Background and the Case for Education

download (65)It is the view of the author that the problems facing Pakistan while seemingly complex and enormous are actually simpler then they seem. What we have been looking at are the symptoms, what we need to focus on are the root causes and work on them so as to bring in the change required to set the correction momentum rolling. This by no means is a quick solutions but the only one to correct the disarray we find ourselves in.

The first and foremost is education. It is what differentiates us from the so-called first world. It gives us the power to think and the ability to differentiate the right from the wrong. Our thoughts get reflected in our actions. Just take a minute to visualize the difference that will impact our lives if 200 million plus Pakistani were doing this on a daily basis. Education here is not only being referred to as advanced technical knowledge but to vocational and character building one. The ability for a person leaving school at primarily level to be able to read and write the basics, have the power to earn through community beneficial skills and have the inculcations of the values that will make him / her a good human being. Religious education, which already has a viable infrastructure and acceptability at the ground level, if taught in its true essences can deliver effectively.

The goal here is 100% literacy. The difficult part is execution, how to go about it. In order to make this the top priority for the country, a national urgency we need the buy in of the general public through every legal and democratic forum available. It is only through public pressure that awareness will be created and Government will give the due attention needed. Basic prerequisites like total revisit of the curriculum in line with the modern requirements and representative of the factual history, qualified teachers who have a sense of purpose above commercialism and institutions with grounds for students to develop their character on the playing fields will be needed.

Given the startling difference in fee structures of public and private institutions raising fee for the public institution has room and can only benefit the quality of studies and the structure that goes with it. International community, private sector, NGO’s and individuals can supplement the process. The strength of all this lies in finding dedicated individuals willing to carry the mission off the ground


Libraries: Are They Becoming Obsolete or Absolutely a Treasure to Be Preserved?

download (64)A gateway to knowledge and culture, libraries have played a fundamental role in society since the advancement of writing and documentation of man’s activities and intellectual progress. Culture and traditions have opened new horizons in people’s maintenance of lifestyles unique to each society, subsequently giving birth to what we call civilization.

Historical records show evidences that the oldest library in the world, the Royal Library of Alexandria, was built in approximately 300 BC in Alexandria, Egypt. This obvious statistic indicates that libraries were in existence way before the birth of Christ. However, the world’s oldest library does not exist anymore. During its inauguration, the library functioned as a major learning center in its time. Man’s follies know no limits and it was burned down by Julius Caesar during the Alexandrian War. Some say it was attacked and desecrated accidentally by Caesar.

Libraries were considered sacred, glorified next in line to temples and monasteries in ancient times. The St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, also in Egypt, was constructed around 550 AD. It is believed to possess one of the largest collection of religious literature in the world and a collection of Byzantine manuscripts. However, this library, nothing short of a bunker of knowledge, is not accessible to the public. Only monks and invited scholars are allowed inside. This restriction clearly supports the unshaken role of libraries being the sacred stores where religious texts were kept and treasured, preserved for the growth and development of religious doctrines.

In the modern world, the library has evolved to be the center of education excellence, maintaining its core functions of supplying the platform for intellectual stimulation and growth through intense focus on reading for examination preparation purposes, conducting research via an assortment of informative materials and above all, displaying a conducive environment of serenity, very suitable for mind development. However, the explosion of information technology in the late 20th century, embedded in multifunctional devices, has made libraries a deserted entity, what more, in some views, obsolete. In a click of a button on one’s computer, laptop, iPad and tablet, the world is brought right adjacent to the individual, opening up debatable arguments for books, in their conventional form, being boring, too wordy, bulky, time consuming, hence halting one’s speed in obtaining the information needed.

As much as the above arguments may seem to be true to a certain extent, the opponents of library have forgotten one important detail on why libraries are a rare commodity till this date. A library sets an environment not available anywhere else in term of plain thinking. The library functions in a manner where users are strictly herded into an ambience of peace, strictly catered for doing references, research and mere intense reading for information. The ‘silence’ rule enforced in a library says it all that users are there in the first place because they have an obligation to seek knowledge, to gather information and to utilize the gathered information for a definite purpose. The information age allows an allowance for an individual to take charge of his learning through his own pace without even stepping into the library. However, one’s self-determination and motivation factors play a crucial part in this quest.

The library disciplines its patrons to adhere to set guidelines and house rules. It invokes the inner consciousness of the patrons that they are there for a common goal, a common space where everyone is striving to accomplish some sort of task. Hence, the library has a drive in it that it awakens the fossilized non-activeness in an individual unlike when he dwells in other premises. Other than engaging oneself with the library, one may take matters simple as he will not be confined to any rules and regulations, often leading him astray from the actual quest of what he had set to do.

On another note, libraries are very synonymous with education and offer countless learning opportunities which can fuel economic, social and cultural development in a country. The inspiring story of William Kamlewamba from Malawi underlines the difference a library can make. Having borrowed a book about windmills from his local library, Mr. Kamlewamba learned how to build energy-producing turbine for his village. On the strength of this experience he went on to study at a leading University in the United States. That one book not only changed his life, but also transformed the lives of those in his village. Such encouraging stories explain why many countries are eager to ensure that libraries continue to provide access to knowledge, learning and development of ideas. In addition to leading books, modern libraries are also involved in providing copying materials facilities for research or private study purpose. There may also be students who cannot afford to buy every book or pay for every television broadcast or journals that they need to access for their studies. They, therefore rely on services of the library. Thus, one of the roles of libraries in today’s world is supporting education on a broader basis, providing the opportunities and catering those opportunities for all levels of society.

Another role of the library that would debunk the notion of it becoming obsolete is preserving the cultural heritage of a nation. Recognizing the cultural importance of sharing, Mahatma Gandhi once said that “a culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive”. The stimulus to share and reuse information and knowledge comes in many guises. Perhaps the most deep-rooted of our human instinct is the desire to preserve our culture for future generations. This is one of the most important functions of libraries. Libraries are rich repositories of historically and culturally significant collections, many of which are not available anywhere else in the world. Without an appropriate copyright exception, a library cannot preserve or replace a damaged work while it is still covered by copyright. For example, it could not lawfully copy or digitize an old newspaper or a unique sound recording to preserve it. Without appropriate library exceptions, this cultural heritage would be lost to future generations. Today, many works are only “born digital”, such as websites or electronic journals and are unavailable in print format. Without the legal means to preserve and replace works in a variety of media and formats, including format shifting and migrating electronic content from absolute storage format, many of these works will inevitably be lost to future generations or histories, if not for the libraries.

In conclusion, libraries play an essential role in today’s world. They are enabling the public to explore a wide range of knowledge based materials that they deliver. They are also encouraging creativity and learning by providing services like lend books and allowing people to access the internet through their computers. Libraries are a place for people to not only improve their knowledge and gain new information, but also a place where users get to touch and feel the pulp and print of great literary works. The joy in experiencing the feel of having flipped through the authentic materials is non-comparable to dull virtual prints in electronic gadgets. Libraries are the silent “educators” in today’s world. We still need them to make us ever wiser.


Reference Services in Academic Libraries in Sierra Leone

download (63)Introduction

Society is becoming more stratified and polarized, with the rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated, having limited cognitive skills wider apart than in any time in our history. In this period of increasing stratification by income and ability, the library in academic institutions may acts as a bridge between the entrenched social poles.

Reference libraries have the longest history of any type of library. They existed in the days of clay tablet and from such tablets, information was consulted and a list of concerns is being regarded as the primitive forerunners of current library catalogues. From their beginnings in ancient times, the functions of libraries have not altered significantly. However the format, quantity and content of the materials making up their stock and the resultant services have progressively been transformed to the point where the researchers today have access to a network of sophisticated information resources. The primary role of the library is educational and this has been the attitude if not the realisation of reference librarians (Higgens, 1988).

Academic libraries are those designed to meet general studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels and which also support their parent institutions in delivering their programmes for an effective teaching and implementation of practical skills. Higgens (1988) defined an academic library as that attached to help academic institutions above secondary level serving the teaching and research needs of students, staff and researchers. According to Harrods (2000) academic libraries are those found in universities, polytechnics, colleges and all other institutions forming part of or associated with the educational institutions.

Reference Services at the Fourah Bay College Library

Fourah Bay College library was established in 1827. It is located at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone in the Michael Jollife Building which was named after the late Mr. Michael Jollife, an expatriate who served as College librarian from 1961-1970.

The first floor of the library houses the reception desk; photocopying room; issue desk; Sierra Leone Collection (incorporating the United Nations Collection); the American Shelf; General Reference Collection; Cataloguing Department; Acquisition Department; Circulation Department and the College Librarian’s office. The second floor holds the Textbook Collection. The third floor contains the General Lending Collection.

The lower ground floor houses the Bindery; staff rooms and stores. The library has Professional, Para-professional and other support staff. It uses the Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme and the Triplicate Issuing System with Card catalogue.

Fourah Bay College library is one of the outstanding academic libraries in Sierra Leone established with the mission statement “to build a comprehensive collection of recorded information to support effective teaching, research and training in the Liberal Arts, Pure and Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology, Social Sciences and Law and related fields to facilitate speedy access to information, and to optimize the use of collection by potential library users of Fourah Bay College and other institutions.”

Reference Service is the peak of library activity job. It involves the maintenance of a resource bank from which answers to queries are provided and materials needed by users are made available.Davidson (1979) defined reference service as the provision of information and materials to people entering a reference library and requesting help from the library staff. Katz (1997) viewed reference service as the behind-the-scene activities of the reference library in the selection, acquisition and maintenance of the library stock and its careful recordings and administration.

When we talk of reference service in academic libraries, we mean those activities undertaken by librarians and associated types of staff from the reference department in academic libraries. This is achieved through the use of collection of books, and other materials stocked in the reference department for reference purposes distinct from collection made for home reading or other use outside the library. The reference process in academic libraries involves the following:

• The user recognises his need for information;
• The user puts his question to the librarian;
• The librarian engages the questioner in a reference dialogue;
• The librarian refines and restates the question;
• The librarian formulates the search strategy;
• The librarian identifies and exploits his own and/or external information resources;
• The librarian presents his tentative findings;
• The user assesses the relevance of these in relation to his requirements; and
• The user accepts an approved answer.

Reference materials at the Fourah Bay College Library include:dictionaries, encyclopedias, abstract journals, directories, yearbooks, biographies periodicals/serials, indexes to periodicals, newspapers, maps and charts, technical reports, patents, standard specifications, dissertations, theses, conference proceedings and the academic and administrative calendar of events or the operation of the college.

In addition to these materials the library offers the following services:

Reference Service: This refers to the personal assistance given to users in finding specific information whether direct or indirect. At Fourah Bay College Library, a resource bank is maintained from which answers to questions are provided and materials needed by users are made available.

Bibliographic Service: The library prepares book lists and bibliographies for its clients, especially post-graduate students which serve as a great aid in their research activities especially in the writing of their theses and dissertation.

Photocopying Service: This service is provided for students who wish to photocopy their notes as well as lecturers who want to reproduce multiple copies of useful materials to make their lecture notes. Users pay a fee for this service.

Internet Service: This is the latest among the services provided at the Fourah Bay College Library. The Library provides an opportunity for staff and students to access information online via the use of the Internet. However, to use the system, the clientele must have some skills in the use computers and a fee is also charged for the service.

Binding Service: Mutilated references materials are sent to bindery to be bound. However it is not a free for all service as some cost is charged for the services rendered especially to students and for personal work of staff members.

The reference department at the Fourah Bay College library is a special one from which materials cannot be borrowed for home reading. It is served by special librarians called Reference Librarians or Information Officers, who assist and advise patrons in their research and other literature needs. They provide bibliographic or intellectual access and offer targeted services and programmes with the mission of educating, informing and entertaining a variety of audiences and the goal of stimulating individual learning and advancing society as a whole.

Reference Queries:are also answered in the library. These questions posed by the library patrons to the reference librarians with the aim of getting the right information to satisfy their needs. These queries are divided into:

Directional Queries: These are queries in which the reference librarian is asked simply for directions.

Ready Reference Queries: These are referred to as quick reference questions. They are queries in which the reference librarians need to consult only one source, and that adjacent to the enquiry point, in order to deal with the user’s needs. This is distinguished from the purely directional level of work by the fact that the librarians need to consult some data rather than simply answer from personal knowledge.

Specific Search Queries: These are described as those in which reference librarians may need to consult several sources to ensure complete the satisfaction of user needs. They are the kind which are clearly understood without too much discussion and the sources required are obvious and fairly elementary.

Research Queries: These are queries that require extended searches, perhaps over several days and possibly involving a number of library staff concurrently. The marshalling of facts and figures from a wide range of sources, together with the need to write extensive background notes and explanations, and probably to borrow materials from other libraries and make a telephone call to advice or getting assistance from other libraries will be a feature of this type of query

Challenges of Reference Services at the Fourah Bay College Library

Academic Libraries in Sierra Leone, especially Fourah Bay College Library are not without challenges. These range from shortage of funds through lack of adequate professionally skilled staff to erratic power supply.

The library is wholly and solely dependent upon the college administration for funding. An assessment of funding at Fourah Bay College Library reveals that a very low priority is given to the institution’s academic nerve centre. The library is gravely underfunded. Games and Sports Division is given a higher quotation than the library. This financial challenge has therefore limited the library in the provision of an excellent reference service to its clients. The library also lacks the required current reference materials to handle reference queries. This financial constraints has limited the library in acquiring the most recent reference materials.

Further the number of professional staff is small compared to the number of para-professional and other support staff. The reference section does not have adequate staff to handle the volume of reference queries from the bulk of the users of the library especially during peak periods.

Power outages also pose a serious challenge. The problem, though a national one, has affected the operations of the library. The 21st century library is supposed to be a digital library which must thrive on power supply. Sadly power supply in Sierra Leone is erratic and this has handicapped the Fourah Bay College library greatly. As such staff and users could not make use of such facilities as computer, searching the Internet for recent reference materials and information or photocopying materials which cannot be used outside the library or even have access to automated reference materials.

The reference department at the library does not have Internet facilities to aid in answering reference queries that require current response. Also the seating accommodation in the reference department at the library is inadequate and cannot accommodate the large number of students in the college who come in for reference services. The reference department also lacks Current Awareness Services (CAS), Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) all of which form the basis for reference services. Moreover the reference sources and resources available at the reference department are not well publicised or marketed which could serve as a strong link between the department and the clients.

Indeed, reference service is one of the most important services that a library uses to meet its aims and objectives. There is considerable potential in the use the college library of reference services but there are also many challenges. There should be therefore commitment on the part of the librarians, library administration, users and the college administration in order to achieve quality and sustainability in the development and improvement of reference services. Only through their active participation will reference services transform the teaching and learning process, alter the nature of information seeking, organising and using behaviour at Fourah Bay College.


The Path of Life

download (62)Noisy classrooms, chaotic environment, lots of energy, strong humour, urge to learn? Then my friend you have landed into a senior class of a secondary school giving students a lot of memories to remember. As the secondary level of school nears to its end, students often face the common dilemma of choosing the higher secondary stream i. e. , between Science, Commerce or Humanities.

Students generally opt for a stream which has that small little magic that adds a little joy to one’s heart i. e. , that “special subject” which one craves for. Some are crazy for Biology, some for Business Studies and maybe someone else for Geography. Someone may have a dream of becoming successful in the field of science, someone in commerce and someone in arts. Some may also be interested in dance, drama, singing or acting as well.

People often criticize and discriminate between the three streams differentiating one from the other. According to some if you are not a science student your life is a waste, some say commerce is the best and for some humanities is life. One need not to listen to all these negative opinions rather go with one’s heart. People generally opt for courses having a large scope of employment, more job security and high pay-offs diverging them from their field of interest. To all those scared cats: “don’t be scared, go for what you love and enjoy doing. If you are sincere enough they will never betray you”!

So we can see how complex a small stray situation can be. It involves a lot of patience and critical thinking to decide which one to choose from. People should also keep in mind that good things are never a waste in life. Each field of study has its own charm, beauty and happiness which leads a student towards his/her successful future. So choose freely.

So never be sad what others say, be the best in your area of interest, brush up your abilities and groom up your potential, get ready to conquer the world with your knowledge, skills and expertise. Choose what you love and can be the best in it. Never let the melancholy of your heart reach the public by having faith in yourself and never losing your confidence. So, it is clear that every stream has its own charm. Just choose it with your golden heart, learn more than enough and all the best for future!