Analysis: MUBANGA LUMPA
FROM June 4 to 8, 2018, Zambia commemorated the National Library Week under the theme “Libraries lead”.The celebrations were held in various provincial centres. The national event was organised by the Library and Information Association of Zambia (LIAZ) and launched at Kasama Provincial Library in Northern Province.
This year’s commemoration was launched by Northern Province Minister Honourable Brian Mundubile. The event attracted various government and non-governmental institutions, librarians, information professionals and ordinary citizens from across different parts of the country.
The National Library Week is an important event for our country because it creates an opportunity by stakeholders to highlight the important role libraries continue to play in our communities.
Libraries are important because they guarantee access to information by citizens which is critical to the many social and economic challenges facing our country today. A well-supported and functional public library infrastructure in our country can contribute to the sustainable social and economic development and the country’s national agenda such as the Vision 2030.
Libraries also give opportunities to citizens who have been excluded from formal educational institutions to achieve their goals and improve their quality of life through life-long learning.
Libraries are, therefore, a cornerstone in any society. In both learning institutions and ordinary communities, they help support literacy activities among ordinary citizens and learners, offer recreational and important information needed for citizens to make informed decisions. Citizens who are well informed are well placed to make better decisions on issues affecting them and their communities than those who are not.
However, many public libraries in Zambia continue to face numerous challenges such as limited distribution of facilities across the country; majority of libraries in Zambia are only concentrated in major towns and cities along the line of rail, the lack of awareness among the general public on their right to access information, the elitist perception of libraries by many people, i.e. that libraries are only for the educated in society, low literacy levels among many people and the high cost of locally published materials, among others.
Further, another challenge is that Zambia has not yet put up a legal or policy framework to support public library infrastructure. This has, therefore, resulted in public libraries to merely exist in a vacuum. The lack of public library legislation, thus, means public library services in the country are both inadequate and inappropriate for the information needs of the communities they intend to serve. This is because the lack of both legislation and policy framework does not define the role that public libraries can play in meeting the challenges of the present information needs of society. As a result, public libraries have failed to make any significant contribution to the social and economic development of our country.
In Zambia, many public library services are uncoordinated, and in most cases, local libraries are unable to share resources, characterised by inadequate bibliographic control and the low levels of information and communications technology (ICT) usage and application. This has also been compounded by the lack of standardisation and compatibility of library systems in the country. Thus, having a legal and policy framework on public libraries can create the much-needed institutional, administrative and financial support to meet many of the challenges faced by most public library services in the country.
According to the Vision 2030, Zambians, by 2030, aspire to live in a strong and dynamic middle-income industrial nation that provides opportunities for improving the well-being of all, embodying values of socio-economic justice, underpinned by the principles of ; (i) gender responsive sustainable development; (ii) democracy; (iii) respect for human rights; (iv) good traditional and family values; (v) positive attitude towards work; (vi) peaceful co-existence and; (vii) private-public partnerships (GRZ, 2006: 2).
However, achieving this vision will require the country to substantially invest in information infrastructure such as public libraries that enable citizens to have timely, consistent and accurate access to information so as to make informed decisions and meaningfully participate in the socio-economic development of the country. Public libraries strongly support the broader development targets on access to information. Libraries, therefore, are the institutions in society that assist and safeguard citizens’ right to information.
The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) also acknowledges that increased access to information and knowledge through public library provision, underpinned by universal literacy, is an essential pillar of sustainable development. The growth of public libraries in our communities in the current fast evolving digital information era and diverse cultural environment is essential, as libraries are key stakeholders in providing access to information, education, research and social participation and inclusion of citizens in governance and socio- economic development.
Therefore, this year’s National Library Week should provide us an opportunity to reflect on the important role libraries play in the social and economic development of our country.
Citizens, the Government, civil society organisations and the media should highlight the contribution public libraries can make to our country’s national development agenda such as the Vision 2030.
The author is a social commentator and blogger.
Analysis: MUBANGA LUMPA