Ugh I was seriously suffering information overload while trying to choose a direction for this week’s blog discussion on libraries in the developing world. Trust me the irony is not lost on poor me ‘suffering’ from information overload while many students in the developing world have little to no access to books or reading materials of any kind. It was the scope of this topic that had me so overwhelmed; I found myself asking how can libraries help address the major issues of poverty, literacy, social, and political problems that developing countries face? The concept of “Everywhere is here” that is shared in What is the future of the library? was just what I needed to re-focus my attention.
This concept opens the dialog to how ‘libraries of the future’ can narrow the digital divide that exists in the developing world. As discussed in The International Gap in Technology, the digital divide “is a major impediment to the social and economic development of poor nations. In the twenty-first century, knowledge and information and a highly skilled labor force are increasingly important determinants of growth in the global economy”.
Libraries and librarians have the power to bridge this gap in developing nations. They offer their users: “access to resources which can help improve their economic and social well being, public access to the internet and all of the information resources it can provide [and expertise through] dedicated staff who provide advice which can be the difference between users simply accessing information or being able to use it” (Hamilton).
There are number of initiative that aim to deliver librarians and libraries to the developing world. Librarians Without Borders (LWB) “is a non-profit organization that strives to improve access to information resources regardless of language, geography, or religion, by forming partnerships with community organizations in developing region”. LWB partners with different groups to lend there expertise to promote literacy, libraries, and learning to put “information in the hands of the world”.
Other initiatives take a more content forward approach such as Library for all. Library for all strive to offer access to a digital library that can be accessed in low-bandwidth environments via mobile phones, e-readers or low-cost tablets.
As discussed in Mobile Access to Digital Libraries in Developing Countries, “computer access in developing countries is a real challenge [yet] mobile phones are available to a broader percentage of the population. [Furthermore] mobile phones are the best alternative when compared to desktop computers, and laptops, in terms of price, power supply and operating conditions.” These cloud based platforms capitalize on existing tech to provide access to eBooks to communities without access to physical books. The only gap I see in this initiative is that there was not much discussion on who will provide the scaffolding to use of this technology? Access is one thing but understanding how to use it is another. I don’t believe that libraries must have physical books but I do think that information needs librarians.
“Dedicated staff provide advice which can be the difference between users simply accessing information or being able to use it. Staff are able to help farmers and fisherman use the Internet to better promote their products, or students improve their exam results. Public libraries can offer something for everyone in the community – the children and youth, women and girls, the vulnerable and marginalized, the entrepreneur and established businessman, the inventor or the health worker” (Hamilton).
There is clearly a lot of ground to cover but the relationship between new technology, developing nations and libraries has the potential to bridge the digital divide.
Barreto Da Rosa, Isaias, and David Lamas. “Mobile Access to Digital Libraries in Developing Countries: A Reflection on Motives, Options and Sustainability.” Research Gate. Conference Paper: 2013 International Conference on Cyber Science and Engineering (CyberSE 2013), At Guangzhou, China, Sept. 2016. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Hamilton, Stuart. “Stamping out Poverty as Well as Books? How Libraries Can Support Development.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Peters, Alison. “Cool Stuff Librarians Do: Librarians Without Borders.” BOOK RIOT. RIOT New Media, 20 Dec. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Petronzio, Matt. “Ironically, Offline Internet Could Help Bridge the Digital Divide.” Mashable. N.p., 25 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Potashnik, Michael. “The International Gap in Technology – The Digital Divide in Education, Education and Technology in the Balance.” State University. Net Industries, 2016. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.