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Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa

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Monika Elbert, David Fuegi and Ugne Lipeikaite describe the principal findings of the study Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa which served to provide evidence of how public libraries are perceived by their stakeholders.

This article presents a summary of some results of the study Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa [1] which was conducted to research perceptions of stakeholders and the public towards public libraries in six African countries. The study is closely linked with the EIFL Public Library Innovation Programme [2], which awarded grants to public libraries in developing and transition countries to address a range of socio-economic issues facing their communities, including projects in Kenya, Ghana and Zambia.

The goal of the study was to understand the perceptions of national and local stakeholders (municipalities, ministries, public agencies, media, etc.) and the public (including non-users) in respect of public libraries in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe about the potential of public libraries. It also aimed to understand how these stakeholders could best be positively influenced to create, fund, support or to use public libraries. It is hoped that stakeholders in the countries studied will choose to assess the findings as a potential tool to improve library management and advocacy.

The study was commissioned by EIFL from the Kenya office of TNS RMS [3], a leading market research company with offices in many African countries.  Geoffrey Kimani managed the research for TNS RMS. This article is based on the final report of the research completed in July 2011 which is also available [1].

A number of library perception studies were completed in recent years, providing a strong basis of data for advocacy campaigns, mainly aiming to argue against library budget cuts and closures. Most of these studies focus on libraries in highly developed countries like the United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (UK), while the study of perceptions of stakeholders in developing or transitional countries remained relatively neglected. Enabling access to knowledge through libraries in developing and transition countries is a key focus of EIFL, an international not-for-profit organisation which launched the Public Library Innovation Programme (PLIP) [2] in 2010 and awarded a first round of projects to grantees from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. These local public library projects aimed to help transform lives through innovative services. In relation to this activity, EIFL identified a gap in research on perceptions of public libraries in developing or transitional countries and a strong need for related advocacy actions. It therefore initiated this survey of perceptions across multiple stakeholder audiences to assess the feasibility of such work in poorer countries and eventually to find out how local stakeholders would use the results.

Figure 1: ICT usage in Ghanaian library

Figure 1: ICT usage in Ghanaian library

The study found that most people in the six African countries surveyed believe public libraries have the potential to contribute to community development in important areas such as health, employment and agriculture. However, libraries are small and under-resourced, and most people associate them with traditional book lending and reference services rather than innovation and technology.

The countries selected for study were chosen on an ad hoc pragmatic basis, taking into account the existing national public library infrastructure and the budget available for the study. Knowledge of users’ and other stakeholders’ perceptions is potentially a useful tool for advocacy on behalf of public libraries and evidence-based management. Whilst librarians in countries including the USA and the UK can take such information for granted, this is not the case everywhere. EIFL decided to find out whether this kind of information could be collected in Africa. Having completed the study, EIFL is now encouraging stakeholders in the countries studied to evaluate the results and consider how best to act on them.

The study looks at the general state of current awareness, perceptions and attitudes towards public libraries. As regards the public (users and non-users) it also investigates library usage behaviour and frequency of use, sources of information about libraries, satisfaction levels with the library and librarian, barriers to library use and willingness to use them in future. Such information has long been available to librarians in countries such as the UK. In case of national and local level officials, the study aims to identify their priorities for libraries and how they perceive the importance of libraries as potential players in local and national development.

This article covers a field which has not yet been much explored and provides background for evidence-based advocacy and evidence-based management for public libraries in Africa. Furthermore it aims to contribute to the methodology and effectiveness of practical research on public perceptions of public libraries, mainly by making available the instruments used for potential adaptation and reuse by librarians in other countries on a national or local scale.

Research Context

Investigating the perceptions of various stakeholder audiences has always been a focus of library research. Our work in Africa was inspired and influenced by many other studies and we list at the end of this article some recent studies which inspired us.

Figure 2: Computer-based reading lessons, Zambia

Figure 2: Computer-based reading lessons, Zambia

EIFL is an international not-for-profit organisation with a base in Europe and a global network of partners. EIFL was founded in 1999, with a mission of enabling access to knowledge through libraries in developing and transition countries to contribute to sustainable economic and social development. It began by advocating for affordable access to commercial e-journals for academic and research libraries in Central and Eastern Europe. EIFL now partners with libraries and library consortia in close to 50 developing and transition countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. Today its work includes a range of programmes and initiatives as part of two core initiatives:

  • Access to Knowledge for Education, Learning and Research: ensuring well-resourced libraries, modern Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and skilled staff are available to provide essential support to students and scholars.
  • Access to Knowledge for Sustainable Community Development: helping to transform lives through innovative services in public libraries.

In 2010 EIFL launched the Public Library Innovation Programme, recognising that the use of technology offers new opportunities to increase access to knowledge, helping to improve standards of living and to transform lives. For many people in developing and transition countries, the public library is the only place to access computers and the Internet, together with quality-assured information resources. Through technology, public libraries are also well positioned to extend access to previously under-served communities. Yet in many countries where the need is greatest, public libraries are under-resourced.

The Public Library Innovation Programme aims to spark innovative services in public libraries to improve lives. Under this programme, EIFL encourages public libraries to reach out to their communities through pilot projects.  In April 2010, the first year of a planned three-year programme, EIFL funded 12 such projects in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. In 2011 it plans to fund another 20 projects in the fields of support for children and youth at risk, support for farming and farmers, provision of health information and improving people’s employment prospects. The new projects will take their inspiration from relevant first-round projects.

Figure 3: Health information provision in Kenyan National Library Service.

Figure 3: Health information provision in the Kenya National Library Service

Initiating this study, EIFL aims to understand the perceptions of different stakeholders of public libraries in Africa, and in particular in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Uganda; about the potential of public libraries so as to understand how these stakeholders could best be positively influenced to create/fund/support or use public libraries. This study has the potential for further communication campaigns or actions designed to raise public awareness of the potential contribution of public libraries to sustaining livelihoods or improving libraries’ performance in response to users’ and non-users’ preferences, criticisms and comments. The changes in perceptions would then lead to increased awareness of innovative ways that libraries can serve public needs and funding for public libraries. The study is just a starting point and the process would need to be driven forward by library stakeholders in the countries studied.

Research Findings

Library Users and Non-users

The research revealed that libraries in Africa are mainly used by young people (48% of users are aged between 21 and 30 years old while 39% aged between 16 and 20 years old). 70% of users are men. Data show that library users have quite a high level of formal education: 30% of them have undertaken some form of post-secondary study in universities or technical institutes, 30% have some secondary education, while 17% completed secondary education. 80% of library users are single and the majority (64%) of them are students. Most users visit the library on a weekly basis, and on average almost all users will visit the library once a month.

Meanwhile, the typical library non-user is aged between 21 and 30 years (54%), has a relatively lower level of education: 27% have completed secondary education, 19% some secondary, while 18% only completed elementary. In comparison with library users, among library non-users there are more women (52%) and a greater proportion have families (39%).

74% of library users talk about their experience of using a library, mainly with friends or adult family members. Maybe partly for this reason, the awareness of one’s local library is quite high - across all countries, about half (53%) of library non-users. The majority of non-users across all countries claim that being busy is a key barrier to usage of libraries (64%). Data indicate, that relevant books would be the key motivator to likely future usage as almost half (45%) of non-users cite this as a key determinant in their future use of libraries. Other important factors would be more convenient locations (36%) and longer opening hours (35%), more materials accessible online (29%) and more computer workstations (24%).

Despite their perceived shortcomings, libraries are valued and are seen as important both by library users and non users. Users appreciate the value of libraries to both the individual as well as the community while non users tend to see libraries as essential to the community but not necessarily to themselves.

As regards the associations they make with libraries, for both users and non-users, libraries mainly represent for them books and a quiet place to study. Only a small percentage of people associate libraries with technologies.

Spontaneous associations (Users)

Total

Kenya

Uganda

Tanzania

Ghana

Base:

1990

499

498

499

494

 

%

%

%

%

%

Information/knowledge storage and acquisition.

74

75

80

64

77

Books.

67

61

69

73

64

Space: Quiet place/peaceful place for study, relaxation, etc)

54

48

43

72

51

Newspapers/ Current affairs/ Magazines.

9

9

13

10

4

Computers.

5

7

8

2

2

Educative videos.

5

2

8

6

3

Librarians.

1

 

1

 

2

 

Spontaneous associations (Non-users)

Total

Kenya

Uganda

Tanzania

Ghana

Base

1201

300

300

301

300

 

%

%

%

%

%

Books.

73

66

78

74

73

Information/knowledge storage and acquisition.

67

74

68

67

59

Space: Quiet place/peaceful place for study, relaxation, etc).

46

36

35

61

50

Newspapers/ Current affairs/ Magazines.

8

10

10

7

4

Educative videos.

7

2

21

5

2

Computers.

5

7

9

1

3

Librarians.

1

1

 

2

2

Tables 1 & 2: Spontaneous associations with libraries, users and non-users.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p.16)

When asked what they actually used libraries for in the previous 12 months, users gave these responses:

Services utilised by users in past 12 months

 

Total

 Kenya

 Uganda

 Tanzania

 Ghana

Base: Total Sample

1990

499

498

499

494

 

%

%

%

%

%

 Ask a librarian for help, advice or consultation

68

73

69

71

58

 Use reference materials, e.g. encyclopedias 

54

70

57

19

68

 Take out books for grown-ups 

49

58

53

67

16

 Use quest rooms/ spaces for study  

45

39

39

45

55

 Meet other people  

35

30

39

43

27

 Take out books for children  

19

13

24

29

10

 Learn languages  

18

10

15

39

6

 Take a class or workshop  

8

3

10

15

2

 Use computer software  

7

9

9

6

4

 Attend an event  

7

5

11

12

1

 Use children’s section 

6

4

7

7

5

 Connect to Internet with one’s laptop  

5

4

7

7

3

 Take out CDs or videos  

4

 

6

8

1

 Hear a speaker, see a film  

3

3

3

4

1

 Reading courses/books  

1

1

2

3

 

Table 3: Services employed by users in last 12 months.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 24)

When asked about the purpose of their visits (rather than what they actually did), the key reason given for using libraries was education, with about 91% in all countries using the libraries for this purpose. Among library non-users, libraries are also seen as a place to develop new skills or learn something new (90%) or obtaining helpful information for learning (78%).

The full responses for users can be seen in Table 4:

Purpose of library visits by (users)

Total

 Kenya

 Uganda

 Tanzania

 Ghana

Base: Total Sample

1990

499

498

499

494

 

%

%

%

%

%

Educational purposes (for homework or to take a class)   

91

94

90

86

95

National news or information                             

34

37

36

32

30

Local news or information                                

28

33

34

28

15

Entertainment                                             

26

16

19

29

38

Information on health issues                              

20

18

22

17

22

International news or information                        

15

14

9

22

12

To conduct a job search or write a CV

12

14

14

14

5

Borrow books                                               

11

12

2

2

28

To seek information on starting/running business

10

15

14

6

6

Table 4: Purpose of users’ visits to library. 
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 26)

The highest-rated aspects of library services are the competence of librarians, library facilities and opening hours. Computing and digital resources in libraries are rated lowest and this is further emphasised by the poor rating of librarians’ skills in that area. It is also worth noting that there are significant levels of concern regarding books and periodicals with 30% citing dissatisfaction with books and 25% citing dissatisfaction with periodicals. The data suggest  that the look and feel of the physical space are the key drivers of satisfaction. Meanwhile, the key source of dissatisfaction with libraries is the low relevance of materials available to users.

Figure 4: Users’ ratings of different library aspects (Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 29.) 38% rated computers and other equipment as either ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.

Figure 4: Users’ ratings of different library aspects;  38% rated computers and other equipment as either ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 29.)

Librarians

The survey of librarians shows that the traditional definition and role of libraries as lenders of books is still a key element in services offered by libraries in all the countries surveyed. However, the survey also identified a huge number of users seeking advice and consultation, which tends to suggest that the presence and competence of the librarian are vital. Digital services such as CDs, videos and computer and Internet services are not readily available across all libraries in the countries sampled.

The librarians interviewed said that the following services were available in their libraries:

Services  provided

Total

 Kenya

Uganda

 Tanzania

 Ghana

 Zim

 Ethiopia

Base = Librarians

283

63

50

48

67

35

20

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Opportunity to ask a librarian for help, advice, etc

90

94

86

81

97

94

75

Take out/lend books for grown-ups

87

97

76

83

88

89

90

Reading newspapers or magazines

84

97

86

83

91

60

60

Use of reference materials, e.g. encyclopedias 

79

98

58

67

99

74

45

Opportunity to meet other people

78

87

78

69

88

60

70

Take out books for children

75

97

78

79

61

71

40

A children's section

65

86

72

46

66

60

35

Opportunity to take a class or workshop

45

52

64

33

51

31

10

Opportunity to hire rooms/ spaces for study or meetings

40

35

52

29

55

17

35

Use of public Internet access

36

60

18

13

58

20

10

Opportunity to learn languages

34

37

58

50

10

34

-

Opportunity to hear a speaker, see a film or attend an event

31

70

22

25

19

20

-

Take out CDs or videos

27

49

22

29

18

20

5

Use of computer software

27

41

18

25

36

11

5

Connection to Internet with one’s laptop

25

38

16

4

54

3

5

Table 5: Services provided.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 43)

When it comes to the level of automation in their own libraries, the librarians gave the answers in the following table. Overall, the level of automation in the public libraries of countries surveyed is quite low. No more than 16% of the libraries have some kind of automation, the worst being computerised circulation which only 9% of the libraries surveyed claim to have.

In Ethiopia the situation is even worse as none of the librarians surveyed said they had a computerised catalogue, circulation system or ownership of a Web site though some libraries did have computers.

The low number of library Web sites (and their limited functionality due to lack of back-office automation) indicates a need for libraries to help their users reach out to resources and services on the Web rather than looking inwards to their own often outdated information sources.

 

Automation

 

Total

Kenya

Uganda

Tanzania

Ghana

Zim

Ethio

Base = Libraries

 

116

20

28

17

17

21

13

 

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Computerised catalogue

Yes

16

15

18

29

18

10

 

 

No

83

75

82

71

82

90

100

 

Partly

2

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Computerised circulation system

Yes

9

10

7

18

18

5

 

 

No

89

90

89

82

82

90

100

 

Partly

2

 

4

 

 

5

 

 

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Own Web site

Yes

16

40

7

18

18

10

 

 

No

84

60

93

82

82

90

100

Table 6: Automation in libraries.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 45.)

When asked about access to technology-related services in their own libraries, the librarians gave these replies:

Librarians who said they offer these technology-related services

Total

Ke

Ug

Tz

Gh

Zim

Ethio

Base

283

63

50

48

67

35

20

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

 The Internet

35

62

18

10

54

20

15

 Computer-based training materials

30

38

24

19

52

17

-

 Printing

23

10

26

33

33

17

10

 Online reference materials

21

30

16

2

39

14

-

 Office software

21

32

18

23

24

9

5

 Online inquiry

20

24

18

10

30

17

5

 Electronic library catalogues

17

10

14

23

31

6

-

 Technology help or advice

17

16

24

13

24

9

5

 Scanning

16

29

10

15

12

14

10

 Technology aids for disabled

14

54

2

6

1

-

-

 Computer literacy training

12

8

4

13

24

17

-

 Binding and lamination                        

3

13

-

-

-

-

-

 Photocopying                                  

1

3

-

-

-

-

-

 SMS telephone services for renewing books     

-

2

-

-

-

-

-

 Computer typing                               

-

2

-

-

-

-

-

Table 7: Technology-related services offered, by country.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 49)

The overall atmosphere in libraries was rated good and librarians also rated themselves highly on competence. Despite claims by librarians surveyed as to their good level of expertise in working with the computer, the ‘digital library’ aspect of their library rated the poorest by patrons. A comparison of users’ and librarians’ ratings of various aspects of library services shows librarians rated themselves more highly than did their patrons.

Like the other target groups investigated, librarians see learning and developing skills as key benefits from using the library (96%). 41 percent of librarians claim that they would like to provide computer and Internet access services in their libraries.

In the view of librarians, libraries are generally considered friendly, but they are lacking in technology and modernity, both of which receive a rather low rating across all countries. The main challenges faced by libraries are minimal reading space, limited number of books, few computers, lack of funding, inadequate staff, lack of current information, and outdated books. If more funding were provided, the great majority (86%) of librarians would give top priority to equipment. Moreover, not only would new technology be necessary to equip African libraries in an increasingly technologically driven world, but also a programme of training for librarians on the delivery of technology-supported services.  Currently 38% of librarians feel insufficiently trained to provide technology-related services.

As regards the impact on the community, librarians claim that learning and development of literacy are the main areas where libraries can create an impact. A majority also think libraries can contribute to adults’ employment outcomes. In the context of economic development, the lending and borrowing functions of the library are positively seen as a way for users to save money. Librarians also positively evaluate their potential to improve the health of individuals and communities by providing access to health information.

Librarians believe that they can provide access and promote local content. However, slightly fewer of them think libraries have potential as venues for cultural events. Librarians consider libraries as being potentially very effective as a channel for dissemination of government information as well as information on agriculture.

Local and National Officials

The survey of local officials revealed that libraries are considered essential both by the representatives of local municipalities which fund libraries and by those which do not.

Figure 5: Rating of libraries’ importance (Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 63)

Figure 5: Rating of libraries’ importance.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report, p. 63)

The main reasons for satisfaction with library services concern the physical library environment i.e. ambience and convenience. Staff are also an important driver of satisfaction. Overall satisfaction with current library services is not very high with only 55% saying they are fairly or very satisfied with the service. The highest-rated aspects are library opening hours (77% rated as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’) and librarians’ competence (69% rated either ‘good’ or ‘excellent’). The main reasons for dissatisfaction are the lack of relevant materials and computers, as well as limited space.

It is quite clear that local and national officials associate libraries with the very traditional roles of lending books and providing a study environment for educational purposes. The top three benefits of visiting libraries in their opinion are developing new skills, acquiring new ideas and obtaining helpful information. 87% of the municipalities which fund local libraries mention education, suggesting that libraries are mainly seen as extensions of institutions for formal education.

When it comes to reasons for dissatisfaction with their libraries, local authority representatives operating libraries gave the following reasons for dissatisfaction:

 

Total

Kenya

 Uganda

 Tanzania

 Ghana

 Zim.

 Ethiopia

Base  = (officials of local authorities that operate libraries)

202

30

31

38

14

40

49

Attribute

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The range of books is not good enough  

64

64

92

50

50

68

54

Not enough computers  

53

55

69

20

33

58

58

Not enough seats available  

47

64

62

30

17

26

63

They don't have the books I like  

33

36

77

10

33

21

25

I don't like the environment  

28

36

31

-

-

11

54

Too noisy  

25

9

46

-

-

26

38

Nowhere to get refreshments  

20

9

31

-

-

-

50

Problems entering building (i.e. poor disabled access)  

19

9

15

10

-

5

46

Not enough activities for children  

18

27

23

-

17

5

29

Opening hours aren't long enough  

17

-

23

-

17

5

38

My nearest library is too far away/not convenient  

14

-

15

20

17

5

25

You can't borrow books for long enough to read them  

14

9

54

10

-

-

13

Not enough activities or courses going on  

14

27

31

10

-

5

13

 The area isn't safe 

13

9

31

-

-

16

13

Difficulty reaching library (e.g. parking restrictions, poor public transport)

10

9

23

10

-

5

8

Table 8: Views of local authority officials.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 68.)

It is interesting to note that 96% of representatives of municipalities which do not fund libraries agree that public libraries deserve more funding.

As regards the impact of libraries on their community, local stakeholders are highly convinced that public libraries can contribute to solving community issues. Among the main challenges that could be addressed by libraries, poverty as well as illiteracy are mentioned most frequently.

Libraries’ potential contribution to learning, literacy and employment is almost universally accepted. Their potential contribution to various aspects of economic development was recognised by more than 80% of respondents. Libraries’ potential contribution to various aspects of health improvement are also recognised by more than 80% of respondents, but there are some doubts about their ability to act as venues for health-related events.

More than 80% recognise that libraries can provide a forum for meeting and building relationships even online. More than 75% understand libraries’ contribution to culture but there is some skepticism about their potential to act as a venue for local cultural events. Libraries’ potential to contribute to social inclusion and community development is also recognized, but some doubts are expressed by a minority as to their serving as event venues or helping the disadvantaged. Their potential to further social cohesion is recognised by about 90% of respondents.

A minority of about 25% disagrees about the potential role of libraries in providing e-government services, but this could be an indication that some governments do not have such services. The idea that libraries could disseminate government information is accepted. About three quarters of respondents can see a potential role for libraries in supporting agriculture.

It is encouraging that local officials, whether they run libraries or not, can see libraries’ potential to support policy strands outside what are perceived to be their core competences of education, literacy and culture. The fact that officials readily accept the notion that libraries could contribute in the areas of economic development, employment, health, agriculture and the digital divide, gives librarians a good foundation on which to build if they wish to move towards getting support to provide more innovative services which will be seen as relevant to the solution of major policy problems.

The small sample of national officials who gave their views also appears to have been expressing progressive and supportive attitudes to public libraries’ potential. The challenge will be building on the apparent goodwill to turn it into tangible progress and valuable impact on society’s pressing problems. 73% of them say that libraries are under-funded, so the door is at least ajar.

The following table shows in more detail the level of appreciation of public libraries’ potential by this group.

Purposes served by libraries (Spontaneous) –national level officials

Total

Kenya

Uganda

TZ

Ghana

Zim

Ethiopia

Base: Total Sample

112

18

20

14

20

20

20

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

 Educational purposes (for homework or to  take a class)   

89

89

85

100

80

95

90

 Information on health issue  

29

28

20

29

25

50

20

 Local news or information  

29

28

20

43

20

30

35

 National news or information  

29

22

25

21

20

45

40

 Entertainment  

28

39

35

-

15

35

35

 Information on agriculture   

23

22

15

29

30

35

10

 International news or information  

23

11

10

36

15

35

35

 Information and use of electronic government  services    

16

22

-

21

25

20

10

 To help children to do homework  

16

11

10

7

-

50

15

 Financial or investment news or information  

8

6

-

7

15

20

-

 Contact with distant friends or relatives  

7

17

5

7

-

10

5

Table 9: Purposes served by libraries in view of national officials.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Full Report p. 89.)

Methodology

Research took place in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Uganda. Our research partner for this study was the Kenya office of TNS. The study covered five broad sample groupings:

  • A survey of users of public libraries (a user was defined as anyone who has used a library open to the public in last 12 months);
  • A survey of non-users of public libraries (a non-user was defined as anyone who has not used a library in the past 12 months);
  • A survey of public librarians and library officials (library directors/managers, deputy directors/managers, professional librarians, assistant librarians and support staff);
  • A survey of local officials (the representatives of local authorities/municipalities, which do or do not fund local libraries);
  • Qualitative research in the form of in-depth interviews (IDIs) carried out with the officials from the ministries, national agencies and national media.

The surveys were carried out nationwide in each country focusing on the public libraries, urban and rural structural units, including community-run libraries. Sampling of respondents was conducted on the basis of the geographical distribution. The research applied random and targeted sampling. Random sampling was applied in surveys of the public libraries’ users and non-users, public librarians and library officials, representatives of local stakeholders’ institutions. Targeted sampling was used when performing surveys of representatives of national stakeholders’ sub-groups such as ministries, national agencies and media.

In surveying library users, respondents were selected at the sampled libraries. Surveys of users were conducted using both entry and exit interviews.

With regard to non-users, respondents were selected from within a catchment area of approximately 20km surrounding the sampled library. Households were selected using the random route technique and a screener question used at the house to select the respondent and verify eligibility as a non-user.

For the target group of librarians, a sample of libraries was drawn from the universe and assigned librarian samples. Often more than one librarian was interviewed in a library, depending on library size and location. All libraries selected for the users sample automatically included a librarian sample. In most of the countries, the librarian sample was distributed between public libraries and community libraries.

For the local officials, the sample was distributed among local and municipal authorities funding and managing libraries, and those who are not running libraries. The national-level officials were identified with the help of EIFL coordinators in the respective countries.

Samples and methods varied by target groups and are summarised in the tables below:

Target Group

Method

Sampling

Library users

Face-to-face library exit interviews

Random sampling

Library non-users

Face-to-face random interviews

Random sampling

Public librarians/library officials

Face-to-face interviews

Random sampling

Local Stakeholders

Face-to-face interviews

Random sampling (50/50 of officials who run/do not run public library in the area)

National stakeholders

In-depth Interviews

Targeted sampling

Table 10: Samples and methods applied to varying target groups

Planned sample sizes

Users

Non-users

Librarians

Local Stakeholders

National Stakeholders

Kenya

500

300

60

50

20

Uganda

500

300

50

50

20

Tanzania

500

300

50

50

20

Ghana

500

300

60

50

20

Ethiopia

-

-

20

50

20

Zimbabwe

-

-

35

50

20

Total

2,000

1,200

275

300

120

Table 11: Planned sample sizes.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Detailed Methodology Report p. 4.)

 

Actual sample sizes

Users

Total number of libraries sampled

Non-users

Librarians

Local Stakeholders

National Stakeholders

Kenya

500

20

300

63

51

18

Uganda

500

22

300

50

50

20

Tanzania

500

17

301

48

38

14

Ghana

500

15

300

67

40

20

Ethiopia

 

 

 

35

49

20

Zimbabwe

 

 

 

20

50

20

Total

        2, 000

 

1,201

283

            278

 112

Table 12: Actual sizes of samples.
(Source: Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Detailed Methodology Report p. 4.)

All research instruments were developed by the EIFL research team with the input of TNS RMS, based on their knowledge and experience. As these instruments were based on international experience and had not been tested in Africa, the instruments had to be adapted to local context and piloted prior to the survey. 10 pilot interviews per country were done to pre-test each of the quantitative questionnaires. The interviewers checked the clarity of the questions, ability of respondents to answer all questions both in terms of relevance and questionnaire design, the flow of the questionnaire, relevance of translation to local languages and all other issues helping to improving the questionnaire.

Thorough quality control mechanisms were used both during fieldwork and data processing stages. In the fieldwork stage, it included training of interviewers as well as de-briefing sessions with their teams during the process of data collection, performed by team leaders. The team leaders observed 5% of all interviews conducted, another 10% of all interviews conducted by each interviewer were back-checked by supervisors who got in touch with the respondent and re-asked a few relevant questions to ascertain that the interview was in fact done. 100% of questionnaires were checked by the team leader going through completed questionnaires before data processing.

All the questionnaires used in the study have been published and are available in English and Kiswahili for potential reuse or adaptation by others [1].

Conclusions

Public libraries are available in the countries surveyed offering the traditional service of lending books and an environment for studying. Most of them are small with limited space and have limited resources. It is evident that most lack technology-related facilities and, in some cases, books relevant to the needs of users.

Across all groups surveyed, i.e. from policy makers to users and non-users, a significant majority have positive sentiments about libraries. Although libraries are perceived as mainly offering study-related information and therefore an extension of the educational process, there are plenty of people who perceive their potential in less traditional areas.

Librarians are seen as competent to perform their traditional role but to have limitations in the technology-related services. Low staff skill levels in technology services are a result of the lack of the facilities that would enable them to improve their competency.

Libraries are seen as essential to the individual as well as communities in general. However, they need to engage with the community at a more tangible level that goes beyond just providing information, e.g. facilitating community inter-action with service providers of health, agriculture, culture and entrepreneurship. Going digital, which is currently a clear deficiency, would perhaps provide a new way for libraries to be seen as more dynamic and innovative.

It is also important for libraries to create and demonstrate their value to the community outside the recognised core areas of lending of books and facilitating study. This is quite challenging in the light of a significant number of librarians admitting to lacking the necessary skills to advocate for greater visibility and stronger support.

One of the research results was the locally adapted library perceptions research methodology. It combines quantitative and qualitative research methods and research instruments, adapted to local conditions. The empirical study helped to test it and confirmed its validity in the local context. Although the work was quite hard, EIFL and its research partner TNS RMS found it feasible to do this kind of study in the countries addressed.

The study has resulted in a rich body of knowledge to start discussions with stakeholders about the role that libraries play in the community, and their potential for ensuring the development and sustainability of library services. Even more important, it starts to sign-post the way to exploring the potential of the public library to support individuals, communities and decision makers in their pursuit of improving lives and livelihoods through access to information and knowledge. In fact, a workshop ‘Public Libraries as catalysts for development, innovation and freedom’ at the important multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nairobi, in September 2011 [4] led to lively discussions about the findings of the study, and how decision makers and library managers can develop a shared vision of Internet-enabled public libraries that contribute to development and to achieving the Millennium Goals. The findings of the study, once they have been validated by the local library communities in the countries concerned, will constitute a substantial body of evidence that potentially can be used to inform evidence-based library management and advocacy campaigns.

The progressive attitudes towards libraries widely expressed despite a context of widespread resource constraints gives hope that library stakeholders in these countries could mobilise to push open a door which seems to be ajar. In each country they will wish to assess and understand fully what this report is saying to them and learn any valid lessons. There is plenty of food for thought. EIFL is therefore in the process of working with the library communities in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda to raise awareness of the findings of the study and the potential of libraries for development, seeking to create a dialogue with the policy makers at the national and regional level.

The study including the instruments used can be found at EIFL Web site [1]. It consists of overall conclusions, 6 country reports and a methodology report to make take-up more accessible to national stakeholders. A first report on the study was presented at IFLA in 2011 [5].

Previous Work That Influenced Our Study

OCLC (2010). Perceptions of Libraries, 2010. Context and Community. Retrieved 28 March, 2011 from http://www.oclc.org/reports/2010perceptions.htm

OCLC (2008). From Awareness to Funding. A study of library support in America. Retrieved 28 March, 2011 from http://www.oclc.org/reports/funding/default.htm

OCLC (2005) Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources Retrieved 29th August 2011 from
http://www.oclc.org/reports/2005perceptions.htm

Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (2010). What do the public want from libraries? User and non-user research report. Retrieved 28 March, 2011 from http://research.mla.gov.uk/evidence/download-publication.php?id=1645

Flores, E., Pachon, H. (2008). Latinos and Public Library Perceptions. Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, 2008. Retrieved 28 March, 2011 from http://www.webjunction.org/latino-perceptions/resources/wjarticles

Public Agenda (2006). Long Overdue: a Fresh Look at Public and Leadership Attitudes About Libraries in the 21st Century. Retrieved 28 March, 2011 from http://www.publicagenda.org/files/pdf/Long_Overdue.pdf

References

  1. EIFL Perception Study http://www.eifl.net/perception-study
  2. EIFL- PLIP: Public Library Innovation Programme http://www.eifl.net/plip
  3. TNS Global Market Research: Kenya Market Research 
    http://www.tnsglobal.com/global/alm/kenya/
  4. Internet Governance Forum (IGF), Nairobi, Kenya, 27-30 September 2011
    http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/component/content/article/42-igf-meetings...
  5. Public libraries in Africa – agents for development and innovation? Current Perceptions of local stakeholders (2011). David Fuegi, Monika Segbert-Elbert and Ugne Lipeikaite. In IFLA 2011, San Juan, Puerto Rico, August 2011
    http://conference.ifla.org/sites/default/files/files/papers/ifla77/183-f...

Author Details

Monika Elbert, MBE FLA (hon)    
EIFL
Piazza Mastai 9
00153 Rome
Italy

Email: monika.elbert@eifl.net
Web site: http://www.eifl.net/

Monika Elbert has worked with EIFL since its beginnings in the year 2000, in particular with its Consortium Management Programme, geographic expansion, and strategic developments such as the Public Library Innovation Programme. In addition, she has been involved in recent years with European projects to create Europeana, the European digital library with content from libraries, archives and museums, and the Global Libraries Programme of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Monika believes deeply in the potential of public libraries for community development, and in equitable access to knowledge for library users especially in developing and transition countries.

David Fuegi MA (Cantab.) MCLIP
David Fuegi
51 Grosvenor Place
Colchester CO1 2ZD
UK

Email: David@Fuegi.info

David was a public librarian in the UK for a number of years, working in senior positions in large authorities before joining the UK Civil Service in the mid-1980s as a principal Library Adviser. After that he was instrumental in developing the Libraries Programme with the European Commission. For the last 13 years he has been an independent researcher and project manager, mostly leveraging EU money for libraries, most recently mainly connected with Europeana.

Ugne Lipeikaite, Ph.D.
Research Consultant
EIFL
Piazza Mastai 9
00153 Rome
Italy

Email: ugnelip@gmail.com
Web site: http://www.eifl.net

Ugne Lipeikaite is working with EIFL on research study of perceptions of public libraries in Africa as well as follow-up activities to raise awareness of the potential of public libraries targeted at decision makers. She is also leading impact planning and assessment activities of a national wide library public access computing project in Lithuania, funded by Global Libraries Programme of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her field of experience includes ICT diffusion and adoption projects, eInclusion initiatives and development of impact assessment frameworks for ICT- related projects and programmes.

Date published: 
9 March 2012

This article has been published under copyright; please see our access terms and copyright guidance regarding use of content from this article. See also our explanations of how to cite Ariadne articles for examples of bibliographic format.

How to cite this article

David Fuegi, Monika Elbert, Ugne Lipeikaite. "Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa". March 2012, Ariadne Issue 68 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue68/elbert-et-al/


article | by Dr. Radut