This is a slightly expanded version of my column of news, views and snippets from the international literature of books, libraries, and information, compiled for LIASA-in-Touch, the quarterly newsletter of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA).
I devoted my previous column to libraries and social justice. In this column I follow up by giving prominence to an important article dealing with libraries and social development, before moving on to other topics.
Making libraries developmentally relevant
It is an article of faith of LIS workers worldwide that libraries and information services matter. We believe that libraries make a difference in people’s lives, and that they can contribute significantly to national development. But there is often an undertone of frustration. We realize that we are not making the impact we should. In 2011 there were more than 350,000 public libraries worldwide, of which more than 250,000 were in developing and transitioning countries, but their potential was not recognized, and opportunities to put them to work in developing communities were being missed. Instead, development resources were wasted and the wheel was being re-invented through the largely unsuccessful introduction of new agencies such as telecentres, while public libraries barely featured on the horizon of development agencies.
In a recent article in Public library quarterly, Ari Katz (A. Katz 2021) describes an international donor-funded programme which attempted to change this. Concurrently with the programmes launched by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations 2015), which offered opportunities for enterprising LIS leaders to insert their countries’ libraries into multi-disciplinary programmes, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was engaged in its ambitious Global Libraries initiative. As part of this initiative, the Foundation contracted IREX, a US foundation, to undertake a series of projects promoting public library development in a dozen low- and middle-income countries. The projects, part of the Beyond Access programme, which ran from 2011 to 2018, aimed at forming a link between public libraries and the development community. Katz writes,
The international development world needed to see the value of public libraries. And public libraries needed better ways to highlight themselves and develop methods for working with those pursuing social development goals. The Beyond Access program was an effort to establish this link (A. Katz 2021, 2).
His article offers a programme officer’s assessment of the programme. In doing so, he provides useful references to the more recent literature dealing with public library development problems and earlier library modernization efforts, and gives an overview of the Beyond Access programme. Three African countries were involved: Nigeria, Mali, and Ethiopia, but in the article, he draws lessons from programme outcomes in four of the others, Myanmar, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Georgia, focussing on four issues: (1) Libraries must serve prominent national goals, latching onto existing priorities. (2) Technology, such as public computer and Internet access, “is the hook through which outdated libraries… can become relevant again”. (3) Training must be integral to the library reform process and cannot be skimped or rushed. (4) Reviving library systems takes time. Worthwhile lessons were also learned about programme management. All of this is insightful and should be prescribed reading for anyone engaged in library renewal and development efforts.
There is a growing literature on the impact of COVID-19 on libraries, and how they are responding. From Kansas City, USA, Talia Evans reports how the pandemic has affected the public library’s services and how they have tried to continue serving members of the community who lack Internet access at home (Evans 2020). Rafiq and colleagues describe the effect of the pandemic on seven university libraries in Pakistan (Rafiq et al. 2020). One of the consequences of the pandemic in academic libraries may be to hasten the replacement of printed textbook reserve collections by digital texts (Bell n.d.). The journal Alexandria carries twelve articles on how national libraries are coping; one of these is from our own National Library of South Africa (Shirley, Mawire, and Baloyi-Sekese 2021). Ensuring access to good quality information about Covid-19 for scholars (Cavallaro et al. 2020) and the public (Devasahayam 2020) has remained a concern. The pandemic has also thrown copyright and licensing issues into sharp relief (Hackett 2020a; 2020b). Various authors report on measures being taken to ensure that the pandemic is documented as it unfolds (Kosciejew 2021; Fenn 2021; Rieger 2020), while the infodemic of fake news and conspiracy theories is generating a growing literature of both theoretical and practical nature (DeBruin 2020; Walker 2021).
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Internet Archive, a remarkable achievement largely due to the perseverance of Brewster Kahle, who tells the story in a blog post (Kahle 2021), while a sobering warning of how easily Internet resources can be lost is conveyed by the title of an article by Jonathan Zittrain, “The Internet is rotting” (Zittrain 2021).
Now for something completely different
You’ve heard of library cats, and a previous column featured New York Public Library’s two marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. But library goats? For some years now browsing goats have been deployed to reduce the fuel load in fire-prone southern California. In 2019 they were credited with stopping a fire which was approaching the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (B. Katz n.d.). But goats are not docile library pets. Video footage shot in May 2020 showed a herd of goats going on the rampage in Silver Creek, an affluent suburb of San Jose, while garden-proud suburbanites tried with mixed success to stop them snacking on their herbaceous borders.
Bell, Steven. n.d. “Farewell Print Textbook Reserves: A COVID-19 Change to Embrace.” Accessed June 8, 2021. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2021/1/farewell-print-textbook-reserves-a-covid-19-change-to-embrace.
Cavallaro, Francesca, Fiona Lugg-Widger, Rebecca Cannings-John, and Katie Harron. 2020. “Reducing Barriers to Data Access for Research in the Public Interest—Lessons from Covid-19.” The BMJ. July 6, 2020. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/07/06/reducing-barriers-to-data-access-for-research-in-the-public-interest-lessons-from-covid-19/.
DeBruin, Joseph. 2020. “The Covid Infodemic and the Future of the Communication of Science.” The Scholarly Kitchen (blog). July 8, 2020. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2020/07/08/guest-post-the-covid-infodemic-and-the-future-of-the-communication-of-science/.
Devasahayam, Augustine. 2020. “Availability of Research Articles for the Public during Pandemic – a Case Study.” LIBER Quarterly 30 (1): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.18352/lq.10340.
Evans, Talia. 2020. “Bridging the Digital Divide in the Age of COVID-19.” Text. Advocacy, Legislation & Issues (blog). August 6, 2020. https://www.ala.org/advocacy/diversity/odlos-blog/digital-divide-partnerships.
Fenn, John. 2021. “New Acquisition: COVID-19 Audio Diaries from Healthcare Workers | Folklife Today.” Webpage. July 28, 2021. https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2021/07/new-acquisition-covid-19-audio-diaries-from-healthcare-workers/
Hackett, Teresa. 2020a. “COVID Lessons – Copyright and Online Learning.” EIFL (blog). June 29, 2020. https://www.eifl.net/blogs/covid-lessons-copyright-and-online-learning.
———. 2020b. “COVID Lessons: The Rightto Research.” EIFL (blog). August 10, 2020. https://www.eifl.net/blogs/covid-lessons-copyright-and-online-learning.
Kahle, Brewster. 2021. “Reflections as the Internet Archive Turns 25.” Internet Archive Blogs (blog). July 21, 2021. https://blog.archive.org/2021/07/21/reflections-as-the-internet-archive-turns-25/.
Katz, Ari. 2021. “Neglected to Indispensable: Lessons from beyond Access for Global Public Library Reform and Development.” Public Library Quarterly 0 (0): 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/01616846.2021.1880260.
Katz, Brigit. n.d. “Hungry Goats Helped Save the Reagan Library From a California Wildfire.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed October 17, 2021. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hungry-goats-helped-save-reagan-library-california-wildfire-180973461/.
Kosciejew, Marc. 2021. “Remembering COVID-19; or, a Duty to Document the Coronavirus Pandemic.” IFLA Journal, July, 03400352211023786. https://doi.org/10.1177/03400352211023786.
Rafiq, Muhammad, Syeda Hina Batool, Amna Farzand Ali, and Midrar Ullah. 2020. “University Libraries Response to COVID-19 Pandemic: A Developing Country Perspective.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, November, 102280. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2020.102280.
Rieger, Oya Y. 2020. “Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Ithaka S+R (blog). April 6, 2020. https://sr.ithaka.org/blog/documenting-the-covid-19-pandemic/.
Shirley, Jolene, Blessing Mawire, and Musa Baloyi-Sekese. 2021. “COVID-19 and the National Library of South Africa: Adapting to the New Normal.” Alexandria, April, 09557490211002095. https://doi.org/10.1177/09557490211002095.
United Nations. 2015. Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A/RES/70/1. New York: United Nations. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/21252030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development%20web.pdf.
Walker, Philip. 2021. “The Library’s Role in Countering Infodemics.” Journal of the Medical Library Association 109 (1): 133–36. https://doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2021.1044.
Zittrain, Jonathan. 2021. “The Internet Is Rotting.” The Atlantic. June 30, 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2021/06/the-internet-is-a-collective-hallucination/619320/.