Have Librarians Missed the Bus?

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Photo Courtesy of Sri Lanka Library Association (SLLA)

As the Sri Lanka Library Association celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, it’s time for us to reflect on the contributions of the Library and Information professionals to the development of Sri Lanka. At the same time, given the explosion in the sheer amount and sources of information now available especially through the internet, I found myself asking; do librarians have a role in the digital world? How are they adapting to this change? And are organizations and policymakers still making effective use of their knowledge and expertise while making decisions?

A recent Sunday Island piece captures the challenges and exciting opportunities that Librarians face in Sri Lanka today; I agree with them that with the expansion of information and sources, professional assistance is vital to identify trusted and accurate information. As a result, we should more actively recognize and involve Library and Information professionals as partners in policy consultations and working groups.

To grasp this opportunity, Librarians/Information Professionals today should thus play a proactive role in contributing towards Knowledge Economy. Although libraries are endowed with a wealth of printed materials vital for development, the rapidly changing world often causes these materials to become dated very fast. With access to digital online resources where information is updated instantly from a variety of sources, the role of the Library/Information professional is shifting in keeping the public up to date with relevant knowledge and information to innovate.

I was recently inspired by an event organized by the Marga Institute in Colombo for library and information professionals. Under the theme 'Creating an Environment to Facilitate Access to Information, my colleague Hema Balasubramanium, the Public Information Officer of the World Bank’s New Delhi office, presented the new World Bank policy on Access to Information and the Open Data initiative. Hema, a librarian by profession was able to capture the audience with her dynamic style of presentation and sharing of work experiences in India where there is a functional Right to Information Act. "We live in exciting times - when knowledge and information are open to one and all. We, as a community, have a critical role to play in helping out clients and our citizens enter the digital age with confidence and navigate the Internet to access the right information at the right time, We must work to unleash the power of knowledge to dramatically improve the quality of life of our peoples." said Hema sharing her experiences from India.

The presentation was followed by a discussion on the changing role of librarians in the new digital age where the value of printed publications is diminishing.

Working closely with professionals like Hema and others who have got on the bus and moved with the times has been inspiring. They know how to make information come alive by facilitating dialogues, managing resource centers, writing for the web and participating in social media platforms.

At the community level, I have come across people from diverse ages and backgrounds accessing information and helping their communities make important decisions related to their livelihoods and day to day life. One such example is the IT shed initiative of the Gemidiriya project where young community professionals access information from the web and transmit the knowledge via community radio.

To facilitate and support the Sri Lankan public to access, understand, and discuss issues related to development, World Bank Sri Lanka has signed an agreement launching Knowledge Sharing partnerships with the Marga Institute, Department of Economics of the University of Colombo and Public Library of Batticaloa together with the Eastern University of Sri Lanka. The Development Resource Centers (DRCs) established through these partnerships are open and accessible to any organization or institution interested in development knowledge and information sharing

I would like to take this opportunity to invite friends from library and information sharing professions to come together in building Sri Lanka’s knowledge economy and move to become a Middle Income Country in the near future.


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