This post is adapted from an article published in the Georgian Library Association Journal.
84 public libraries in Georgia have joined Beyond Access Georgia, a multi-stakeholder modernization effort aimed at introducing 21st century information and communication services through libraries. The results are already showing as new services emerge across the library network. Tandzia village library, located in an ethnically diverse region, draws both Georgian and Azeri users from neighboring villages to use ICT services. Acana village library offers Excel courses for the local community. Misaktsieli village library provides training in email for beginners.
What’s the key to turning a storage space for books into a bustling information center? Here’s a hint-it isn’t just about technology.
It’s About People
The idea sounds simple: Equip a public institution with computers and other gadgets. Processes will streamline and new users will flock in. But stagnating numbers of users, rows of unused machines, and internal management problems in libraries show that this assumption is flawed. IREX has helped numerous governments around the world design and implement library reforms. The key takeaway is that human capacity is critical. We’ve identified six core elements to this approach:
1. Librarians must be comfortable with the technology in their library.
Many librarians are non-users or basic users and feel threatened by the idea of youth turning their library into a video gaming space. Instead of over-regulating computer use to prevent this, librarians must have confidence in offering ICT services and overcoming challenges as they emerge. IREX works with local library champions to generate enthusiasm and offer strategies for managing ICT services.
2. Librarians need to have basic ICT skills.
Librarians are offered basic intensive computer training developed with partners like Intel and Microsoft. Such training focuses on hands-on practice such as using a search engine, accessing email, writing a resume, and editing pictures. These skills are often enough to transform a librarian without ICT experience into one who is comfortable in assisting beginners.
3. Library workflow needs to change.
Librarians need to have the skills and support to run ICT-based services. Too often librarians are tasked with managing IT systems on top of their traditional duties, which affects quality of service. With automatization of traditional services such as cataloguing and circulation, the introduction of ICT does not typically require new staff – but it does require shifting tasks. IREX offers management support to library directors in adjusting the workflow.
4. Technology must be sustainable.
The library needs to have the resources to maintain, repair, and eventually replace technology. Ensuring sustainability often means garnering the support of local governments, who typically control library budgets. It is crucial to invest in basic ICT maintenance capacity, involve local government from the onset, and teach library directors principles of advocacy.
5. Services must reflect community needs, and the library space has to be welcoming.
Librarians are trained in simple community needs assessment techniques that help them understand which services are most appropriate. Library design modernization focuses on low-cost solutions like bean-bags for comfort, colorful walls for coziness, and more free space for people.
6. Library services need to be packaged and promoted.
Computers alone are not services – but regularly scheduled beginner computer classes are. Libraries need to package and promote the services that are most useful for the community. Currently, rural libraries around Georgia are installing information banners inviting users to visit and use new services.
Equipped with technology and the capacity to optimize its use, Georgia’s librarians are transforming their libraries into community information and communication hubs.
Beyond Access Georgia is a partnership between IREX and the Georgian Library Association, Public Service Development Agency, Presidential Administration Fund, Ministry of Justice, and Institute for Development of Freedom of Information.