Are We Ready For This Yet? Beyond Access Day 1 in Myanmar

“We need four things: leadership, finances, community support, and intellectual change” – this was the list of priorities for public library reform shared by one of the participants in a librarians forum we convened today at the National Library in Yangon as part of the Beyond Access visit to Myanmar. Myanmar has a deeply ingrained reading culture, and this  is reflected in the more than 4400 public libraries in the country. Many are government-funded, but many also are volunteer community efforts started independently around the country. Despite this affinity for books, many libraries are in poor condition, and the country suffers from a lack of professional librarians, especially those trained in modern skills. Yesterday, we met with about 15 of the country’s leading librarians to discuss their assessment of the country’s public libraries, and their vision for the future. While huge challenges face the sector, some have already taken initiative towards change. Librarians like Myat Sann Nyein of the American Center and Ye Htet Oo of the Tharapar Library have teamed up to train public librarians in new areas, like small library management and customer service. The privately funded Dr. Chit Maung community library, which we also visited yesterday, runs numerous programs for children and adults, including computer training in their internet facility. These steps and skills clearly provide a foundation for future efforts. Through several librarian training programs – at the National Library, the Myanmar Library Association, Yangon University and other academic programs – the country turns out a few dozen new librarians a year. But most go into academia or the private sector, and public librarians generally lack training and serve short terms. Village librarians have “received no training in 20 years,” commented one participant. While new automation and cataloguing systems are understandably seen as urgent by the library community, the librarians gathered expressed recognition that public internet must one of the top priorities for public libraries. Before recently, this was out of reach, as connectivity rates were astronomical and quality poor. As the situation slowly changes, there is a real possibility for libraries – at least around the major metropolitan areas where fiber reaches – to begin offering this new service. Like in many other places where Beyond Access works, librarians will require new skills in using modern information resources – including those online, in community outreach to match those resources to those. One librarian we met today agreed in principle, but asked “are we ready for that yet?” As Beyond Access continues its exploration of the information landscape in Myanmar, we hope to get closer to the answer.

Comments

  1. Excellent observations. These librarians can make a real difference in articulating the information and service needs of their communities and bringing local citizens, organizations, governments, services together to drive development.

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