Last week I posted about my general perception of Pakistan after my visit there, this week I want to focus on what I learned about the status of school libraries and librarians in Pakistan from the people I was working with.
Firstly, it is quite rare for school librarians to have any training in librarianship. From my brief research I found that there were only two universities in Pakistan that offered such courses. The University of Karachi and the University of the Punjab. There is also a 6 month course at the Alama Iqbal Open University. It appears there are about 200 spots a year in offered in total, and, of course the cost would be something that needs to be considered by possible applicants and if the cost is offset by increased future earnings.
This situation leads to school librarians not really knowing what they are doing with regard to systems, policies & procedures and then having to work out their own based on what they already know, what they can find out, or what the school dictates. This sometimes leads to some organisational elements being over complicated (or insufficient) such as processes including cataloguing and shelving. Many of the schools are for profit schools, so books are treated as assets and usually cannot be weeded without a struggle. Collection development can be based on 'reading practice' style books and resources, with limited wider leisure reading of good literature. In school systems with large numbers of schools, the collection purchasing could be done by someone in a main office, with no input from the school librarians, and the budget could also be managed by the main office, again with little input from the individual school librarians.
Most school libraries do not use an automated library system, and many not have any system to allow students to search the resources in any capacity (not even a card catalogue). Browsing the shelves is the only method to know what is in the library (or going through the accession records). Pakistan suffers from regular daily power outages even in the cities, so not being reliant on computers maybe a good thing, and in places the internet is very inconsistent. The physical space of the school library tends to be very traditional based on the old British model, and what has always been done.
The procuring of books from other countries can be difficult due to the cost of both the books and shipping, (some vendors will not ship to Pakistan and if they do, it is very expensive), possible censorship by the school governance, and some books disappearing from the boxes on route. There have been instances of customs not releasing books until the appropriate 'tax' is payed. Local publishing in Pakistan is limited, even in the Urdu language. The cost of imported books is the same price as the retail price in the USA - ie $10 -$20+ USD per title, but when parents are paying between $100 - $300USD a month for school fees, the percentage of spending on books to create a decent library collection is very high at these prices. The cost of authentic titles and the lack of local publishing has led to a lucrative trade in pirated photocopied books, which are a fraction of the cost of the original and tend to be what school collections are based on.
With these limitations for physical books, many school librarians are looking to supplement their collections with e-resources, but again the costs are prohibitive for e-books and the supporting platforms. The distribution rights for Pakistan are also limited due to the high piracy rate in the country. Platforms such as Project Gutenberg, and Google Books have recently provided Pakistan with far greater opportunities than physical books have. The well known and established online databases are also very expensive for even the richest private schools in Pakistan. There is also the issue of slow internet access and power outages that again limits access, however, many people have a smartphone with 3G access.
The status in government schools is even more grim, and it is recognised as being a problem - this quote from the Pakistan Libraries project.
"Happily, a majority of middle and high schools under control of the Pakistani Ministry of Education do have some sort of library. However, these libraries are often not effectively used to enhancing education and broaden students’ frame of reference. Most of these libraries contain old and outdated collections, and the librarians are not well trained to manage the libraries or to develop reading habits in students and teachers. Furthermore, there are generally no internet or computer facilities in middle and high schools to provide access to online resources and knowledge exchange activities. PLP plans to upgrade these libraries curricula, train librarians, and establish IT facilities to strengthen libraries in middle and high schools in rural Pakistan."
This page from an 2012 IFLA report "Libraries in the early 21st century, volume 2: An international perspective" Libraries and Impact of Information and communication developments in Pakistan" by Kanwal Ameen outline some of the issues surrounding school libraries in Pakistan. He states that in the 1990's out of 171,000 schools, 481 had libraries, and only 30 of these had librarians. The National Education policy (1998-2010) targeted school libraries as a focus, but according to the report, not much has happened for a variety of reasons.
The internet is not censored by Pakistani authorities, only Youtube has been blocked for the past 3 years due to a disagreement between Google and the Pakistan government over blasphemous videos that are available on the site. There is a movement afoot in an effort to lift this ban.
There is also some perception that the school library is just a store house for resources, and the school librarian is there just to take care of the books, this too is based on an old British model and hasn't changed very much due to the limitations of training There are some great programs happening such as the Teachers and Children's Literature Festival held annually. There are also special projects such as the Pakistan Libraries Project working with government schools and Pakistani Academics writing about it (Revisioning School Libraries as Learning Hubs by Nooruddin Merchant.
Also see this article by Rubina Bhatti on the historical context.)
At the three day IB Librarian Continuum workshop I led we started with the participants designing their perfect library. I use this activity as a diagnostic tool to see where the participants are in terms of thinking about the library. Nearly all of the plans focused on the physical 'plan' of their library which supports what is stated by Kanwal Ameen, that the libraries are collection focused rather than user focused. I am glad to say that after three days of workshopping, and then re-evaluating what their plans were at the beginning there were significant shifts in thinking with a real sense of motivation to start right away.
I asked the participants if they would like to contribute to this post to tell the world what they are doing in their school libraries from what they learned in the workshop ... this is from Hasina.
"The school I joined has just started the IBDP program. I have a small Library and only 10 IB1 students so far. I found though the students who were enrolled in IBDP program had no clue how to use a Library. Not one of them knew what a Library Catalogue was or any idea of shelf arrangement.
"I gave a Library Orientation workshop to the IB students and some teachers also attended. The students had the old idea of a room full of books. We talked about the changing role of Libraries - the nature of a Library program today in a school setting, the role of a Teacher Librarian in a School Library and making effective connections with, and use of the Library and Librarian. I touched on Information Literacy and we broke them into the skills necessary to become quote “effective users of information". We also talked about Library citizenship.
This has led to the following - the students are designing a layout of the Library. Leaving the fixed fixtures and furniture in place I gave them freedom to plan out their library into areas which came out of our discussion. For example casual area, group work area, audio visual access etc. We shall have 2 sets of design by the 8th of October. The layout of the Library will follow the best of the two.
Then they will help me make the signage and we will discuss what to adorn the walls with. This will give them owner ship and I am sure the Library usage will increase.
The second task the students are going to do is form Library Rules Regulations and Procedures. These we will share with the management and barring the non-negotiable ones, according to school policies, we shall adopt these rules and regulations for our IB Library. Meanwhile I have asked for 4-6 slots in the next couple of months to teach the children the basics of location of resources, reading the shelves and a brief introduction to DDC.
I have already arranged for a presentation about Plagiarism by an outside expert and will carry it through together with the Extended essay coordinator to teach them Academic Honesty, research and writing skills and use of Turnitin.
The next on agenda is teaching the students access to e-resources and citation.
Thanks to Dianne I gained fresh perspectives and the will to start building. I hope to have a good library program in place by the end of my tenure.
Exciting stuff Hasina. It is great to see you have taken on a new role with the support from your administration, teachers and students. You are making a difference.
The most sustainable way for Pakistan to move forward in all respects is through education and improving literacy throughout the nation. Research has shown that libraries with qualified staff play an important role in improving literacy in young people, however Pakistan faces some unique challenges to succeed in this area. I am thankful I had the opportunity to work with enthusiastic and eager school librarians wanting to make a difference in their schools and with the young people they work with, and am looking forward to further opportunities to do so.