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India's VP: We can fight poverty with 21st century libraries


An important reminder from India Vice President Hamid Ansari that libraries have a vital role to play in closing the gap between rich and poor in our world by ensuring equitable and affordable access to knowledge. To do that efficiently, of course, requires serving up information digitally. – Philip Bane


"For the first time in history, perhaps, the poor have an opportunity to enhance their wealth through the creation and use of knowledge. And libraries can play a central role in this notable movement," Ansari said at a recent conference on the future of libraries organized by Tezpur University and the New Delhi-based Developing Library Network (DELNET) and reported on by The Indian Express.

A self-described bookworm who is at home with books, the vice president also said that the explosion of information available today in digital format requires libraries to transform and embrace the opportunity to remain a vital force in knowledge dissemination. Networks like DELNET, which connects more than 5,600 libraries in Indian and eight other countries is one example. Social networks and social media also play a role today in people's learning strategies, he said.

"We are living in the information age and this implies that the main sector of economic productivity is changing from agriculture and manufacturing to creation and processing of information and knowledge," he added.

Libraries, he suggested, can provide equitable and affordable access to knowledge and information to larger numbers of people and in doing so can allow more people to participate in knowledge-driven economic growth.

Digital inclusion
In the UK, a debate over library closures has a charity focused on digital inclusion suggesting libraries should not be entitled to a "get out of austerity free card" simply because they are libraries.

According to The Guardian, Tinder Foundation executive Helen Milner explains it this way: “Knowledge is no longer just found in books. Increasingly, knowledge, education, history, news and even fiction are found online. Books are not synonymous with knowledge, and they are certainly not synonymous with community. To be community hubs, libraries need to be about social inclusion before books. And digital inclusion is part of that picture."

Smart libraries
So how are libraries embracing 21st century technology to expand access to knowledge? We found some interesting examples:

  • Smart work centers: In Singapore, entrepreneurs, freelancers and others can take advantage of wired workspaces in several libraries. The flexible workspaces include amenities like secure Wi-Fi, printing, copying and video-conferencing services. They've proven popular and officials plan introduce smart work centers to additional libraries.
  • Pop-up libraries: In Medina County, Ohio, library outreach workers show up at community events and businesses and use the opportunity to tout the library's e-media assets – using tablets to show people how to access its extensive online resources, including e-books and other electronic materials or its specialized computer and smart phone apps. "People really like it. The most common response is 'I had no idea,'" Outreach Services Manager Ann Plazek told Cleveland.com.
  • Data-driven service: The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) uses a data visualization package to analyze whether it’s serving its patrons as well as it could be. What they found is that there are actually huge variations in the audiences at the different branches in BPL's system. For instance, world language books were incredibly popular at one branch, so it changed its displays to highlight them.

A Knight Foundation challenge asking how libraries might serve 21st century information needs named 14 winners over the summer, from a program in New York that offers library-based video visitations for children of incarcerated parents to a partnership between librarians and Wikipedia.

Related articles…
How a Boise library helped a homeless man get back in the game
Ideas you can use: City libraries tout tech to stay central to their communities
Video: Homeless Engagement Initiative: Dallas Public Library

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