Friday, December 17, 2010

Library Conference in Gaborone, Botswana

19th Standing Conference of Eastern, Central, Southern Africa Library and Information Associations (SCECSAL) 2010

"Enhancing Demoncracy and Good Governance through Effective Information and Knowledge Services"

Hosted by the Botswana Library Association, 6-9 December 2010 at University of Botswana, Block 252, Multi-Disciplinary Conference Centre, Gaborone, Botswana.


Attending this conference confirms for me how knowledgeable and articulate African librarians are about the needs, realities and potential for library and information services in Africa.  Conference participants arrived from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia,Botswana and several of us from the UK and the States. There were 400 + participants, all engaged in listening, discussing, reflecting on how libraries and information services support, enhance and contribute to democratic civil societies.

The conference keynote speakers, including the Minister of Sports, Culture and Youth for Botswana, address the following themes:
  • Freedom of access to information, censorship to information, Internet monitoring and good governance and information privacy and confidentiality
  • Libraries, democratization process and promotion of sustainable good governance in Africa
  • Libraries, Human Rights, socia-economic, good governance and democracy
  • Advocacy and smart partnerships between libraries and government in national development
  • Learning organizations, democracy and good governance
  • Information and Communication Technologies(ICT'S) and good governance
  • Digital divide and achievement of democracy, E-government/e-government and libraries in Africa
  • Universal access to information and disadvantaged groups
  • Information literacy and democracy
  • Local content, knowledge management/services, and good governance.
I attended presentations, moving back and forth between the parellel sessions trying to capture the essence of each theme. Attention was given to all types of libraries but especially the role of school libraries and public libraries in making information available to students and adults.  Special attention was given in several of the papers to how best to provide access to government information and documentation. Issues of availability and access to communication technologies figured widely in the papers. Open Source software is used in several countries as one way of increasing accessibility to information. There was a lengthy discussion on the necessity and sustainability of a reading culture throughout the region. Most of the cultural groups in Southern Africa are predominantly oral cultures.  Reading as a sustained habit is not practiced by most individuals. This is a concern in relation to the growing use of ICTs - how does the role of the library change, what is the value of a book collection, how should resources be distributed - all questions we address in the U.S. but here there is a different urgency given the greater lack of resources to support libraries, literacy and technologies. Surprisingly, library education programs fared much better at this conference than they do at ALA conferences.  There is close cooperation between practicing librarians and library educators in the assessment and evaluation of curriculum; most notably, how information ethics is included in library education was the topic of several papers.  These papers instigated much discussion following their presentation.

In addition to the very lively discussions following each presentation, there were a number of vendor booths to visit. A professor from the University of Iowa MLIS program exhibited his eGranary Digital Library. He and library science students copy Web sites and deliver them to intranet Web servers inside partner institutions in developing countries. By doing this, institutions with no or poor Internet connectivity are able to access resouces quickly and without incurring bandwidth costs. The eGranary Digital Library includes books, journals, video, audio and Web sites. The "internet in a box" costs $1,500 - making this a viable way to teach searching skills as well as providing students in many disciplines access to materials.  I hope to do a presentation on the concept and technology to the LIS department - and if there is interest, start looking for funding...

There were many opportunities to socialize during tea breaks and the Cultural Evening. Participants looked forward with great eagerness to the Cultural Evening.  Each country presents songs and dances from their local tradition and in several countries, traditions.  There was a panel of judges drawn from the participants. The excitment and anticipation for the evening was high - throughout the hostels all week long I heard small groups practicing their songs. At the end of the evening, the Lesotho delegration handed over the trophy they had won at the last conference to the delegation from Swaziland amid much singing and ululation. The Zambian delegation received third place and are determined to win at the next conference in 2012 to be hosted by Kenya. The judges allowed a small interlude so that the 5 of us representing the U.K. and U.S. could present our rendition of "Abiyoyo", a story-song popularized in the U.S. by Pete Seeger. The story of a small boy and his father who save their village by destroying a monster that plagues the villagers by eating their crops and livestock, is based on folktales from many cultures in the Southern African region. A doctoral candidate at Syracuse University narrated, the U.K. participants became father and son and I, of no great dramatic ability, acted out the role of the monster.  Conference participants knew the storyline, sang along on the chorus and gave us loud clapping amid much laughter as we left the stage. 

There are many many conferences to attend.  Librarians here are good at finding funding from NGO's and other sources.  They are well educated and certainly current on issues facing libraries, information services, technologies, funding, and policy development. 

-Mary

3 comments:

  1. Mary, I saw a presentation on eGranary when I was in library school. I think it's a fabulous concept. Glad to hear it's still in the works. And, that there are a lot of other smart ideas floating around.

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  2. Interesting read, Mary--especially about the role of a library in those cultures that are predominantly "oral." Whether we get our information and stories from "reading" or "listening" there will always be a need for access.

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