Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Libraries and National Development
Information and a conducive environment of its free flow is a vital tool in all forms of human endeavour. It is the link pin of national development. For a nation to develop it needs to have and provide relevant, updated and adequate information on food security, health, democracy, population, education, family planning, youth empowerment, gender equality, environment etc. Libraries are there for proper management, provision and dissemination of such information.
Paul Tiyambe Zeleza in the article The dynamics of book and library development in Anglophone Africa emphasised that books and libraries form crucial repositories of knowledge and information accumulated over time, so that to have access to them is to enter an ongoing intellectual conversation within and between societies and generations, and partake in the immense heritage of human social thought,
Information is power and power belongs to the people. Information is a vehicle that drives people to a better understanding that in turn induces sound judgement and decision-making.
It is irrefutable fact that libraries are a pivotal point in democracy promotion and socio-economic development in a country. Dickson Vuwa Phiri argues that for democratic processes to make sense, those that govern must be aware of the needs of those that are governed, whatever or wherever they are. To articulate such awareness, politicians and electorates must be provided with information relating to democracy, human rights and, the rule of law.
Nancy Kranich agrees when she said that libraries are the corner stone of democracy in our communities because they assist the public in locating a diversity of resources and in developing the information literacy skills necessary to become responsible, informed citizens who can participate in our democracy.
Even president Franklin Roosevelt during the Second World war when the future of democracy was much in question told the nation that libraries are essential to the functioning of a democratic society…Libraries are the greatest symbols of the freedom of the mind.
Information promotes and empowers citizens participation in the democratic process; it maintains the rule of law and creates a viable outlet for the injection of public opinion. Information informs the policy-making process of political leadership, all of which nurtures the building of sustainable peace for the enhancement of the state.
Libraries play a vital role in the health sector. A vibrant health sector needs a well-documented and organised health information meant for dissemination to users and potential users in order to consolidate health records, planning and management. Libraries provide people with appropriate information on diseases and prevention measures, health care, side effects of premarital affairs, dangers of early pregnancies and any other health related information.
According to S. Mapasure of Standards Association of Zimbabwe, in Zimbabwe were introduced Drug Information Centers and National Diabetes Information Clearing House that in the end minimised the misconceptions people had on drugs and diabetes. With the HIV/AIDS pandemic retarding socio-economic developments in our nation, measures to avoid the scourge and the enhancement of behaviour change can yield a positive impact if information on such issues was accessible to rural masses through rural libraries.
It goes without saying that rapid population increase impedes development. Libraries face the challenging task of being reliable reservoirs of information pertaining to problems associated with population increases. Land degradation, food shortages, deforestation, drying rivers, drought, urban migration, unemployment, rising prices, increasing poverty and diseases are all side effects of rapid population growth. As long as people are informed of such pertinent issues through their local libraries, the trend is likely to reverse. The world belongs to the living, so writes Thomas Jefferson.
Libraries play a great role in national development through the support they offer to the education sector. It is an irrefutable fact that without libraries there as well can be no universities hence the creation of professionals' drought. All professionals, whether graduates or not, are capable of utilising their skills through the knowledge they acquired through books and the internet in libraries. Lawyers safeguard the flow of justice and foster constitutional developments; teachers support literacy campaigns; doctors support health issues, the list is endless. All those are products of information dissemination progress through different libraries.
John Abdul Kargbo argues that experience has shown that a country’s educational system could be as strong and as weak as the library resources that support that system.
The National Library Service has been championing the provision of relevant information materials to different communities through the establishment of rural libraries with the element of supporting adult literacy as well as helping in the establishment of an informed society in Malawi. Through such small libraries, people who were deprived of information are now capable of reading and writing. High above all, having come across a wide range of information pertaining to issues affecting their societies, they have been able to make informed decisions that have been helping in implementing socio-economic growth.
Kigongo-Bukenya of the Makerere University in his presentation at the Standing Conference of the Eastern, Central and Southern Africa Librarians, SCECSAL XI, meeting argued that information for literacy arms the masses themselves completely to see their own needs and problems and discuss means of solving them. What is worthy noting is that for information to have a broad outreach, libraries must be there.
For a nation like Malawi that has an agricultural dependent economy, the need for management and provision of agricultural information to communities and individuals is necessary. Malawi require libraries that provide agricultural information which should be accessible to policy makers, researchers, extension workers, students and the communities as a positive step towards improving the declining food security in the country. Agriculture is the backbone of the Malawi nation and we need libraries that can be harnessing information on marketable crops, agri-business, agri-economics, diversion of crops, diseases affecting crops, farming methods, irrigation, etc.
The world is now geared towards industrialisation. However, industries can hardly develop without relevant information on prospects and challenges. There is therefore, writes Noel Shillinglaw and Wanda Thomas in the book The Information society, a need for professionally managed libraries at work places if total quality is to be achieved, because apart from making the information that enables decision making timely available, libraries also contribute significantly to staff development.
As competition in business stiffens and economic instability keeps threatening the nation, investors need information to develop suitable business strategies. In general terms they need libraries that can provide them information on economic data, import and export figures, changes in foreign exchange rate, inflation rate, as well as salary figures. The business community needs librarians that would be harnessing information on the cost of living, worker productivity, costs of machinery, changes in international treaties, domestic consumption and production, communication, infrastructure, labour laws, etc.
The role of libraries in promoting the marketing of the tourism sector cannot be underestimated. Libraries as reservoirs of information are the most reliable information reference centers where tourists can seek information on hotels, motels, national parks, mountains and other interesting places.
Unfortunately, at present, the greatest barrier to information provision by libraries to promote democracy and socio-economic issues is high illiteracy rate. Most information is in print and over half of the population of Malawians cannot read and write. Justin Kiyimba went on to say that coupled with illiteracy is the fact that even those who can read and write have little interest in reading.
Other barriers include lack of trained personnel in librarianship, lack of resources, financial constraints, inadequate library services, poor distribution network of libraries, lack of viable publishing industry that can be publishing and providing survey reports, workshop reports, etc on local democratic and socio-economic issues.
In a general perspective, as the UNESCO Draft Medium term plan 1984 n- 89, puts it, individuals and communities must be provided the knowledge and know how that will awaken them to the projects open to them, and above all, enable them to act more effectively themselves in improving productivity, hygiene, health and general living conditions and on exercising their civic rights. But the central point where information can be harnessed, accessed and disseminated is the library. If effectively used and supported, libraries can promote democracy and socio-economic developments in the country. No nation prospers without information and no information can be properly managed and disseminated without libraries and librarians. ENDS