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Opinions of Thursday, 25 August 2016

Columnist: Williams, Bandoma

The role of libraries in Ghana towards national development

File photo of a library File photo of a library

Libraries make important contributions to national development. The significance of this article is to assess the roles libraries play in national development and support the advocacy for the inclusion of libraries and access to information in national development plans that will contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (“UN 2030 Agenda”) and the Africa we want (“AU 2063 Agenda”).

Libraries have shown that they can drive meaningful progress across agendas. The SDGs are universal, each country is responsible for the development and implementation of national strategies to achieve the SDGs, as well as monitor and evaluate the progress of achievement of these SDGs.

The inclusion of library communities in the development of national strategies will offer them the opportunity to contribute towards the advancement of development priorities.

Advocacy is an essential tool used by libraries to justify their role as engines of local development, and ensure that they are resourced adequately to contribute towards national development by standing as a pillar in educating and repackaging information for better consumption and understanding by a targeted populace.

In August, 2015, the Cape Town declaration was inspired by the principles enshrined in the charter for African Cultural Renaissance, the global sustainable development agenda and the level of commitment to prioritise and resource libraries as part of Africa agenda 2063. Hence, the deliberation, on the status of libraries in the continent and the progress required to meet the global sustainable development goal.

Among the objectives (only four are listed here) to improve African libraries with the aim of contributing to national development:

1. Provide the necessary resources for the development of African Libraries to respond to modern day challenges and provide access to merging technologies.

2. Fast track the implementation of continental innovation strategies to improve ICT and knowledge management.

3. Encourage the sharing of skills, collection and preservation of African stories from our own communities.

4. To encourage the development and promotion of local content libraries in Africa as part of the promotion of the African Renaissance and Pan Africanism. The Ghana Library Association (GLA) was founded in 1962 and is registered under the professional body decree NRCD 143 of the 1973 with a registration number PB 21.

The GLA has the mandate to;Unite all librarians and institutions in Ghana interested in library and librarianship:

• To be instrumental in promoting the establishment and development of library and information services, bibliographical work and library co-operation

• To promote and safeguard the professional interest of librarians In effect the GLA is the overall head of all libraries in Ghana, be it public, academic or special libraries. One would ask, is the GLA still functional? If yes, how effective, organized or united is it? As stated in the constitution of the association “to unite all librarians and institutions in library and “librarianship”.

Can Ghana really realize the UN agenda 2030 and the AU agenda 2063? The success or failure of Ghana in the achievement of the targets set by both agendas is dependent on two main factors.

1. The recognition of Libraries and librarians as an engine of access to information (timely, well packaged, targeted and readily available and less expensive)

2. The Advocacy and strategies adopted by the GLA should be in partnership with government and all stakeholders.

Libraries are proven to be cost-effective partners for advancing development priorities. Many countries have designated libraries to be repositories for vital information and knowledge. This makes libraries an important venue for information about personal development, hence; national development. Libraries are already supporting progress towards access to information and national building.

In goal 2 of the UN agenda and aspiration 1 of the AU agenda 2063, the objective is to eradicate poverty at all levels, in all walks of life.

Other countries have relied on libraries to pass on valuable information to the prospective targets, example, in the attempt to increase the production and income for small-scale food producers or farmers in Romania, public library staff trained under the Biblionet programme worked with other partners including the Association of Libraries of Romani (ANBPR), the ministry of Culture, local and national government and public libraries across the country, Biblionet helped libraries to breathe new life into Romanian communities by helping 100,000 farmers use new ICT.

Could the Ghana Library Association and Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders learn something? Is there no such thing in Ghana? Are both the ministry of agriculture and the GLA slumbering or is it a case of lack of creativity/innovation? If efforts are already made by the GLA to play a key role in information dissemination, then it must be carried out as a matter of urgency. The cocoa and other cash crop production can gain an immense growth and advancement when such innovative ways are employed.

Promoting lifelong learning opportunities without limitations towards religion, gender and age. The UN agenda goal 4 and goal 5 and the AU agenda aspiration 6, targets the development of people by ensuring quality equitable education among all ages. These targets seek to achieve the enhancement of the potentials in women and the youth not leaving out anyone.

This is an education that would be sustainable and a lifelong journey. People will know where, how, when to find information, preserve and disseminate it without distortion. Public libraries in Botswana, have taken large strides towards supporting government objectives under its National Vision 2016, which includes introducing ICT access, improving the computer skills of library users, and enabling users to be successful in business, education, and employment.

With this vision people trained in ICT can develop in so many ways in the their diverse professions with access to readily available information.

When government equips the GLA properly, providing enough budgetary support and infrastructures, libraries across the nation stand as a meaningful tool to effect a long lasting change. All over the world, there has been practical success stories about library playing a key role in poverty alleviation, education, better well packaged information for farmers, improve the quality of lives and encouraging lifelong learning.

In Sri Lanka, the government and its partners initiated a program called the Nenasala program. This initiative is run to increase digital literacy and access to information among the nations’ remote and poorest areas.

Nenasala (Wisdom Outlet) is a telecentre project by the Government of Sri Lanka. Developed under the e-Sri Lanka Initiative, which is implemented by the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka. Communication centers are continuously built by the government in rural areas to fight poverty, develop culture and commerce, and sustain peace. There are 751 such centers in the country.

In Mongolia, about 15000 persons either with poor vision or blind are employed.

In the year 2010, Ulaanbaatar Public Library (UPL) and the Mongolia National Association of the Blind built two recording studios to create talking books in a digital DAISY format that has increased the amount of accessible materials, and opened up new worlds of learning for the visually impaired people.

In conclusion, the significant contributions and usefulness of Libraries and Librarians cannot be over emphasized. In the attempt to achieve these goals and aspirations, policy makers, Government and GLA should come together to form a formidable force with a core-defined path to follow to make our world better.

Bandoma Williams is a Librarian and Information Professional