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Archive for the ‘Romania’ Category

Halfway on Biblionet

I’ve just arrived to Romania. Today, I had the chance to meet with nearly all the teams on the Biblionet staff. We’re 2 ½ years through the program – exactly half way – and after a long period spent setting up and refining systems, the program has really picked up momentum over the last year. There are currently more than 900 libraries in the Biblionet program, and we’ll hit 1000 towards the end of this year.

With such a critical mass of libraries with freshly trained librarians and providing internet access, there’s traction in the country to draw on these new resources at a national level. The Ministry of Agriculture is rolling out plans to train librarians in assisting farmers with signing up for farm subsidies through their online registration system (http://www.apia.org.ro/). Already this year, more than 17,000 farmers have used library internet facilities to access this benefit. The Ministry of Health is also starting to see libraries as partners for its health education efforts, including a series of roundtable discussions as part of their reproductive health campaign. A series of public discussions on underage drinking at libraries are being sponsored by the Ministry of Health and the Ursus brewery.

When we started planning Biblionet four years ago, one of our long-term indicators of success was for libraries to be seen more broadly as institutions for community development – not just depositories of books. It was difficult to get organizations beyond the library and education sphere to listen to us and to librarians. Now, halfway through the program, it’s become a reality. It’s no longer only the Ministry of Culture who’s concerned with libraries, they’re starting to become a nationally-recognized resource for development.

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Library visits yield insight in Romania

This summer, IREX staff from Bucharest and our regional field offices visited almost 80 libraries that participated in the first round of Biblionet implementation. Now that librarians have gone through training and computer equipment has been installed, how are things going? The visits were an opportunity to talk with librarians and patrons about their experiences and find out what benefits and challenges they have encountered.

Librarians overwhelmingly reported that they have seen increased use and visibility for their library. Children and young adults are coming to do homework, people are searching for information about jobs and health, and community members are able to communicate with family and friends abroad. Staying in touch with those far away has been especially appealing to the elderly, and some librarians have hosted targeted trainings for senior citizens as well as special topics like traffic rules.

All of this is happening under the shadow of the ongoing economic crisis. Local governments have been asked to cut spending, and libraries are undergoing cuts in salaries and operating hours. Biblionet is working with librarians and local authorities to develop creative solutions to reduced library hours, and librarians believed that the increased profile they have gained through the program is helping them advocate for the importance of maintaining library services.

The visits provided insights into how the program is functioning and how libraries can be supported, especially in the current economic climate. Biblionet plans to continue visiting libraries to lend support, reinforce the ongoing nature of the program, and collect the great ideas and activities that librarians have come up with to share with their colleagues.

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librarian, mobile phone, and computer

We recently invited Laura Walker Hudson from FrontlineSMS and Sean McDonald from FrontlineSMS: Legal to conduct a two-day training for librarians from Ukraine and Romania. Laura and Sean introduced librarians to FrontlineSMS software over a two-day period and showcased different projects around the world that have been using mobile phones. The second day was devoted to a brainstorming session where after learning all the functionality that FrontlineSMS software offers, participants designed their own projects with the integration of mobile technology. Below are a few of the recommendations and lessons learned that might be useful and interesting to those who plan to integrate mobile technology into libraries:

  • Break Existing Stereotypes: Often, when people hear integration of mobile technology into projects, businesses, or work, they are quick to associate mobile tech with countries that are underdeveloped, poor, and lack infrastructure and education. People don’t necessarily think about their own personal usage and habits, or how often they or their friends, colleagues, family, and people around them use their mobile phones and what a powerful tool it could be for organizations such as libraries. In addition, people often think of mobile phones and the internet as two contradictory things. If penetration of one of these are growing then there is no need for the other one. I listened to archived recording of Joe Murphy’s presentation on Creating Future of Mobile Library Services that he gave for the third online Handheld Librarian conference which was really refreshing and interesting and I recommend it to those who are trying to persuade libraries that mobiles are important.
  • Use Examples from Developed Countries: Why should libraries start thinking about mobile phones? At the training Laura mentioned that mobile phone penetration in Ukraine is over 100%. The goal of libraries is to provide information to people and information does not just come from books, journals, and newspapers anymore. Libraries need to serve their customers and if customers have a device that they carry with them 24/7, then libraries should think about how that device could be used to provide information to customers. I recently attended training by Helen Blowers who is a Director of Digital Strategy for the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML). In 2010 this library became “Library of the Year.” This library thinks about its customers first and wants to be sure that if they walk in and ask for a specific service they are ready for it. As an example, they have already developed a mobile catalog and are now working on a library app for mobile phones. Showing examples from developed countries and how even with higher internet penetration mobile phones still matter may make libraries in developing countries look at mobile technology differently.
  • Who is Your Audience? At the training based on the sample project designs, it was interesting to see that most of the trainees concentrated on the existing users that they have in the libraries. Mobile devices could also be useful for libraries in order to reach out to those in the community who are unlikely to come to the library on their own, and use it as a tool to bring them into the library. Often, when new tools and programs are introduced and people start to design projects with the integration of that tool, people and their problems get lost. It is important to first start with identifying community needs and then applying technology to meet those needs. By thinking about problems that libraries face and then thinking about how potential tools such as FrontlineSMS could help solve some of those issues and problems a more effective solution can be reached.
  • Local Language Content: Tools or software is not relevant to many people unless there is information developed in a local language to enable them to use it. I often forget that if it wasn’t for the English language, I myself would be removed from many useful tools and software that I use. With that in mind, in preparation for the FrontlineSMS training and with recommendation from Laura, the most important resources were translated into Ukrainian and Romanian languages. IREX also translated the FrontlineSMS “Help” files which should be available to public soon. IREX GL staff decided to open a community blog at http://bibliomobile.blogspot.com/ where resources in Russian or Ukrainian related to mobiles for library will be shared with others.

Currently all trainees are back in their hometowns and continuing to develop their projects which will then be submitted for a potential funding opportunity with the most innovative project receiving financial assistance from the GL program. I personally have been a huge fan of FrontlineSMS as it has been effective for many projects around the world and the training that Laura and Sean conducted was really interesting and helpful. We look forward to seeing what types of projects will be developed by librarians… stay tuned for more updates on the m-library projects.

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Arriving in a new place is always an adventure, by which I mean, when one arrives with the goal of exploration – as is the purpose of any good research – then one must also be prepared for a “trial of one’s chance, or of an issue; a hazard, venture, or experiment”.1 In essence, you must be prepared to try.

Descending upon Bucharest from the metal-sky-beast and feeling the occlusive heat, dense in its scouring gaze, I was all too sweltry. That it is to say, it was too darn hot.

Romania Biblioteca Nationala

Romania Biblioteca Nationala in Bucharest by @librarian

So it was a relief to drive out nearly 200km south-west of Bucharest to the city of Râmnicu Vâlcea, which is the capital of Vâlcea county, and – after dropping off the gear at my temporary place of abode – get out into the countryside.

My research here in Romania involves one of my most favourite things in the entire world: talking to librarians. However, since my Romanian language skills are somewhat limited (better than my Japanese, in which I cannot understand a word, but not so good as my French, in which I can argue back and forth with you about the relative merits of running a mobile poetry library a la Paris Plage if you’d like) this means that I require the solid and indefatigable help of a translator. (more…)

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Dispatch from Romania

Meghan GahertyI am one week into my two weeks of fieldwork researching the Community Participation Contest. I’ve spent the first week in Judet Vrancea, in the beautiful region of Moldova. I have been overwhelmed by the hospitality of the libraries I have visited, and everyone has been eager to share their experiences. Most days are filled with interviews, tours and discussions about everything from Romanian rap music to recruiting volunteers for libraries, but the librarians of Vrancea have made sure to give me a chance to put down my notebook and see the area.

Yesterday I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit the commune of Naruja to learn about their library and the culture and history of the area. Once we arrived, I was surprised to learn that we were invited to participate in the presentation! Here I am being outfitted in a traditional ensemble by the librarian of the commune. After this, we enjoyed a performance by some very talented students and had a full day of sightseeing and conversation. I will leave Vrancea tomorrow with fond memories, and can’t wait to see what’s next!

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The New York Times published an interesting piece this weekend called Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality. The article reviewed three studies that suggest that providing low-income students with a personal computer does not lead to increased academic achievement, and actually appears to have a negative impact on their grades in school. This research was done in Romania, North Carolina and Texas between 2004-2009.

Although this article deals with personal computers rather than computers in libraries, I found it thought-provoking. As a former middle school teacher and future librarian, the digital divide and its impact on education is of great interest to me. It is difficult to come to any conclusions without reviewing the studies individually, but it has raised some questions that I think are worthy of discussion.

The idea that giving someone a computer will be a panacea for their problems is something that I think most people see as being overly simplistic. At the same time, access to information is vital for the well-being of individuals and society, and more and more of that information has moved online. When job applications can only be submitted electronically, or homework assignments require use of the internet, those without access to technology are at a huge disadvantage. There are a variety of ways that the digital divide is being addressed, but what happens when the results of expanding access are unexpected?

The studies found that having a personal computer did not improve the educational achievements of adolescents. In Romania, scores in English, math and Romanian decreased, while in Texas writing scores dropped. One suggested reason is that teens are using the computers for games and entertainment, decreasing the time they have available for studying.  The educational value of gaming and how to measure outcomes that may not be reflected in quantitative statistics like grades are both important debates, but what I want to know most is how information literacy and training was built into these programs.

Like any of us, secondary students are adept at finding distractions on the internet. Educators respond by blocking entertainment and social networking sites, with the unintended consequence of teaching teens how to get around those barriers. If students are expected to use the computers for complex tasks like finding and evaluating sources for research or developing multimedia presentations, training in information literacy is essential. We can’t confuse the high interest that young people often show for technology with an innate understanding of how to use that technology to extend their learning.

This training and guidance has a natural home in libraries, both in schools and communities. It is quite possible that the programs that these studies examined included a training component, but as we consider if closing the digital divide may widen the achievement gap, I think a natural place to look is how educators and students are being taught to use new technologies to support classroom activities. The suggestion that home computers may be disproportionately harmful to the achievement of low-income students is troubling, but rather than discounting investment in improved access to technology in low-income communities, it demonstrates how important it is to consider and plan for what comes after the computers are delivered.

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Travelling internationally and running the gamut of visa regulations and officialdom is luckily something I’m quite used to, so I’m happy to report that I, the final IREX International Librarianship Fellow, have arrived safe and sound, albeit a week later than my US-based colleagues. Hitting the ground running is additionally something I regularly partake in, so within 24 hours of arrival I’d become a member of D.C. Public Libraries and also discovered the benefits of Dupont Circle Farmers Market – free leftover spinach pastries – thus, to coin an appropriate Americanism: Awesome!

Alongside my fellow Fellows (so to speak) Margaret and Meghan -and their individual research topics- I will be spending this summer investigating Romanian public libraries and the role of the public librarian, with the additional aim of unifying our respective research projects to negotiate this fascinating terrain of bordering territories: Ukraine and Romania, through the lens of public library development.

My personal public librarianship ethos is founded on a very simple principle: I see public libraries as the bedrock of world citizenship, and I’d like to posit that by nurturing and appropriately tending this organic mind-seed that we thereby nurture and tend ourselves. I’m inspired by the work of IREX in its many incarnations, and am very much looking forward to participating in evolving the work of the Global Libraries programme, which, at its end-user point, aims to “help all people lead healthy, productive lives.”[1] In particular, my research focuses around unfurling such aims in the context of public libraries and public librarians.

Arguably, at the core of what we mean when we cite social capital as part and parcel of civil society are the intangibles which make up a healthy, productive citizenry: trust, respect, sharing and reciprocity… All these, and more, are values which are fundamental to the library science domain and which we’ve been encouraged to accommodate via traditional forms of measures and analysis. How we tangibly assess and quantify such intangibles, is, of course, still part of an ongoing debate, and my research here at IREX will negotiate this metrical landscape. The work of the librarian scholar, S. R. Ranganathan, particularly informs my research and philosophies, and so Library Science Law #5, ‘The Library is a Growing Organism’ has influenced me to concentrate on investigating how the growth of a public library system in Romania may affect the development of professional networks, skill-sharing and community engagement initiatives by, between and among Romanian public librarians. I’m interested to see how growth-lines and growth-factors can be mapped in this process, and how this may help us understand the development of the public library system through the theory of organisms as living systems, with their own subsystems and processes which may be interdependent, in flux, and adaptive.

Library as cell-life: a cycle

Library as cell-life: a cycle by @librarian


[1] ‘Planning for impact, assessing for sustainability’, S. Fried, M. Kochanowicz, M. Chiranov, Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 11 No. 1, 2010, pp. 56-74

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