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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

RIC-NET PARTICIPATES IN THE FIRST AFRICAN PUBLIC LIBRARIES’ SUMMIT


Quotations can pack so much wisdom in such few words, and this is exactly what several speakers at the African Public Libraries Summit did.  So much was shared and or implied in these few quotations; Public Libraries should be made temples of knowledge, creating innovative ways of addressing lives and providing knowledge”: Adama Samassekou, Chairman Board of Philosophy and Humanities and President of MAAYA Network Global Linguistic Diversity.
Key Note Speakers at the Summit
If you are planning for tomorrow, grow rice, if you are planning for the future, grow trees but if you are planning for a life time establish a library”: Omara Jatta, Acting Director of the Standards and Quality Assurance Directorate, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Gambia.
Libraries provide the oxygen for today’s information economy”: Garoma Daba Jaleta, African Union representative.
The incorporation and use of ICT tools and resources in libraries is very key because it opens up new possibilities for both libraries and library users. It should be noted that Libraries today have moved away from the old traditional book stores to more dynamic and digital social centers geared at addressing all community needs as identified from time to time”: Monika Elbert, Eifl.
These quotations seemingly summarize what the participants at the African public libraries summit discussed during the three days. The Summit that was conducted at Indaba Hotel, Johannesburg started on 19.09.12 to 21.09.12 and brought together approximately 150 delegates and speakers from all over Africa.
The participants included key librarians and directors of Public libraries across Africa, some Lecturers of Library and Information Sciences from Universities in Africa, Permanent secretaries and Ministers of culture and education, and other institutions running library projects like RIC-NET, Life line Project-Botswana, Masiphumelele Library, Eifl, World reader, Read Nepal, to mention but a few. 

The summit whose theme was “Informing Africa, Developing Africa” was funded by Bill and Melinda gates foundation.

The purpose of the summit was to get African Policy makers and Librarians to meet and discuss issues related to the C21st libraries, the contribution of Libraries to development priorities, sharing success stories and experiences about public libraries’ impact and above all to agree on the establishment of a public library network.

During the summit participants discussed several topics like Public libraries in an inclusive African knowledge society, how public libraries can contribute to existing regional and national policies, developing national policy in support of African public libraries, beyond access-a conversation about the global effort to turn all libraries into hubs for development, how public libraries contribute towards Africa’s development, technological change development and public libraries good practice, regional perspectives on public library policy in Africa.
Other things shared were success stories from community and public libraries as well as the requirements for establishing a public libraries’ network.  
Sharing their experiences and success stories, a participant from Botswana shared how libraries were helping youth entrepreneurs to find jobs, get connected to other local entrepreneurs and as well supported them do develop marketable business plans, while Read Nepal shared how libraries have transformed the livelihoods and the social economic status of the women there. 
Mr. John Silco ; Presenting RIC-NET Community Library  work with Farmers
On the other hand Stephen Agbenyo from Ghana shared how libraries/technology had improved maternal health in Ghana, while Nyasha Sithole shared on how the library has bridged the digital divide in Cape Town. In the same vein John shared how community libraries have reached out to farmers in the Rwenzori Region of Uganda. Last but not least one Zev Lowe of World reader also shared how the use of digital books has transformed African classrooms and libraries in Africa.  

Commenting on the success stories shared, Ms. Deborah L. Jacobs, the Director Global Libraries’ initiative, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, noted that it’s impressive to learn of how much the libraries are impacting on the lives of and economy of Africa. She however noted that it’s up to us (librarians) to develop and sustain libraries that will have continued profound impact on the people in Africa. 

Adding on this Professor Adama noted that it’s also up to us (Librarians) to document, share and tell people what we are doing and offering asserting that Africans have a problem of not documenting what they do, that is why as much as a lot is being done little is being reported and shared thus the continued fallacy that Libraries aren’t relevant in today’s era.

Presenting at the Summit Professor Adama among others highlighted the key challenges for public library advancement.  He noted that while progress has been made to advance and expand how public libraries in Africa contribute to development priorities, there are still significant challenges. And these include lack of adequate funding, need for digital technology, absence of professional staff/training, physical resource limitations, and scarcity of national policies among others. These Prof. Adama emphasised must be addressed at both the country level and across Africa.

Other facilitators and presenters at the summit were Dr. Kingo Jotham Mchombu, Professor and dean of the faculty of humanities and social science, University of Namibia, Dr. Ingrid Parent, President, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), Dr. Victoria Okojje, Mr. John K. Tsebe, Dr. Buhle Mbambo, Executive Director of Library services, University of South Africa, Getrude Kayaga Mulindwa, Director National Library of Uganda, Dr. Justin Chisenga, and Dr. Helena Asamoah- Hassan to mention but a few.

Ms. Alice Mbayahi from RIC-NET (with glasses) Presenting  committee report 
From the discussions several issues emerged and or were agreed upon. These included; Participants agreed that since libraries have the potential to transform the local economies through the provision of the necessary information and knowledge transfer they must be in the fore front of the knowledge society and knowledge economy relating to the national development agenda.
Public Libraries must offer ICT access and also promoted e-governance.
Public libraries should link with the education sector and all stakeholders to incubate a habit and culture of reading for education and leisure.
In addition to this, participants agreed that Public libraries should become self sustainable, have community ownership and take lead in owning our knowledge and that public libraries should not only provide a service but should also know the community needs and then tailor their services to meet/address these needs.
Finally it was also discussed that an enabling/supportive national or regional policy on libraries should be advocated for and put in place by the relevant policy makers to enable libraries deliver their best. Unfortunately only 11 out of 40 countries in Africa have library policies, while 22 countries do not have, whereas 2 other countries (Uganda and Botswana) have pending policies while for the remaining 5 it is not yet established if they have one or not. Participants acknowledged that if given a chance libraries can contribute to existing regional and national policies.
And that whereas many Africans do not see the connection between education and reading, they should be encouraged to read.

In summation, it was recommended that; Libraries should move away from telling what they provide to proving that libraries can change lives of individuals in the community.
And that Librarians should commit to causing impact and also be willing to be measured although their skills and capacities in several areas like impact evaluation, advocacy, use of ICT tools and resources, public relations and library management should be enhanced and or strengthened.

Summit Outcomes
  1. A minute to establish a public Libraries network was passed and a draft proposal about the same also discussed. It highlighted the terms of reference, the staffing, and membership of the Network.
  2. A draft communiqué about the summit highlighting key issues discussed and agreed upon was developed and shared with the participants.
  3. Several action points and recommendations as highlighted above were made and agreed upon and commitment to implement them secured.
On a light note, participants were treated to yummy African and western dishes and also introduced to/entertained by exciting Poets, Music and dance groups and bands that kept them refreshed, excited and feeling at home even when they were practically miles away from their mother lands.

Officiating over the closure, Ms. Deborah L. Jacobs, the Director Global Libraries’ initiative Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations and Dr. Ingrid Parent, IFLA President expressed gratitude to the organizers for the tremendous and organized work they had done, the participants for their turn up and all the facilitators and presenters for their willingness to share their knowledge and experience with others.
Ingrid also congratulated the participants upon making history- participating in the first African Public Library Summit ever.

They also challenged the participants to carry with them everything that had been discussed and ensure that they implement them. And to the policy makers Deborah called upon them to view libraries as key development partners with the potential to transform society. She appealed to them to work towards passing enabling policies for libraries across Africa.
Deborah and Ingrid pledged continued support towards Library activities in Africa and even beyond.
Participants at the African Public Library Summit at Indaba Hotel, Johannesburg. South Africa