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.

Online Library Science Degrees – What It Takes

The knowledge to maintain information resources is a skill that requires a degree. Students seeking careers as librarians will find that online education is available. Accredited online colleges and universities provide information on what it takes to obtain online library science degrees that teach students the skills for their desired career.

The education to become a librarian is very specific and students have to meet the training requirements in order to successfully enter a career. Library science is concerned with correctly managing information by specifically organizing and disseminating resources. Training in online library science degree programs is focused and prepares students for professional work.

In order to step into a career as a librarian a master degree has to be obtained. Education approaches the skill set needed from a technological and information management standpoint. With the new ways of acquiring information available students are taught to understand databases and information structure. The field is broken down into numerous concentrations. For example, students that want to work in a government library would find an online school that offers a specialization in that area. The broad scope of possibilities teaches students how information is collected and disbursed in each field. A medical library catalogs and stores their information differently than a public library. Students can expect to take the same basic courses online, which may include:

  • Archival Practices
  • Information Access
  • Information Technology
  • Library Services

Education is centered on preparing students to enter the workplace and understand how to manage their chosen information facility. Through coursework students learn the Dewey Decimal system and know how to electronically locate resources. Masters degree programs on average take two to three years depending on the college offering the program.

Students that haven’t completed undergraduate training have a couple options available. They can train for a lower-level position or prepare themselves for graduate training at the master’s degree level. A two-year associate’s degree teaches how to step into support positions such as a library assistant or library technician. Education focuses on giving students the skills to prepare and organize materials. The day-to-day work of an assistant is learned, which includes inputting data, overseeing the circulation desk, and cataloguing material. Further study at the bachelor’s degree level is also available.

Students that complete a library bachelor’s degree program study administration while taking courses that focus on their particular area of interest such as military or medical. Literature studies, media selections, management tools, and database functions are all general subjects that students study in an online program.

The field of library science takes a master’s degree for students that have the career goal of being a librarian. Numerous educational avenues can be pursued that allow students to start the process of becoming a librarian. Students should enter the level of education right for them and learn the skills needed in library science. Accredited training is approved by agencies like the American Library Association ( http://www.ala.org/ ) to offer quality educational experiences.

DISCLAIMER: Above is a GENERIC OUTLINE and may or may not depict precise methods, courses and/or focuses related to ANY ONE specific school(s) that may or may not be advertised at PETAP.org.

Copyright 2010 – All rights reserved by PETAP.org.

The Role of Mobile Libraries in Supporting Education

Introduction

A Mobile library refers to a suitably equipped and reinforced vehicle or bus that visits schools according to a regular schedule, with a resources collection that may be borrowed by learners and teachers. It can also be used to refresh a school’s resource collection by issuing of block loans. This model of library is operated from a central library/depot of resources, such as regional or district education resource center. The mobile library service was initiated chiefly to alleviate the demands for library service at the main libraries by reaching out to the general population with the sole aim of providing accurate and current information to meet the needs in rural schools.

Butdisuwan (2000), defined Mobile library as a library that serves communities and locations that are distant from a local library. They are mostly run from Monday to Friday and sometimes on Saturdays.

Knight (2006), defined Mobile Library as a large vehicle for use as a library. It is designed to hold books on shelves so that the books can easily be accessed by readers when the vehicle is parked. The vehicle used usually has enough space for people to read the book inside of it. They are often used to provide library service to villages and city suburbs which have no library buildings. They can also serve groups of those who have difficulty accessing library services.

Niemand (2004), defined Mobile library as a library housed in a large van that provides a live service to those unable to attend their nearest local library.

Requirements for the Operation of a Mobile Library

Some of the requirements needed for the operation of a such services are highlighted thus:

• A teacher-Librarian to manage the overall service;

• Library assistant and a driver;

• Funding for fuel, maintenance and licensing;

• Optional online information and circulation services, linked to parent education library management system, by means of a laptop and scanner;

• A service level agreement with schools involved that clearly articulates the role and responsibilities between the schools and the providers of the service;

• A schedule of regular visits, based on school terms;

• A dedicated budget for collection development and running costs;

• Ongoing training for teachers who have access to the collection; and a

• Monitoring and reporting mechanism (Knight, 2006).

The Role of Mobile Libraries in supporting education

Libraries and information centres do not exist in vacuum. There is always a sound rationale for their operations. Hence the following reasons below express the importance of mobile libraries:

• Move on to service other schools as schools progress towards developing their own school library and information service;

• The school’s library resource is refreshed regularly by mobile library service since the selection is based on the needs of the schools that are visited;

• This service is useful especially in the rural schools, when there is a lack of large organizational capacity and a lack of space to establish a proper library;

• Engage in the sharing of resources which enables learners and teachers to access a wide range of resources;

• Assist the teachers in growing learners to become information literate and develop the reading habit;

• Have other learning interventions such as music, arts, science and technology learning Programmes as part of the School Library and Information Service Programme, which will benefit all learners.

• Target user groups and their information needs in remote communities or other regions where library services are currently unable to stimulate or meet the demand for information;

• Stretch out their services to reach the physically disabled;

• Mobile libraries make reading materials available to various schools based on their different learning needs. Picture books with less complex illustrations, words and information books with many photographs are selected for a class at the preparatory level;

• They play a vital role in times of crises by directing many stakeholders such as citizens, experts and policy makers by providing trustworthy sources of information;

• Building lasting ties with the school community through establishing sustainable partnership by helping to inculcate the habit and culture of reading in the communities;

• Provide read-aloud session and user-education programmes especially when new users are introduced to their services; and

• Provide reference materials such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, maps, atlases, and globes for extensive source of information and references for their patrons (Beenham and Harrison, 1990).

Challenges Faced in the Operating Mobile Library Services

Mobile Libraries operations are not without challenges. These range from a lot of issues as stated below:

• Resources are limited and there is a chance that the appropriate resources could be selected by another school first. Mobile Library is medium is size and referral in nature and most times can accommodate less than fifty (50) users at a time. It also lacks certain facilities such as the bibliographic instructions and the library catalogue which are the keys to the holding of the library;

• The lack of space to read and the time to explore the mobile library is not sufficient. Typically depending on the size of the school population and duration of visit, each class is given thirty (30) minutes to utilise the library. As the number of children and classes increases in schools, the amount of time and space decreases in order to cater for all;

• More so, lack of sufficient trained and qualified personnel is another challenge of mobile library operation. Many a time, mobile library staff lacks the required qualification in the field of librarianship;

• Financial constraints also pose a challenge to running a mobile library. A mobile library needs a recurrent income and expenditure budget in order to augment for its depleted resources over a set of time owing to its consistent usage by users;

• Management of the Service could be problematic, as schools have to be held accountable for items borrowed;

• Distance and terrain present their own challenges especially as the service is limited by the number of buses servicing rural areas;

• Buses can also be a target for thieves especially if they carry computers; and

• Donated buses already customized from other countries need to be serviced locally, while there is also the added attendant of cost of importation clearance.

Indeed, a mobile library service is one of the most important services that library and Information Services use to meet their aims and objectives. There is considerable potential in the use the mobile library services as a support to local or stationary library services but there are also many challenges. There should be therefore commitment on the part of the government of nations, Educational Administrators, Librarians, and National library administrations, in order to achieve quality and sustainability in the development and improvement of mobile library services. Only through their active participation will mobile library services transform the teaching and learning process in education.