Bringing Out the Best in Professional Library Staff in Sierra Leone

Introduction

Bringing out the best from library staff has been an issue for the proper functioning of librarians in Sierra Leone (SL). Librarians, according to Crosby (2008) are information experts in the Information Age. Their expertise in the handling of information has not been seen or realised, even though these professionals have been around for a long time. Librarians and information professionals have not attained the status and position they should rightly occupy in society. In most Ministries, Departments and Government Agencies (MDAs), where information handling and records keeping are key functions, librarians, records managers and information professionals have not been employed to do these jobs. Instead, other professionals, mostly people with accounting and business management backgrounds have been employed. In essence, the work of librarians has not been so much felt and appreciated.

Library and information services in Sierra Leone

Information is a fundamental asset for any society to thrive well in this 21st century. It is the tool by which learning takes place and decisions are made. It provides the needed answers to people’s requests and longings from all walks of life. Therefore, the provision of library and information services to all is undisputable. Almost all types of libraries exist in SL, because no individual library can provide all the information needed by every potential user. In this regard, different libraries exist to serve different users and their needs.

The Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) serves as both the National and Public library in the country. There are mainly nine (9) Academic libraries scattered throughout the country, all of these are found in the tertiary institutions (Universities, Colleges, Institutes and Teacher Training Colleges) providing higher education. School libraries are found in most Primary, Junior and Senior Secondary Schools. However, a vast majority of these are not functional. Special libraries are found in MDAs, private companies and individual established libraries. In addition to these are research and documentation centres, such as the Medical Research Centre; Information Resource centres, such as that established by the Embassy of the United States of America; and many small community information centres. These information centres are widely used by information seekers due to the main fact that they provide online services for almost free of charge.

The SLLB serves as the pivotal point for the provision of library and information services in the country. It is open to all: professionals, academics, researchers, students, pupils and for all children. There also, the general populace information needs are catered for. All of these are geared towards meeting our societal needs for information, education, research, entertainment and leisure activities.

Staff in libraries and information service institutions in Sierra Leone

There are two broad classes of staff employed in our libraries as is the case for libraries all over the world: those involved in library and information work, and those who provide back-up services. Library and information staff functions at different levels from non-professional, Para-professional, professional, specialists to managerial. At the support level, there are also manual/care taking staff, clerical/secretarial, technical and computer staff, and specialist staff. These all play a part in providing the information that users’ desire.

Library staff should function above the normal information provision role. Other important functions are:

I. Guide – providing physical, technical and intellectual guides to information resources in various formats;
ii. Collaborate – with others, known users as well as users who come for some manner of services over and over again, and even remote users;
iii. Prioritise – be flexible in performing new functions in order to incorporate new demands in procedures, structures and directions;
iv. Empower – delegate responsibility thereby empowering colleagues; and
v. Understand core capabilities – of the library, its environment, colleagues and most importantly the users.

Training library staff in Sierra Leone

The Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS), Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone (USL), is where Librarians and Information Professionals are trained and equipped for the world of work. INSLICS comprises two divisions that offer two distinct programmes: the Divisions of Mass Communication and Library, Archive and Information Studies respectively. The Mass Communication Division offers academic courses in the art and science of human communication and prepares students for career opportunities in public information services, print media, broadcast media, public relations, film production, advertising, marketing, advocacy and related fields. While the Division of Library, Archive and Information Studies caters for the professional training of librarians, records managers, archivists and information scientists to manage libraries, resource centres, information centres and related activities.

The Division of Library, Archive and Information Studies was formally established in 1986. It aims to provide for the training and education of Librarians, Archivists, and Information Scientists at a variety of levels, for those employed in both professional and non-professional capacities in Libraries, Archive Departments and Information Centres. Within the USL it is the particular mission of the Division of Library, Archive and Information Studies to educate men and women for professional careers as librarians and information specialists and to foster research and service programmes relating to society’s library and information needs.

Its goals are:

I. To furnish students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are basic to professional competence and career-long professional growth in the field of library and information services;
II. To expand the knowledge base of the profession through research; and
III. To share its resources by extending services within and beyond SL.

The Division currently offers the following courses:

1. Special Certificate in Library, Archive and Information Studies – this is a one year full-time course and is ideally suited to those with some experience of library and information work, who wish to receive training in basic library/information skills;

2. Diploma in Library, Archive and Information Studies – a two-year full-time course for those who may have some experience of library work and who hope to hold a Para-professional position in a library/information centre or archive in the future;

3. Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Library, Archive and Information Studies – a four-year full-time course;

4. Post-Graduate Diploma in Library, Archive and Information Studies – a one-year programme for graduates;

5. Master of Philosophy in Library, Archive and Information Studies – a two-year programme, i.e. one year taught programme and one year research.

The challenge for library staff

The challenges facing library staff in SL are numerous. Among them, the following are worth mentioning: low wages, limited capacity, no proper networking, poor infrastructure, users’ ignorance and the polemics of status.

The challenge of users’ ignorance

An anonymous writer once wrote that “A library is a hospital for the mind.” This means that the librarian is the trained doctor or nurse to administer treatment to every sick mind. This also means that the user who needs information is the sick mind that really needs treatment from the librarian. This is the ideal case, but not the pragmatic one. For every Sierra Leonean needs information for survival and growth; but going to the library is the major barrier. This is due to the fact that many are not well informed that the library exists to provide the daily information they want. As such there are libraries with information and knowledge to help people, but these people are unaware of going there for such help. It is therefore the responsibility of library staff to make people become aware that the library can meet their daily information needs. They must find ways and means to reach out to the public. Two important ways for every library are through the public relations and marketing library and information services.

The challenge of the polemics of status

Wilson (1982) stated that librarians have long exhibited a curious, and intense, status anxiety that is reflected in the endless polemics about the professional status (or lack thereof) among them. Librarianship should be one of those professions seeking a conspicuous status in the market. As Harris (1995) mentioned, since the inception of the idea of a ‘library’ in the United States, and more significantly, since the middle of the 19th century, librarians and friends of libraries have been debating the proper role of the library profession. Librarianship is one of those professions that impinge on the very survival of any society. The Librarian commands a unique status parallel with traditional professions in SL. If we can accept the saying that “knowledge itself is a form of power,” then the Librarian is the controller of that power. He is the custodian of the nation’s knowledge base.

A redefinition of the library profession and the librarian in developing countries is urgently needed. Just as how Huttemann (1985) mentioned that “self-sustaining and self-reliant Pan-African economic growth needs to develop its natural and human resources.” So the work and role of librarians are keys for SL to realise her much envisaged economic growth and prosperity. As Huttemann further stated that the promotion of socio-economic and cultural development can be conducted properly only if it is supported by sound information and documentation services needed for sectors like education, health services, agriculture, industry and trade alike. In essence, it is a matter of must that librarians should be in the business of accessing, organising, storing and disseminating information where and when needed.
It is also crystal clear that librarians must question the definition they have accepted. A thorough understanding of their role is a sine qua non for a clearer view. They must come forward with the goal of helping society to understand that they exist to provide information for survival and growth. This goal, as insisted by Bundy and Wasserman (1968) and Harris, Hannah and Harris (1998) must be to forge a new professional identity.

Librarianship, according to Taylor (1980), is the profession that is concerned with the systematic organisation of knowledge in all its various formats and its dissemination for the purpose of preserving society’s cultural heritage, promoting scholarship and the generation of new knowledge. However, this definition is far-fetched to the common understanding of many Sierra Leoneans. The general view is of some persons sitting behind many books in large stalks of shelves and waiting for patrons to come and request for assistance. For long librarians in SL have been labeled as “book keepers” and jobs for those teachers who have been left out unnoticeably by the school curriculum. The profession itself has long been battling with Public Relations (PR). As Mchombu (1985) put it ” In most developing countries, the percentage of population which are active library users is still very low… it is, therefore, important to encourage many more people from all walks of life to increase their use of Libraries so that existing information resources can be fully exploited” (p.115). In essence, as Mchombu further asserted library staff can no longer afford to sit and wait for a few enlightened readers to come to them, they must be more aggressive, be prepared to go out and search for and encourage all potential readers to come to the library because it has information which can be applied to what they are doing to improve final results.

To this, librarians must ensure that they emphasise on creating value from know-how and expertise. Bell (1973) has long since made this clarion call that the central figure in the post-industrial society will be the information professional. For as Bell insisted what counts is not raw muscle power, or energy, but information. The central person is the professional, for he is equipped, by his education and training, to provide the kinds of skill that is increasingly demanded in the post-industrial society.

Bringing out the best in library staff

The library profession must be able to overcome its challenges. A sure way of doing this is to motivate every library staff. When library staff are properly motivated, the best from them can be realised. Library managers should as a matter of must, make motivation for staff an issue of importance. Motivating staff in any organisation is probably the most difficult task of the manager. Not only do people react differently to the same stimuli but the motivation process is quite complex. It is concerned with those factors that stimulate human behaviour, how behaviour is directed, and how it can be maintained. Staff can seem at times to behave illogically, perversely and unpredictably. Contrary to the belief of some, the good management of staff is not just a matter of common sense. To manage staff requires a formal effort to grasp these influences so that our individual attitudes can be controlled and developed to meet the day to day staff situation in a way in which common sense will have difficulty (Shimmon, 1976).

It is particularly important that the manager of a service organisation like a library/information unit makes this effort for two reasons: Firstly, his product, being service is closely linked with the attitudes of serving staff themselves and it is not possible by inspection to reveal a faulty service in the easy way that faulty materials can be detected; and secondly, the cost of labour is likely to continue rising at a greater rate than that of the manager’s other main tools, machinery and materials, and he must therefore use the staff he really does need to best advantage (Webb, 1985). Some of the staff may be motivated by money and what it will buy, others by achieving ever higher services year after year, and some by the “thrill of the change.” Thus the manager, will need to address motivation in some depth by studying speculations such as organisational theory and behaviour.

The challenge for bringing out the best

Someone has said unofficially that Sierra Leoneans naturally are not difficult to please. Sierra Leoneans are generally motivated when the two lowest layers of Maslow’s pyramid are satisfied. One of the basic problems in this society is a good remuneration package that can take care of the basic needs of people. In this part of the world five basic needs are evident: food, shelter, clothing, transportation and medical. If attention is paid to these needs for every library staff, we have solved much of the problems affecting them and we are on the verge of getting the best from them.

So a good package must contain basic pay and allowances that will cover rent, transportation, and medical. The Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) announced minimum wage pay is Five Hundred Thousand Leones (SLL 500,000.00), placing it at Eighty United Dollars (US$ 80) at the current exchange rate (2016). This will not provide the good pay that librarians will want to work for. The rising cost of basic necessities, particularly food items, due to inflation in the country, means that this minimum wage is not encouraging. Therefore libraries must ensure that they go two times beyond this minimum wage pay in order to meet their staff basic need.

Furthermore, staff should be sent to the library school for training and development. Longer-serving staff without qualifications can be encouraged to do certificate programmes. Reference and other professional librarians are to be sent for refresher courses and exchange programmes for capacity development.

Conclusively, the best from library staff can be enhanced if the challenges facing them are dealt with and if they are properly motivated. Amongst the several challenges, user ignorance and the polemics of status are to be surmounted by librarians. Furthermore, they should be fairly motivated to take on their proper roles. In this sense, their remuneration packages as well as encouragement for career developments and trainings must be attended to. The library school should help in this direction.

Steps to Pursue a PhD in Higher Education Administration

A PhD in Higher Education Administration makes it possible for you to teach at university level related to administrative positions in tertiary education settings. It is a lucrative position once you have that qualification in hand, earning more digits annually. Yet, there are things you will need to do before becoming a PhD student.

Researching for your options is the first thing to do. There are many universities that offer PhD in Higher Education Administration, but try to stick with those that have accredited programs. Once you’ve gotten a list of prospective universities, find out what their prerequisites are. Getting a head start in this knowledge will give you an aim to achieve when you enter graduate school. You will also need to take note that PhD and EdD are different from one another, which requires different qualifications and are of different standards. Your list can be further shortened by selecting places you might potentially further your studies, and those you would not. You could otherwise take an accredited online PhD program if you have commitments from where you are.

Next, you can inquire about the admission and testing processes. You will learn that to be accredited with a PhD in Higher Education Administration, you will be required to sit for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), where you may register yourself with the Educational Testing Service website. Utilize the website and libraries as they have study and exam materials for the exam. You might also want to learn about your financial options from graduate school to university, as the entire process is a costly affair. You might also want consult your graduate school’s counselor on what type of PhD program is suitable for you considering your commitments, whether you should take a campus PhD, or do away with an accredited online PhD.

Attain all necessary documents such as your transcripts, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation once you have completed graduate school. You will be asked for these documents when you further your studies to PhD level. Do not forget to get your curriculum details so you can make a schedule that will able you to accomplish the syllabus in the allocated time. Last of all, do well in graduate school and write a good piece of dissertation.

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.