Open journal systems and public libraries in Ghana

It seems that the end of the year is particularly busy for events of all types – and books and libraries  in this part of the world are not immune.

In the course of my working life, I have done some editing and proof-reading of papers/articles etc but never going through all the processes involved in publishing material.  So an opportunity to attend a CARLIGH (Consortium of Academic & Research Libraries in Ghana) workshop on GHANJOL and online publishing was a definite learning experience to be taken up, especially as Ashesi University College is planning to start its own journal sometime in the near future.

Most of the workshop was taken up dealing with a particular platform for publishing journals online – Open Journal Systems –  which was developed by the Public Knowledge Project and hosted at Simon Fraser University in Canada.  When we started the practical aspects I realised I had actually read articles from journals published under this platform – and these are from all over the world as well.   The key roles involved in publishing journals, especially online – authors, editors, reviewers, and others were also covered, so for those of us who are new to this area, there were guidelines to take away and processes and workflows one could use.  There was also discussion about Open Access and more specifically about the possibility of there being a GHANJOL – Ghana Journals Online – which would be part of the INASP project, Journals Online.

The other event was a half-day discussion on the role of public libraries in development, the second half of a full-day consultation facilitated by EIFL and IREX, with support from Ghana Library Association (GLA).  The event came out of the six country study conducted on behalf of EIFL of public perceptions of public libraries in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda.  The first part of the day was to sensitize many librarians and key stakeholders on the results of the report, and the second half, which I attended, widened the stakeholders to include non-library personnel working in information, including representatives from ICT companies such as TechAIDE and GINKS.

What was particularly interesting for me – apart from the opportunity to meet colleagues and put forth some of my own opinions – was the chance to hear some people actually saying that “some thinking out of the box” was essential for the public libraries to work effectively in Ghana.


Reading and libraries in Ghana

Thanks to two colleagues for posting subjects very dear to my heart:

  • Kinnareads on The reader in Ghana – which talks about the lack of reading, except for school and academic related purposes
  • Multilogue: mind and matter on Community power – which talks about the libraries that the author has used here in Ghana, very personal and emotional, but important nonetheless

I can only say thanks to both authors for expressing these sentiments which do need to be talked about.

Education: a view from Ghana – Do libraries really play a role?

Virtually all my working life has been in libraries – or closely associated with them:  academic, special, public, cultural, and now academic – if you want to “typecast” them!  And all in West Africa – Nigeria, then Ghana.

I admit that I have not worked in school libraries, though quite a lot of the work I did while at the Ghana Library Board involved liaising with basic schools and key local players in the education sector, and this was during some of the worst economic times in Ghana’s history.  What was the impact of what my colleagues and I did?  To be frank, I don’t know.  We really didn’t measure what we did, except to record traditional library statistics of books borrowed, and membership.

Has the situation changed since I left?  I would hope so, but I frankly admit I don’t know.

It seems to me that “libraries” are considered a “good” thing here in Ghana, at least from the point of view of politicians and the media.  That is, of course, when they decide to think about them and/or talk about them – which is not very often, in my opinion.  Certainly it seems that the word “libraries” is coming up a bit more frequently in the state owned press – at least as far as my personal impression is concerned.  But has this translated into anything more than lip service?

The Ghana Library Board has been in existence for more than sixty years, and it is certainly the major set of libraries serving the needs of the general public in Ghana.  But how many people even know of its existence, let alone use it?  I suspect that the vast majority of users are either children in basic education, or older secondary level students studying during holidays or for remedial classes.  Of course I could be wrong.  So yes, it does support education at some stages at least for some people.

But are those who don’t patronize libraries any less educated?

As for the community libraries, I would imagine it depends on the outreach that is done by those who running these facilities, plus the commitment that the originators have to their continued usage.  With the exception of a few that I have heard of – the Kathy Knowles Libraries in Nima and elsewhere in Accra and Friends of African Village Libraries in the Upper East of Ghana come to mind.  In these libraries there are literacy classes, reading camps, drama and music groups, among a range of activities going on.  There are stories of success, but who has heard of them?

Does anyone shout:  “I owe part of my success at school/college/university due to my reading and using the library”?

These are all positive, are they not?  But again I ask myself, and others, what is the impact of all this activity?  And is it measured?  And who cares anyway?

2009 GLA Seminar and AGM

On Friday 20 November 2009 I spent the whole day out of the office, attending the 2009 Ghana Library Association (GLA) Seminar and Annual General Meeting (AGM). For some reason while I was at British Council I didn’t make a very concerted effort to attend these annual events, except when they took place at the BC. It is an omission which I do regret, as I think it is important to stay in touch with one’s professional colleagues.

Every two years the GLA event and AGM takes place over two days, while on the alternative years, it is a one-day affair. 2009 was one of the latter years, so everything took place on one day, and as is not unusual here, there were a lot fewer people present at the afternoon event, as opposed to the official opening, and paper in the morning.

As usual I got to the venue early, but there were some people there already – mostly members of the GLA executive – but it was good to have quite a while to sort out matters like stuffing papers into files, checking that the projector which the Goethe Institut had brought worked properly, and was in the best position for a presentation, and so on. Altogether attendance was fairly good – over a hundred, and people spent much of the pre-official time talking to friends and generally keeping in touch.

It was quite a surprise that the Minister of Education, Alex Tettey-Enyo, was actually early, but as all the key people were around, there was the usual Ghanaian opening ceremony, with a prayer, introduction of key people, and then various speeches. TG none of them was too long. Interestingly enough the Minister of [or is it for?] Environment, Science and Technology, Sherry Aryeetey, also came in for a while. Not sure exactly why, though I was aware that she would be attending another conference in the same venue. But she too was pretty supportive of libraries. Tettey-Enyo did say that there was a need for new skills and competencies, and “that [it was] people not technology that create value for knowledge”. There were also speeches by the Director of the Goethe Institut (which sponsored the new GLA website) and of course by the current President of the GLA.

I did wonder what people watching and listening thought about the new GLA website, as I didn’t see anyone come up after the initial opening ceremony to say “let me see… can I try?” Maybe people felt a little inhibited?

The formal presentation was by Nii Tackie, a Lecturer at the Dept of Information Studies at the University of Ghana on “Life long learning: the role of libraries” which was the theme of the whole event. Personally I was a little frustrated at the manner of delivery as well as the content. Tackie did apologize for the lack of a PowerPoint presentation – due to “light off” at a crucial time the previous day – and said he would not read the whole of the fourteen page paper, which he didn’t. But to me, without a copy of the paper in front of me to read, it was somewhat frustrating. The content was very much a literature review in my opinion, and I would have thought it would have been more appropriate to tell the audience present to read the paper for this part, and then directly home in on the relevant bits – which were issues to do with the applicability of the seminar theme to Ghana and/or elsewhere in Africa. There were some questions, but not very many.

The business sections of the AGM were fairly straightforward: President, Secretary and Treasurer’s reports, plus one from the Editor of the Ghana Library Journal . The only real controversy came up over whether or not the names of members should be published in the newspapers, and when this could take place. I was a little surprised at how passionate many people were about this issue, and realized upon reflection that this is often the practice for professional associations and groups in Ghana, and a way of giving a very public credibility to members.

Overall I felt that the executive and organizers had obviously put a lot of work into making this event happen, but I did wonder how much the participants got out of it – professionally and intellectually.Does the format of having a very high table, and the rest on the lower level, promote interaction?  Similarly the theatre style seating doesn’t really encourage a lot of people giving feedback. Would it be possible to have presentations to smaller groups – who could then report to the larger assembly, or something along these lines?

Thoughts I admit, not really actions, but worth following up?

Kathy Knowles and community libraries in Ghana

I went to the latest NAWA (North American Women’s Association) meeting a few days ago (feeling slightly guilty that I hadn’t been to the previous month’s gathering) partly because there were going to be traders there, but mainly because I was interested to hear Kathy Knowles speak.

I had originally met her sometime in 2008 at the Canadian High Commissioner’s residence at an informal “tea”.  I had heard a little about her, and was really impressed in her work in setting up community libraries in Accra.   Basically she started off in her garden in the early 1990s, but unlike many other expatriates, she continued the commitment, and has continued to support many of these institutions, including the Nima library and the Nima community centre.

Because many people at the NAWA meeting had heard her accounts before, this time Kathy concentrated on her booksKnowles bks, and how she went about producing children’s books with an African setting.   I have mentioned before the gorgeous books which Kathy and colleagues at the Osu Children’s Library Fund have put together.   To me they are so appropriate and I bought some more, to be given to KAC for some of her friends.

I didn’t really talk to Kathy or to her colleague, Deborah Crowley, but I did think that there are issues about libraries and community libraries which I guess they must be confronting fairly regularly.  Because there is no government involvement I suspect it must be a constant battle to sort out official paper work, and get support from key local policy makers or policy implementers, especially if someone said that certain bills might be paid as a contribution.

I guess I was also thinking about sustainability (from communities and/or donors) and even the lack of involvement of professional organisations in our environment.  Certainly one is always hearing politicians and others mentioning the need for such libraries, and certainly at British Council Ghana we were always being approached for support from groups setting up or wanting to set up libraries.  I always tried to say that the long-term issues also needed to be looked at, as books do wear out – and with children, this happens really, really quickly!  I don’t know why but I always felt that community libraries were seen to be a “good thing”, but that they were not really seen as institutions that needed continuous support.   I suppose that is the major reason why the Ghana Library Board hasn’t done very well.   Lip-service is cheap; a regular budget to buy books and/or magazines is not.

I also wonder whether the fact that because many of the librarians who have been active in professional groups such as the Ghana Library Association have come from either the academic or research sector has meant that there hasn’t been that much involvement with public or community libraries.   I do think that is changing as more staff from the Ghana Library Board do attend GLA gatherings, but unfortunately the leadership of that institution (GLB) is not exactly what I would call exciting.  Well, at least now there is an actual Board for the Ghana Library Board, with the Chair being a former MP and former librarian, Kosi Kedem.   Maybe that will mean more attention is paid to the neglected institutions of school, public and community libraries.  I do hope so.

Kwame Nkrumah and books

Members of GhanaBlogging are supposed to have been talking/writing about Kwame Nkrumah over the last week or so, as part of the centenary celebration of his birth, which is officially celebrated on 21 September.    This is definitely belated, but will just have to do.

Certainly Kwame Nkrumah wrote books, and he respected them, and their use by others.  After all, he ensured that the Ghana Library Board started off as an institution to supplement the facilities offered by the formal education sector.  It is very much a pity that political views of Nkrumah after his overthrow probably led to a diminishing level of support to the GLB leading to its almost total decay during the 1980s.  And by the time the economy had recovered, the whole information scene had changed drastically, but the GLB still maintained a view of the world that harkened back to the mid to late 20th century.   Though I do have to admit that they do now have a website, which could be termed as progress, even if the time I accessed it the date was Saturday April 26, 2008 – and this was in September 2009!

Back to Kwame Nkrumah.   I don’t think anyone – whatever their political allegiance – will deny that Ghana’s first President was an intellectual.  He wrote several books, many of which are still studied in Ghana and elsewhere.

A probably incomplete list follows:

  • Ghana:  The autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (1957)
  • I speak of freedom (1958)
  • Africa must unite (1963)
  • Consciencism (1964)
  • Neocolonialism (1965)
  • Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah (1967)
  • Challenge of the Congo (1967)
  • Voice from Conakry (1967)
  • Handbook of revolutionary warfare (1968)
  • Dark days in Ghana (1968)
  • Class struggle in Africa (1970)
  • Revolutionary path (1973)
  • Rhodesia file (1974)

The irony is that here in Ghana it is quite difficult to obtain copies of his books, despite more than forty years having passed since he was overthrown in a coup, and more than thirty years since he died.  There used to be a shop in the Ghana Trade Fair that sold some of his work, but no longer – at least as far as I could see.  If one is lucky, a local bookshop “may” have some of his books, but as usual, the easiest way of obtaining his publications is to order them from either the UK or the US, unless one is really prepared to put in a lot of effort and move around Accra or indeed Ghana!   Rather sad really.