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.