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Oral Culture and Library Acquisition


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Is it right to walk into a community in a developing country and establish library services based on the
idea of libraries in the developed world? For two young Australian librarians, 18 months spent working in Vanuatu and Samoa as AusAID volunteers provided insight into the world of acquisitions, information poverty, the nature of aid and book donations. This paper attempts to determine whether the traditional Western concept of libraries with our strong culture of recorded/printed information works in a world where oral language and culture is valued more than written, what types of materials should be collected and how they can be acquired.

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Oral Culture and Library Acquisition

  1. 1. Oral Culture and Library Acquisition: Clash or Fusion? Katie Hannan & Susanne Newton ALIA Access Conference, September 2, 2010, Brisbane.
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  3. 3. Vanuatu • AYAD funded a 6 month position for a Librarian at Epi High School • The School is located in Lamen Bay, a small village to the NE of Epi Island • Epi is a small island with a population of around 5000 • Lamen Bay has an airport, a postal service, a few small stores, a market house and a hospital half an hours’ walk away. 3
  4. 4. Facts and Figures • Y-shaped chain of four main islands and 80 smaller islands; several of the islands have active volcanoes • Population: 218,519 • GDP 5400 USD, ranked 140th in the world [1] • In 2007 there were 37 libraries listed as belonging to the Vanuatu Library Association [2] • Local Languages (more than 100) 72.6%, Bislama 23.1%, English 1.9%, French 1.4%, other 0.3%, unspecified 0.7% (1999 Census) [1] • Only 74% of people over the age of 15 can read and write
  5. 5. Samoa
  6. 6. Samoa • Polynesian Pacific Island Nation halfway between Australia and Hawaii • Population of 220,000 across two main islands with at least 100,000 more people of Samoan descent in New Zealand, Australia and America • Famous for rugby, fire knife dancing, tattooing, fales (beach huts), beaches, singing and dancing.
  7. 7. Facts and figures • Developing nation dependent on aid, remittances from family overseas and agriculture exports • Average yearly wage: USD5,400 (Australia: USD40,000) • Literacy rate: 99.7% [3]
  8. 8. Libraries in Samoa • One public library with two branches serves a population of 220,000 • Many Samoans have never accessed a library • Approximately 50 small libraries in country and about 10 qualified librarians • Major lack of computer access, no free public internet access available
  9. 9. Issues and challenges • Humidity / insects • Lack of local language material • Lack of money and IT infrastructure • Lack of skilled library workers • Vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters • Information poverty
  10. 10. Disparity • Different cultures have different priorities • Whilst Australian Libraries rely on the written word and a print based culture, • South Pacific communities value and invest in churches, community gatherings, music and oral tradition
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  12. 12. Challenges for Pacific Libraries • Books are expensive and hard to come by • Reliance on donations which are often poor quality, irrelevant or outdated • Unwillingness to throw anything away • Main sources of reading material are newspapers and the bible.
  13. 13. Rethinking Library Development – Tailored donations, partnerships • Appropriate collection development policies – Donations need to be suitable and tailored to the needs of the library in the developing country • Developing partnerships – Between AusAID and library associations, such as ALIA, Fiji Library Association, Vanuatu Library Association • Consider user needs as first priority, increase community consultation
  14. 14. Rethinking library development – Partnerships • Pacific Twinning Program [4] • An Australian Law Library is twinned with a Pacific Law Library to provide resources, support and training • Australian Law Libraries are twinned with libraries in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Cook Islands and the Solomon Islands • Many library staff in these countries are running libraries with little or no training
  15. 15. Rethinking Library Development – Digital solutions • Building collections using digital solutions • Rechargeable e-readers have been trialed successfully in Ghana [5] • Trial found students could use the e-readers successfully without prior use of computers • Used infrastructure in place for mobile phones to download books and solar- powered car batteries to charge • Easier translation into multiple languages [6]
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  17. 17. Rethinking Library Development - capturing oral traditions • Indigenous Knowledge Centres in Australia have been successful in rethinking libraries for communities that have a strong oral traditional culture “Indigenous Knowledge Centres are breathing places ...they keep our culture strong for our children ... look after our traditions, songs, language, stories and artwork ... bring back the things that guide us today for the future ... combining a meeting place for traditional business with modern library services ...” [7]
  18. 18. Northern Territory Library • Building indigenous digital archives • Using cameras, computers, voice and video recorders, scanners and printers, community members capture old and contemporary art, maps, songs, photos, film events and record interviews [8] 39
  19. 19. Rethinking Library Development • Need to ensure that Australian library course curriculums include content on indigenous culture and the establishment of libraries in developing countries • More two-way exchange and increased opportunities for training of Pacific library staff
  20. 20. Conclusion • It is our duty, as information professionals to ensure that the libraries that we assist to establish in developing or underdeveloped countries are appropriate for the community in question and have the flexibility to evolve to allow for the involvement of community members.
  21. 21. Credits • Photos of Ulei Secondary School Library taken by Romany Manuell, 2009. • Photos of Lamen Island Primary School taken by Cyndy Hannan, 2007. References [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]
  22. 22. For feedback • Katie Hannan – – @katykat on twitter • Susanne Newton – – @susannenewton