Saturday, November 14, 2009

Information Paralysis in PNG

Another Steven Winduo article published in The National newspaper on August 17th, 2009. The column where this article first appeared is Steven's Window on page 5 of the newspaper.

Information paralysis begins when students and teachers have no access to library facilities or the closest library. The educational institutions acknowledge this problem, but are limited in their capacity to provide a library to serve the students as well as the general public. The small and limited capacities of public libraries cannot serve the national demands of the population needing specialized and technical information and knowledge. Existing public libraries do not even have the technological edge to provide online searches and access to relevant technical information needed by special groups of users.

The non-existence of public libraries and the lack of library services in our country make learning and access to information for Papua New Guineans one-hell-of an experience. Over the years I have shared similar sentiments with advocates of library services like Oseah Philemon and the Governor General, Sir Paulias Matane, that our government must fund school libraries and public libraries. Serious commitment to the development of libraries and expansion of library and information services to the people is needed. Recent announcement on making school libraries a compulsory requirement for all schools is refreshing, but seeing it through is the difficult part.

A nation without libraries and information resources that libraries provide is a nation that struggles to make sense of the changing global environment. In bookshelves of school libraries and public libraries there are no new titles or the kinds of titles someone needs for specific purposes. Journals and electronic search and research facilities are needed in these libraries. Book related gatherings and activities are the public services of libraries.

Existing school and public libraries have no funding and cannot afford to order new books. The same old response is heard over and over again. The cost of buying books from overseas publishers is astronomical. This is a story that is all too familiar to the dedicated library and information personnel throughout the country. Some of our urban schools are still yet to build school libraries.

For example, the Waigani Primary School, a prime school in the city, build on the grounds of the University of Papua New Guinea, where my children and the children of other top public servants attend school adorns the school ground. Instead a section of a building that houses the administration is converted to a library. So much for a city school with a room labelled library, but on inspection one would see how unfriendly, disorganized, and frightening such a place is for our children.

If we are concerned about improving the quality and standard of education of our children through the pursuit of knowledge in published forms such as books, and now-a-days in electronic forms, we need to make the decision to improve the standard of our existing libraries by building standard libraries in our schools where students can go to discover the magic of knowledge.

I may sound contrite to some for expressing my views about this issue, but as someone who is both a learner of new knowledge and a scholar who has to research, teach, and write about Papua New Guinea I have had the good fortune of accessing relevant and up-to-date information from different libraries around the world. Others have excellent collections of books and publications about Papua New Guinea, making them become the self-appointed custodians of knowledge of PNG.

I acknowledge that one or two provinces have committed themselves to building a new or redeveloping an existing public library. Other provinces need to be persuaded into undertaking similar commitments. In my recent visit to Wewak I was shocked to see the old Wewak public library is now converted to the District Treasury Office. I appeal to those in the know and who control the funds to Wewak and the East Sepik Province to build a new Wewak Public Library as a repository of knowledge and restore the history of the province, but also as the site of knowledge gathering, research, education, and reading pleasures of the beneficiaries.

While our schools remain the primary providers of library and information services, school administrators and boards, need to give priority to the establishment or development of a school library. Giving the same old excuses of insufficient funding is counterproductive. Apart from setting aside annual funds, coordinating of activities and fundraising activities for a school library, and using part of the project fee for building a school library, school boards and administrators need to seek out help of the community.

I make this point as a parent with children attending the Waigani Primary School in the nation’s capital. I have not seen a building that is called a school library or heard from the School Board about activities to raise funds for building a school library. I have not even seen my children bring home a book borrowed from their school library. There is no commitment from the school board to do so. As far as my kids have been in this school nothing good has come out of this school, not to mention the complete disregard for a parents and citizens meeting or even voted for new board members. A certain individual from that school is rumoured to have used the school money to buy a CRV four doors. The same individual abused, risked to thugs, and wrecked the previous school bus. The children have no school bus or vehicle to transport them during school related activities. I paid my children’s project fees for the school to build a school library or a science laboratory to enhance their learning. I hope someone in authority will investigate this non-transparent and irresponsible practice.

Our primary schools, secondary schools, and major centres need public libraries. The government need to fund the establishment of public libraries with the aim of improving the provision of services and making accessibility to information and knowledge of the world easier to our people. Without continuous support from the government our libraries and schools will remain weakened by a system of information paralysis.

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