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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Libraries building communities: communities building libraries

Jessica Dorr
abstract (pdf)

Begins with "Kia ora"; ends with "Kia ora koutou". :-)

Says our reputation precedes us.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation guided by belief that every life has equal value. Goals to improve health; strengthen education; reduce poverty. "Bill Gates has billions of dollars. Why would he give it to libraries? The answer is simple: libraries change lives." Librarians work to make information available -> strong drivers of economic and social progress.

Project to connect all libraries to the internet within five years. Spirit similar to APNK but didn't know how challenging task (including technical support) would be. Pulled it off though it took closer to seven years. Total PCs granted = 47,200; buildings receiving a grant: 10,915; training opportunities: 62,000. When started, less than a quarter had access to internet; now all do, and provide it for free. "If you can reach a public library, you can reach the internet."

Started with poorer libraries - those not already connected. Started with states in highest need -- Deep South. New Mexico was sixth state and provided challenges and opportunities. First large state they worked in. Noticed when plotted a map there were large gaps with no libraries - discovered those were tribal reservation areas. Felt it was unfathomable that there was no need so went to visit. Found lots of space, and found libraries which weren't on the state-recognised list of libraries.

Underestimated challenges of technology and underestimated the relevance of the internet to these communities. Showed Microsoft Encarta online encyclopaedia and they searched for themselves. Found mistakes in the encyclopaedia.

Began a crash course - couldn't just add libraries to a list of libraries and give them computers. Needed to do more. Used loom as analogy: if weaving this project needed to learn all six steps.

(Native communities are justifiably wary of the outside world but want education, want to learn to use computers in a native way.)

Find a sheep / Shearing / Needs assessment
Environment makes providing services more difficult and expensive.
Computers have to speak and write Native languages
Could work with tribes and network - worked hard to involve all of Navaho
Had to work with Navaho definition of library
Had to build capacity and support organisations that work with tribes long-term
Tools/equipment: scanners, microphones, digital cameras, software tools, test models, drove computers and generators out to test them thoroughly.

Wash and dye / Training
Project-based - using Native examples
Presenting information less linear, more circular/interrelated
Short days as people had to leave early to chop wood, etc
Mornings teaching staff, afternoons outreach (students, tribal elders, police, any group that had interest in training)

Card and spin / Program challenges
Connectivity - In US program didn't plan for long-term payment because government should provide. But here couldn't expect to persuade tribal governments to pay, so gave step-down funding (more first year, less next, less next) to give tribal governments time to recognise the value outweighed disadvantages like porn.
Challenge in staff turnover so training need never goes away

Dye and pattern / Examples of success
Indigenous Language Institute uses YouTube to promote preservation of native langauges
Websites developed for/by government of all chapters so can email instead of drive, minutes and budgets are online. Bartering online.
Individuals - computer lets people do homework online instead of driving hours to study.

With the tools in place, they are weaving.

Learned importance of being familiar with community needs and working with them.

Now working in other countries. Aim to bring about effective, sustainable access in developing countries. Want computers to be useful and used in ways to improve lives.

Need training for staff - both in technology and outreach
Libraries have to be accessible and open to all. Might need to include health clinic; or be on a boat.
Libraries have to demonstrate impact by measuring how they meet local needs

In terms of sustainability, suffering because assumed benefits of libraries were obvious so didn't spend effort on evaluation so libraries could prove benefits. Now work from beginning to include an evaluation component. In Latvia compare library services across other government services. In Lithuania doing a study showing return on investment. In Poland doing a study of library users vs non-users. --Different from country to country but critical to have some evaluation in place.

Need strong library systems in place to provide vision for field, develop curricula, create sharing opportunities.

More than 70% of people in US who use computers in a library say it's the only place they have internet access.

Latvia had so many people sitting outside after hours to use wireless that used bandwidth stats to argue for longer open hours.

Libraries need to radically change perceptions people have about libraries, we won't survive. Have to be bold, be more radical, be louder, use data, use stories. Must champion and strengthen the resource. Need to keep libraries on the agenda.

Story of mayor in Latvia who had to decide whether to improve roads or libraries. Decided to invest in library - and discovered ripple effect on local business, kids staying in school longer.

Q: Even with full funding, would be difficulties in some public libraries to add internet. How did you manage that?
A: There's no national library in the US - just state libraries. So asked state libraries to apply on behalf of their libraries. Because it was the Gates Foundation, states didn't want to be left out. Some were hesitant, but starting in places with most need showed their priorities. Policy to only work in libraries that would provide free internet. Some libraries didn't want to, but the momentum carried it through.

Q: How are you involved in prison libraries?
A: Haven't been yet. Have also been asked about academic, schools. But have chosen to invest in public libraries.

Q: How are libraries sustaining themselves in difficult economic times.
A: Difficult. 20-25% of libraries are at forefront and can continually refresh computers. Middle group, and then 40% really struggle and in 5 years haven't been able to upgrade. So studying what's the difference between these groups? High-performing libraries isn't due to funding as much as due to the librarian - if they're actively involved, actively promoting, they perform well. So future training is focusing in this area too.

Q: Has foundation work increased opportunity for collaboration between libraries?
A: She thinks so, and they're trying to support it. Spend time building partnerships between grantees; support them to conferences, publication, etc. Recommends looking at their website.

Q: Could the Foundation look at supporting indigenous [libraries?] all around the world to get together?
A: Good idea - will take that back and consider it.

Q: [missed it]
A: Every State Library has a different mandate, governance structure, statutes, etc. Some State Libraries didn't even know how many libraries they have. Some have state conferences, some might barely send out an annual newsletter. Would have liked to spend more time working with state libraries but weren't comfortable meddling into policy issues.

Q: Is meeting Rodney Hide and will show movie re Latvian mayor. Hoping to gather more stories re value politicians place on libraries.