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Librarianship in Botswana: A Review of Recent Literature Librarianship in Botswana: A Review of Recent Literature

floral device Abstract

This paper summarizes and analyzes library literature of the 1980s and 1990s about the library situation in Botswana. A prominent issue discovered in those writings in that of the appropriate model for library development: should it be the U.S./European pattern or an indigenous one? One solution suggested is to follow Western models for research libraries, while developing new models for public libraries. In fact, certain Western practice is being followed and written about, for example time and workflow studies are being carried out, and authority control in the University of Botswana is achieved through the use of CD–MARC. Other writings discuss the library education program at the University of Botswana, library cooperation, and the need to collect development literature.

floral device Librarianship in Botswana

From this examination of professional writings — primarily from the 1980s and 1990s — it is clear that in Botswana, libraries have achieved a status that other African nations may well envy. (Of course the country itself is fortunate in its political stability, high literacy rate, and economic conditions — the per capita gross national product is 10 times that of its neighbors.) Botswana has a strong university with a good library, a respected library school, an operating public library system, and an active profession. The situation is such that the library literature of the country concerns itself with issues comparable to those of Europe and North America.

One question much discussed in Botswanan literature is that of the appropriate model for library development in a former colony: should it be the Western (British–American) model, or an indigenous one? This debate, as framed by such individuals as Adolphe O. Amadi in his book African Libraries: Western Tradition and Colonial Brainwashing, and Paul Sturges and Richard Neill in their book The Quiet Struggle: Libraries and Information for Africa, suggests “… that much of the conventional thinking on library and information development in Africa needs to be turned on its head” (Sturges 1990, 2). What must be addressed when discussing library development is “… the fallacy in the argument or assumption that what obtains or is deemed normal and appropriate in the Western world, is or ought to be automatically good, desirable, and appropriate in Africa” (Amadi 1981, viii). Stirring up images of colonialism and cultural subservience, advocates of an African model (as opposed to a transplanted Western model) insist on the need to forge an indigenous identity. Their goal is to achieve a kind of informational independence, free of the Western imprint found on so many other institutions in Africa. Reminding library planners of Africa’s rich oral tradition, proponents of an African model question the practical application of a (Western) system predicated upon a “book” culture.

Concern over the direction and shape that libraries and information services are taking in Africa has been addressed at IFLA conferences by individuals such as Philip van Zijl (1991) and Kingo Mchombu of the University of Botswana (Mchombu 1993). Van Zijl voiced his interpretation of the problem during the 57th IFLA General Conference: “African librarians are all sharing the same problems and consequently the same frustrations. Our library services, training, staffing and management structures are based on Anglo/ American models.” When discussing the unequal distribution of library services, van Zijl insists, “Our goal must be all the people and not merely a very small portion of the population. This misalignment of our library services stems from our colonial past.” As part of his call for an “African model” to counter the residual effects of a colonial past, van Zijl proposes what he calls “people’s libraries.” According to van Zijl, people’s libraries are to be “proactive”; they are to anticipate the information needs of users neglected under current library and information practices. As suggested by van Zijl, proactive libraries might consider exploring non–book materials as information sources, and additional training for information professionals to prepare them to work with such materials.

Concern for bringing information in a non–traditional manner to those often overlooked by current practices can also be found in Mchombu’s contribution to the 59th IFLA Council and Conference (Mchombu 1993). While discussing an ongoing study being conducted by the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of Botswana, Mchombu addresses the importance of identifying the information needs of rural people. A major focus of the University of Botswana study is “development information.” Mchombu finds that the information needs of rural people fall into two broad categories: “… common information needs found throughout the different communities … and location–specific needs which are related to the specific environment of the community.” Looking at six communities, including Botswana, Mchombu concludes that the lack of success in bringing information to individuals living in rural areas is in part due to a “… failure to design an appropriate information provision strategy which is based on the situation of the rural populations they are dealing with.” Mchombu, like van Zijl, believes that traditional means of presenting and disseminating information will not do. Mchombu also stresses the need to incorporate “indigenous knowledge” into any plan intended to meet the information needs of the rural population of Botswana. The University of Botswana study also attempts to determine by what means rural individuals exchange information.

Library and information services for the disabled are also under discussion. Addressing a study conducted in 1991 by the Botswana National Library Service, K. H. Moahi and R. M. Monau (Moahi and Monau 1993) discuss the need to “… identify the library and information needs of disabled persons in Botswana, and to make recommendations on how such services could best be instituted.” Like the writing of van Zijl and Mchombu, the Botswana National Library Service study emphasizes the need to identify obstacles faced by certain individuals — in this case the disabled — in their pursuit of library and information services. This study, like the one discussed by Mchombu, also seeks to determine the most common sources of information exchange for individuals who exist outside the parameters of traditional library users and information seekers.

The writings cited above urge those in the library and information professions to direct their attention to the information needs of individuals who have been up to this time underserved and overlooked. They suggest that for this sector of potential library and information service users, Western models of information exchange will not do. An African model would be preferable, first to identify needs, then to accommodate those needs.

However, as one learns from A. P. N. Thapisa (1993), libraries and information services in Botswana are varied. Many of these institutions and programs are in different stages of development, and call for different approaches in order to advance. A Western model will not suit certain situations, but a strictly African model will not meet the needs of every circumstance. Thapisa discusses the “… information activities of the Botswana National Library Service, the University of Botswana, The National Institute of Development Research and Documentation Library, and the Southern African Development Coordination Conference Library.” The range of activities engaged in by each of these organizations can differ greatly: from the village reading rooms and book box service of the Botswana National Library Services, to the Computerization Programme of the National Institute of Development Research and Documentation Library, as well as the Computerization Project of the University of Botswana.

Thapisa illustrates how the type of library may dictate the need for either an “African” or a “Western” model. Certainly the village reading rooms, book box services, and mobile library services give themselves over more readily to an African model, whereas the university and research libraries, and computerization programs lend themselves to a Western prototype. However, adding a new dimension to the African–versus–Western debate, Thapisa concludes, “We need to develop an infrastructure which manufactures, supplies, services and uses computers and telecommunication systems … . Such activities will enable us to overcome our overdependence on the West for such technologies.” Thapisa does not reject Western methods, only a dependence on the West to supply the needed technologies to pursue these methods. Thapisa outlines the various library and information situations existing in Botswana. The bulk of current literature concerns more “sophisticated” institutions, such as the University of Botswana Library, rather than village reading rooms and “people’s libraries.” The literature concerning these advanced–research and academic–oriented libraries suggests a clear acceptance of Western methods and models.

A number of articles illustrate how Western practices have actually been applied in Botswana libraries and information centers. In her article, “Time and Workflow Study of the Cataloging Process Used to Evaluate Library of Congress Cardsets as a Cataloging Support Service,” Claudine Arnold Jenda (1992) shows how the University of Botswana Library benefits from importing Library of Congress catalog cardsets. The notion of “time and workflow studies” is itself a Western technique. A report on subject authority control (Mbaakanyi, Ubogu, Lumande 1993) offers further evidence of the acceptance and implementation of Western practices. In this case, authority control in the University of Botswana Library is achieved through the use of CD–MARC subjects. The use of computerized systems suggests the influence the West has had on Botswana libraries.

In a study of management at the University of Botswana Library, Jenda (1994) addresses the possibility that a “… classical library organization structure …” is “… ill–suited to cope with the demands faced by most modern day academic libraries …” Jenda demonstrates the library’s need to adopt a newer model of library organization by incorporating the concept of the “subject librarian.” Jenda sees certain trends occurring at the University of Botswana Library that are forcing the move away from “traditional” library organization structures to what she identifies as a “subject–centered library organization.” These trends include the “information explosion and proliferation of publications … computer and communication technologies … proliferation and sophistication of user needs,” and “a need for improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of library services.” Mirroring the concerns and priorities of academic libraries in the West, the study includes discussions of “time–management problems … higher staffing costs” and “increased administrative responsibilities.”

Another area to explore when investigating the debate of African models versus Western models is library education. A brief history of the Department of Library Studies at the University of Botswana is available (Simmons 1992). In addition to discussing the department’s history, the article lists the degrees currently available from the Department of Library Studies. These degrees range from certificate courses to bachelor’s degrees and postgraduate diplomas. The author observes, “The curriculum of the department encompasses all traditional library operations, while providing the students with the understanding to cope with local conditions they may encounter in African libraries that can hinder adaption of ideal Western models of library operations.”

For a list of course requirements for the Bachelor of Library and Information Studies degree offered at the University of Botswana’s Department of Library Studies, one should consult the Short Communication column found in the journal Education for Information (Education 1993). Reviewing the course requirements for the four-year program, one sees courses that reflect both a concern for regional situations and an acceptance of Western practices. Courses include Introduction to Information Technology, Planning and Designing Information Systems and Services, African Languages and Literature, and Africa’s Information Environment.

The Department of Library Studies at the University of Botswana offers a Certificate in School Librarianship. A discussion of the intended recipients of the degree, as well as an explanation of the need for such a degree, can be found in an article by Andrew J. B. Metzger (1992). Examining “the role of school libraries in the educational process,” Metzger concludes that “the head of a school library should not only be a teacher or a librarian, but a teacher and a librarian–one with qualifications in education and librarianship.” The program, a one–year course of study open to those already holding a diploma in secondary education from the University of Botswana, may differ from the training of school librarians in the West, but the goal is the same: “to achieve excellence in school library service...” It is interesting to note that certain Western terms and concepts such as “media centers” and “resource centers” are used to describe school libraries in Botswana. Another aspect of library education in Botswana concerns “the training of information personnel at the middle level.” As described by Aina (1991), “middle level” personnel are what would be described in the West as para–professionals, non–professionals, sub–professionals, or library technicians.

The Department of Library Studies at the University of Botswana offers a Certificate in School Librarianship. A discussion of the intended recipients of the degree, as well as an explanation of the need for such a degree, can be found in an article by Andrew J. B. Metzger (1992). Examining “the role of school libraries in the educational process,” Metzger concludes that “the head of a school library should not only be a teacher or a librarian, but a teacher and a librarian — one with qualifications in education and librarianship.” The program, a one–year course of study open to those already holding a diploma in secondary education from the University of Botswana, may differ from the training of school librarians in the West, but the goal is the same: “to achieve excellence in school library service … .” It is interesting to note that certain Western terms and concepts such as “media centers” and “resource centers” are used to describe school libraries in Botswana. Another aspect of library education in Botswana concerns “the training of information personnel at the middle level.” As described by Aina (1991), “middle level” personnel are what would be described in the West as para–professionals, non–professionals, sub–professionals, or library technicians.

There are of course other areas of concern, areas that members of the library and information community in Botswana wish to see strengthened so that Botswana may continue to achieve “information independence.” Aina (1992) focuses on the producers of, and need for, development literature in Botswana. Information workers in Botswana must be diligent in their efforts to collect “non–conventional” or “fugitive literature,” so that Botswana may continue to advance socially and economically.

It is not only a dependence on the West that concerns library and information professionals in Botswana. Datta (1991) questions Botswana’s relationship with the Southern African Interlibrary Lending System. The author wonders whether affiliation with this organization is just another kind of “information dependency” for Botswana.

In summary, Botswana proves an interesting case in the debate over the propriety of choosing a “Western” model or an “African” model in developing libraries and information centers. Botswana has some effective libraries and information services, including the University of Botswana Library and the Botswana National Library Service. In their infancy, both these institutions were shaped by the influences of the British. While incorporating regional concerns, they have continued to grow by adopting and adapting Western practices.

Botswana’s information environment is indeed multifaceted. One would expect approaches and solutions to differing situations to also be multifaceted. More often than not, the particular situation confronted by the library and information community in Botswana — be it the information needs of the rural population or the technological and managerial needs of academic libraries — dictates the proper course of action. In university and research libraries, the appropriate response seems to be adherence to Western ways and methods. In public libraries, most writers call for a more “home–grown” approach. Although there are disagreements, the fact that there is ongoing discussion and debate can only be healthy for the profession.

floral device References

Aina 1991 — Aina, L. O. “Short Communications: Information and the Future of Botswana.” African Journal of Library, Archives & Information Science 1–2 (October 1991): 123–125.

Aina 1992 — Aina, L. O. “Access to Development Literature in Botswana.” Information Development 8–2 (April 1992): 104–108.

Amadi 1981 — Amadi, Adolphe O. African Libraries: Western Tradition and Colonial Brainwashing. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1981.

Datta 1991 — Datta, Ansu, and Margaret Baffour–Awuah. “Botswana and the Southern African Interlibrary Lending System: Cooperation or Dependency?” Information Development 7–1 (January 1991): 25–31.

Education 1993 — “Short Communication: University of Botswana Library and Information Studies.” Education for Information 11–4 (December 1993): 339–340.

Jenda 1992 — Jenda, Claudine Arnold. “Time and Workflow Study of the Cataloging Process Used to Evaluate Library of Congress Cardsets as a Cataloging Support Service.” Library Resources & Technical Services 36–4 (October 1992): 426–440.

Jenda 1994 — Jenda, Claudine Arnold. “Management of Professional Time and Multiple Responsibilities in a Subject–Centered Academic Library.” Library Administration & Management 8–2 (Spring 1994): 97–107.

Mbaakanyi, Ubogu, Lumande 1993 — Mbaakanyi, D. M., F. N. Ubogu, and E. Lumande. “Subject Authority Control in a Computerized System: Use of CDMARC Subjects in an Academic Library.” The Electronic Library 11–4/5 (August/September 1993): 311–317.

Mchombu 1993 — Mchombu, Kingo. "A Survey of Information Needs for Rural Development." In Booklet 8, Division of Regional Activities, Section of Africa: 59th IFLA Council and Conference Barcelona, Spain 22-28 August 1993 (1993): 9-11.

Mchombu 1993 — Mchombu, Kingo. “A Survey of Information Needs for Rural Development.” In Booklet 8, Division of Regional Activities, Section of Africa: 59th IFLA Council and Conference Barcelona, Spain 22–28 August 1993 (1993): 9–11.

Metzger 1992 — Metzger, Andrew J. B. “The Training of Teacher Librarians for Community Junior Secondary Schools in Botswana.” African Journal of Library, Archives & Information Science 2–2 (October 1992): 141–147.

Moahi and Monau 1993 — Moahi, K. H., and R. M. Monau. “Library and Information Needs of Disabled Persons in Botswana.” African Journal of Library, Archives & Information Science 3–2 (October 1993): 125–132.

Simmons 1991 — Simmons, Wendy. “International Library Education.” Journal of Library and Information Science 32–1/2 (Summer/Fall): 135–137.

Sturges 1990 — Sturges, Paul, and Richard Neill. The Quiet Struggle: Libraries and Information for Africa. London: Mansell, 1990.

Thapisa 1993 — Thapisa, A. P. N. “The Administration of Libraries and Documentation Centres in Botswana: A Review.” Library Review 42–5 (1993): 50–58.

van Zijl 1991 — van Zijl, Philip. “People’s Libraries: An African Perspective.” In Booklet 8, Division of Regional Activities, Section of Africa: 57th IFLA General Conference Moscow, USSR 18–24 August 1991 (1991): 3–8.

Citation

Bendoff, Lisa “Librarianship in Botswana: A Review of Recent Literature,” World Libraries, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1995).

About the Author

Lisa Bendoff is an information specialist with the consulting firm A. T. Kearney, in Chicago. She was formerly an information specialist for Bozell Advertising, also in Chicago. Her B.A. (History) is from Lake Forest College, and her M.L.I.S. is from Rosary College. Ms. Bendoff is particularly interested in the possibilities of the Internet, and in global information transfer.

© 1995 Lisa Bendoff.



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