Ghana’s President and Vice-President and books and libraries

This blog talks usually about books and reading, and sometimes about Ghanaian libraries and librarians, and information relating to the first two overall topics.

It is interesting that at the moment both the President and Vice-President of Ghana have close ties with books and libraries, though in different ways.

I have mentioned before that John Dramani Mahama (now President of Ghana) wrote a memoir, My first coup d’etat and other stories, which was published early in July 2012. As Vice-President he undertook a mini-book tour in the US during which the book was formally launched. I haven’t read it yet, though I look forward to doing so. So a writer, an author as head of state – which Ghana has not had since Kwame Nkrumah and Prof K A Busia.

The connection with the now Vice President of Ghana – Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur – is a slightly indirect one, but there is a close family connection with libraries, in that his wife has been a practising librarian and continues to be involved in various aspects of the profession through consultancies and her key role in the Ghana Library Association‘s celebrations of its 50th anniversary.

Whether these involvements will have any impact on either the books or libraries sector is of course another matter, but one can hope!

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Recent books, libraries and information events

The last couple of weeks have been full of events related to books, reading, libraries and information, so
maybe I should take a bit of time to mention some of them.

The first two were what I would call “regulars”:

Ghana Voices, which part of the Writers Project of Ghana , featured prize-winning author Elizabeth-Irene Baitie reading from her latest novel for teens, The twelfth heart,  a boarding school based story. This was the evening that Accra suffered floods, so the audience wasn’t as large as expected, but Baitie is not only a good reader, but enthusiastic about both her writing, and her professional work. I already had a copy of the book, so at least I managed to get the author’s autograph, plus it has moved from a TBR shelf to my desk, which is definitely up on my priority list.

Accra Book Club had its monthly gathering, and this time the book was Ann Patchett’s widely acclaimed book,
State of wonder, which interesting enough I think we all read on Kindles! Although we were all somewhat critical of certain aspects of the book, that didn’t detract from its being a good choice for a book discussion. Our next discussion will be Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, so I’ve started that – again on my Kindle.

The last three are more work and professionally oriented:

One of the Africa representatives of Elsevier,  a large
publisher of STM (science, technology and medicine) books, journals and other materials, did a presentation
of several of their database products, including ScienceDirect and Scopus . It was obviously a sales pitch, but still interesting
nonetheless. And a good opportunity to meet three colleagues whom I hadn’t seen for a while. The only thing
which upset me was the fact that twenty-seven people had signed up to attend, but only ten actually came!

I also did a quick visit to the 10th Ghana International Book Fair, which took place at the Ghana
International Trade Fair. As I went in the afternoon, there were large numbers of schoolchildren in uniform
around – some looking at books, the odd ones reading some, and others just rejoycing in being at the Fair on
an officially sanctioned outing. I didn’t buy much – as most of the books available are either textbooks,
supporting material for basic education, or books for children. I did want some dictionaries but couldn’t
find the variety I was looking for. I wasn’t happy.

The last event was the Ghana Library Association Seminar and AGM – a one day event which alternates every
year with a two day Congress and AGM at which elections are held. This year’s event was held a bit earlier
than usual – to coincide with the GIBF – whose theme did include libraries, after all – and was held at the
Ghana International Trade Fair. Close to a hundred librarians from all over Ghana gathered to discuss the
future of libraries, and how our own association will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2012. There was lots
of interaction between friends and colleagues, though as usual there were many issues left unresolved.

Now I have to catch up with work!

Are we training for the 21st century?

I don’t usually talk too much about work in this blog, though I do not hide the fact that I am a librarian both by occupation and profession.

During the last few weeks I’ve been almost a “one-man band” or should I say “one-woman band” at work, as one of my colleagues has left for “greener pastures”.  I wasn’t quite alone, as of course there were work-study students around at odd hours, and also a second set of students on practical attachment from the Department of Information Studies (DIS) at the University of Ghana, Legon.

This was the second pair who had spent time with us, and I found the contrast in their attitude to their practicals to be worth comment.   One of them didn’t even show up until well into day 2, and given that we had a public holiday, this meant he missed almost a quarter of the time here, but it didn’t seem to matter to him.  He said he had been sick, but had not bothered to find out the phone number of his “partner” or even of the institution he was supposed to be visiting.  Yet this is the same person who has worked in a library for several years, and dare I say, of whom one might have expected more?  Or maybe that is precisely why he couldn’t be bothered; maybe he felt he wouldn’t learn anything new?

The other person was around – more or less on time – and tried to keep in touch, if she was going to be late.  Similarly she seemed to be full of questions, and comments about the lack of customer service on the part of people working in libraries in Ghana.

I wondered what would happen to these two students when they left the University of Ghana – one to go back to a job, the other to find one – and what their attitudes would be in their workplaces.

On a more basic level, I got the impression, as we interacted, that a lot of the curriculum and the actual teaching being done at the Diploma level  in the Dept of Information Studies is quite “conservative” and dare I say, a little “old-fashioned”?  I am not saying that everyone should be using PowerPoint, or talking about blogs, but I do expect that students who are ultimately going to be working in some kind of customer service environment which is likely to be dependent on ICTs should have at least heard of some of the contemporary developments.  I was also surprised to hear that there is actually a course in “library automation”, which is exactly the same heading for a course which I did thirty five years ago at the University of Ibadan.  Are these students really being prepared to work in a 21st century environment?

In a more general way, the feedback from students actually made me wonder how much interaction there is between the Department of Information Studies and employers of their “products”.  Does the Department have mechanisms in place for getting feedback on what our expectations are? on what skills we require postgraduates, graduates or diplomates to have?  These could be by face-to-face interaction, hard copy questionnaires, focus groups, even group discussions.  Maybe there are discussions between DIS and the Ghana Library Association?  But if so, are these shared with members?

Of course, curriculum design is not part of our job as an employer, but I think increasingly it is a feature of the modern world that institutions of higher education cannot exist in theoretical vacuum.  What is the point of running professional courses, which are aimed at satisfying the future manpower needs of a particular profession or occupation, without an explicit consciousness that the future will be different from the present?

Web 2.0 for librarians workshop

I attended a presentation cum workshop on Web 2.0 for librarians at the US Embassy Information Resource Center here in Accra.  All part of the continuous professional development offered to members of the Ghana Library Association.  [Apologies for not putting up a link to the GLA website, but this is under review and reconstruction, to make it more interactive, among other things.]

Not too surprisingly I felt I had some acquaintance with a lot of what was talked about and demonstrated, but I also picked up several tips, and learned of some new websites and approaches, including Zamzar, which converts audio-visual files on the web to those which one can download, and then play on a pc, without the internet!   Will definitely go and check that out, and see how it works.

After the presentation – which was hardly formal – there was time for some hands on practice for the twenty five or so of us who were present –  including taking digital photos, setting up Facebook pages and trying a hand at basic blogging.  I sort of ended up as one of the informal resource persons, which was pretty amusing.

I don’t consider myself particular adept at use of these technologies, but I am somewhat surprised that there are no blogs by any Ghanaian librarians – at least that I have been able to find!   Maybe that will change?   I was also reminded that the whole point of blogging is to say something regularly!

So here I am…