International Librarians Share Experiences, Learn about Information Access at Conference

Charles Batambuze, executive director of the National Book Trust of Uganda, visits with guests inside Olin Library during the Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression-International Federation of Library Associations conference Nov. 27.
Posted 12/07/07
Alice Miranda stood in awe at the plethora of books available for check-out at Olin Library. Miranda, a professor at the Universidad Nacional Costa Rica, says Wesleyan’s library has more books than seven countries in Central America combined, including 15 universities.

“There are 1.5 million books in this library,” Miranda says, peering at the wall shelves in Olin’s Smith Room. “In Central America, our libraries are nothing like this. Our biggest library would have 1,000 books, and some have less than 100. And the books we do have are old. The books of medicine are from the 1970s. In Central America, the libraries just don’t have the money to buy enough books.”

Miranda, at left, was one of 10 librarians from other countries who visited Olin Library Nov. 27-Dec. 1 for the Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression-International Federation of Library Associations conference and workshop. The topic was “The Internet Manifesto and Public Health Information: The Library’s Role.”

For five days, the international librarians attended lectures and field trips to local libraries in Middletown, Hartford, New Haven and New York City to talk about access to information. At Wesleyan, the guests attended presentations on internet use in Wesleyan’s libraries, and access to public health information in the Science Library.

Each librarian brought his or her own perspectives to the conference.

Lampang Manmart, an assistant professor, teaches library and information studies at Khon Kaen University in Thailand. There, she says, a library is used as a community center, and generally boasts a coffee shop, shopping area, exhibition area and bank. Street musicians or bands often perform at the library’s entry way.

Khon Kaen has 200 full-time staff members tending to multiple libraries across the campus. The campus’s main library has three massive sections for its more than 30,000 students.

“The problem with our library is that it’s just too large, overcrowded and there’s not enough computers for everyone,” Manmart explains. “I like that here, at Wesleyan, the library is small and comfortable. It’s not crowded, and it’s in a very beautiful building.”

Barbara Jones, the Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian, hosted the conference and held an open reception Nov. 27 for the international guests. (Jones is pictured at right with Manmart)

“By having them at Wesleyan, we were able to talk about the importance of libraries, and also about the importance of freedom of expression and access to information as part of the academic enterprise,” Jones says. “It also gave Wesleyan students and faculty an opportunity to discuss their dedicated to global initiatives.”

The guests received tours and lectures of the Russell Public Library in Middletown, the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University, the Hartford Public Library; the Connecticut State Library; and the Queens Borough Public Library in Jamaica, N.Y. Program topics included Cancer and HIV/AIDS Community Outreach Initiatives, health projects, library health literacy programs, community outreach initiatives in the U.S. Middle Atlantic Region, electronic resources for public health information and policies to provide public health information through the internet.

In addition, the conference included topics about internet usage, and how government transparency and anti-corruption projects have a direct impact on libraries’ ability to provide information openly and inexpensively.

In Costa Rica, Miranda says most libraries are the size of one or two classrooms, and not only lack books, but computers. Her university’s library hosts only 50 computers for its 17,000 students. In contrast, a public library would have only one machine available for internet access, she explained.

The conference’s guests of honor included Miranda; Manmart; Victoria Okojie, president of the Nigerian Library Association in Nigeria, Africa; Martha Castro, sub-directora de USBI-VER at the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico; Agnes Chikonzo, a librarian at the University of Zimbabwe, Africa; and Fatima Darries, faculty librarian at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology Institution, South Africa..

Also Charles Batambuze, executive director of the National Book Trust of Uganda; Lilia F. Echiverri, assistant law librarian at the University of the Philippines Law Library; Marica Rosetto, president of the FEBAB, Brazil; and Paul Sturges, professor at the University of Loughborough, United Kingdom.

The conference was sponsored by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), The Hague; and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), Uppsala.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor