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Archive for the ‘libraryland’ 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.

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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.

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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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IFLA just released a report on the Building Strong Library Association’s Programme that the Ukrainian Library Association has been participating in. The report is a concise,  easy read and gives a solid overview of the six participating associations, their goals, achievements, and challenges.

I had the opportunity to participate in the February 2012 Berlin gathering of BSLA participants – I was there to talk about Beyond Access and brainstorm roles for library associations in tackling development goals – and was energized by the work and commitment of the association representatives. Organizational development was a universal priority, including development of association boards. Closely related was increasing the member base of the associations by providing services desired by the membership and the library community. A quick look over the BSLA report shows major successes in this area – Peru went from 230 to 392 members over a two year period, and Botswana from 51 to 126.

Of course, membership numbers are only a small part of the story. From the Lithuanians’ focus on supporting and engaging new professionals to the Cameroon representatives’ discussion of contributing to the Millennium Development Goals, it was clear that these motivated library associations are actively supporting librarians and advancing the library agenda in their home countries. Kudos to IFLA, the trainers, and the associations for big gains in a relatively short period of time.

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While it’s winter here in DC, reading about one of our favorite summer events is a happy reminder of the warmer months. Biblionet’s Anca Rapeanu and Cristina Vaileanu wrote this piece for the Latvian Librarian Association’s Youth Librarian blog explaining how the Summer School came about, what happens there, and what the librarians have accomplished so far. Thanks to LBB JSS for allowing us to excerpt it below.


Library Grows with me! Summer School for Young Romanian Librarians

The Summer School for Young Librarians is a joint initiative of the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) and the National Association of Librarians and Public Libraries in Romania (ANBPR), funded within the Biblionet Program. It started in 2010 and this year we organized the second edition.

Romanian new librarians, foto TIBRO (Tineri bibliotecari din România)

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The aim of the Summer School is to identify young librarians from public libraries across Romania who are able and committed to the profession, and to encourage their involvement in the development of a modern public library system in Romania. We had 3 main objectives:

  • to encourage proactive and innovative initiatives of young professionals in public libraries;
  • to encourage young professionals to be active in professional associations;
  • to create a proper framework for networking and sharing, innovation and collaboration among young professionals.
But, before describing in more details why and how it was organized, we want to provide some context. While libraries around the world are reinventing themselves, in Romania many libraries are only now beginning this journey. Also, cooperation and collaboration among library professionals is an aim not yet achieved. The new professionals, after being exposed to obsolete LIS curricula, armed with very few practical applications, enter into hierarchical and rather conservative organizational cultures, where experimentation is rare and promotion very difficult. This debut can result in loosing motivation and changing professions.

It’s not easy being a librarian in Romania. Especially if you work in a public library! And especially if you are young – in spirit or body! Public libraries in Romania are facing a lot of challenges: lack of proper buildings, legal framework is sometimes a burden, resistance towards new technologies and innovative approaches among librarians and the list can goes on and on. But the most relevant in this context are related to hierarchical and conservative organizational cultures and resistance to change. Given all these challenges, you can imagine it’s quite difficult for young librarians (and not only for them!) to accommodate the profession. For a young professional being librarian is a difficult job, with many challenges related primarily to one’s own mentality, but also to the collective perception. One must overcome the fears about her/his professional abilities, then attempt, through continuous professional training and consistency to evolve.

To find out how the summer school addresses these issues, read the full post on the LBB JSS blog. 

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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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Signage

A scary sign, via Flickr user @Litandmore

Our colleagues in the GL Poland program have taken a great approach to the oft discussed problem of awful signage in libraries.

In partnership with the association of graphic designers, the Polish team has launched a design contest called “direction: library” to create a “universal and easy to use visual identification system” for libraries. I especially like that there’s a stage of the contest for testing out the designs in libraries to see how well they really work.

This reminded me of Aaron Schmidt’s recent observations on the nationwide system of library signage in Mexico. Like Aaron, I see the benefits of consistent signage across libraries. It’s the same approach chain retailers use to help customers find their way through stores, even if they’re in a physical location that is totally new to them.

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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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