Since we started working on Beyond Access, we’ve been talking to people in the development field about how libraries can serve as a community hub for information and development. “Yeah, that makes sense, I’d never thought of that,” is a response we sometimes get.
Today, we heard that from four different people at four different organizations. On our last day of this initial visit to Peru, we were looking to close the circle on what we’d learned. We know there’s a government commitment to transparency and social inclusion. We know that there’s a lot of information being produced. We know there is a huge section of the population excluded from learning about, finding or using that information. And we know there are a lot of libraries throughout the country. Is there a way to connect the dots?
We met with representatives of the national e-government office, a civil society organization working on Peru’s Open Government Partnership action plan, and the Council of Ministers’ coordinator of the Open Government Partnership. We listened to the challenges they described – we’re producing content and services, we’re seeking feedback from the population. But it’s difficult to connect with many people. The Andes and jungle regions are particularly poor and cut off. Have you ever thought about public libraries as a way to offer these services to those who don’t otherwise have access? Or training librarians as a way to ensure people have the guidance they need to navigate all this information? The response, in each case was no, but we should try.
The e-government office proposed including librarians in the workshops they conduct on available services around the country. The civil society organization promised to explore libraries as a hub for social inclusion programs as part of an assessment they’re doing on how to consolidate social program support in marginalized communities. And we had a chance to talk with the National Library about promoting such services through their new “Libraries for Development” initiative.
Each of these is a small step, but one in the right direction. We leave Peru knowing that, as in many places, libraries are currently an overlooked resource. But we also know that there is some fledgling momentum towards changing that. Our goal in Beyond Access is to help libraries become legitimate development partners. In Peru, we now see that could become a reality.