05 October 2012

The Potential for Libraries to Serve as Community Centers

This week's Beyond Access conference brought together what must be one of the most under-discussed group in development: librarians. Information is a subject that garners attention, especially in regards to education. However the way that it is gathered, processed and dispensed matters quite a bit.

The opening session featured USAID Administrator Raj Shah and former President of Chile Ricardo Lagos. Shah focused on the transformational nature of new technologies citing Twitter as an example of helping to mobilize some of the Arab Spring protests. He also cited the use of mHealth tools in Bangladesh. "We are seeing the fastest decline in maternal and neonatal deaths in Bangladesh, ever," he said attributing the success in some part to the use of technologies.

A particularly interesting coffee session focused on gender and ICTs featured Thinley Choden from the READ Bhutan project, Danica MacAvoy from Clinton Global Initiative, Marieme Jamme of Africa Gathering, and Linda Raftree of Plan International USA. Audience members discussed the need for brick and mortar libraries. A few pushed hard on the need for physical space since they can and do become community centers. A library can be a place for women to meet and discuss issues such as reproductive health.

The best part of the session, and a strength of the conference, was that the majority of people participating in the discussion were practitioners. Libraries as community centers was not a point of theory, some were already bringing women together in a physical space to provide a range of services from computer training to family planning information.

Also see Linda Raftree's post from the conference.