Archive for the ‘development’ Category

Last November I had the chance to sit with a group of 20 librarians, technologists, NGO workers, and ministry representatives in Accra, Ghana for a discussion about models of accessing information and the potential role of public libraries to power development objectives.

Participants shared anecdotes about recent or current development projects that involve partnerships with public libraries. Ibrahim Inusah, from the Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS) spoke of a project where GINKS and a library collaborated to develop an in-library resource center for fisherman. Unfortunately, GINKS is no longer in regular contact with the library and could not say if the resource center continues to operate.

Aaron Kuwornu shared his experience implementing a Public Library Innovation Project (PLIP) in partnership with NGO Savannah Signatures at his library in Tamale, located in the northern region of Ghana. The project focuses on ICT training and leadership skills for youth. Implementing the project and partnering with an NGO was a learning process, according to Kuwornu. In fact, they had to switch implementing partners. But the relationship with Savannah Signatures has led to rapid implementation of program activities, as well as spin-off activities. Savannah Signatures now hosts monthly technology salon discussions at the library, each one focusing on a different emerging technology and open to all community members.

The most common theme of the discussion was the need to reorient that status of the library, to make it reflective of the times. The technologists and NGO representatives readily offered their service for libraries, saying “just ask us for ways to make it relevant.”

An ongoing challenge in Ghana is the need for repackaged information. High illiteracy rates and linguistic diversity mean that any one information product has to be adapted for different audiences. Community radio stations are frequently employed to work around these issues, but libraries can also have a place in helping citizens access and understand information from a wider variety of sources.

Everyone agreed that, if modernized, public libraries can act as hubs for information related to livelihoods, health, and could even become centers of distance learning. All participants expressed concern, though, that many public libraries may not have the capacity to go into partnership. There was also agreement that NGOs can sometimes be difficult partners, as evidenced by the PLIP experience in Tamale.

The participating NGO representatives and technologists clearly saw opportunities for partnership and the potential value of public libraries. Kafui Prebbie from TechAIDE shared his organization’s approach to working with NGOs and partners: start with a stakeholder analysis and move to clearly outlined objectives. Understanding stakeholder needs and then making sure stakeholders understand how an initiative will meet those needs are keys to success for tech programs, a strategy that Prebbie said is transferable to libraries.

The representative of Esoko, a software company that has developed a mobile platform for disseminating agricultural information to farmers, spoke about the similar concept of information dissemination between the Esoko platform and public libraries: using networks and contacts to get to thousands of people. As he said, the infrastructure exists in public libraries, libraries just need to be linked together with development projects. “At the end of the day, it’s the country that benefits.”

One participant went so far as to suggest that donor agencies should require that certain projects partner with libraries. In a follow-up discussion about whether or not participants felt that was a realistic expectation, some felt that some donors are interested in partnership but a library partnership requirement might limit projects. Others said that instead of waiting for donors to specifically include libraries in solicitations, libraries themselves must reach out to donors so they understand the value of public libraries and the role they have and can continue to play in connecting citizens with the information they need to improve their lives.


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Among the challenges facing the Kenyan libraries I visited last week, attracting more users was not one of them.  Seats are a hot commodity in even the 4 floors of Buru Buru’s library, the newest in the Kenya National Library Services (KNLS) system, which welcomes upwards of 3000 people per day where no library existed less than a year ago. Little more than a quiet space and a small book collection seem to do the trick of drawing in library users.

Occupied seats, however, do not suffice as an adequate benchmark for measuring the value libraries bring to Kenyan communities. EIFL’s report on the perceptions of Kenyan libraries revealed that users are asking for more IT services and specialized information from their libraries. The challenge for these cash-strapped libraries is to satisfy user demands while also reaching out to Kenyans who are either unaware of library services or unable to take advantage of them. KNLS Director Richard Atuti estimates that the combined total of libraries run between KNLS, local authorities, and local organizations, does not exceed 150. These 150 libraries are not adequate to meet the information service needs of Kenya’s 40 million people.

Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) Knowledge Center in Kenya, photo by flickr user @Gates Foundation

Last Tuesday, I listened to the experiences of 22 librarians, telecommunications representatives, and development professionals who are intimately aware of the challenges of using limited resources to meet the diverse information needs of the Kenyan population.

Early in our conversation, participants voiced the need for greater partnership and collaboration to provide greater information accessibility to Kenyans- both in terms of the distance they must travel for resources and in the ways in which information is accessed. While some centers are the only accessible public information point for miles, there are instances of competition between information centers that can detract from their common mission. Partnerships can result in at least two critical advantages.

1. Better service of information needs: A center is most attractive when it offers a wide range of topical information through a variety of mediums. An illiterate person may think they have no place in a library unless it offers options such as audio materials, paired assistance from librarians or experienced users, or community events. Furthermore, people prefer consuming information in different ways. A story was shared about a community’s weekly radio program that was produced by reading a script aloud over the air. One community member, despite having radio access, would come into the station every week after the program so that he could borrow the script. He simply preferred reading information instead of listening to the radio. When organizations partner to provide information access, they may be able to offer more information channels and greater specialized technical expertise.

2. Sustainability: All informational centers struggle with limited resources- whether it is an IT center started by a Member of Parliament, a KNLS community library in building donated by local authorities, or a community organization that secured a one-time grant. Partnerships are the best hope for creating vibrant sustainable centers. Pooling resources, maintaining community support, advocating to government officials, and pursuing a diversity of financial support extends the life of a center.

Kenya has a vibrant national library system but there are also impressive organizations providing library-like centers in areas beyond the reach of the KNLS system. As the efforts to expand and strengthen information access opportunities for Kenyans continue, how can these forms of expertise come together?

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Libraries in Kenya

Kenya has become an impressive lab for ICT4D initiatives. In the Nairobi airport’s arrival hall, the glow of orange and white Safaricom signs is a reminder of one of Kenya’s most successful innovations, M-Pesa. Safaricom introduced M-Pesa in 2007, a mobile system that allows users to track their finances, make payments, and transfer money with the ease of a text message. While Kenya resonates with the mobiles for development community, Kenyan libraries do not have such recognition.

This week, I’m in Kenya for discussions about libraries and what role they can play in an environment with little of a reading culture, low computer literacy, and 99% of internet traffic taking place through mobile devices. I’ll be blogging about the release of EIFL’s report on perceptions of Kenyan public libraries as well as discussions with members of the Kenyan government, development, technology, and library communities involved in lowering barriers for accessing information.

Somewhere along an aimless amble around Nairobi yesterday, I found myself walking in stride next to James. James is attending university to become a tour director and was eager to speak to someone who appeared to be connected to Kenya’s tourism industry. After we played the guessing game about where I’m from, I explained that I’m here not for a safari, but to study Kenyan libraries. He was perplexed why I would want to go to a library if I was not a student, but he proudly explained that his home village does have a library. He has visited his town library once.

In the context of EIFL’s report, James demonstrated common attitudes towards libraries but does not represent the 72% of Kenyan males who are library users.  Furthermore, 87% of library users visit the library at least weekly.  James associates libraries with students, just as over 90% of Kenyans see educational purposes as the primary reason for visiting a library. Perhaps he was being eager to please someone who clearly had a connection to libraries, but James’s pride over his town’s library would be typical as well. Libraries are considered essential or important to the community by 98% of users and 93% of nonusers, but nonusers see the library as less essential to them as an individual.

The fact that James’s town does have a community library is fairly significant if it is one of the 58 libraries associated with the Kenya National Library Service (KNLS). To compensate for the limited reach of KNLS, libraries and community centres have sprung up across Kenya thanks to the dedication of local organizations. The total number of Kenyan libraries, including those not networked with KNLS, is unknown.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s event – a discussion of the EIFL findings – to learn more about libraries in Kenya.  And to make sure I’m interpreting the statistics correctly!

(November 7 @ 1:15 PM EST Updated with corrected statistics.)

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The upcoming November 9 Technology Salon will focus on sustainable approaches to public access to information and will feature Sandra Fried, program officer in the Global Libraries program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Catalina Escobar, director of Makaia, part of the Digital Medellin project.

From the event description:

Access to information has been part of the development discussion since the Internet arrived. Previously, many saw community telecenters as the way to bring technology to the developing world. Yet telecenters are not sustainable without donor funding and the concept of public access hasn’t kept pace with advancing technology.

The global penetration of mobile phones calls into question the need for public Internet access at all. Until you realize that mobile devices are limited in functionality and there is more development information than is convenient for a phone screen – such as government open data and transparency initiatives.

So the question remains: how can people participate? It is time to reconsider the question of public access. What works today? What makes most sense for the future?

Full details and RSVP information.

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We’ve followed with enthusiasm the new global focus on open government. Barack Obama launched the Open Government Partnership in New York in September, an international initiative which aims to highlight the importance of public information and transparency in democratic governance. Among the countries who have applied to join the partnership include Ukraine, Romania and Moldova – three countries where we are working on library development programs.

Our colleague Anna Taranenko from the Bibliomist program in Ukraine recently attended the Open Government Data camp in Warsaw, where she networked with activists from around the world on the issues and challenges surrounding open government. At the camp, she encountered amazing people from around the world working to help governments become more transparent and engage more with citizens. She noted some common challenges, however, especially in developing countries. Uptake is an issue. Despite the resources being put into public data and websites that give unprecedented visibility to government spending and statistics, there’s some disappointment and confusion about how to get people beyond the few activists making use of the new tools.

This matches what we’ve been noticing about much of the discussion around open government. It focuses on technology, on tools, and on data. Governments often see releasing public data as the final step, or hackathons and tech camps as a solution for the question of how information is used. There’s no questions all these pieces have their place, but there’s a gap in the discussion. What about access? If we’re talking about developing countries, where most people don’t have their own computers or smartphones, how are they being included in these efforts?

Opening a new public access point at Plebanivka library in Ukraine. Young patrons and a local official surf the internet.

We’re thinking about how libraries belong in this discussion. In countries with public library systems, institutions dedicated to the idea of access to information already exist. With the right technology and training, we’ve seen how libraries can become community centers where those otherwise excluded can become aware of, access, and learn how to use the information that’s available. They get a chance to participate in development process that they’ve never had before. If you’re talking about open government, you can’t just be talking about the hackers and the data. You have to be talking about access.

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OCDCamp SignOn October 20-22 I took part in Open Government Data Camp (Warsaw), which is the world’s biggest open data event.

I was really impressed by the number of participants – over 300 people from over 40 countries: NGO activists, programmers, public servants, journalists, businessmen. I also appreciated the unique venue style – former Warsaw factory turned into a club served as a perfect location for techies’ gathering.

The range of topics discussed and projects presented at the Camp was very diverse: open data and transparency, crowdsourcing open data, open data as a tool for local government building ecosystems of open data innovations.

Powerful international institutions, such as the European Commission and the World Bank, took interest in the event. In particular, Ms. Neelie Croes, Vice President of the European Commission and European Digital Agenda Commissioner, in her video address stated that “public data…will help us address the challenges we face in areas such as transport, energy and health. The overall economic gain could amount to tens of billions of euros, every year.” An Open Data Strategy of the European Commission will be presented in November 2011.

I particularly liked the case of the Sunlight Foundation (the U.S.) intended to create accountability in government, the Albanian open government initiative which has become an important online tool on economy, demography, geography for the entire Balkan region, a Dutch case – open data activists managed to advocate for passing Open Data Motion in the town of Enschede. In Brazilian case “Hackers for Transparency” movement within one year managed to establish good working relationship with City Council of Sao Paulo and the Ministry of Science and Technology, initiated Federal Open Data Portal and got the Minister of Science and Technology to say that “hackers are good.”

One of the most productive events, in my opinion, was Open Data for Development: Open Space Session, where we discussed such topics as open data in developing countries: international involvement, open data manuals, building blocks. Possible solutions are to take Open Data conference to developing countries, provide more scholarships to support developing country participants, hold Open Data exchanges, foster cooperation between neighboring countries.

And, finally, some recommendations on open government data development:

  • constant work with government, even though it is very time-consuming
  • economic relevance and statistics are a key argument
  • visualizations are a powerful tool
  • citizens, journalists and governments need to be educated more on open data topics.
  • it is important to build an ecosystem
  • open data platforms should be intended for ordinary citizens, not intermediaries or partner organizations
  • open data should become a part of education system: scraping tools for students, wiki, success stories, apps contests, open data school manuals; contest among local schools, e.g. government provides funding to those schools, which put some of their data online.
  • run hackathons to mobilize people. Hackfest 2011 is planned for December 3, every country is invited to participate.

As campers said, one of key success formulas is “Think Big, Start Small,” so more developments are certainly to follow!

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Back from sunny Crimea to rainy Kyiv now, but with great impressions of the Young Library Leaders’ School.

The last day of the School was dedicated to trainings on strategic planning / advocacy and monitoring and evaluation of library work. The librarians practiced their skills creating strategies for library development in small and large groups. One important point was defining advocacy targets: being very specific and not addressing a Ministry, for instance, with a particular request if decision makers of that concrete issue are regional or local politicians.


Topics discussed at the monitoring training were differences between monitoring and evaluation, criteria of efficient library work (combination of qualitative and quantitate indicators), and the importance of clear understanding of an evaluation scale.

At the closing session the librarians expressed their gratitude and stated that they were full of ideas and eagerness to start designing and implementing projects upon returning to their libraries. The first step will be holding a similar training on leadership, proposal writing, strategic planning, and advocacy in their respective libraries. Yaroslava Tytarenko, Bibliomist Capacity Development Coordinator, suggested to practice proposal writing skills and apply for Bibliomist Public Access Contest and Community Development Contest (CPC) and to keep in touch with the help of social networks.

And one of the long-term strategic goals defined by this group was to meet again at the next Young Library Leaders’ School. As we know, when leaders set a goal, they never give up!

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