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.


Modern libraries in Ukraine strive to provide services and workshops that address essential community needs, from increasing electoral literacy to promoting healthy lifestyles. Many of the most successful of these initiatives are those implemented in partnerships with NGOs. In October, Bibliomist held a forum in Kherson with librarians and NGO professionals to create a platform to share these experiences and best practices, and promote increasing and ongoing partnerships between libraries and NGOs.

Many libraries in Ukraine are unaware of the existing opportunities to collaborate with NGOs, and others lack the experience to develop new projects through out-of-sector partnerships. Similarly, NGOs acknowledge that they have not sufficiently reached out to libraries as an ally for promoting their causes and sharing information with the public.

More than 50 civil society representatives, including librarians, participated in the event. During the forum, libraries and NGO professionals came to understand how they can partner effectively to provide valuable services and information to the public. For example, the Mediation Group, an NGO committed to promoting peaceful interactions and reducing conflict sparked the interest of several libraries that hope to host workshops on conflict resolution techniques for children from orphanages and vulnerable groups. Several libraries were also inspired by the environmental promotion work of Kherson’s Yednannia Foundation and health promotion work of Mykolaiv’s Indigo Foundation, and have already initiated plans to host information and outreach activities in their communities.

Librarians from Mykolaiv, Kherson, Kirovograd, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts were inspired by the NGO Ukrainian House and the book donation and exchange campaigns that it has held with other libraries, and hope to replicate the partnership in their communities. “In villages and towns, libraries are becoming the only cultural center; they need a lot of input from different organizations,” concluded H. Dolnyk, director of Ukrainian House.

Ms. Petrenko, from the NGO Youth Center for Regional Development has partnered with libraries to promote hum


an rights awareness, and she reflected on the valuable role that libraries play in supporting her Center’s work: “We are using libraries’ technical resources and facilities for educational trainings on human rights. We are now stocking the library with legal literature to hold regular trainings for youth.”  Petrenko added: “We are always open to new partnerships and we will be happy to support initiatives of librarians because they know what needs to be done in their community.

The forum proved that libraries and NGOs are eager to work together to launch common projects and initiatives. As these partnerships continue, the Bilbiomist program will continue to share success stories to inspire the development of similar partnerships in other regions of Ukraine.


So we’ve been talking about Beyond Access for a while now. This coming week is pretty big for us. Throughout the weekend, we’ve been welcoming teams of Beyond Access Members from around the world. For the next two days, we’re hosting an intense, high-energy Library Innovators Camp for those members. And on Wednesday, we’ve got the Local Alternatives for Global Development: Rediscovering Libraries event. Along with the organizing committee and a host of partners, we’ve been planning this for quite a while. To say we’re excited doesn’t begin to capture how we’re all feeling.

We hope that you’ll be there in person to participate, share, and learn with us. If you can’t make it, you can still follow along.

OK, deep breath everyone. Here we go.

Welcoming Beyond Access Members at the hotel

This week public library leaders and public officials from 43 African countries have gathered in Johannesburg for an African Public Libraries Summit. There’s a packed agenda, and our own Matej Novak is presenting on the Beyond Access initiative. From the conference website:

The rural farmer needs to connect with new markets to sell his crops. The start-up entrepreneur needs capital to launch her business. The community health worker needs up-to-date research to care for her patients. What they all have in common is a need for information. Today’s public library combines a trusted, local institution with information access that is critical to powering economic opportunity and community development.

Across Africa, libraries are transforming themselves to serve as platforms for development. To further this, on 19 September, the first-ever continent-wide convening of public library leaders and policymakers will meet under the theme of “Informing Africa, Developing Africa.” Over the course of three days, delegates will engage with each other to discuss the opportunities for creating successful, 21st century libraries that contribute to the development priorities of African communities, countries and continent.

Following along on twitter: #apls2012

From August 27th through the 30th, young librarians from ten countries are convening in Latvia to inspire each other, solve common issues, and develop skillsets related to advocacy, communications, and service/project design.

Yesterday, two consultants and library development experts from the United States, Helene Blowers and Nancy Davenport, led sessions on the “Modern Library.”  They explored what that concept means, how it is currently being exemplified in countries around the world, and how it can be adapted, implemented, and promoted throughout Eastern Europe and beyond.

Both speakers inspired the group to imagine new roles, tools and relationships for their institutions. Though they held separate sessions, several overlapping key themes emerged from both presentations in regards to the role of the modern library:

  • Modern library services should promote knowledge creation rather than knowledge consumption*. Unlike the library services of the past that focused on distributing books and research materials and a one-sided provision of information and resources, the modern library creates a space where patrons engage with information—process it, reflect on it, have conversations about it, and develop new ideas, conversations, and opportunities as a result of it.
  • Though libraries do play a valuable role in bringing the world to the community, they should focus even more on bringing the community to itself*. Modern libraries are community centers—they should reflect the needs, personality, and nuance of the community(ies) they service, and serve as a glue to bring disparate members of the community together.
  • Best practices in Monitoring and Evaluation tell us to focus on impact rather than outcomes.* Similarly, the modern library should not assess its value based on the quantity of services provided or number of people that walk through their door—but rather based on the true, long-term, substantive impact on the lives and livelihoods of community members.

Notably, none of the examples above explicitly mention new technologies. In her presentation, Helene Blowers noted that the most impactful changes in modern libraries are more philosophical than technical. Computers and internet access are incredibly important, but their real impact is felt in conjunction with targeted services that promote creativity, opportunity, and community-building. This potential can only be realized through the work of librarians.

The next few days will continue to challenge the librarian participants to envision their own modern library, and design for themselves a plan of execution to make that vision a reality. These 40+ men and women from Romania, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, Moldova, Botswana, Columbia, and Vietnam represent the next generation of librarians in their respective countries—they are passionate, they are knowledgeable, and they are poised to re-define librarianship.

A group of young librarians discuss ideas for new services in their libraries. Photo courtesy of Krzysztof Litynski.

*These key bolded terms are courtesy of Helene Blowers.

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.

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.