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Libraries and the development of democratic societies

by on February 28, 2014

Libraries have traditionally been seen as essential to the development of democratic societies. As knowledge commons they can provide an institutional approach to the valuing of knowledge, through a variety of programs, including collection development programs which emphasise the work of local scholars and through providing training in information literacy which is considered fundamental to the development of knowledge and of democracy in the future (UNESCO 2007). Valuing women’s knowledge and educating girls is a key factor in development and has been shown to lead to poverty alleviation, to the development of active citizens and to the creation of a more open and democratic society.

African knowledge about Africa is swamped by Western knowledge about Africa. The World Bank report on Extending African Knowledge Infrastructure (Jackson et al. 2008) reported that the majority of books and journals on Africa are held in libraries and other repositories in the West and that databases and websites of resources about Africa are also predominantly held in the West. A report by Thomson Reuters (2010), producers of the significant Web of Science database, noted that the whole continent of Africa produces about the same number of scholarly articles each year as the Netherlands, a small European country in terms of scientific output.

However, Rwanda has just taken an important step in furthering the development of an informed society, through the approval of a bill that seeks to establish Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA), a national institution that will provide both public archive and library services. This follows the establishment of Rwanda Library Services and the opening of the Kigali Public Library in 2012.

As the Public Library’s website site says: “By enriching minds and encouraging critical thought, a public library can combat the stultifying burdens of ignorance and conformity; its existence signifies the extent to which a democratic society values knowledge, truth, and justice.”

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