Libraries for development
Excerpts from a letter written in September 2011, by Tord Høivik (Norway) and Toni Feliu Oller (Spain) as representatives of the IFLA Statistics and Evaluation Section, to the Census Project in the Dominican Republic.
In the Dominican Republic, the National Library is carrying out a massive study of the country's public libraries. At the IFLA conference in Puerto Rico the organizers of this project have asked the IFLA Statistics and Evaluation Section (SES) to give feedback before the final round of library visits in September 2011.
The notes below are based on a very extensive project document, of almost 200 pages, dated August 24, 2011. In addition to the more technical comments we have provided some information about the project as a whole. These sections are meant for other audiences who may be interested in the project as such.
Some may also be interested in the technical details of data collection and presentation. For this reason we have given our response in English as well as in Spanish. The Spanish version has been prepared by Toni Fuller (Spain). This is based on the English version by Tord Høivik (Norway).
We would like to add that this investigation looks very thorough, very well organized and very well suited to the actual circumstances of libraries - and their communities - in the Dominican Republic. We are happy to contribute to this important work. We have a few technical comments, but they only relate to small details. This is a very impressive study and we congratulate our Latin American colleagues with its realization.
The long-term, or strategic goal of the project, is to establish a sound empirical basis for library planning, so that libraries can become tools for social development in a wide sense: - transformar las bibliotecas en los medios para el desarollo sostenido social, educativo, cultural, cientifico, tecnológico y económico sostenido del pais [change libraries into tools for the continuing development - social, educational, cultural, scientific, technological and economic - of the country].
The full project plan describes the current situation as problematic:
At the moment, the public libraries of the Dominican Republic do not fulfill their role in Dominican society because (among other factors)
- There is no real network of libraries nor a central organization responsible for their coordination and management.
- The municipalities (alcaldías) that are responsible for these [public] libraries also lack such a body.
- Nor is there coordination between the different types of libraries: public, school, academic and special.
The country has an association of academic libraries - the Asociación de Bibliotecas Universitarias Dominicanas (ABUD), but in its ten years of existence it has not succeeded in recruiting the majority of academic libraries (p. 6).
The goal of the first phase of the study (the "pre-census") was to identify and briefly describe all existing information provision units in the country. This preliminary investigation, which covered school, special and academic libraries in addition to the public libraries, was completed in 2010.
The goal of the second phase, which is being carried out in 2011, is to analyze the conditions and the situation of the public libraries, including their relationship with the local community. Data collection is both qualitative and quantitative:
- a survey questionnaire with closed, semi.-closed and open questions
- a guiding list of questions for focus groups
- a paper form to evaluate the collections
The data will be entered into a National Register and Information System for Libraries (Sistema Nacional de Información y Registro Bibliotecario - SINIREB), which will describe
- the physical infrastructure
- the collections
- user characteristics
- user satisfaction
- technical processes
- current services
The main institutions involved in the library field (p. 17) are
- the Ministry of Culture
- la Biblioteca Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña (BNPHU)
- the Ministry of Education
- the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technohnology
- the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD)
- la Liga Municipal Dominiciana
- la Federación Dominicana de Municipios
- the Office of the First Lady (Despacho de la Primera Dama, DPD)
The National Library has gradually increased its role as a central library authority. It heads a pilot project to develop a Network of public libraries, with support from the Spanish government. It also collaborates with municipalities and other bodies in order to open or reopen public libraries where these are missing. The UASD offers the only library training in the country: a bachelor degree in education with a library orientation (mención bibliotecologia). A full scale bachelor degree in Library and Information Sciences is being planned.
A long and arduous search for literature on Dominican libraries uncovered only five documents. Three of these were published before 1970. The more recent ones were:
- Las bibliotecas y la bibliotecologia del Caribe español: un estudio comparativo Cuba, República Dominicana y Puerto Rico (Freiband et al., 1996). Perspectiva, 6 (1), 7-28
- Situación y perspectiva de las bibliotecas y centros de documentación en la educación superior dominicana (Penkova, 2007). Santo Domingo: Secretaria de Estado de Educación Superior, Ciencia y Tecnología.
Penkova (2007) noted that
- 93% of the staff in these university libraries had no training in librarianship
- 90% lacked plans for persons with disabilities
- 42% had collections of less than 15,000 volumes
- 41% did not prepare their own budgets
- 39% did not offer user education
- 38% did not participate in the academic planning of their institutions
- 25% did not manage their own budgets
- 15% did not have their own budgets
- 14% had collections of less than 5,000 volumes
The first census
The first national census of Dominican libraries was carried out in 1999. The investigation was carried out by the Oficina Nacional de Estadística with the assistance of the national library. It was an important step ahead, but the study suffered from many methodological weaknesses. This census (p.36-39), which was restricted to libraries for public use, registered 1549 employees and 300 units:
- 120 municipal libraries
- 57 school libraries
- 36 university libraries
- 33 libraries in central government institutions
- 14 libraries in decentralize government institutions
- 11 in NGOs (“patronato o voluntariade social”)
- 6 in private institutions (“institutes”)
- 23 others
Some other data:
- 237 had sanitary facilities
- 127 information systems
- 99 had more than 100 sq.m. (and 201 had less)
- 93 used cataloguing systems
- 69 had PCs - 43 of these were located in Distrito Nacional
Among the staff
- 12% of the the staff (186 persons) had a professional library education
- 18% had other types of professional education
- 70% had sub-professional education only
The municipal libraries had 186 persons on their staff, or an average of 1.6 per library. Only 22 of these were professional librarians.
The information from the census is generally presented by province, but not by library type. To understand the library situation, separate data for public, school, special and academic libraries are needed. In their absence, it is impossible to judge the situation on the ground.
Three studies by students at the Curzo Avanzado de Bibliotecologia de la Universidad Iberoamericano should also be mentioned:
- Directorio de bibliotecas escolares en la provinvia de Santo Domingo, de Miranda Montaño (2007). Covers 51 libraries
- Directorio nacional de las bibliotecas universitarias de la Republica Dominicana, de Rosa (2002). Covers 56 libraries
- Directorio nacional de las bibliotecas y centros de documentación de la Republica Dominicana, de Nolascao (1999). Covers 92 units.
This survey of the literature shows that numerous attempts have been made to gather information about Dominican libraries. These attempts have been isolated ones, and often without scientific rigor, with basic errors in the methodology itself.
Focus groups and inventory study
The pre-census identified 239 public libraries. Ten percent of these were selected for focus group interviews. The project developed and tested an interview guide with eleven open qustions. Interviewers were trained in June 2010. The interviews were carried out in June 2011. They were taped and will be transcribed.
One important observation (p. 54): the users that participated had in general no clear concept of what a library was, and even less of concepts like “public library” and “school library”. They do not know what services libraries can contribute to communities. This means that they lack a framework for expressing opinions on services, staff qualifications, the promotion of reading through libraries, and so on.
The inventory study, which is restricted to non-fiction, represents a practical way of describing the currency of the book collection (p. 64-65). The visiting census staff is asked to look at every tenth title on the (non-fiction) shelves, and note the titles and the year of publication (appendix 4). The project estimates that this task will take about four hours in a small collection (< 500 books), In a collection of 1-2,000 books, up to 12 hours may be needed. ....
The final questionnaire had
- 12 questions about institutional status
- 28 on buildings, furniture and equipment
- 15 on collections
- 11 on organization and presentation of inforamtion
- 13 on services
- 13 on ICT
- 7 on human resources
- 9 on users
This project is very welcome in its own right. It can also serve as a management model for such studies. Both in its conceptual approach and in its practical planning the study is very well grounded in local conditions. Great attention is being paid to practical details. The recruitment and training of investigators looks thorough and realistic. The instruments have been extensively pretested.
Visit and interview instructions emphasize the importance of human relationships in data collection (tone, attitude). Estimates of time spent on travel, data collection, processing are very detailed (avoids surprises and extra costs). There is a comprehensive library and methodological glossary at pp. 89-111.
In the scholarly world there is a general trend towards Open Access, towards the sharing of data (in addition to publications) and towards publishing/releasing as you go, rather than towards the end of the project. In the statistical world, this is even more valid, since statistical data and methods are tools rather than final publications. We encourage all researchers and organizations that work with statistics to share their materials as early and as widely is possible.
In that way the task (and often burden) of popularizing or refocusing the results from big studies for new audiences, in different languages, can be shared with the library statistics community as a whole. We are happy to see that Brazil also did a census of its public libraries in 2009 and made the main report available on the web:
As a “model project” we hope the documents and the findings from this project will be widely distributed, both in Latin America and in the global library community. One way of achieving this, without adding too much extra work within the project itself, is to make most of the documents and data easily available for reuse on the open web, preferably under a CC license.
With cordial greeings
Toni Feliu Oller
IFLA Statistics and Evaluation Section