Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Literacy vs Education: What role is the library supposed to play?

What is the role of libraries in today's world? It used to be very straight forward. To promote reading. Get people to come in to the library to build up their reading skills. Hence, ensuring that people are literate.

lit·er·a·cy [ líttərəssee, líttrəssee ]

1. ability to read and write: the ability to read and write to a competent level
2. skill in particular subject: knowledge of or training in a particular subject or area of activity.

Singapore's got a literacy rate of 94.2% for residents over 15 yrs old. Should the library continue on its literacy campaign or evolve? Given that our National Library's vision and mission is one that expands the learning capacity of the nation so as to enhance national competitiveness and to promote a gracious society as well as to help in creating enlightened individuals who can compete confidently in all sectors. Is knowing how to read enough for that?

Seems that it is not. Is the library becoming an education institution? Can it become a learning centre?

ed·u·ca·tion [ èjjə káysh’n ] (plural ed·u·ca·tions)


1. educating: the imparting and acquiring of knowledge through teaching and learning, especially at a school or similar institution
2. knowledge: the knowledge or abilities gained through being educated
3. instruction: training and instruction in a particular subject, for example, health matters

Not only the library is promoting reading ti its users, it now has a additional role of teaching and ensuring users how to go about searching and gathering information. Would this fulfill the mission of the library? And that's not enough. Seems that librarians must also teach users on how to be anaylse and critic the information was collected. Know where and how the information is from, how it can be manipulated, what kind of message it is converying, is there 2 sides to a story...etc?

Effectively, it's teaching people how to think. It is a big job to undertake. Would libraries have to take up this role in order to support NLB's mission and vision? What kind of commitment would be need from the library users as well as the librarians?


luc said...

Role of libraryThe assertion that library ensures "that people are literate" seems to imply that the library is responsbile for the literacy rate in Singapore. I would think that library enhance the reading ability of the individual, rather than ensuring literacy.

A library is part of a learning centre or an educational institution, not a learning centre or educational institution by itself. It serves as a means to an end.

I was doing a search on the Internet for role of library and found the following:

"A free society demands full participation by citizens making informed choices. It is the responsibility of the public library to maintain standards of service which provide the information necessary to make these choices."

This is taken from Rhode Island Public Libraries.

In order for users to access these information, they should be:

1. educated to know what they are looking for.
2. they should be able to find what they are looking for.
3. be able to understand what they are reading.

I would see library fullfilling role number 2 and role number 3 partially with their literacy campaign.

Guardian of Knowledge, not super-know-it-allThe forte of the librarian is in information management.

As noted in

"Librarians have degrees.They go to graduate school for Information Science and become masters of data systems and human/computer interaction. Librarians can catalog anything from an onion to a dog's ear. They could catalog you."

Information in the library are properly organized and categlog so that users can find what they want quickly and accurately.

Read more here about the value of properly organized information in a library.

In the article "Has Google Won?", it is propounded that students now are looking at more data Than They Know What to Do With. This illustrate the relevancy of libraries in for the Net Generation.

However, how relevant or accurate are these information should be left to the discretion of the users or the specialists in the relevant area. Do a search on NLB's web site for the topic on Sociology and you will get 2673 results. Do a search for the topic on photography and you will get 9801 results. How do you know which book is the right one for you? This is a job left to the specialists whose job is to anaylse and critic the information in these publications and give relevant recommendations.

olkgal said...

Come into the library and you'd see librarians running llibrary literacy programmes. These programmes are to teach patrons how to search for information, such as formulating searches etc.. on top of that.. users are taught/informed on how to gauge if the information is authentic. Like is the source trustworthy.. etc etc. Seems that the move is towards one that librarians have to be aware of the context of the publication/information.. hence alerting users of the information of its slant.

Ivan Chew said...

I'm thinking of the public library, which in its essence, still has a very straight-forward role. It's to let the Ordinary Joes & Janes like me experience the world without having to physically travel (how many countries can I travel in my lifetime?). To allow me to learn from Harvard professors without having to enroll in Harvard (what are the chances of me getting enrolled?) To allow me a glimpse into the thoughts of the Lee Kuan Yews, Margaret Thatchers, of people long gone. To buy me that little time, to escape into the a fantasy world where I can forget my worldly worries as long as I keep turning the pages. That's the role of a library to me.

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