63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997
How Do We Wake Awareness about Ourselves: Advocacy and Policy Development in Library Associations
H. KAY RASEROKA
University of Botswana Library
Private Bag 00390
Abstract text HERE
Raising awareness on library associations and their contributions to the community and national development should be an ongoing activity: a programme that is planned around themes withspecific objectives as a focus and a target audience, at least once a year. However, in libraryassociations with a small membership base and a low, professional years experience, which hasbeen limited to an evolving library and information culture, such an approach is not easy toestablish. A common practice is one based on reaction to perceived crises or threats to theLibrary and Information Service (LIS) profession. The advantages of this reactive mode are thatmembers of the library association appreciate the need for action and galvanise themselves fullyand rally around to an agreed strategy, for a limited period. The main disadvantage is that thereactive mode is dependent on the degree of alertness and monitoring capacity of a few who haveinfluence in the Library Associations (LA) for quick mobilisation of Library and InformationService (LIS) community. Once the immediate objective has been met, however, there is atendency to revert to the "resting" state with the leadership either burnt out by the extra effortcalled upon to succesfully meet the crisis or by discouragement where the gains were minimal forvarious reasons. Ideally, irrespective of size, the primary role of LAs, should be advocacy on allissues which pertain to LIS, including raising awareness about itself . Thus continuous monitoring,planning and implementation of programmes should be an LA membership mandate, the performance of which is evaluated annually.
In this paper, advocacy is seen as one of the methods for raising awareness about ourselves as library associations. The advantage of advocacy as a strategy for raising awareness on LAs is that it focusses on LIS community's concern about, and draws attention to national issues: It thusprovides a neutral platform from which to influence policies, some of which have to beimplemented by LA membership as individuals and by virtue of their office, but find barriersagainst affecting policy direction such as entrenched perspectives of stakeholders.
Botswana Case Study on Advocacy
The Botswana Library Association (BLA) is a member of the Standing Conference of the East Central and Southern African Library Associations (SCECSAL) which was established twentyfive years ago, in recognition of difficulties which small library associations face in their national advocacy roles. Hence SCECSAL members support each other: the host country selects a theme which addresses a perceived national LIS need and hosts a conference to which SCECSAL members are invited to contribute papers. The forum provides both a marketting platform for national LIS activities and gives prominence to the LA. It also acts as a leverage for the LA tocritically analyse issues of concern prior to the SCECSAL conference; approach policy makers on these issues and seek financial support on the basis of clear objectives which target general professional concerns and service, rather than trade union linked issues which are normally seen as personal.
The presence of guest LAs, attendant press coverage, and participation of parent and support ministries in their official capacities raises the profile of the host LA and its activities within the nation.
The crucial question, however, has been how this blaze of goodwill, and publicity is used to energise LA membership to capitalise on their temporarily enhanced stature in the society and leverage the LA programme forward whilst sustaining the interest and support of national stakeholder in LIS policies, and financial resources of LIS programmes?
The BLA, as host of SCECSAL VII, selected the theme of Libraries and Literacy in recognition of duplication caused by allocation of the national resources which had been separately committed for both LIS and Non Formal Education Literacy (NFE) support to a common target group of low and new literates.
It was clear that the sectoral approach was causing a duplication of services which could be enriched through shared strategies. The BLA sought to critically analyse perspectives of the various operators through exchange of experience at various levels among:
- literacy extension workers and librarians serving at grass roots rural communities coordinators of services at LIS and NFE levels,
- policy makers at the different sectoral ministry levels.
- the BLA was the broker which advocated shared services, highlighted advantages which would be gained and encouraged openness among stakeholders in seeking solutions for problems as well as facilitating a redirection of focus from perceived loss of programme control to customer benefit.
The advocacy conference provided a breakthrough by opening official channels of communicating and establishment of policy which facilitated a sharing of facilities, whose use would otherwise be limited to services provided sectorally by parent organisations. Coordinators were empowered to work on the administrative processes and support systems such as training, collaborative service provision, remuneration packages and public relations targeted at local authorities andcustomers. This laid the foundation for the establishment of Village Reading Rooms. Through its engaged neutrality the LA provided active support to officials of the national LIS to pursue a proactive role in the extension of LI services and coalition with the Non formal Education Literacy Unit.
The Village Reading Rooms have been in existence for over ten years. The questions which the BLA needs to investigate are:
- what lasting leverage did it establish to incrementally raise the profile of the Library Association with the parent sectoral ministries which influence the financial well being of the national LIS?
- what programmes based on the rapport established during the advocacy seminar could it have created as a long term activity to support the national library service system?
- what was a lasting outcome or programme from the successful SCECSAL conference which the BLA derived, excluding publications?
As a result of this advocacy activity, the BLA was invited to be a member of the board of the National Literacy committee. What has been the impact of this membership has on LIS NFE literacy alliance?.
Raising awareness on library associations and their contributions to LIS developments should be based on objectives and programmes; be evaluated periodically to facilitate the evolution of appropriate strategies and focussed, pragmatic regular activities. Incremental success will contribute to the establishment of a culture of iterative analysis of LIS issues through which proactive programmatic approaches to raising awareness and continuing education on the role of LAs in national development will be encouraged.