Friday, September 6, 2013

Caribbean libraries as facilitators in the governance process

This post is based on my own local experience, from which I draw lessons for libraries, but mainly for libraries in developing countries. This post attempts to address 2 questions:

  1. How national libraries can demonstrate their value nationally and in a relevant way to a nation's governance process especially in informing and educating citizens about national issues?
  2. How national and public libraries can use Facebook and other social media to engage their citizens in education on national issues?

Recently in Jamaica, there has been a debate about a proposal regarding the development of some islands belonging to the state (If you are interested in this subject see the news reports from Jamaica Gleaner on the subject). Since most of the information that I have been getting on the islands was from the mass media, I began to think it would be nice for me to see pictures of the islands under discussion, the Goat islands, that were not filtered by the mass media. Unfortunately, I was unable to access adequate images of the islands involved using Google Search, Pinterest or even Flickr. Unlike other parts of Jamaica, the Great and Little Goat islands are not well known sites and do not seem to be very well documented via photographs. Even the Wikipedia entry on the subjects at the writing of this post reveals very little information (See entry for Great and Little Goat island). This is where I began to wish for my public library and national library to step into the national dialogue.

I imagined that if my libraries (public or National) would post on Facebook or other social media (blogs, Flickr, Twitter) pictures and information sources (or quotes from them) in order to help people be better educated about these islands, this would be very useful in helping the nation be more informed to participate in the debate. So on August 28, 2013, I inquired of  National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) on its Facebook page if the NLJ could post a photo of the islands with accompanying information. On the 29th of August 2013, the NLJ obliged me by posting this photograph of a map of the goat islands on its Facebook page as well as a historical fact. But it did not stop there. By September 1, 2013, the Jamaica Observer, one Jamaica's leading printing press published some historical facts compiled by the NLJ in the article "The legend of Goat Islands". Then on September 3, 2013 the National Library posted on its Facebook page a current photograph from the Jamaica Gleaner along with another historical fact.

The event narrated here is an important illustration of how Caribbean national and public libraries can play a role of providing neutral and historical information for democracy and in the interest of the public to inform the national debate. Already, just glimpsing at the Facebook page comments on the photos shared by NLJ, I see many Jamaicans conducting information seeking, asking other questions as well as attempting to process the value of the islands. This is a clear example of what Benjamin Franklin stated about libraries in his autobiography:
libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defense of their privileges. (Nix, 2012).
Only that this time, substitute "Americans" with "Jamaicans" and "colonies" with "nation". Another aspect to this, is the use of social media by libraries to engage citizens and provide this information to the public as well as facilitate this conversation in this social virtual information space.


Nix, L. T. (2012). The Library Company of Philadelphia. The Library History Buff. Retrieved from

The legend of Goat Islands (2013, Sep 1). Jamaica Observer. Retrieved from

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