Monday, March 3, 2008

Innovative Partnerships | NGOs, libraries, and e-skills programs

One of the most interesting aspects of the work that the Institute for Responsible Business (RBI) is doing is trying to connect libraries and librarians to e-skills training programs. This is also true in the case of one of the organizations that I am doing research right now in Latvia (sorry the blog is off by two days, will update very soon).

As my college Kara would argued, libraries are centerpieces for community development in many countries of the work, and in Eastern Europe this is right on target. My experience in Poland with the RBI's work strongly supports Kara's conception of libraries as institutions that not only promote knowledge, but also build communities, build and strengthen social networks. It is also true that libraries and librarians, in many cases, are not fully aware of the potential and innovative uses of the space for providing something beyond public access to computers. I am not generalizing, of course, but this seems to be a common problem across the countries I have visited during this trip. It is rare to find a library where e-skills training happens, and this is definitely a missed opportunity. Librarians need to think more innovative about their work and about the importance of the institutions they represent to promote values of e-inclusion in the community. Public access in libraries is not enough to make these institutions relevant to today's information and communication needs.

A great grassroots example of how libraries can actually work towards this goal, is the partnership between the RBI and the Library Ikonkas (public access points) in the Podlasie region of Poland. The RBI realized the potential of this partnership and organized a workshop inviting all the librarians from the region to a workshop to share how its volunteer trainer program works, the value of an e-skills training program in the libraries, and the value for and from the librarians to be active participants in projects of this kind. The workshop was very successful in terms of participation, 50/118 libraries in the region were represented. As my friend Pawel says: "Little by little". The picture was taken by the RBI during this workshop, for the full photo collection go here

Right now, the RBI is starting to work with 12 Library Ikonka points around the region. I had the opportunity to join a workshop organized for volunteers in Wapi, a small city one hour and half south from Bialystok. I had the opportunity to chat with two of the librarians and they were very excited about this innovative use of their institution, of their space. In their own words: "We want to feel relevant, we want libraries to be relevant in the communities. We also want to be better versed in e-skills and this is a great way of doing it".

I will share some pictures that Pawel took at the Wapi workshop later...

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