The Library and Information Association of Eritrea (LIAE) held its fourth general assembly meeting with its stakeholders on Saturday, June, 9th. The one-day conference discussed the association’s progress and elected members for LIAE’s executive. During the general assembly, association’s challenges in the past, current status and future prospects were thoroughly discussed. LIAE was established in February 2000, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education (MoE), to facilitate library services and access information in the country. In partnership with the MoE, LIAE, has in the past drafted a policy guideline for school libraries, conducted research that explored the status of school libraries, provided training to librarians and introduced digital libraries into schools.
When LIAE was established at the beginning there were only two professional librarians with master’s degree, one with bachelor’s degree and six personnel with diplomas, while the rest were working based on experience. Ms. Azieb Tewelde, President of the LIAE said that the association has been striving to produce library science and archive management professionals. To this end, the association was also instrumental in upgrading library and information science as a degree level faculty programed at the Eritrean Institute of Technology. As a result, most of the members of the LIAE are graduates in this field.
Currently, the number of libraries has dramatically increased and recently many libraries are introducing digital contents.
The Association has been providing training for government and non-government employees of various institutions who had no prior training in library science. In addition, the Association plans for short courses depending on the public’s demands. One of the ultimate goals of the LIAE is, in fact, to create archive and library professionals and increase their capacity as much as possible.
At the third general assembly the Association discussed issues of generating income by introducing internet services and digital library access points. In 2015, it started providing internet service by using 20 computers and hiring four full time employees. In early 2016 the executive committee of the LIAE decided to increase partnership to ease budgeting challenges. Subsequently, the association was able to raise 13,355 Nakfa a month and cover miscellaneous expenses. The association also considers information archiving procedures via information management, especially those of electronic files. The digital library service the LIAE provides is continually being upgraded to attract more users.
Mr. Musa Naib, Director General of the General Education Department in the Ministry of Education, said that the habit of reading in Eritrean is still low which can negatively influence the society’s awareness and economic development. The Director General also said that due to the similarity of their goals and missions, the LIAE and the National Teachers Association could work together to overcome shortcomings.
The LIAE gets aid, mainly books and IT equipment, from inside and outside stakeholders. The Eritrean Danish Association, which was established in 2005 as an Eritrean community in Denmark, has been collecting and sending used computers to Eritrea from ICT universities in Denmark. The main beneficiary has been the MoE. However, communal as well as public libraries also get donations through LIAE. Recently, 20 computers, 45 scanned documents and IT equipment were received from Denmark to assist students of College of Science. Further, to assist archive management students with the service of Electronic Records Management another 20 computers are expected to be delivered.
In 2013 the LIAE organized a workshop to strengthen cooperation between public and communal libraries. The objective of the workshop was to integrate the libraries, introduce teamwork among them and make them complement each other. The LIAE, since its establishment, has made two surveys to assess the situation of libraries in the country. It has been campaigning to improve the habit of reading in the society by introducing new communal libraries and distributing thousands of books. The Association has been the cornerstone in establishing and supplementing libraries in the country. Back in 2013, the Association, in agreement with the MoE, decided to make May 10 a ‘National week for Reading’ and with the funds raised from several national institutions many books were distributed free of charge. The President of the association, Ms Azieb, said that in the early days of LIAE operation second-hand books were distributed; however, these days, no such books are distributed. The LIAE managed to avoid second-hand and less important books by sending rating factors to stakeholders. Since 2016, stakeholders such as Book Aid International started to send books database before sending the actual books, so that the receiving parties are able to choose what they need as aid. In the last seven years, LIAE has distributed more than 76,000 books to all the regions at all level educational institutions and Ministries.
The distribution of books has also continued in the years that followed and the UK-based book aid institution, named Book Aid International-UK, donates several books to the Association in such events. The Book Aid International-UK has been assisting the LIAE through the MoE since 2012. Previously, the flow of books into the Association was only provided once a year, but now, books are coming twice a year. The coordination between these institutions has strengthened and the UK-based institution supervises whether books sent are properly distributed. The books delivered to the Association nowadays are of good quality and newly published. Even Higher Education institutions have become beneficiaries of this assistance as per their requests. In 2018, the association has made contact with Doctors’ Association and finalized its deal to deliver 7000 books on medicine books to the Orotta College of Medicine.
In 2016 the LIAE came up with the idea of establishing libraries in all training centres of the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) across the regions. When the NUEW approved the idea, the LIAE provided 10,440 selected books. The process of establishing the libraries is on-going in the regions and the Association plans to make annual supervision to these libraries to sustain their operations.
Parallel to this initiative, the tasks of the LIAE are wide enough to give attention to the rehabilitation centres under the Ministry of Defense. Considering the amount of readers in these centres, the Association distributed 6,532 books in 2017. The President, Ms. Azieb, said that since these facilitates are correctional centres, citizens inside them deserve to be productive while they are there. For those institutions that are financially weak the Association provides books free of charge. Nevertheless, to cover its operational expenses the Association basically depends on the money collected from the distributed books.
In 2001 LIAE started a ‘BOOK FAIR’. Since 2006, with the assistance from the Research and Documentation branch in the PFDJ office and the MoE, the book fair, flourished and spread in all regions. Students, publishers, writers and the general public eagerly expect this week every year.
For better operations LIAE needs to establish and maintain relationships with national and regional associations. LIAE is keeping up its long term relation with Book Aid International, and since 2009 it has renewed its membership in the International Federation Library Association (IFLA) and is striving to become a national institution.
In 2012 the LIAE was able to participate in the Johannesburg conference in which the association was able to share and exchange experience from the participating African nations. The Association gained so much knowledge from African nations’ way of dealing with activities of communal libraries. This year, similar expenses were covered by hosting partners and the LIAE was able to send one member of its executive committee to participate in the Uganda trainer’s training.
With all the challenges the Library and Information Association of Eritrea is determined to make reading part of sustainable national development. By promoting and campaigning for better reading habit it looks forward to better library operations and success in the country. The Association recommends the establishment of National library and an Archive Centre. It also looks forward to building hospital libraries for patients. The Association calls for a regular participation and interaction of national institutions with its operations to instil the habit of reading into the society.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Musa Naib said that LIAE’s work is sensitive, particularly in preserving and disseminating information and recommended that LIAE’s members should be trained through Professional Code of Ethics. Modern libraries are becoming digital information processing and transferring places and Mr. Musa advised that our libraries must work to become dynamic information centers to ultimately resolve communities’ problems.