Saturday, November 12, 2011

Failure to adopt technology in libraries results in fewer users

Simret Mebrahtu has been an infrequent visitor to the National Library of Uganda in the centre of Kampala for nearly two years. A student, she stops by every couple of weeks to use the cheap internet connection if one of the few computers is available.

When they are full, though, she said there is not much to do except dip into an Encyclopedia and wait for someone to finish. There are few other books at the library she finds interesting enough to read, she said.

Like a majority of Uganda’s library users who participated in a new EIFL perception study, Mebrahtu is supportive of her local library and encourages her friends to visit. But she also echoes a larger concern that the country’s lib

raries do not have the necessary infrastructure, technology and basic resources to attract new visitors and keep them coming back regularly.

EIFL – an international non-profit organisation that works with libraries around the world to encourage access to digital information – conducted the surveys in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Monika Elbert, a senior policy advisor for the group, said they had realised the countries’ libraries "were seriously under-resourced and there was very little political support for them. Rather than develop ideas and untargeted actions," though, EIFL decided to survey key stakeholders to learn how the library systems could be improved, she said in an interview with IPS.

Elbert and other members of the organisation presented their findings in a workshop in Kampala on Thursday.

The most interesting finding, said Ugne Lipeikaite, the impact manager for EIFL’s Public Library Innovation Programme, was the "gap between the opinion of (library) users about what the library is for and the expectation among non-users."

Specifically, 20 percent of people who do not use libraries would expect to access computer software if they visited. But only nine percent of people who regularly visit libraries actually access the software that they need. Sixty-three percent of users rated the computers and other equipment in their libraries as bad or very bad.

Additionally, the study found that a significant minority of non-users expected to find information on health and agriculture issues, which is not always available in Uganda’s libraries.

Lipeikaite said this could be a big challenge in trying to grow the country’s library visitors. In the workshop, the participants "were all saying that one of the areas where they should work more is to attract non-users. But then, you must know their expectations. If they want to get health information, if they want to get agriculture information, then libraries should think if they are providing this service."

Courtesy: IPS News Service

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