Forum project, which brings together museums, Humboldt University, and the Central and Regional Library in Berlin.

One of the many highlights of the trip was visiting the public library in Adalbertstrasse in Berlin: http://bit.ly/GLq49W, which is located in a neighborhood populated by recent immigrants who often do not yet speak the language and need substantial support accessing information and overcoming a range of social challenges. The library has been recently renovated, and the architect who was responsible for this project, Ralf Fleckenstein, accompanied the group on the tour and shared design ideas, including materials, color scheme, furniture, and layout aimed at creating a welcoming space. The library served as an example of a multicultural center open for everyone, and showed us how it effectively responds to its users’ needs by providing a print collection in different languages, offering homework assistance, and holding a variety of community events. The team found this library especially interesting not only in terms of its design, but also in the services provided to the diverse local community.

The newly equipped public library in Adalbertstrasse in Berlin.

The Learning Library project team returned to Ukraine after brainstorming and identifying ways to adapt the experience to the Ukrainian context, and materials about German libraries will be included into their handbook  and training materials. One idea was to use mats on wide windowsills on the library’s top floor to attract more users with laptops to sit there and enjoy wi-fi access. Next, the team will look into changing the library floorplan to provide more space for social activities. The library will share its expertise with their colleagues at the Libraries and Community Development Fair, which will be held by Bibliomist and its partners on May 21-22, 2012 in Kyiv: http://bit.ly/GKz1wL More photos from the study trip are available on the Bibliomist Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/GLiz4e

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Citizen Access Point at Mykolayiv Kropyvnytskiy Library

A patron connects with her government online at the local library.

by Megan Volk, Bibliomist Senior Program Manager

Ask Ukrainians about the last time they’ve been to their local library and some may tell you about their days as a student bent over an open encyclopedia. But ask others and increasingly they will tell you how a visit to the library earned them money, saved them time, or just made their lives easier. Valentyna in Kirovograd may tell you how a librarian helped her find an error in her pension calculation, which she corrected to see an increase in her monthly payment. Viktor, a farmer from the village of Izmailivka, may tell you how he went online to use the Ukrainian Agricultural Portal to find a buyer willing to pay top dollar for his corn.  Iryna from Sumy may tell you about how she used the state employment service’s website to find a job at her local post office.

The Ukrainian government is taking steps to make the lives of citizens easier by placing access to services and information online. Unfortunately these efforts are undermined;  according to World Bank data from 2011 less than 6% of the population has a fixed Internet subscription. In late 2011, we conducted a survey that indicates that a large number of public libraries across the country are helping to bridge this divide by providing not only internet access, but assistance to patrons in utilizing e-governance services.

Based on completed questionnaires from 246 librarians working in libraries with computers and internet access across the country, 73% reported offering some kind of e-governance services. Of those offering such services, 97% help users access links to national and local level government and 48% report providing training to users on searching for government information online. Librarians report that patrons are most interested in information closely affecting their lives, with pensions topping the list: 97 percent of librarians responded that this was an issue of particular interest among their patrons.

Many libraries are not only helping patrons find the information they are looking for, but taking their efforts a step further and helping the government to develop and promote its new services to the public.  68% of those libraries offering e-governance services report cooperating with government officials in helping to disseminate information, and 17% report working with the government in the creation of online sites and tools. In some libraries the exchange of information is a two-way street, with 25% of those respondents reporting that they routinely provide government with feedback and suggestions from their patrons.  Of these, 18% (45 respondents) said the government acted on at least one of their suggestions. 44% of respondents report that their work in e-governance has improved their relationship with local officials.

In addition to serving as access points to e-governance information and tools, libraries also continue to serve as a physical meeting place, connecting citizens to their government officials and elected representatives. 72% of all respondents report holding roundtables in the library attended by government representatives, and 32% report holding seminars on different government policies and procedures led by experts in the respective field.

We’re excited to have the opportunity to share this information with our partners and demonstrate how powerful this collaboration between libraries and government can be as both work to connect citizens with the information they need.

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This is the second post about our new reporting tool in Ukraine, which uses Frontline SMS and GoogleDocs to track information that our regional representatives collect in the field.

Here is the link to Part 1

You can download the completed and documented script here.

I will now walk through the code itself and describe the purpose of each piece.  Unfortunately our blog can not currently imbed inline code, so I will just post images for the time being.  This is going to get into some basic computer code; just a warning.  If this sort of thing is new to you, these resources may be a simpler and more basic introduction to the same sort of tool that I built (first and second).  To get this tool running you will need to download a few things.  Thankfully they are all free.

  1. Download and install the latest version of Frontline:SMS
  2. Make sure you have the latest version of Python installed.  We will be working with the Google Data Python Library.  Follow the instructions found here to get things running.  You will need to have both Python and the Google Data Library.
  3. I recommend making sure that you can get a simple Python script to communicate with a Google Spreadsheet by following the hello world example, or by running some of the example programs that come with the Google Data Python Library.
  4. I also recommend making sure that you can install Frontline:SMS on your computer and get it sending and receiving text messages with your GSM modem before moving on.

Now that Frontline:SMS is up and running and you can get a Python script to connect to the Google Spreadsheet API, lets work on coding something that links the two together.  This code represents just one way to accomplish this, and is by no means perfect or optimized.  However, it does get the job done.  Open up my script (found here) with your favorite editor and lets walk through the different portions.


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Green Library in Romania – Update!

Last summer, Ari wrote about the green library project currently underway in Romania, an initiative of Biblionet and the Romania Green Building Council. Here’s a lovely new video that documents the progress made on the building. The library isn’t quite finished – it’s slated to reopen in May 2012 – but it’s getting there!

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Yesterday, I had the fortune to moderate a salon at IREX’s office in Chisinau on the theme of libraries and open government. As we are getting ready to start the Global Libraries program in Moldova, we hosted the informal gathering in order to start a discussion about where libraries fit as more of Moldova’s government services and information goes online. We were joined by colleagues from civil society, USAID, Moldova’s e-government center and the library community.

There’s considerable momentum behind e-government in the country now, and the e-government center is getting ready to roll out nearly two hundred new online services. The challenge is ensuring demand for these services so that they become institutionalized – streamlining government and making it more transparent and responsive, while strengthening the sustainability and viability of e-government as an approach for Moldova. While there was discussion of hiccups with past efforts, the group was optimistic about the viability of libraries as a delivery mechanism. Much of the focus in the past has been on supply – the creation of services – and there is recognition that it’s equally important at this point to consider the demand side of the equation.

There was discussion around ideas on the types of services that would serve as ‘easy wins’ on both sides – both easy to create and sustain from the e-government side, but also easy to explain and use from the user side. There was acknowledgement that such early services must be carefully considered to fill a gap in information and deliver a tangible benefit. Paul-Andre Baran, the director of the Biblionet program in Romania, shared the example of libraries’ cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture in his country, which is connecting farmers to online subsidy applications through libraries. Whereas this application process used to take up at least two days of a farmer’s time in travel to the local government office to get information and then return with a completed application, the online version completed at libraries saved Romanian farmers more than 34,000 days in 2011. More than 20,000 farmers collected more than €15m in subsidies by visiting their libraries.

Participants in the salon related to this example as illustrative of the efforts that need to be made in Moldova and thought agriculture might be a good place to start. The Ministry of Agriculture has a wide-reaching extension service as well as a payments agency similar to the one in Romania, but access to information for farmers is still a challenge. With agriculture making up a significant part of the Moldovan economy, services that can improve farmers’ lives are high on the agenda when considering public support and uptake. Other services prioritized by the group included online access to documentation and registration, broader tax filing services (limited online tax filing is already available), communication with local government and education information. One point made was that the most important services are the ones currently most captured by corruption. With Moldova currently in 112th place on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, this is a salient issue.

A representative from the Moldovan Library Association expressed that Moldova’s libraries are ready to step up to the challenge. Previous projects have brought computers and new services to libraries based on the initiative of librarians, though in many cases, equipment has languished due to lack of local government support. In the upcoming program, she believed that government support was the key to sustainability – an aspect that’s baked into the Global Libraries approach.

There is clearly a long way to go in making open government and e-government a reality for Moldova. Discussions like these, where stakeholders and implementers with resources gather to exchange opinions and learn from each other are essential to ensuring the effort succeeds for the benefit of all Moldovans.

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