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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

WHY PUBLIC LIBRARIES.


Libraries are potential engines for social and economic change; they are trusted local organizations with access to information that can power economic opportunities and community development.
Additionally libraries are important local assets that can provide access to information and technology to everyone, free of charge, thus explained Kaspars Rukilis of EIFL during a three days training workshop on Communication, Awareness Raising and Advocacy for Libraries held in Kampala from 20.08.12 to 22.08.12.
The workshop was conducted by Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), an international NGO dedicated to enabling access to knowledge through libraries under the Public Library Innovative Program (PLIP). The PLIP program on the other hand supports public Libraries to implement innovative community development services.
The workshop that was held at Hotel Africana attracted around 26 participants from PLIP grantees; they included, RIC-NET, Uganda National Library, Kachumbala Area Cooperative Enterprise Community Library, Maendeleo Foundation, Busolwe Public Library, National library of Uganda, Lira and Masindi Public libraries.
The purpose of the workshop was to bring PLIP grantees together to share knowledge and information about innovative Library services and advocacy activities in Uganda, and to strengthen country- wide cooperation amongst the Uganda awareness rising group (UARG) and library project teams. 
Alyce from RIC-NET presenting on group work
During the workshop participants were taken through several library and advocacy related topics, they included; how to market libraries before policy makers and funders (awareness rising, creating messages and stories), how to make libraries more relevant to the community (turning libraries into social and IT centers from the traditional book stores), working with the media (the different types of media available, and the do’s and don’ts), and advocacy target audiences and partners (how to identify them and how to work with them) to mention but a few.
Explaining advocacy and target audiences, the facilitator Kaspars noted that by understanding how one’s target audience thinks and feels about the library, one can determine the best way to approach and connect with their target audiences to encourage their involvement for support of libraries.
In addition to this, participants made presentations on their work. It was learnt that the PLIP grantees were implementing different projects like, Farmer-farmer knowledge-sharing service using ICT, Internet- based local language database for farmers, Teaming up with a telecenters to improve women farmers’ lives, Smart phone service to combat plant pests and diseases, Mobile phone employment information service and combining ICT and drama to provide health information. This helped in creating understanding on who is doing what and how the different grantees can support each other.
In a related development, one Monika Ebert of EIFL also shared results of a recent study on the perceptions of public libraries in Uganda. Monika revealed that majority of the stakeholder groups in Uganda believe that libraries are very important to communities and to individuals and have the potential to contribute to community development, that public libraries are viewed as valuable: 93% of the users learned new skills, 78% obtained new ideas and 71% got helpful information for education.
The study further indicates that 64% of typical public library users in Uganda are young, single male students from a middle class background, aged under 30, while 66% of the librarians are male, aged between 21- 50 years, and that majority of the stakeholders believe public libraries are underfunded e.g only 36% of public libraries have computers for public use.
Monica expressed disappointment about the low percentage of computers in public libraries explaining that EIFL’s approach is one that looks at transforming public libraries into electronic/digital libraries, where the users not only rely on hard notes/information but a place where they can also access internet freely to search and share relevant information. On behalf of EIFL Monica pledged continued support to the public libraries in Uganda in realizing this dream and more so to PLIP grantees implementing Library related projects.
Among others I learnt that if public libraries are transformed into social centers and equipped with computers connected to reliable internet, they will become more relevant to the community and the number of users would increase; hence facilitating increased access to information/knowledge and consequent community development.
In a nutshell the training helped in creating a deeper understanding on the essential links between impact, evidence and communications/advocacy for libraries and also enabled the participants to agree and also come up with specific activities for the second six-month implementation period of the library projects and UARG.
Other facilitators at the training were Sandra Adomaviciute of EIFL, and Getrude Kayaga Mulindwa, of UARG.