This week’s post explores how library projects in developing nations are creating new literacy opportunities for their users, expanding access to the internet and information databases, and how they support the needs of their communities.
After a brief internet search for library projects in developing countries, I found several worthwhile endeavours.
The first project of interest I found is called Global Libraries and is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of the project is “to improve the lives of information-poor people while positioning the world’s public libraries as critical community assets for learning, creativity, and community development” (Global Libraries, n.d.). The project provided hardware and infrastructure to ensure local libraries receive free internet, as well as training for staff in the area of information technology.
The next project I found focuses on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) from the United Nations and discusses how libraries play an important, yet indirect role, in developing the health and welfare outcomes of those who access its services. It is supported by The International Federation of Library Associations who claim that “Increasing access to information and knowledge across society, assisted by the availability of information and communications technologies (ICTs), supports sustainable development and improves people’s lives” (Ifla, 2016). In Mongolia, for example, the Ulaanbaatar Public Library built two recording studios to create talking books, which hugely increased the amount of accessible material for many of the countries 15,000 blind and visually impaired people.
Libraries Without Borders, on the other hand, reimagine the purpose and design of libraries. They provide tools, resources and facilitators to collaborate with local communities and assist some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The KoomBook, for example, is one of the tools they have developed to help those in need. If a community suffers a natural disaster or is suffering the effects of war, the KoomBook can be used as an offline digital library. It is a device that can stream digital content including images, documents, and digital courses to nearby mobile devices during a crisis. Thus, alleviating some of the communications challenges that occur in dangerous times.
The Development of Mobile Devices in Developing Countries
ICT, mobile devices and the networks they connect to, provide access to important areas of knowledge and information such as science, technology and innovation. Directly and indirectly, they allow cooperation and knowledge-sharing worldwide and should be regarded as an essential service. Living in North America, most of us are privileged to have access to the infrastructure, networks, and the latest digital technologies. The same cannot be said for parts of the developing world. According to the United Nations assessment of ICT in the developing world many regions of Latin America, the Caribbean, Southern Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa have limited or no access to networks and mobile devices so many of their citizens remain in the digital wilderness (United Nations, n.d.). The gap between the digital haves and the digital have-nots is vast and while we remain this digital economy that divide affects people in profound ways. A recent report carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggested that increased mobile phone usage in developing countries improved women’s health outcomes and made them feel safer, more autonomous and self-confident. In Tanzania, mobile phones were used to facilitate birth registrations and promote education around important public services (Borgonovi et al., 2018).
Cell Phones Keep Shelves Stocked In Health Clinics In Developing Countries
Access to information should be a basic human right and mobile devices provide a simple and relatively cheap way for citizens in developing regions to enter the digital world. All too often though, that entry point does not have the same privilege as it does in the western world due to poor network infrastructure and communication/information censorship. Libraries play an important role in connecting their users to essential digital services. In some developing countries, especially rural areas, connectivity is so poor that libraries are the only entry point to the digital world. They offer users access to the services they need, allow citizens to have their voices heard, and create opportunities for civic engagement (United Nations Development Program, 2012). Ultimately, it brings me a sense of comfort to think that libraries can play a small part in helping those around the world gain access to the information they need when they need it.
Borgonovi, F., Centurelli, R., Dernis, H., Grundke, R., Horvát, P., Jamet, S., … Squicciarini, M. (2018). Bridging the Digital Gender Divide. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/internet/bridging-the-digital-gender-divide.pdf
Global Libraries. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https://www.gatesfoundation.org/what-we-do/global-development/global-libraries.
Ifla. (2016). ACCESS AND OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL: How libraries contribute to the United Nations 2030 Agenda. Retrieved from https://www.ifla.org/files/assets/hq/topics/libraries-development/documents/access-and-opportunity-for-all.pdf
Libraries Without Borders. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2019, from https://www.librarieswithoutborders.org/.
United Nations Development Program (2012). Mobile Technologies and Empowerment : Enhancing human development through participation and development. 1–58. Retrieved from http://www.undpegov.org/mgov-primer.html
United Nations. (n.d.). ICT offers great potential for development, but also risks. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://sdgpulse.unctad.org/ict-and-digital-gap/