Building the Professional Library Infrastructure in Sierra Leone

Introduction

Developing countries are characterised in one way by shrinking economies. Sierra Leone is one such country that despite government and donor support, education has been a major challenge. The situation has been worsened, due to the fact that libraries have been neglected. According to the African Development Bank (ADB) Sierra Leone Country Office (2011), the total funds provided for education by the ADB/ADF finances up to 2010, was about US$ 22 million. The project supported the construction of Ninety Eight (98) primary schools, Fifty Four (54) Junior Secondary Schools (JSS), Eight (8) Vocational Skills Training Centres and Twelve (12) duplex housing blocks for teachers. The project also provided training for Four Thousand and Fifty (4,050) teachers. Teacher manuals were also made available. However, nothing was ever made available for library development. This neglect of libraries, means that libraries in Sierra Leone with limited resources, have to work together in order to meet the information needs of their users. One library may not be able to effectively and suitably meet the information needs of all its users. Library cooperation is therefore, urgently needed.

Library Scene in Sierra Leone

The country has all the different types of libraries; they range from public, academic, special to school libraries. In addition to these are information and resource or documentation centres that provide library and information services. Furthermore, there are museums, such as the National and the Peace Museums, and the National Archive which also provide information services.

However, the Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) which was established by an Act of Parliament in 1959 serves as the domain of the provision of library and information services in the country. It functions as both the National and a Public library. To date it has a Central library and headquarters located in Freetown, Regional branches in Provincial headquarter towns, and branches in all District towns, totaling twenty one (21) libraries [One (1) central and headquarter library, three (3) regional libraries, sixteen (16) branch libraries, and two (2) sub-branches].

Libraries in Sierra Leone are therefore, institutions for the storage and dissemination of information; are for users; they provide users with guides and other finding lists; they provide adequate access to the documents or records users may wish to consult; they have subject arrangement; and they are cost-effective.

Library Cooperation

The term cooperation describes the joint action of two or more parties for mutual benefit. Library cooperation means exchanging cataloguing records, building complementary collections, exchanging library materials by inter-library loan and document delivery service, joint purchasing of library materials or automated system, providing services to each others’ users. Library cooperation is also described as an agreement, combination, or group of libraries formed to undertake an enterprise beyond the resources of any one member.

There are different types of cooperative activities and some of the most popular activities are reciprocal borrowing, union catalogues or lists, photocopying services, cooperative reference service, delivery services, cooperative acquisition arrangements, subject specialisation in collection development, centralised cataloguing and card production, as well as central storage of materials.

Burgett, Harr and Phillips (2004) asserted that there is evidence that cooperation among libraries to share resources goes back to a long way, at least to the first half of the 13th century, when monasteries developed what we would today recognise as union catalogs of manuscripts to aid in their scholarly activities. Musana (1991) indicated that information resource sharing has been in existence as long as libraries and other types of information services. The existence of a library is itself a form of cooperation. Many libraries came into existence because a group of individuals with a common desire and aspiration wanted to put a collection of materials together for use by the group members. Historically, the driving force behind the evolution of resource sharing concept was the desire to satisfy the felt needs of the user population. Earlier, each library was an entity, serving or trying to serve the needs of its own users and purchasing materials to meet their primary needs.

Beenham and Harrison (1990) however noted that a combination of circumstances made it increasingly difficult for an individual library to be self-sufficient. These circumstances include:

a tremendous increase in knowledge and a corresponding growth in publishing;

the spread of education from primary to university level which lead to greater and more diverse demands on the public library services by a much more literate public;

the advance of technology with its effect on industry and commerce and the necessity for employers and employees to develop new skills and techniques; and

increased opportunities for travel and international economic cooperation, which demand up-to-date information about foreign countries.

Existing Library Cooperation in Sierra Leone

There has been increased pressure for libraries in Sierra Leone to cooperate, including plans to create networks thereby making way for resources to be available to users. As such what has obtained is as follows:

Lending of materials – libraries lend materials to each other officially and unofficially to help their users;

Donations – large libraries donate to smaller libraries materials mostly books for their users;

Photocopying – these are available in most libraries. The lending library will copy the needed material and send a copy to the requesting library without having to send the original;

Exchange of cataloguing data – cataloguing data is given to other libraries. The Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) provides its data to school libraries that cannot do this technical work properly.

There have been some benefits with these kinds of cooperation existing in the country:

Availability and access to information – there has been significant reach to information by users, since other libraries’ resources can be tapped from;

Lower cost – funds are saved due mainly to the fact that some expensive materials are not purchased as long as they are accessed in another library;

Experience sharing – the exchanging of staff and information provides a platform for learning from each other, especially with cataloguing data; and

Collection development – each library tends to build its collection to the maximum point, narrowing the focus, and at the end building a strong collection.

Notwithstanding, the real benefits that such cooperation should bring about have not been fully realised. Thus, there are certain steps that libraries should take to make this workable.

Building the Infrastructure of Cooperation

The following are essential steps to be taken into account for an efficient cooperation between libraries in Sierra Leone if significant achievements are to be made.

Ensure common understanding and trust. There must be an established better working relationship among and between libraries where common understanding and trust are built up. A continued interaction and exposure of one another’s resources must be maintained. This can be done by sharing of expertise and experience, signing of Memoranda of Understanding, dialogue to allay fears, and to respect what each party can offer. Exchange of staff if necessary must be done.

Learn from advanced libraries. Furthermore, lessons can be learnt from how other national and international cooperation is being conducted. Cooperation is not a day event but something that must be encouraged and built upon. There must be room for trial and error as well as correction of past mistakes.

Management must provide the leadership. Each library management must take upon itself to lead the process successfully. There must be the political will and the willingness to share resources, as well as prioritising the move towards cooperation. Management must be willing to make positive compromises to reach the desired goal.

Networking and collaboration. The move towards cooperation should not be a one man show. Cooperation can consist of voluntary agreement among libraries, or it can be imposed on libraries by Library Laws or by responsible ministries that fund libraries. It is essential that the participant libraries be willing to work together towards common goals.

Provision of funds. One of the benefits of cooperation is to save cost. However, every library must provide funds for the processes involved. This is particularly so for processing and technical services functions. These must be taken care by individual libraries. As such funding should be provided.

State intervention. In the context of the developing countries state intervention would be called for to enable coordination of a nation’s total library and information resources and ensure adequate funding. This is particularly important given that on the whole libraries in Sierra Leone do not have large enough capital base of their own to invest in such equipment as computer hardware and software, and telecommunications. However, state control must not be allowed to exceed co-ordination as this may to some extent have an effect on the zeal, initiative and the goodwill of participating libraries, institutions and the individual professionals.

The Challenges in Building the Infrastructure of Cooperation

In spite of the benefits accrued in cooperation, there are real and perceived challenges, which, unless properly dealt with, could minimise the chances of even the best conceived scheme taking off. In Sierra Leone, these are:

Overcoming the culture of hoarding – the culture of greed and selfishness that has eaten up the very fabric of society. This has affected even library practice. Libraries are to amass information for the general good of the society.

Limited collections – where participating libraries have not built up their collection to a minimum standard to allow for exchange, they are to grow their collections to some measurable status to ensure fair participation.

ICTs infrastructure – the marked lack of sufficient Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is a worrisome issue for cooperation in this 21st century.
Purchasing and installation of ICTs is very crucial, as well as the education and training of staffs for use.

Staffing – some of the participating libraries have untrained and unqualified staff as a major obstacle. Also, most staff are concerned about their status, efficiency, job security, salaries, and autonomy or independence, and this has affected the synergy. If the fears of staff are to be dispelled through proper sensitisation and education, capacity building also must be undertaken.

Management – management must take decisive steps towards cooperation.

In conclusion, information to libraries is as money to banks; it is an indispensable input in the development process of the nation. However, to be effective it has to be optimally available and accessible from every corner if possible. Library cooperation if properly planned and executed offers a solution to a lot of problems faced by libraries, librarians and other information professionals in developing countries as Sierra Leone. Valls (1983) has provided the last words, “cooperation between information centres and the co-ordination of efforts needed to efficiently share resources implies the existence of an infrastructure linking the centres to one another.” This library infrastructure must be built up as it would assist in fostering self-help, exchange information, change society, improve productivity and work life, and share resources.

Guide to Preparing For a PhD in Health Education

Having a PhD in Health Education allows you to educate on others on health and wellness. Much about it is that you will need to be keen on researching, formulating, implementing, and evaluating health promotions. So how do you get yourself one of those qualifications?

First, you will need to search for universities that offer PhD in Health Education. Find out what are the prerequisites, such as what paper qualifications you need and experiences needed, so that you roughly know what the things you may require from graduate school are.

Second, you will need to research on the credibility of the PhD’s given out by those universities. Check how they are accredited and what other people has to say about the programs. You do not want to end up paying for and spending much time on a hoax program. You may also want to narrow down the list by choosing the areas that are more convenient for you. There are even some accredited online PhD’s available at your convenience as well.

Third, inquire about the admission and testing processes. For anyone accredited with a graduate program in Health Education, you are required to sit for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), where you can register yourself with the Educational Testing Service website. The study and exam materials are available in the website and libraries as well.

You might also want to seek for financial advice from your graduate school on how you can be aided financially. You can also inquire about you’re the options available so you are able to make an educated decision on the best program for you, whether it is one that is a campus PhD, or an accredited online PhD.

Fourth, after completing your admissions at the graduate schools you have enrolled for, you will need to attain your GRE scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Once you have chosen the program that you will pursue, you will need submit your GRE scores and transcripts to them, and settle your admission process. You will also need to take note of the curriculum details. Plan your time table according to the curriculum so that you may complete the course within your allocated time.

Lastly, you will need to maintain good grades and submit your well-researched dissertation.

Public Libraries – Community-Based Health Clubs For the Brain and Mind?

Public libraries moved beyond just offering books long ago, but only now are demographic and scientific trends converging to sustain a more fundamental transformation in their role. A role in which they explicitly help promote cognitive health in the community, and potentially use Brain Fitness as a new framework to unify an array of lifelong learning, civic engagement, gaming, and health promotion initiatives.

A few months ago I spoke to librarians at The New York Public Library (NYPL), about “The Emerging Brain Fitness Field: Research and Implications.” I provided an introduction to how the brain works, discussed the growing research supporting how lifestyle factors contribute to lifelong cognitive health, and offered a way to navigate through this emerging and confusing field. This was part of NYPL’s first Health & Wellness Month for library staff, which in turn was an important enabler of major health events for older adults.

This experience highlights two new trends: 1) public libraries are focusing more on health & wellness promotion in order to engage older adults, 2) cognitive health or brain fitness is becoming a significant component of that promotion.

US Public Census data explains why libraries need to cater to an older audience. From 2000 to 2020, the number of Americans over the age of 55 is expected to grow from under 60 million to close to 100 million. This is due to expanded longevity and to the baby boomer generation moving up the population pyramid.

Brain health provides a unique opportunity for libraries to engage active boomers and seniors. Rohit Burman, manager of culture and public broadcasting at MetLife Foundation, explains, “Last year we identified a growing interest by boomers and seniors on brain health issues and thought that public libraries, as community and learning hubs, could play a major role. So, we decided to launch, in collaboration with the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and Libraries for the Future, a new iteration of the Fit for Life program, focused squarely on promoting brain fitness.”

The Fit for Life program supports 17 library systems from January 2009 to January 2010 that launch new initiatives to promote brain health via the following research-based lifestyle factors: diet, physical exercise, intellectual challenge, mental stimulation through new experiences, and socialization.

There are other new programs libraries are using to promote brain health. For example, the Lifelong Access Libraries Initiative, funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, is in practice an all-inclusive way for older adults to improve their brain fitness through civic engagement.

Gaming, thanks to the Nintendo Wii, is quickly emerging as a major opportunity to foster intergenerational activities. At least 18 of the 89 NYPL locations ordered Wii gaming equipment and software programs in 2008, for both in-library use and to be checked out. The American Library Association recently celebrated an official gaming day, including both board games and, yes, video games.

Brigid Cahalan, NYPL Older Adults Services Specialist, explains that Wii gaming has become one of the most popular activities to engage older adults in the libraries that offer it regularly, complementing the more serious computer classes that had long been the major attraction. She highlights, “If we want to become the hubs of learning and community activity, we need to offer new types of social activities.”

In short, libraries are already innovating to engage older adults with lifelong learning, civic engagement, gaming, health & wellness promotion. Brain fitness seems to be the glue that binds all these activities together.

This new reality raises some interesting questions for librarians, aging, and lifelong learning professionals to consider: Will public libraries become the brain gyms of the future?

Marzena Ermler, Coordinator of Professional Development at NYPL, explains the emphasis on brain health this way, “If only we could help people understand that libraries are healthy places for them to go. Learning through life is very important to maintain our brains in top shape as we get older.”

Pauline Rothstein, Ph.D., Co-editor of ALA book Longevity and Libraries: Unexpected Voices to be published in late 2009, recommends libraries to “think of brain fitness as the new concept that can help integrate disperse activities, identify additional needed resources, and explain our value to society. It makes sense to start with specific programming, and then use a new framework to evaluate a variety of library services. Public libraries need to redefine themselves away from old thinking and material objects (buildings, books, DVDs…) and focus on services: how do we educate, how do we help navigate the growing avalanche of information ‘specifically around how to keep our brains in shape?”

That evolution will require libraries to proactively listen to community expectations, and to partner with local organizations, such as seniors centers, to meet new requirements. If reshaped as Health Clubs of the Brain and the Mind, libraries would provide a critical service to an aging population and become centers of information and destinations for brain fitness programs.

Copyright (c) 2009 SharpBrains